Sequencing of In-Class and Out-of-Class Learning for Undergraduate Students to Gain Authentic Experience with the Research Process

Project No.
PI Name
Nicole Berge
University of South Carolina

Nanotechnology Undergraduate Education

Abstract 1

Sequencing of In-Class and Out-of-Class Learning for Undergraduate Students to Gain Authentic Experience with the Research Process

Presentation Type
Nicole D. Berge and Charles E. Pierce University of South Carolina


Undergraduate research is increasingly recognized as an exemplary educational model for improved student learning, especially in engineering and the sciences. Certainly, research can improve content knowledge, but it can have equally significant impacts on the development and acquisition of professional skills that include communication and higher order thinking. Correspondingly, opportunities for undergraduate research are expanding. This project addresses the need to better prepare undergraduate students for a research experience. For many, undergraduate research consists of being モplugged inヤ the middle of an ongoing project. For these students, research might be defined as something that is just モdone in the lab.ヤ To that end, this project intends to broaden the student understanding of research and reduce the gap between novice and expert perspectives of the research process.


The primary goal of this project is to establish a curricular-extracurricular link for students pursuing undergraduate research. Through this link, it is anticipated that students will embrace ownership of his/her research and engage in much deeper critical thinking. We developed a 3-hr elective course within our civil and environmental engineering curriculum that introduces students to research. In the current model, this course is offered in the spring semester to prepare students to conduct research in the summer. The main course deliverable is a research proposal, which contains each studentメs chosen research topic, research question(s), testable hypotheses, research plan, schedule, and expected outcomes. Through the summer experience, students review and revise their proposals as the research is conducted; those changes, and student reactions to and reflections upon those changes, are shared during checkpoint presentations.


The course itself is based in active and collaborative learning. We believe that one cannot lecture students about how to do research; rather, students are engaged in the identification process for meaningful research topics and questions, and the instructors serve as their guides. The course is truly team-taught, with the same two faculty members (in civil and environmental engineering) in the classroom at all times. Other faculty and staff supplement the course in multiple roles such as leading in-class activities, serving on in-class panels, or participating in research proposal poster sessions. The course revolves around the implementation of research tools that include a research triangle, literature map, research plan worksheet, one-page outline, and technical writing rubric. While in the course, students work with their research mentor for guidance and support in the proposal writing process. This approach aims to develop a mentor-mentee relationship before students start working in a lab or conducting research experiments.


Five students participated in the first trial in spring-summer 2015 (note: other students completed the course but did not pursue research in the summer). It is anticipated that five more students will participate in 2016 as part of our NUE grant award. We will share what students learned from the program.

Broader Impacts

Four of the five students are pursuing Graduation with Leadership Distinction; one graduating senior intends to start graduate school in 2016. An ASEE Conference paper is in preparation for summer 2016.

Unexpected Challenges

Concepts maps were identified as one of the primary assessment tools in our project proposal. The goal was to utilize concept maps to help students link content across multiple courses and, at the same time, provide a form of longitudinal assessment of student knowledge gains. We have encountered challenges with how best to create (hand-drawn vs. computer-generated) these images as well as move them from something perceived as 'static' to a more dynamic and powerful learning tool. One in-progress solution has been to craft in-class exercises where students must use their maps.


Pierce, C.E., & Berge, N. (2014). Development of an Integrated Curriculum for Educating Engineers about Nanotechnology: End-of-Life Management of Nanomaterial-Containing Wastes. 121st ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, IN. 8 pp.

(In Review) Pierce, C.E., Berge, N.D., & Gassman, S.L. The EFFECTs Model for Problem-Based Learning in Municipal Solid Waste Management Education. Submitted for publication in Waste Management.