Post-course interviews: student comments about CREATE and its effect on their views of science and their own abilities

Class 1Class 2Class 3
Reaction to the CREATE approach
Before [the CREATE class] I used to read the entire paper and then go to the pictures. Now…it's figures first, then text…. I'm more of a detective now. I could, like, pinpoint certain words and look it up…. I could find the main part of the figure. And I wasn't able to do that before, I would just read, to read…. I would only get it [the overall point of the experiment or article] after I read the whole paper, and probably went through it with like, a professor or something, or in class? But now I think I'm good on my own. I could decipher what the message is, on my own. (S2)I would recommend it to every student taking a science major or nonscience major, and I think this class should be a prerequisite in order to graduate with a science degree. I think it's a very strong class that expands all the students' minds. … And I think that this course will definitely help anyone who wants to pursue a career a science, whatever that might be, because it helps you really really understand what science is about. It's not just a textbook that you read and memorize things; you actually learn so much. (S1)It's the most effective way of teaching that I've ever had, especially in a science course. Because in [real] science you're not really given exams, and you're not asked, like, to memorize things—you're asked to analyze and understand—and I think this class really focused on analyzing and understanding, as opposed to memorizing. (S3)
Transfer of the CREATE approach to other classes
I walked away with skills that are going to help me in every single class I take again, and even in life, really. I feel like I can take on my own taxes this year! [laughs] Just being able to sit down and focus and not get bogged down. (S6)I had a paper for one of one of my other classes—called Muscle and Nerve—I had to do a review paper on a presentation I did. And [because of the CREATE class] I have never read through papers so quickly than I did those five papers, and I could actually sit there and say, “Oh, this makes sense; OK. This is dose response to creatine in embryonic umbilical cords. I'm like, oh, that was so great! I didn't think I would apply it so quickly … (S7)I took microbiology—we read a paper then—if I read it again it would probably be totally different now, with this approach…. If I had to do it all over again, I'd probably want to take this course after the first two intro courses—because it allowed me to interpret information differently; “think outside the box” so to speak…. This pretty much required us to do all the work ourselves.…It wasn't just a bunch of facts that we just had to accept. We had to actually question it. (S8)
Understanding of how scientific research is carried out
I expected: they had a theory, they proved that theory; that's it. [Now] I see it's more like a blind person placed in a room and trying to feel around as to what they think a structure may be; and even when they think a structure is “that” they're still not sure as to what it is, but they can kind of come up with what it is, based on the shape, and touching it, and comparing it to another structure that's next to it.…(S4)I thought [before] from lab to lab they had to buy each others' things; like if I needed a knockout mouse I would have to buy it? But it actually turned out to be a give and take, like “my stuff is your stuff”—I didn't know that. Another thing is…a lot of revision goes into these papers…. which shows you that it's not all cut and dried; it's not all clear; and that even top grade scientists can make mistakes.… It's like a circle; if those papers weren't passed around and read from one person to another, from one student to another, new ideas won't come up…. It's a network. It's a network of thoughts. (S10)As far as research, I learned that one answer can lead to so many different things, and every person has their own ideas about where the ideas will lead. And I thought that was like the coolest thing—you know, you could have, like six different groups doing the same research, and get the same result; then go in different directions. And I thought that was interesting, because I [had] always thought everybody would go in the same direction. (S3)
Thinking like a scientist
