Introductory Biology 1: A Modular-Based Laboratory Course for Engaging Introductory Students in Research

Vanessa Muilenburgmuilenburg@hope.eduHope College
Virginia McDonoughmcdonough@hope.eduHope College

Project Location

First year students complete three modules of related experiments corresponding to the following topics: ecology, plant biology and animal biology. After collecting and recording data both in the field and lab, students statistically analyze course data and make conclusions. Students also give group presentations and write individual lab reports.

Student Audience

Introductory, Major

Scientific Domain

  • Ecology
  • Environmental science
  • Physiology
  • Plant science

Nature of the Research

  • Wet lab/bench research
  • Field research
  • Basic research
  • Applied research

Core Concepts

  • Structure and Function: Basic units of structure define the function of all living things.
  • Pathways and Transformation of Energy: Biological systems grow and change by processes based on chemical transformation pathways and are governed by the laws of thermodynamics.
  • Systems: Living systems are interconnected and interacting.

Core Competencies

  • Applying the process of science
  • Using quantitative reasoning
  • Using modeling and simulation
  • Tapping into the interdisciplinary nature of science
  • Communicating and collaborating
  • Understanding the relationship between science and society

Guiding Questions

  • How does a forest function?
  • How do plants respond to higher levels of atmospheric CO2?
  • How do genetics and changes in the environment affect the physiology and behavior of animals?

Learning Objectives

  • Investigate scientific questions using the scientific method, including writing hypotheses, making observations, recording & statistically analyze data, and making conclusions
  • Use basic lab equipment/methods such as microscopes, micropipettes, dissections, spectrophotometer systems, field censuses, and standard curves
  • Communicate biological research orally and in written lab reports
  • Search for, read, and interpret primary literature
  • Work collaboratively in a team


Introductory Biology I is a full-semester CURE course for first-year biology students. Students conduct three series of related experiments corresponding to the following modules: ecology, plant biology, and animal biology. This learning progression corresponds to what they learn in the associated introductory biology lecture course. In the ecology module, students investigate various processes (herbivory, diversity, succession, and decomposition) that contribute to how a forest functions. In the plant module, students investigate how elevated concentrations of atmospheric CO2 impact plant growth, resource allocation, and physiology. In the animal module, students investigate how fluoxetine and genetics impact animal behavior and physiology in an invertebrate and vertebrate model. Each week, students work collaboratively to gather data and complete experiments. Once the data for the entire course (all lab sections) is recorded, students statistically analyze the course data, make conclusions, and relate conclusions to current scientific literature. Students write an individual, formal lab report in the style of a scientific journal on an experiment of their choosing from the course with the opportunity for instructor feedback and revision. Additionally, at the end of the course, each group of students choses a topic related to animal behavior and physiology and gives a synthetic presentation related to knowledge they have gained during the animal module.

Getting Started

Computers, statistical software, dissecting microscopes, compound microscopes, aquaria, plants, fish, Daphnia, fluoxetine, growth chamber/greenhouse, and other basic field/lab equipment


1-2 hours per week
Muilenburg, Vanessa Hope College
McDonough, Virginia Hope College

Class time

3 hours per week for 1 semester