In addition to faculty members and students, STEM departments and institutions are critical determinants of success in course-based research. Institutional commitments can take many forms, and the durability of these commitments, despite administrative turnover, helps determine the sustainability of programs to bring research to much larger numbers of students. A final panel at the convocation looked at the role of institutions in fostering change. Issues the speakers covered included the faculty reward system, learning goals for students, design of the learning environment, and institutional commitment to involving students in research at scale.
The College of Arts and Sciences within North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, which is a historically black university located in Greensboro, North Carolina, has an undergraduate enrollment of more than 3,000 undergraduate students and 250 graduate students, with more than 10,000 students in the university as a whole. By involving many more of the students in the College of Arts and Sciences in course-based research, said Goldie Byrd, professor of biology and dean for the College of Arts and Sciences at the university, institutions like North Carolina A&T can help diversify both STEM education and the STEM professions.
As at other colleges and universities, the faculty at North Carolina A&T are rewarded on the basis of their teaching, research, and service. To change the paradigm for undergraduate research, this reward structure has to be addressed, said Byrd. In particular, faculty members will ask
whether involvement with course-based research will distract from their research productivity. At the same time, many colleges and universities are dealing with lower instructional expenditures per student, reduced research funding, lower salaries, and heavier teaching, advising, and service responsibilities.
Administrative concerns are another potential barrier, said Byrd. All administrators may not recognize the importance of national imperatives such as those laid out in the PCAST report (see Chapter 2). Many upper level administrators, including deans of arts and sciences, have not been trained in STEM disciplines. As a result, they may be less willing to consider changes in the STEM curriculum than faculty members in those areas, Byrd said.
There are a variety of ways to educate administrators about the significance of undergraduate research, including providing case studies, publicizing the results of pilot projects, holding campus symposia, and initiating frank discussions. Faculty achievements can be emphasized to administrators, such as national awards or other recognition, the products of sabbaticals, or participation in national convenings. “If we want to make a cultural or paradigm shift in this area, then we have to get buy-in all the way from the bottom to the top,” Byrd said.
The actions of departmental chairpersons can be particularly influential. They can lead important conversations and initiatives; be effective advocates for faculty; assure equity in salaries, workloads, and opportunities for leadership; clarify tenure and promotion guidelines; write mentoring letters; and engage in and lead collaborative writing.
The restructuring of a department’s courses allows faculty to create initiatives that they care about, Byrd observed. For example, restructuring can allow for campus convocations where faculty members discuss course-based research initiatives of interest. Short summer sabbaticals for faculty to visit institutions where course-based research programs are underway can create opportunities for course design and the creation of materials, modules, and assessments. At North Carolina A&T, “success faculty” who are hired to support students’ matriculation, research, and overall academic achievement have been hired in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and English. Grants personnel assist faculty members with pre-award and post-award responsibilities. A director of assessment helps evaluate course-based research and how these programs integrate with other undergraduate experiences.
Deans can help by making faculty development a priority. They can put in place strategic plans that emphasize diversity and equity, develop proposals that include faculty development, help establish endowments and special funds, and support special awards and opportunities for international travel. North Carolina A&T, for example, has created an alumni-based endowment to support faculty development. In addition, deans can create opportunities for faculty to develop leadership skills and make available assistance for chairs, formal mentoring programs, targeted hiring practices, and clear policies for evaluation, promotion, and tenure. In that respect, North Carolina A&T looks for faculty members who will engage in scholarship on teaching and learning, not just in laboratory or bench work.
North Carolina A&T has created two new positions: an associate dean for faculty and student success, and a director of assessment (see above). It also has created an innovation fund at the college level. To date, 13 collaborative projects have been funded that aim to enhance student success, including course-based research. In addition, the college has received a $2 million gift
from the GlaxoSmithKline Foundation to create a STEM Center of Excellence for Active Learning, which is engaged in course redesign, community building, faculty development, and organizes an annual symposia.
