Learning through practice in biology education.

April 25th 2019 Torstein N. Hole successfully defended his doctoral dissertation “Learning through practice in biology education” and completed his PhD degree at the University of Bergen!



Work continues to be an important educational measure in higher education. It has received increasing focus both among policymakers, educators, and in educational science research as a valuable addition to campus-based, and often lecture-based, education. In biology, work placements are rarely employed, and the workplaces that are available to students are multifaceted and the distinction between practices at campus and practices at work may seem oblique at the outset. Both include sampling, analysis, and reporting of results. In other words, work as a learning measure in scientific disciplines is different from work in professional educations.

In this thesis, I investigate learning through work in higher education, principally among biology students. The investigation is performed through three independent studies. In the first study, I examine students’ working practices in a field excursion using ethnographic techniques. The second study focus on a work placement course for biology students, and data was gathered through their blog entries. The third study consists of focus group interviews of students in Teacher education, Music Performance, and Aqua Medicine, a sub-program in biology that employs work placements. The third study allowed for a broader overview of other iterations of learning through work in several programs. In all studies, the aim was to gather students’ accounts of their knowing in enacting practices. Furthermore, the analysis focused, at various levels, on students’ accounts of personal epistemologies inside a sociocultural practice.

The analysis of interviews, focus group discussions, observations, and blog entries reveal important similarities between the way students enact biology through working practices in different contexts. These similarities concerned epistemological perception of learning in campus and complex learning in practices, such as those in workplaces and the field. At different levels, these complexities require students to make decisions whether in their sampling, and to gather necessary information to be able to complete their work. Furthermore, the different studies revealed different levels of engagement between students, teachers, supervisors, and others. In field excursions, students engage continuously with teachers, while they engage more continuously with supervisors and co-workers in work placements. Nevertheless, on the basis of students’ accounts, I argue that the role of teachers is crucial for the students’ experiences. Whether this is direct engagements between teachers and students, or their overall facilitation of learning at campus and how it interacts with students’ experiences and personal epistemologies in work.

By using varied expressions of knowing in the analysis of students’ accounts of knowing in working practices, we found that dispositions, procedures, and concepts interact throughout students’ work. This indicates that practices involve important experiences that affect students’ outlook towards their own engagement with biology, and the disposition to pursue particular methods, careers, and otherwise intersect their working practice with their values. On its own, these are important contributions of work placement- and field excursion practices in biology students’ education.

Link to the thesis

About the author

Torstein Nielsen Hole : Researcher

Torstein Nielsen Hole


I am part of the PRIME project and bioCEED. I am responsible for assessing and researching approaches to student learning in practice activities such as the workplace and field-work.

My projects


The antecedents and consequences of students´ autonomous motivation: The relation between need-support, motivation, and academic achievement.

February 16th Lucas Jeno successfully defended his doctoral dissertation “The antecedents and consequences of students´ autonomous motivation. The relation between need-support, motivation, and academic achievement” and completed his PhD degree at the University of Bergen!



Higher education has traditionally rested on teacher-centred education. Recently, there has been a shift towards learner-centred education. Innovative teaching tools, active teaching methods, and teachers that encourages a deep approach to learning, are examples of how to facilitate learner-centred education. Central to learner-centred education is increasing student motivation for learning. Moreover, recent systematic reviews and meta-analyses suggest that learner-centred education, compared to teacher-centred education, increase student achievement. Guided by the framework of Self-Determination Theory, this thesis investigates different antecedents for student motivation, and how in turn, autonomous motivation relates to achievement. It is hypothesised that the extent that the environment (i.e., teacher, innovative teaching tools, active teaching methods) promotes a sense of choice and volition in the learning activity, a sense of optimal challenge and feedback, and a sense of caring and nurture, will increase student autonomous motivation and achievement. Three independent studies were conducted and written up as three papers. Paper I is a national representative cross-sectional investigation of biology students´ prospective achievements and dropout intentions. Results from a Structural Equation Model show support for the proposed hypotheses. Moreover, multi-group analyses show that there are significant differences for level (i.e., BA vs MA) for four paths, but are invariant across genders. Specifically, we found need-support, relatedness, and intrinsic aspiration to be positive predictors of perceived competence and autonomous motivation. Perceived competence and autonomous motivation are positive predictors of achievement and negative predictors of dropout intentions. Extrinsic aspiration is a negative predictor of achievement and a positive predictor of controlled motivation. Controlled motivation is a positive predictor of dropout intentions. Paper II concerns a randomised experiment testing the effect of a mobile-application tool to identify species. Students in the mobile-application condition, relative to students using a traditional textbook, scored higher on intrinsic motivation, perceived competence, and achievement. A path-analysis shows that the mobile-application positively predicts intrinsic motivation and perceived competence. Intrinsic motivation in turn, positively predicts achievement. An indirect effect of the mobile-application to achievement through intrinsic motivation was found. Paper III is a quasi-experiment testing the effect of Team-Based Learning (TBL) relative to traditional lecture-classes. The study is a one-group pre-test/post-test design. Measurement after four weeks of lectures and then after four weeks of TBL shows that the students increased their intrinsic motivation, identified regulation, external regulation, perceived competence, engagement, autonomy-support, need-satisfaction, and perceived learning. The students decreased in amotivation from pre-test to post-test as a function of TBL. A path-analysis using the change scores shows that increases in intrinsic motivation, identified regulation, and perceived competence positively predict engagement, which in turn, positively predicts perceived learning.

In conclusion, the results show that active learning, compared to passive learning, is positively related to achievement. However, the findings also show that it is important to consider the underlying motivational processes that either support or thwart student autonomous motivation. That is, active learning promotes autonomous motivation and increases learning when the students´ basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness are supported. In accordance with Self-Determination Theory, a socio-context could be perceived as informational (need-supportive), controlling (need-thwarting), or amotivational (incompetence), thus teachers and institutions are recommended to consider the need-supportive vs need-thwarting elements within learner-centred approaches. The results from this thesis contribute to the knowledge on what increases student autonomous motivation and how active learning methods impact student motivation. Specifically, the use of a prominent metatheory of motivation allows for an analysis of which factors facilitate motivation and what the consequences might be. The use of diverse student samples, study design, and statistical analyses provide strong support for the external validity of the thesis.

Link to the thesis

About the author

Lucas M. Jeno : Associate Professor

Lucas M. Jeno

Associate Professor

I am investigating teaching and learning related issues at bioCEED. My main interest is on student learning and motivation, and how teachers motivate their students.

My projects