Science teaching, science learning
sharing evidence-based practices for undergraduate science faculty
There is long-standing and widespread support for educational initiatives that introduce undergraduates to scientific research (see, for example, Kurukstis and Elgren, 2007; Healey 2013; Alberts 2009). Authentic research experiences have been shown to lead to student-reported gains in general skills (e.g., oral visual, and written communication)as well as more specific research-associated skills (e.g., research design, hypothesis formation, data analysis) (Seymour et al., 2004; Lopatto, 2006; Laursen et al., 2010). Increasingly, educational initiatives focus on providing authentic research experiences in credit-bearing courses. Incorporating research experiences into credit-bearing courses not only has the potential to extend the benefits of participating in research to a larger group (PCAST, 2012; Shaffer et al., 2010), but may also help faculty members integrate their responsibilities as researchers and educators. This effect can be valuable both for faculty members at primarily undergraduate institutions, where teaching responsibilities may threaten to overwhelm time for research, and faculty members at research-intensive universities, where research responsibilities may threaten to overwhelm time devoted to teaching.
There are several ways to introduce students to scientific research in credit bearing courses, ranging from investigations of the literature to incorporation of course-based research experiences. Here's a guide to making the choices outlined.
One of the major benefits of introducing students to scientific research is to develop students’ understanding of the nature and development of scientific knowledge (Lopatto, 2003; National Research Council, 2003). Several groups have demonstrated that careful analysis of common forms of science communication (e.g., the research talk and primary research articles) can provide this benefit, thereby providing a low-barrier, low-resource gateway for students into research.
“Deconstructing” scientific research: Using the research talk to help students understand the research process and how knowledge is constructed. HHMI Professor Utpal Banerjee and colleagues sought a low-cost, low-space-requiring mechanism to introduce first- and second-year undergraduates to the process of scientific discovery (Clark et al., 2009). The solution they developed involved five-week modules in which students listened to a typical research seminar from an invited speaker and then spent ten contact hours deconstructing it and considering how the experiments were designed and interpreted with the course instructor. Each student completes two modules during the course.
Banerjee and colleagues used the Classroom Undergraduate Research (CURE) survey to determine whether this approach achieved the goals of undergraduate research (Lopatto, 2007). They found that students completing this course exhibited self-reported learning greater than students completing summer research experiences in several categories, notably understanding the research process, understanding supporting evidence, and understanding how new knowledge is constructed. Thus the model Banerjee and colleagues propose may provide a readily adaptable tool for helping students gain an understanding of the process of research.
Following the path: Using the CREATE model to analyze scientific literature and understand the process of discovery (Gottesman and Hoskins, 2013; Hoskins et al., 2007). Sally Hoskins and colleagues developed the CREATE model of analyzing the scientific literature to give undergraduates an understanding of how scientific knowledge is generated and how research projects progress over time. CREATE focuses on a sequence of articles that reports a single line of research from one laboratory. Students receive each article in sections (Introduction, Results and Methods, and Discussion), and are asked to work through the data as if they had generated it themselves. The steps they follow:
Students analyze the papers in the series sequentially, discussing each paper before moving on to the next, related paper. This allows the students to see if the experiments they proposed are those selected by the authors, both helping them understand the role of creativity in scientific progress and creating a “lab meeting” atmosphere in the class.
Hoskins and colleagues have implemented this approach in both upper-level and introductory classes. Its use in an upper-level course led to gains in students’ content integration, critical thinking ability, and self-assessed learning gains (Hoskins et al., 2007). It was adapted for use in a course for first-year students by use of popular press articles based on journal articles and by use of more single papers and parts of papers. The CREATE approach was maintained, however, and these exercises served as a “warm up” to two sequential research papers. Students in the first-year course showed a significant increase in critical thinking ability, experimental design ability, and self-rated abilities such as decoding literature, thinking like a scientist, and understanding research in context (Gottesman and Hoskins, 2013). Thus the CREATE approach to analyzing primary literature may also provide a readily adaptable tool for helping students gain an understanding of the process of research.
The Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences Network (CUREnet) defines undergraduate research in a credit-bearing course as an experience that integrates five essential elements (Auchincloss et al., in press):
Auchincloss and colleagues draw a contrast between CUREs and three other laboratory learning environments: the traditional laboratory course; the inquiry laboratory course; and a research internship (in press). They note that inquiry-based labs focus on the student learning process but not discovery of new knowledge that contributes to greater understanding of the natural world, while an essential element of CUREs is such discovery. They also note that while CUREs can have much in common with research internships, the element of collaboration with peers is highly emphasized in CUREs in a way that is typically absent in research internships.
CUREs can focus on questions that are either instructor-defined or student-defined. There are many instructor-defined CUREs reported in the literature (see, for example, Healey, 2013; Wei and Woodin, 2011; CUR, 2007) and many more that have not been reported. Here, we summarize three large national projects that support CUREs at a variety of institutions and two CUREs developed from individual faculty research questions, noting the common features that appear to be important for implementation and some of the steps necessary for this approach.
There appear to be key elements that are consistent among these and other CUREs:
CUREs that derive from large national projects and from individual investigator projects offer similar potential benefits for students, but they offer somewhat different benefits for the instructor. Instructors who develop CUREs based on large national projects such as SEA PHIRE or GEP receive significant support, including training, centralized resources, and a community of like-minded teacher-scholars. Instructors who develop CUREs based on their own research forgo these benefits (although joining groups like CUREnet or CUR can provide such a community), but have the satisfaction of driving their own research question forward. In addition, opportunities for funding and publication may be greater for independently developed CUREs.
CUREs can also focus on questions that are student-defined. As for the instructor-defined CUREs, there are many that have been reported in the literature (see, for example, Healey, 2013; CUR, 2007) and many more that have not been reported. Here, we summarize two such projects and note some common features that appear to be important.
These examples share some of the same features observed in CUREs focused on instructor-defined questions. Common characteristics:
Student-defined CUREs offer many of the same potential benefits as instructor-defined CUREs but have the additional benefit of allowing greater student autonomy and ownership. This increased freedom, however, carries a potential downside: the instructor has to build in mechanisms to ensure that students are sufficiently familiar with relevant background information to ask novel questions, and that students are sufficiently invested in the project to ask non-trivial questions.
There are several existing tools that can be used to assess undergraduate research experiences, including the following:
Dolan and colleagues emphasize the importance using tools for which validity and reliability information are available, and propose steps that need to be taken for more effective CURE assessment (Auchincloss et al., in press). Toward this goal, they propose two models that may help guide CURE development and assessment.
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First published on the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching website.