Byrd concluded with several take-home points derived from her experiences. Faculty buy-in is critical, she said, as is administrative awareness and support. Targeted hiring and awards along with faculty and student development can create an environment for success. Tools and teams that work best for a given institution’s culture need to be developed, she said, with a repository of best practices and readily available tools. Centers and institutes allow for collective thought, and a culture of assessment and evaluation can spur progress. Funding can support broadening participation among diverse groups, with key partnerships across campus contributing to this goal. Finally, national debates and conversations should be inclusive, Byrd said.
In 2012, all of the publicly funded universities in Hong Kong were planning to transition from a three-year curriculum to a four-year curriculum. Arthur Ellis, who was formerly with the University of Wisconsin at Madison; University of California at San Diego, and the National Science Foundation, moved to City University of Hong Kong as provost to help lead the change. “It was almost a blank slate [allowing us] to think about a completely different kind of curriculum and a completely different kind of accountability system ” he said
The centerpiece of the change accomplished was the development of the Discovery-Enriched Curriculum (DEC),20 which Ellis said addresses a pair of grand challenges in higher education. It helps motivate students by integrating research and education on a large scale, and it helps motivate faculty by aligning rewards with performance. It aims toward the highest levels of Bloom’s taxonomy,21 which involve creating something that an expert in a field would validate as an original and valued contribution to that field. “What we decided to do with the DEC was to say, very simply, that we want every student—and there are on the order of 11,000 undergraduates at the university—to have the opportunity to make original discoveries.” Such experiences will help students prepare for the unscripted circumstances they will face for the rest
20 Additional information is available at http://www.cityu.edu.hk/provost/dec. Selected awards and examples of intellectual property that have been generated by this initiative are described at http://www.cityu.edu.hk/provost/dec/DEC_awards.htm.
21 Bloom’s taxonomy sets out cognitive, affective, and psychomotor learning objectives that instructors have for students. In the cognitive domain, these objectives include knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and creation of new knowledge.
of their lives, said Ellis. Students both master existing knowledge and skills, and understand what it takes to create new knowledge, communicate it, curate it, and cultivate it to benefit society.
The DEC was designed as much for the faculty as students, Ellis said. The initiative was intended to energize faculty members and to spur innovation. The year before the transition, for example, faculty members went through every major and every course and listed the attitudes, abilities, and accomplishments they wanted that major or course to inculcate.
Students are told when they first came to the college that they are expected to create intellectual property. They each receive a brochure describing their rights and responsibilities related to intellectual property and academic honesty. Then, in their first years, students identify a research question to explore. They have access to discovery labs with 3D scanners and printers, interactive tabletops, robotics, and other tools. The faculty also have a free hand in providing them with opportunities for discovery.
One group of students designed equipment for fruit fly research and applied for a registered design in Hong Kong and a patent in the United States. Another designed a pointing device for interacting with touch-sensitive devices, received venture capital from the government, and formed a start-up company. “We’re seeing all kinds of interesting opportunities,” said Ellis.
The initiative emphasizes interdisciplinary work, with an emphasis on the arts as well as STEM fields. Students have created cross-disciplinary teams via social media, resulting in about a hundred proposals for interdisciplinary projects. As an example, Ellis cited a project involving about two dozen students who traveled as part of interdisciplinary teams to Antarctica to collect data and then, in the following semester, created artwork from their data to illustrate sustainability issues in the region.
To align the faculty reward system with individual and collective performance, the university created an annual performance-based pay review for determining salary increments. In addition, allocations to departments reflect their collective contributions in education, research, and management. Departments get a kind of report card with data on where they are doing well and where they need to improve. Individual salary increments for faculty members reflect contributions to education, research, and service determined through bottom-up and transparent processes. If faculty members contribute to the desired changes, their salaries go up more than if they do not. “This has created a culture of accountability at the university, and it has helped to support the DEC,” Ellis said. 22
22 In a personal communication, Dr. Ellis indicated that the most effective tool for change has been a reward system that provides tangible rewards for both individuals and departments that help to advance the DEC. Positive outcomes have also helped to overcome initial skepticism on the part of many faculty.
