Report of a Convocation
Committee for Convocation on Integrating
Discovery-Based Research into the Undergraduate Curriculum
Division on Earth and Life Studies and
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
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This activity was supported by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Presidents Committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for the project.
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Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015.
Integrating Discovery-Based Research into the Undergraduate Curriculum: Report of a Convocation. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
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PLANNING COMMITTEE FOR CONVOCATION ON INTEGRATING DISCOVERY-BASED RESEARCH INTO THE UNDERGRADUATE CURRICULUM
SARAH C.R. ELGIN, Victor Hamburger Professor of Arts and Sciences; and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor, Washington University in St. Louis
GITA BANGERA, RISE Learning Institute, Bellevue College
SEAN M. DECATUR, Kenyon College
ERIN DOLAN, Texas Institute for Discovery Education in Sciences, The University of Texas at Austin
LAURA A. GUERTIN, Brandywine Campus, Pennsylvania State University
WENDY C. NEWSTETTER, College of Engineering & Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology
ELVYRA S. SAN JUAN, California State University System
MARY A. SMITH, Department of Biology, North Carolina A&T State University
GABRIELA C. WEAVER, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
SUSAN R. WESSLER, University of California, Riverside
JAY LABOV, Study Director, Board on Life Sciences/Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
KERRY BRENNER, Program Officer, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, Board on Science Education
ANGELA KOLESNIKOVA, Administrative Assistant, Board on Life Sciences
STEVE OLSON, Writer
BOARD ON LIFE SCIENCES
JAMES P. COLLINS, School of Life Sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Arizona State University
ROGER D. CONE, Vanderbilt University Medical Center
JOSEPH R. ECKER, Salk Institute for Biological Studies
SARAH C. R. ELGIN, Washington University in St. Louis
STEPHEN FRIEND, Sage Bionetworks
ELIZABETH HEITMAN, Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, Vanderbilt University Medical Center
RICHARD A. JOHNSON, Global Helix LLC
JUDITH KIMBLE, University of Wisconsin, Madison
MARY E. MAXON, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
KAREN E. NELSON, The J. Craig Venter Institute
MARY E. POWER, Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley
MARGARET RILEY, Massachusetts Academy of Sciences; Professor of Biology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
LANA SKIRBOLL, Academic and Scientific Affairs, Sanofi
JANIS WEEKS, Department of Biology, University of Oregon
FRANCES SHARPLES, Director
LIDA ANESTIDOU, Senior Program Officer
KATIE BOWMAN, Senior Program Officer
JO HUSBANDS, Senior Scholar
JAY LABOV, Senior Scholar
KEEGAN SAWYER, Program Officer
MARILEE SHELTON-DAVENPORT, Senior Program Officer
AUDREY THEVENON, Associate Program Officer
BETHELHEM MEKASHA, Financial Associate
VANESSA LESTER, Research Associate
ANGELA KOLESNIKOVA, Administrative Assistant
JENNA OGILVIE, Senior Program Assistant
KANOKO MAEDA, Senior Program Assistant
BOARD ON SCIENCE EDUCATION
ADAM GAMORAN, William T. Grant Foundation
GEORGE BOGGS, Palomar College, (emeritus)
MELANIE COOPER, Department of Chemistry, Michigan State University
RODOLFO DIRZO, Department of Biology, Stanford University
JACQUELYNNE ECCLES, School of Education, University of California, Irvine
JOSEPH FRANCISCO, College of Arts & Sciences, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
MARGARET A. HONEY, New York Hall of Science
MATTHEW KREHBIEL, Kansas State Department of Education
MICHAEL LACH, Urban Education Institute, University of Chicago
LYNN LIBEN, Department of Psychology, The Pennsylvania State University
CATHY MANDUCA, Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College
JOHN MATHER, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
BRIAN REISER, School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University
MARSHALL “MIKE” SMITH, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
ROBERTA TANNER, Retired Physics Teacher, Thompson School District, Loveland, CO
SUZANNE WILSON, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Connecticut
YU XIE, Department of Sociology, University of Michigan
HEIDI SCHWEINGRUBER, Director
MARGARET HILTON, Senior Program Officer
KERRY BRENNER, Program Officer
KENNE DIBNER, Program Officer
MATTHEW LAMMERS, Program Coordinator
MIRIAM SCHEIBER, Program Assistant
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Most currently working scientists remember fondly their first “summers in the lab” as a high school or undergraduate student—those first opportunities to really “be a scientist,” to be part of a research group raising questions and seeking answers. Excitement, hard work, confusion, moments of insight, drudgery, were all part of the experience. Social scientists have repeatedly documented that such experiences are the most powerful means to encourage students to persist in the sciences during their undergraduate years, and to seek employment and/or graduate training in the sciences on graduation. As we become teachers we try to impart that same excitement, and as we become professionals in a lab we seek approaches to mentor the students who join us. But the opportunities to do so are highly constrained by the limited resources available in time, lab space, materials, and funds for student support.
