May 13, 2015

Convocation on #DiscoveryResearch at NAS, Day 2

Posted by Laura Guertin

Today was the second day of the Convocation on Integrating Discovery-Based Research Into the Undergraduate Curriculum at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC.  This was a full day of presentations and conversations that are just touching the tip of an iceberg when it comes to models for course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) in STEM.

The morning began with 12 brief overviews of current models under the following headings:

  • Programs for first year students drawing on local resources and those based on a national organization, featuring first year research experiences at the University of Texas, and a presentation on SEA-PHAGES.
  • Programs designed for community colleges and those aimed at four year institutions, featuring the Community Colleges Undergraduate Research Initiative (CCURI) and the Dynamic Genome Program at the University of California, Riverside.
  • Programs focusing on on-campus research projects vs. community oriented programs, featuring the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Campus as a Living-Learning Lab for Sustainability and the SENCER project.
  • National initiatives from a developer’s and user’s perspective, highlighting synthetic biology at Davidson College and GEP and Genome Solver from Georgetown University.
  • Initiatives focusing on challenges and opportunities for underrepresented students, such as using the Rock Art Stability Index from Mesa Community College and scaffolding with yeast in introductory biology at North Carolina Central University.
  • Challenges and opportunities in engineering, featuring VIP (Vertically Integrated Projects) at Georgia Institute of Technology and the CiBER (Center for Interdisciplinary Bio-Inspiration in Education and Research) program at University of California, Berkeley.
The Einstein Memorial outside of the NAS Building.

The Einstein Memorial outside of the NAS Building.

I attended the breakout session on on-campus research projects and facilitated the panel on underrepresented students.  I found the discussion on the UW-Madison course on Food/Energy/Trash (an introductory-level course for science and nonscience majors) fascinating.  The course has students complete a “trash audit” by going through the waste on campus for a certain period of time and figure out the “costs” of the materials disposed.  However, how does the instructor handle students from certain cultures and social status that not want to play with trash? Are there students that do not sign up for the course because it is known for trash? Is the reputation of the course going through trash making it a non-starter for certain students? Is there a way to put another “skin” on the issue/problem, make sure the course the same learning outcomes, but just call it “recycling” instead of “trash” and not use images of trash to promote the course. What are the other “costs” for doing campus-based research (custodial, security, facilities folks, etc.)? And safety is an issue for the faculty and students, especially when it comes to digging through waste.

After continued discussions of the morning sessions at our lunch tables, we reconvened to hear about Bringing Research into the Undergraduate Curriculum: Evidence of Best Practices and On-going Challenges – What Do We Know, What Remains to be Known, and What’s Next?  The three panelists in the room included Troy Sadler (Univ. of Missouri), Marcia Linn (Univ. of California, Berkeley), and Elizabeth Ambos (CUR). David Lopatto (Grinnell College) shared his thoughts on a pre-recorded video.  Four sound bytes from this session that rose to the top of my notes included:

  • There are some of the things that have come out of the literature as the ideas students are learning about in the research process, such as the complexity of scientific research & uncertainty of the research processes, the significance of validity, the role of collaboration, and the non-linearity of scientific methods. But there are more complex themes where the research literature around student learning presents much less evidence, such as an appreciation for different kinds of scientific knowledge, the tentative yet durable nature of scientific knowledge, the social dimensions of and influences on science, and the role of creativity in science.
  • Students have fragmented and flawed ideas about research. CUREs are short and UREs serve a selected audience. We need to be intentional and thoughtful to how can we provide students with lifelong learning of science practices.
  • Primary strategies for enhancing and expanding undergraduate research in a university system include establishing a centralized undergraduate research office, establishing an undergraduate research inventory, addressing faculty reward structures, and utilizing the power of convening and messaging from consortium/system offices. The roadblocks for instituting these strategies include leadership transitions, that the academic culture slow to change, and decreases in state funding.
  • Reflection on the research experience is viewed as important for students, writing about science predictions vs. what they saw, and giving students specific prompts to write about. Reflection can lead to durable learning. However, robust assessments still are needed (such as, how do students find a pattern in data). There are too many instruments out there where students self-report their learning and skill development.

Two related resources worth exploring include the Sandoval (2005) paper in Science Education on Understanding Students’ Practical Epistemologies and Their Influence on Learning Through Inquiry, and the Malachowski et al. (2015) book titled Enhancing and Expanding Undergraduate Research: A Systems Approach: New Directions for Higher Education, Number 169.

The final panel for the afternoon asked How can we be cost effective? Infrastructural Opportunities and Challenges to Making Discovery-Based Research Available to Larger Numbers of Students. Panelists included Margot McDonald (Cal Poly Univ. of San Luis Obispo), presenting on The Campus as a Living Laboratory); Jeff Ryan (Univ. of South Florida), presenting on Remote Instrumentation; David Micklos (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory), presenting on the DNA Learning Center and NYC Urban Barcode Project, and David Shaffer (Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison), presenting on Virtual Internships.  Each of these links I included in the previous sentence will provide you information on these fascinating models for engaging students.  One of the most surprising outcomes shared at this entire convocation came from the high school students Micklos worked with on the Urban Barcode Project, when they found that gingko products you find at Walgreens and GNC, for example, don’t actually contain any gingko!

The day ended with all of us dividing into groups to discuss the following challenge questions.  We ran out of time to report out on these discussions, but I look forward to hearing what everyone had to say tomorrow morning!

  1. There are many different kinds of CUREs; key features for success?
  2. How do we take what evidence indicates are the most effective approaches, and bring them to scale? What does “scale” mean in this context?
  3. Challenges and solutions: What resources would help to overcome the challenges?
  4. How can we determine best strategies, how to improve assessment? What tools are missing?
  5. Are there special needs of beginning students, community college students, under-represented students?
  6. Is research for everyone, or are we becoming over-zealous?

Here, you will see how the geology world on Twitter responded to the final question (this was the discussion I was responsible for facilitating, so I was curious to hear what the geoscience community had to say!)