Ellis concluded by observing that higher education is at a tipping point. The best knowledge and experts available today can be found online. “But what you can’t find on the web is the next knowledge, the knowledge that hasn’t been created yet,” said Ellis. “Higher education is uniquely positioned to fill that [need] as we prepare our students.” (See also Box 6-1.)
In 2012, John Jungck, who is now the director of the Interdisciplinary Science Learning Laboratories for the University of Delaware, was invited to the university to help create an environment that would support sustainable student success. A three-building complex, with two buildings devoted to education, was designed to support the integration of biology, chemistry, and physics while institutionalizing problem-based learning.23 Previously, faculty members were accustomed to teaching in lecture halls, the graduate students were used to teaching in labs and basements, and peer-led instruction occurred elsewhere. The construction of a new building complex provided an opportunity to bring these activities together, rethink them, and begin to change the culture of teaching and learning.
The Interdisciplinary Science Learning Laboratories can be “home” for students for a significant part of their first year. Professors, graduate teaching assistants, and undergraduate peer leaders are all in one place. Students participate in multiple learning activities there, including lectures, discussions, problem-solving sessions, wet laboratories, and public presentations. They can take advantage of graduate teaching assistants’ office hours, visit a drop-in informal learning center with free tutoring, or check out supplies for informal group learning in lounges spread throughout the building.
The new labs are set up to it make it easier to do investigation, analysis, presentation, and peer review than to do “cookbook” procedures, lectures, and recitation. In a high-tech, high-touch approach, the furniture, technology, and space all support student engagement. Labs have mobile chairs that support laptops and can be clustered together, writeable walls, digital video microscopy, and real-time data acquisition to wall monitors. The rooms do not have fronts and backs, and the transitions to labs are seamless. The cyber environment includes high-speed networks, social collaboration tools, Apple iPads and carts, file sharing support, analysis and visualization tools, and presentation tools. Informal learning areas are popular and always crowded. In addition, Jungck hired what are called preceptors, who are with students in the lab but do no grading. “Professors, graduates, undergraduates, PLTL leaders come and go, but the preceptor is the safe role model that students can reach out to.”
Under current rules, faculty members at the University of Delaware only received one-third of the credit for teaching a lab or seminar as for delivering a lecture, so the labs and classroom activities are all scheduled together, with no distinction in terms of the load calculus for the faculty members involved. Out-of-class support is designed to create a pro-success environment by building self-efficacy and perseverance. Informal spaces and drop-in tutoring centers, with support for all students (including attention to students who are trying to achieve at the highest level as well as students afraid to seek help) are all part of a diverse and coordinated set of student support services. Research has demonstrated, said Jungck, that students who study more than one course together in their collaborative learning group persevere and succeed more often; thus creating such groups is one approach taken at the University of Delaware. Independent student work is showcased, with the intent of moving beyond research that serves primarily the faculty members. Students work on causes that matter to the students themselves. Student posters are displayed in areas where other students will see the work regularly. Students are engaged as peer reviewers, editors, and reporters of research. In addition, the university has adopted many proven models from elsewhere, such as Sally Hoskins’s C.R.E.A.T.E. approach to introducing primary research literature to beginning students (Hoskins et al., 2007) and David Micklos’s urban barcoding project to introduce bioinformatics (see Chapter 4).
For students to be fully engaged, they have to be involved in the full cycle of research, Jungck said. They need to propose research, solve problems, present their research, and go through peer review.24 They also can become involved in citizen science, not just as distributed sensors or basic interpreters, but as collaborators in problem definition, data collection, analysis, and use.