Hence many of us found the declaration of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology that we should, as national policy, “advocate and provide support for replacing standard laboratory courses with discovery-based research courses” both exciting—and challenging! Bringing research experiences into the academic year course structure will provide opportunities to reach many more students. It also immediately changes the support mechanisms available, as faculty are “on salary” during the academic year, which is frequently not the case during the summer. But at the same time, the challenge is enormous. The goal of engaging large numbers of students requires rethinking about both the laboratory curriculum and research designs.
Quite a few science faculty members have been experimenting with such an approach, more so during the last decade, creating “CUREs” or “CREs” (Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences) across the scientific disciplines. Thus tested models are available, and there is a growing literature on the efficacy of this approach, both for students and for faculty. However, there have been no formal convocations to explicitly examine the potential opportunities and challenges to involving more students in research by modifying courses in this fashion. A conversation with Jo Handelsman, then Chair of the Board on Life Sciences (BLS) at the National Academy of Sciences, generated enthusiasm for holding a convocation on this topic, with the explicit goal of producing a report that would be useful to faculty and college/university administrators who were thinking of initiating or expanding efforts of this type. The goals of the convocation would be to (1) try to identify and showcase a variety of models, for which there are assessment data, for creating and expanding undergraduate course-based research opportunities, particularly those that can reach large numbers of students; (2) provide an overview of the most pertinent scholarly literature regarding the efficacy of such efforts; (3) consider some of the major barriers, and address how these might be overcome, looking in particular at the needs of underrepresented students; and (4) discuss what features of the research experience are important for maximum impact, and the mechanisms to support these features in a course-based structure
with large numbers of students. We were fortunate to gain support from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to make this Convocation a reality. The convocation was held at the National Academy of Sciences in May 2015.
The following narrative is a report of that meeting, an attempt to capture the acquired experiences (both positive and negative) of practitioners of this relatively new educational strategy, insights from those assessing these efforts, and thoughts of administrators (from colleges and universities, from scientific societies, and from funding agencies) who have observed our early attempts. The members of the organizing committee were able to identify and showcase exemplary examples from across the scientific and engineering disciplines. These examples were presented in break-out sessions, and are described briefly in the boxes that occur throughout the text. The examples illustrate courses based on a research project designed for students from freshmen to seniors, in all types of two- and four-year institutions. Several are designed to remove the barriers created by hesitation on the part of the students, or selectivity on the part of faculty members. These strategies can benefit underrepresented student groups, including minority, economically disadvantaged, and first-generation college students, who often do not know how to seek out such opportunities—or why they should. Some students, particularly those who have been historically underrepresented in STEM, may never have had an opportunity to see how research can be directly connected to addressing real world problems, and thus may view research-based experiences as irrelevant to their goals and aspirations. A research course centered on a community need or ecological concern can be attractive to these students. Equally important, the CRE approach, which allows a student to embark on the adventure in a class with friends and peers, can look and feel much more comfortable to students than entering a research lab dominated by grad students and/or postdocs. Thus the use of CREs has great potential for helping to bring more underrepresented students into the profession.
We also learned how a well-designed CRE-based research program utilizes many recognized mediators of student learning, for example by allowing students to pursue projects of personal interest, and/or by providing instructional support (setting up the dimensions of the project) while requiring them to make critical decisions as they analyze data. Several examples illustrated how creating a “parallel problem” is a good strategy: devise a situation in which students can be taught a common set of tools for data generation / data analysis, but each student (or sub-group) has a distinct problem to solve—a different virus, a different part of the genome, etc. Projects that address local issues, including environmental problems, are often engaging. Students who participated in the convocation remarked that a classroom structure that emphasizes collaboration, one that clearly places the faculty member in the role of mentor, contributed to their learning. It was pointed out that large classes can actually be an advantage because more data can be gathered. For example, each experiment can be repeated independently several times to establish a large data set, determine whether the phenomena observed originally are replicable, and address issues of variability in the data using statistical methods.
