BrownwoodNews – Howard Payne University’s School of Science and Mathematics introduced an innovative class this fall for students seeking to major in biology and a handful of other majors. The class has been named the S.T.I.N.G.E.R. Lab, which stands for Scientific Training for Inquiry-Guided, Experiment-Based Research.
“This lab is different than a traditional lab because it requires a lot more independent work,” said Dr. Gregory Hatlestad, associate professor of biology. “It was designed so that students would learn all of the techniques that you would need to be able to do research and then move into doing real research projects.”
This style of class was first implemented by The University of Texas and was so successful that other schools began to replicate the class. Dr. Hatlestad was able to implement that same style of teaching at HPU.
“Before I started working at Howard Payne, I was working at The University of Texas as an assistant clinical professor and my job was to teach one of these,” said Dr. Hatlestad. “UT is at the forefront of this type of lab, which has been very successful at increasing graduation rates, retention and GPA – everything that you want out of a course.”
During the first phase of the S.T.I.N.G.E.R. Lab, students are given packets and a certain amount of time to complete them. These packets provide them with the necessary protocols and techniques they need to complete the assignment and for use in future research.
“Once they learn all the techniques they need, they are actually going to be working on trying to figure out things that people don’t know already,” said Dr. Hatlestad. “So there is an element of unknown in which we are actually going to be doing real research.”
Students whose majors require them to take general biology are required to take a lab alongside it. This is typically the traditional general biology lab which meets regularly and is more scripted. Students now have the option of taking either the traditional lab or the S.T.I.N.G.E.R. Lab. One of the major differences between them is the self-paced nature of the S.T.I.N.G.E.R. Lab.
“The self-pace was really something that I was interested in,” said Mildreth Rodriguez, freshman biology major from Buda. “I can come in once a week or I can come in twice a week. It’s taught us a lot about time management and being able to figure things out on our own.”
The S.T.I.N.G.E.R. Lab has open hours so students can come to work on their projects throughout the week. Their hours and progress are tracked and they have to show that they were able to accomplish the assigned tasks. If students attempt experiments unsuccessfully, the experiments must be conducted again. While this adds a level of difficulty to the class, students are given guidance when needed and have the chance to correct their work.
“It’s much more based on learning how to do it right instead of getting it right the first time,” said Pablo Serna, freshman biology major from Fort Worth.
Ultimately, the students are challenged to think critically in the S.T.I.N.G.E.R. Lab and are given the opportunity to investigate queries a step further.
“That is the goal,” said Dr. Hatlestad, “giving students a better education and experience so they understand what it means to do research and what it means to be accountable for what happens in the lab.”
(Title Picture Caption: Mikala Meadows, a sophomore chemistry major from Newport, Arkansas, and a student in HPU’s S.T.I.N.G.E.R. Lab, prepares to extract plant DNA)