Collaborative course-based research experiences across the geosciences curriculumﾗa model supported by faculty, undergraduate research fellows, and an on-campus hydrologic research station.
Undergraduate research and cooperative learning have long been valued as high-quality educational experiences. Higher education organizations, employer surveys, and student surveys consistently place high value on ﾑreal worldﾒ experiences that develop critical thinking, communication, creativity, and collaboration. Course-based undergraduate research experiences (CREs) provide more opportunities and more equitable access to this high-impact practice. Our project fills a need to test the educational gains of collaborative research in a sustainable manner that can be widely adopted.
The overarching project goals are to (1) test the value of small-group, course-based research experiences, and (2) develop a model for a sustainable undergraduate research infrastructure with support of undergraduate research fellows. To support project activities, we developed the on-campus Western Carolina Hydrologic Research Station (wchrs.wcu.edu), with off-campus partners, to provide on-going, diverse opportunities for CREs.
At Western Carolina University, we have used a collaborative course-based undergraduate research model for 4 years at all levels of the geology curriculum in a dozen courses with over 300 students. Weﾒve evaluated the educational value of the CREs with quantitative, self-perception surveys (URSSA) and qualitative (focus group) data. The hydrologic research station offers an on-going research infrastructure for students/courses at different levels and with different experiences. Undergraduate research fellows support the research station and CREs: they fill a critical hybrid role of technician, research assistant, teaching assistant, and research (peer) coach.
Students in the CREs show a similar pattern of educational gains as those conducting individually peer mentored research. Benefits of their experiences are high related to personal growth and the scientific process and relatively low in research skills. Qualitative data shows students value 1) the open-ended nature of the authentic research questions, 2) group collaboration, and 3) hands-on learning. Further, qualitative assessment shows students benefit from their small group research collaboration; most commonly reported themes are benefitting from leveraging each other�s diverse strengths and backgrounds, modeling a professional collaborative environment, ability to accomplish more together, and developing leadership and interpersonal skills. Undergraduate research fellows value gains in group membership, leadership, scientific skills, and communication.
The strong emphasis we have placed on effective small-group research in our courses has benefits beyond student learning. It provides an additional model on how to scale-up and provide equitable access to a high-impact practice, which are well correlated with student success metrics such as retention and graduation rates. Most students have 2-3 research experiences prior to their required senior research experience. Dissemination of our results in ongoing, but has occurred though PIs and students at several meetings of different organizations and though our project website.
Our primary TUES grant purpose was to test the value (benefits) of small group, collaborative research in regular courses as compared to individually mentored research (the gains are similar in pattern). To do this, we constrained our approach to be a sustainable model that replicated. For our project, this was development of a viable, comprehensive on-campus watershed research station with 'normal' teaching loads. Though doable, the time has been challenging and forced us to further refine,develop, and expand our use of undergraduate students (research fellows) to help run the station and support course-based research. This has been a win-win for our research fellows and our ability to support course-based research.
Lord, Mark; Kinner, David; Mountjoy, Bryant; and Cato, Michael, 2015, The role of undergraduate research fellows to facilitate course-based undergraduate research: Geological Society of America Abstracts With Programs, Vol. 47.
Lord, M., Kinner, D., and Crow, R., 2014, How collaborative research in traditional courses supports students, faculty, the institution and science: Geological Society of America Abstracts With Programs, Vol. 46, No. 6, p.600.
Lord, M., and Kinner, D., 2013, An approach for group, undergraduate research experiences in courses across the geology curriculum: American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2013, abstract #ED23E-04.
Kinner, D., Lord, M., and Crow, R., 2013, Student perceived benefits of group geology undergraduate research experience: GSA Abstracts With Programs, v. 45, n. 7., p. 365.
Kinner, D., Lord, M., and Crow, R., 2012, Benefits of small group authentic research courses in traditional courses across the Geology curriculum: GSA Abstracts With Programs, v. 44, n. 7, p. 429.