While scaling up provides a number of challenges, convocation participants learned about a variety of creative solutions. To overcome lab limitations, faculty and students are using the campus itself (or a local field station) as the laboratory; they are accessing sophisticated instruments remotely; and they are making use of increasing numbers of sophisticated data bases that are publicly available through the internet. To overcome limitations in personnel, faculty are
building hierarchical mentoring systems reminiscent of the Peer-Led Teaching and Learning strategy,1 and are experimenting with virtual internships. To help more faculty adapt their research interests to the CRE format, lab module templates are being established, and new types of teaching labs designed and built or created by restructuring old labs. Indeed, some institutions already have embraced the notion that all undergraduates, in all disciplines, should be involved in some aspect of discovery, i.e. should learn how new knowledge is created in their field. This is, after all, the arena in which the college/university outshines the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). As stated by Jim Gentile, one of the moderators at the convocation, “Undergraduate research is quality education.” Despite some current barriers (which are discussed throughout this report), the CRE might be one way forward to help democratize quality education in the many different institutions for all undergraduates.
However, many questions and challenges remain. It was pointed out that many of the published assessments of CREs rely solely on self-reported student responses. While self-reporting is an appropriate way to determine whether faculty have successfully imparted their own enthusiasm for science, one would also like to know more about the student’s development of process skills, and the long-term impacts of such efforts in improving learning, self-efficacy, and transferable knowledge and skills. The use of consortia across many campuses can facilitate research on the impact of this intervention. Developing good CREs requires substantial effort, and both administrators and faculty would like to have better documentation of the costs and benefits (monetary and otherwise). A range of assessment instruments was discussed and some presenters and participants in the ensuing discussion made clear that additional work is needed to better understand and reach agreement within the community about ways to assess CREs, adjusting for program goals and objectives. An evaluation of costs and benefits will need to take into account the impact on graduation rates, job satisfaction and income resulting from graduation with a science degree. A consensus study currently being undertaken by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is examining a range of models for providing undergraduate students with discovery-based research experiences, including CREs. That study will be able to investigate in greater depth some of the issues raised at the Convocation, and the discussions from this convocation may help inform that study (See also Box 1-4.)
I think all participants left the Convocation impressed by what has been accomplished to date in using CREs to improve science education. No doubt the effort has been facilitated by the ongoing efforts to bring active learning strategies into the college/university science curriculum. Engaging students in discovery-based research is the ultimate active learning strategy—teaching science by having students do science.
I would like to thank the Organizing Committee; the NAS staff who worked with us to obtain funding, put together the program, and captured the results; and the speakers and participants at the convocation for a lively meeting. I also thank Steve Olson, the writer who worked with the committee to weave all of the discussion from verbatim transcripts into the narrative that is
provided here. We hope that this resulting report will be of help to those interested in considering the introduction or expansion of CREs in their curriculum.
Sarah C. R. Elgin
This workshop report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published workshop report as sound as possible and to ensure that the workshop report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this workshop report:
RICHARD CARDULLO, University of California, Riverside
BETH CUNNINGHAM, American Association of Physics Teachers
MATT FISHER, St. Vincent College
LINNEA FLETCHER, Austin Community College
ROBERT FROSCH (Member, National Academy of Engineering), Harvard University
ROBERT FULL, University of California, Berkeley
SALLY HOSKINS, City College of New York
KELLY MACK, Project Kaleidoscope/Association of American Colleges and Universities
JOHN MATSUI, University of California, Berkeley
COURTNEY ROBINSON, Howard University
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they did not see the final draft of the workshop report before its release. The review of this workshop report was overseen by William B. Wood (Member, NAS; Professor Emeritus, University of Colorado, Boulder). Appointed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, he was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this workshop report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this workshop report rests entirely with the authors and the institution.
The committee thanks all of the presenters, discussants, and facilitators who helped make this convocation a success. We also thank all of the other people who attended the convocation for their rich contributions to the sessions and the conversations which ensued throughout the event.
The meetings staff at the National Academy of Sciences Building, where the convocation was held, were especially helpful in accommodating our many requests for various room configurations and for making last-minute changes to those configurations. We appreciate their flexibility and professionalism.
We also sincerely thank the program officers with whom we worked throughout this project: Ryan Kelsey and Sue Cui from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, David Asai and Cynthia Bauerle from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Elizabeth Boylan from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Their encouragement and support are deeply appreciated.
Additional financial support from the Presidents Committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine also allowed this initiative to be completed and we express our deep gratitude to the Academies’ three presidents for their contributions.