Integrated Science Education for Discovery in Introductory Biology (InSciED-In) at the University of Minnesota
Numerous investigators have made the case that authentic research experiences contribute to increased student engagement, understanding of scientific processes, long-term learning, and interest in science as a career. However, the traditional ﾓapprenticeﾔ modelﾗin which a small and select group of students are mentored by a primary investigator (or that individualﾒs retinue of post-docs and graduate students)ﾗis typically restricted to a small percentage of a student cohort, and difficult to scale up to an entire group. This restricted access to meaningful research experiences has led to a re-imagining of undergraduate research opportunities. Course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs), for example, allow students to engage in discovery-based research in the context of an existing course. By incorporating CUREs into the curriculum, a large number of students can participate meaningfully in the process of science, with the palpable expectation of discovery that is often lacking in traditional, inquiry-based laboratory exercises.
Integrated Science Education for Discovery in Introductory Biology (InSciED-In) engages hundreds of students each year in classroom-based authentic research experiences. The program is currently in its second year, but by the fifth year of the program, every studentﾗmajor or non-major, or ~6800 students per yearﾗenrolled in one of the collegeﾒs introductory biology courses will participate in course-based research.
Our two primary goals are to:
1. Provide students with a rigorous, comprehensive research experience that includes observation, hypothesis building, experimental design, data analysis and presentation, and the expectation of discovery of new knowledge.
2. Compare the outcomes of traditional research apprenticeships, inquiry- based classroom labs, CUREs that involve ﾓwet-labﾔ methodologies, and CUREs that involve data analysis methodologies, to identify the types of research experiences that are most effective for learning scientific process skills and improving attitudes and confidence toward science
Each CURE-based course is different, and the research projects vary, however all are characterized by a rigorous, comprehensive research experience that includes observation, hypothesis building, experimental design, data analysis and presentation, and the expectation of discovery of new knowledge.
By offering several different types of courses, and conducting a thorough, multi-part assessment, we are able to compare CUREs that vary in terms of duration, size of the participant pool, model system (e.g., in silico versus in vivo), and characteristics of the students themselves (year in school, initial interest in science, etc.).
In one non-majorsﾒ course, the Evolution and Biology of Sex, the students use bean beetles (Callosobruchus maculatus) to ask novel questions about sexual preference, mating behavior or other sex-related questions that interest the students. Students work in groups developing testable hypotheses, designing and implementing experiments, and analyzing data that they will then interpret and present to their classmates. In another non-majors course, General Biology, the students will explore their own oral microbiome and test caries prevention strategies that they develop. And in a third course, Evolution and Ecology, students will test hypotheses about animal behavior and habitat preferences on the Serengeti, drawing on an existing database of information gleaned from the citizen-science program, ﾓSnapshot Serengeti.ﾔ
Thus far, several thousand students have studied bean beetle sexual selection, sexual orientation, and operational sex ratios. Initial assessment has demonstrated that students value the ﾓauthenticﾔ (discovery based) experience, and students are more motivated by the ability to answer their own questions than they are to work collaboratively, at the ﾓedge of knowledge.ﾔ
Over the five years of this grant, more than 11,000 non-majors and 2,000 majors will participate in an InSciED-In research experience. Success with our first non-majors CURE has led to several presentations and one paper in press, plus another in review. In year two, we are piloting CUREs in two additional courses and introducing a new model system into our majors series. The InSciED-In approach provides
an attractive, feasible model for providing research experiences that benefit our students, and that can be readily implemented at other institutions.
In implementing and assessing our course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs), we've encountered some problems with getting the undergraduate TAs (who facilitate the lab sessions) to 'buy in' to our teaching philosophy. This has made tackling some of our assessment-related questions difficult, however we've recently piloted a 'Scientific Teaching' certification series for our TAs that is showing promise.
We've also not found a good tool for assessing existing levels of (and therefore, gains in) our students' process of science skills. Therefore, we've spent considerable time developing our own science-process skills rubric that is in a trial phase this (Fall) semester.
Cotner, S. and S. Hebert. Bean beetles make biology research sexy. In press at American Biology Teacher.