Context Matters: Volunteer Bias, Small Sample Size, and the Value of Comparison Groups in the Assessment of Research-Based Undergraduate Introductory Biology Lab Courses
The shift from cookbook to authentic research-based lab courses in undergraduate biology necessitates the need for evaluation and assessment of these novel courses. Although the biology education community has made progress in this area, it is important that we interpret the effectiveness of these courses with caution and remain mindful of inherent limitations to our study designs that may impact internal and external validity. The specific context of a research study can have a dramatic impact on the conclusions. We present a case study of our own three-year investigation of the impact of a research-based introductory lab course, highlighting how volunteer students, a lack of a comparison group, and small sample sizes can be limitations of a study design that can affect the interpretation of the effectiveness of a course.