May 14, 2015

Convocation on #DiscoveryResearch at NAS, Day 3

Posted by Laura Guertin

Today was the final day of the Convocation on Integrating Discovery-Based Research Into the Undergraduate Curriculum at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC.  Today’s presentations and conversations continued our conversations on course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) in STEM – and, a few key words….

The first panel of the morning addressed What are the Rewards and Challenges in Scaling Up?  Sara Brownell (Arizona State University) focused on opportunities for scaling up and increasing access to research which increases equity.  Her publications in CBE-Life Sciences Education titled Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences Can Make Scientific Research More Inclusive and in Studies in Higher Education titled Toward a conceptual framework for measuring the effectiveness of course-based undergraduate research experiences in undergraduate biology are ones I am certainly going to check out.  Don Wink (Univ. of Illinois, Chicago) spoke about the Center for Authentic Science Practice in Education (CASPiE).  Wink brought up an interesting piece of data when it comes to scale… a summer REU experience is 150 hours of a student engaging in research, whereas a CURE is 24 hours of research with a CASPiE experience.  Robin Wright (Univ. of Minnesota, Twin Cities) shared her institution’s model for a pre-CURE, with a 2-credit, 2-year course that begins the summer before the freshman year.  The Nature of Life @ Itasca program is four days at their biological field station and required for all entering freshmen, thereby supporting equity of opportunity and sustainability.  The students form connections with their peers, with faculty, and begin establishing a scientific identity.  George Langford (Syracuse University) addressed challenges in the budget climate of today’s universities, such as affordability, financial aid and student debt, student enrollment growth, and infrastructure. Other factors impacting university budgets include the rapidly increasing international student population, the addition of online classes/MOOCs, and sharing faculty across campuses/institutions. Langford suggested that the costs of CUREs – the added benefits of higher persistence and improved student outcomes – may offset any additional costs.

The next panel responded to the question, What are the institutional and funding structures needed to promote and support these kinds of changes in pedagogical strategy, and what are the best strategies for dissemination?  Goldie Byrd (North Carolina A&T State Univ.) shared several different viewpoints from faculty to top-level administrators.  For example, she suggested that faculty are concerned about CUREs being a path towards promotion and tenure.  She also suggested that department chairs can lead important conversations and initiatives in CURE, become an effective advocate for faculty, clarify P&T guidelines, assure equity in salary workloads, and provide opportunity for leadership. Further, she suggested that deans can make faculty development a priority, create opportunities for faculty to engage in development, and to showcase faculty progress. Arthur Ellis (City University of Hong Kong) shared the Discovery-Enriched Curriculum (DEC) model at his institution, where every freshman identifies a research question to explore. One unique aspect of his program is that every student is taught about intellectual property rights and responsibilities (see online brochure).  John Jungck (Univ. of Delaware) reminded us that our students are growing up in a world of open science, open source, creative commons, and citizen science, and we need to be aware of how these tie in to CUREs.  Jungck also mentioned some publications I plan to check out, such as the one in Cell Biology Education titled Points of View: Should Students Be Encouraged To Publish Their Research in Student-Run Publications? Undergraduates: Do Research, Publish!, and Proceedings of Global Learn 2015 titled Citizen Science, Crowdsourcing, and Constructivist Pedagogy.  Betsy Beise (Univ. of Maryland) shared her institution’s First Year Innovation & Research Experience (FIRE).  FIRE addresses the UMD institutional challenge of student major exploration, providing opportunities to help students find majors that might otherwise not identify, easing pressure on very high demand areas.

The day’s activities then switched in format to a SLAM session, where all convocation participants were allowed to make up to a 2-minute statement at an open mic about what they have observed and learned for the past few days.  What I found most insightful were the comments from the four undergraduate students that were in attendance at the convocation.  Here are some of their thoughts, based upon their own experiences and what they were hearing:

  • Adding on lab fees to cover the cost of course-based undergraduate research to students is not acceptable (a $100 fee can become $138 by the time I pay back my student loans).
  • Scheduling is a challenge, especially adding more class time for course-based research. Adding recitations messes up my ability to schedule other courses.
  • GPA – it matters, a lot.  Undergrad research is more of a qualitative product than quantitative, and my academic work needs to help and be reflected in my GPA.
  • I need an incentive to take a risk in education, especially taking risks with time and a possible lack of outcomes doing undergraduate research.
  • A freshman research experience is great, but it needs to build in future years.
  • Interdisciplinary research is something I hadn’t thought about.  It would add to the richness of my research experience.
  • I am glad to hear/see about other undergraduate research programs outside of my own campus.
  • I am glad to see/hear that faculty value the importance of the peer mentoring structure.
  • Undergraduate research used to be a weeding out experience, but now it seems that it is welcoming and building student confidence and having them work in teams instead of solving problems by themselves.
  • I am glad that all of you are working so hard to not just make us students, but to make us student scientists.

We had one final breakout session before the convocation wrapped up in the afternoon, brainstorming and offering brief comments on what is needed in a future research agenda to further explore the features of discovery-based science experiences for undergraduates.  The six topics included:

  1. How do we account for individuality and uniqueness of different institutions?
  2. How can course-based research experiences best be sustained locally and disseminated more broadly, including publications?
  3. How can they most effectively mentor all students who are involved, including first generation and underrepresented students – how can the talents and strengths of non-traditional students be recognized?
  4. How might administrative structures be restructured to best support these efforts and the faculty who engage in them?  How can institutional and departmental policies and cultures be restructured to better promote student research opportunities?
  5. How might external funding opportunities and dissemination of student research be structured to most effectively support these efforts?
  6. What should define “success” in such initiatives and what are the most effective ways to measure success?

It is hard for me to summarize the “answers” to these questions, or to the questions asked in Day 2 of the convocation.  Each response is going to be unique to an individual, a department, and an institution.  But here are some of the overarching takeaways that everyone could agree on:

  • One size does not fit all
  • Adapt (do not adopt) programs to your situations, resources, students
  • A successful CURE program will align with the mission/vision of an institution and address recruitment, retention, and degree completion
  • Undergraduate research experiences need to have many goals – not just getting in to medical/graduate school
  • Department support is critical
  • Higher education needs to strengthen connections with informal education communities and professional organizations (AGU, ACS, GSA, etc.)
  • Higher education cannot forget about NGSS and support in-service K-12 teachers
  • We have varied definitions of research, authentic research, research experiences – but let’s not forget the essential “soft skills” that go along with these practices (collaboration, communication, etc.)

Keep an eye out in November for the final report of this convocation, which will be published through the National Academies Press.