What makes science relevant?: Student perceptions of multimedia case learning in ecology and health

  • Bjorn Wolter
  • Mary Lundeberg
  • Mark Bergland
Keywords: Case-based instruction, relevance, science education, student motivation, undergraduate education.


The perception of science as boring is a major issue for teachers at all instructional levels. Tertiary classes especially suffer from a reputation for being dry, instructor-centered, and irrelevant to the lives of students. However, previous research has shown that science can be interesting to students if it is presented in such a manner as to generate personal curiosity and interest. This study explored the efficacy of two multimedia case-based approaches to develop interest and perceptions of relevance in an introductory biology class. One of these approaches enabled students to test hypotheses about wolf ecology using radio telemetry data, while the other enabled them to play the role of a geneticist testing for genetic and infectious disease conditions. After completing both projects, 32 students volunteered to participate in one of four video-recorded focus interview groups to determine what non-majors in an introductory biology course think is relevant science to learn and why? Twelve trends in student views on relevance, the most important of which were potential use, curiosity, global relevance, and human relevance emerged from this study. Students preferred both case-based projects to lecture, and liked the project on human health better than the case project on wolf ecology. This research contributes significantly to understanding how personal curiosity and relevance motivate students in science classrooms.