“There are numerous opportunities for students to be researchers in any way that they want,” Jungck concluded. “If we really believe that students are researchers, we have to mean that more seriously—that they are not just our research assistants but the creators and leaders of tomorrow.” (For a related model, see also Box 6-2.)
The University of Maryland is a large public research university with 27,000 undergraduates and nearly 10,000 graduate students. It has a diverse student population that is 42 percent minority and a large transfer population from a strong community college system in that state. Its second-year retention rate is 95 percent, and its six-year graduation rate is 85 percent. Like other colleges and universities, it has gone through a period of severely constrained funding. At the same time, it is rethinking curriculum delivery to develop a culture of research at scale. The college offers many opportunities for high-achieving incoming first-year students through a suite of living-learning programs with strong experiential learning, said Betsy Beise, professor of
physics and associate provost for academic planning and programs at the University of Maryland, College Park. Examples include honors programs, special communities, travel programs, and two NSF-funded living-learning engineering communities for underrepresented populations. It also has many support programs for students who need extra help early in their studies. The group that falls between the gaps, said Beise, consists of the middle students—and here is where course-based research can be especially valuable.
The First-Year Innovation and Research Experience25 (FIRE) program provides first-year students with authentic research experiences, broad mentorship, and institutional connections that affect academic success, personal resilience, and professional development. It is modeled after the Freshman Research Initiative at the University of Texas26, but with an expansion to
disciplines beyond the STEM fields. For the institution, FIRE provides opportunities to help students find majors they might otherwise not identify, easing pressure on high demand areas. It also leverages collaboration with other initiatives across the campus, including initiatives focused on student research.
As an example of a project-based course at the University of Maryland, Beise mentioned the Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability (PALS)27, which is a campus-wide initiative that harnesses the expertise of faculty members and the energy and ingenuity of students to help Maryland communities become more environmentally,
economically, and socially sustainable. Such courses are “a way to spread the goal of student engagement beyond STEM disciplines and basic research.”
As issues that still need to be addressed, Beise mentioned the tension between funding this kind of research and traditional graduate student teaching and research assistantships, the need to achieve broad faculty buy-in, the challenge of adapting general approaches in varying circumstances, and how best to support transfer students. But a foothold has been established, she said.
During the discussion session, the panelists turned their attention to the costs of course-based research compared with other types of research experiences. The costs per student are generally much less than those of independent research experiences; research-based courses need not cost much more than other kinds of lab courses. For example, Ellis observed that the changes at City University of Hong Kong were essentially cost neutral. The budget did not change substantially over the five-year period in which the program was instituted. “It’s not money. It’s the will to do something,” he said.
The benefits from such courses are also factors for institutions. For example, these courses can increase retention in STEM fields,28 said Byrd, which can benefit both students and the institutions. Such benefits can be difficult to monetize but are nevertheless real. “What does it mean to be a STEM graduate who is underrepresented?” Byrd asked.
Elizabeth Ambos, executive officer of the Council for Undergraduate Research, pointed to statistics from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education demonstrating the benefits of retention to increasing institutional revenues. As Moran et al. (2015) write in an overview of that research, “With an average cost of attendance of $18,500 per year, we recognized that an annual investment of nearly $500,000 dollars would pay for itself through the retention of just 28 students annually across institutions—an average of two students per university.”
Jungck added that considerations of costs for course-based research must take into account the full benefits of that research for students, institutions, and society at large. Colleges and universities can benefit from improved recruiting, alumni donations, and support from the local community and the state. (Value to the community is particularly visible in SENCER-style projects; see Case Studies #s 4-1, 4-2, and 5-1.) The costs to students of not achieving their ambitions and to parents if their children drop out of college should be reckoned against the costs of change, he said. A college or university “has a public responsibility to serve its community,” he said. “That should not be an add-on. That is a primary responsibility.”
For additional discussion perspectives related to the rewards and challenges of scaling up such efforts, see Chapter 5.