I think the biggest, kind of like enlightenment for me [laughs] is that you can have your own ideas … and you can come up with your own interpretation of things and not necessarily be “wrong.” I think there is a lot more creativity behind science than most people are aware of…. Through this course, the creativity, for me it's been like “Wow I can really think about these things and not just take in this data and say “OK this is it; I can't question it.” For me that was the biggest insight. It was like “I can question it and maybe come up with an alternate explanation. And it might be, it might not be, but at least I'm ‘allowed’ to do so; there's no big law against that.” (S12)You need to be skeptical in science—not just take the data for what they say it is. A lot of times [before], we study papers, we just look at the discussion and the title and take that for granted, and this class has taught us to be skeptical—to be scientists, and look at the data and try to analyze it for ourselves and see if we get the same conclusion that they got … from the data. (S6)My scope of thinking has been widened. First, I have more ideas pulled together and I'm using my initiative much more. And I'm being innovative and I'm being very active; right on my feet thinking; and I have more interest in doing the work. My interest has been boosted up. It's very easy; it's made open for me to bring out the best out of me and then to join with others. The other thing too; in that class we learned to work together. We had different types of people in the groups, so we were learning something else. In addition to our individual capacities we were learning how to exchange ideas with others. (S2)
Personal connection to science and scientists
I believe scientists are people; they are like everyday people. Anyone can be a scientist…. Before I used to think that scientists were rigid people who wore lab coats and didn't talk to anyone [laughs] but from the class and from the responses we got from the e-mails I see that scientists are “people persons,” everyday people; meaning they didn't have to be super-geniuses or really up in status to become a scientist; with connections or anything like that. (S1)I definitely have changed my perspective of scientists. Before I thought being a scientist was a job where you were antisocial; cooped up in a lab, and that's it. And I always figured people who become scientists are not “people people,” and I don't think that any more. (S11)I got to see they're like everyone else…. Growing up, you think of scientists as geniuses like Einstein or whatever—but they have a job just like anyone else, and the concepts aren't that difficult … anyone could think of another experiment. You don't have to have a super-high IQ. It's just thinking up the work and being truthful with the data and not tweaking your results to match what you want it to be, but just coming up with a hypothesis, running the experiments, writing the data as you see it and trying to analyze it as best as possible. (S4)
Increased interest in becoming a scientist
I think I'm a little bit more confident that I could do it if I really wanted to go in that direction. I think the human aspect of it and the way that research is carried out by individuals, that whole experience has changed for me. I feel that if I wanted to do it I could. Like, there's somany people that help you along the way and get you started, and just the whole thought process, to think of experiments and to do them, is interesting to me. (S8)I feel like this course … has made me become less intimidated…. because these people are just like you and I—you can sit here and wonder why the sky is blue—and you take your question and you put it to the test…. This course has definitely helped me with knowing that scientists are just people, just like you and I. Whatever work they're doing…. I can do it myself, you know? … I'm not a scientist, [but I'm] contemplating if I should be!…I'm starting to like research. What I love about it is the creative part of it. And I'm questioning…. can I still have that while being a medical doctor? This class has kind of changed my life in a way. (S3)I myself could be a scientist now. Before I was like “[Only] some kinds of people can be scientists” and it has to be like these geniuses, who were, you know, like eight times smarter—I learned that it can be anybody. Anyone can be a scientist; it has to do with having a passion to do research, and just a drive, and not to get bogged down by failed experiments and things not going right, but just to go through a process, because there's a thinking process you have to go through, of elimination, and trying, and experimenting. (S5)
  • Representative comments of CREATE students about the CREATE approach and its effect on their views of science and their own abilities. Interviews lasting ∼20 min were conducted at the end of the semester and audiotaped. Interview questions examined students' overall reaction to the CREATE approach, whether the course had affected their ability to “think like a scientist,” whether their views of science or scientists had changed over the course of the semester, whether their scientific reading skills had been affected, and whether their confidence in their ability to participate in science research had changed. We made transcripts of the interviews from the first class and used a constant comparison approach to categorize responses on the basis of broad themes that emerged in multiple interviews (Glaser and Strauss 1967; Novak 1998; Ary et al. 2002). We then analyzed interviews of subsequent cohorts on the basis of the similarity to or difference from the initially defined emergent categories (centered headings). The number following each quote corresponds to a distinct student (S) participant. Class 1: n = 12; class 2: n = 13; class 3: n = 12.