Applying Neurological Learning Research to an Online Undergraduate Science Laboratory Course

Dana Byrd
Texas A & M University – Kingsville

Gene Byrd
University of Alabama


Neurological research has demonstrated that pre-test verbal preparation improves performance. The well-tested Tower of London puzzle can assess cognitive skills of a wide age range of participants. Preschoolers who talked to themselves about future puzzle moves had greatly improved Tower of London performance over those without such preparation. For adults, similar results are found with more neural activation in higher brain areas. We previously demonstrated the benefit of verbal preparation on daily quiz scores in an introductory astronomy lecture course. Two separate classes were taught, one including students discussing a pre-test verbal multiple choice question and the other not. In the lecture course, the interactive group performed 23% better on their final exam than the conventional group, likely due in part to the neurological language learning process that occurred during discussions. In the present study, for an online astronomy laboratory course, we present the effect on final exams of discursively answering pre-test learning objective questions. The discursive group scored significantly better (12% higher) than the class without such preparation. These findings are consistent with neuroscientific research on the usefulness of language in improving performance even on non-linguistic tasks.

About the Author(s)...

Dana Byrd is an Assistant Professor at Texas A&M University – Kingsville. She has teaching interests in undergraduate and graduate psychology. She has published several articles focused on performing and interpreting neuroscientific studies involving frontal lobe utilization and development. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Gene Byrd is Professor, Emeritus at the University of Alabama. In addition to astronomical research, he is interested in undergraduate teaching in Astronomy and has co-authored the graduate text Paths to Dark Energy: Theory and Observation and a popular book: The Evolving Universe and the Quest for Life.

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