Cooperative Learning Enhances Biology Labs


Southern professors constantly look for ways to make learning fun, memorable, and effective. Last year, the Biology Department introduced an innovative, interactive teaching exercise called Jigsaw to its advanced anatomy and physiology labs, and professors are seeing positive results.

This cooperative learning technique involves students working in pairs to become “experts” on a portion of the day’s topic. They draw anatomy diagrams, find answers to written questions, and verify their information with the teacher’s assistants. Then, the students are responsible for effectively teaching the information to other pairs of classmates, and in turn, learning the remaining portions of the topic from other groups. In the end, each individual student is quizzed on the entire topic.

“Basically, we’re having students collectively put all the pieces together on any given topic so they can see the whole picture,” said Rick Norskov, MD, professor of biology.

By incorporating a variety of learning styles and increasing student responsibility, this technique engages students on a deeper level.

“I appreciate these hands-on learning/teaching experiences,” said Ashlyn Howell, sophomore allied health major.

While students enjoy the exercise, Norskov emphasizes that enjoyment isn’t enough—it needs to actually work. So far, since this technique was introduced a year ago, average exam scores have increased several percentage points.