Building consortiums to engage students in collaborative research focused on science community needs
Inquiry-based labs are now seen in undergraduate courses at different curricular levels, in response to national recommendations that students more directly engage the scientific research process. We have extended the concept of inquiry-based labs to include immediate dissemination of student-generated results to a broader community of interested scientists, a gap in most course-based research, but critical step in a comprehensive experience. In addition to enriching the undergraduate experience, this project includes a significant faculty development component focused on productive integration of teaching and research, a need that must be addressed in order to sustain high-impact course-based research opportunities for students.
The primary goals are to broaden and enrich course-based research experiences, improve their sustainability by aligning them with faculty and community research priorities, and offer a collaborative and inclusive learning community that promotes science leadership development for students and faculty. Faculty are implementing modules guiding students in open-ended research. Students are publishing their discoveries that contribute to faculty and community research priorities. Workshops train and mentor faculty and student TAs to develop in areas of science leadership, and disseminate the model to outside communities.
This initiative required: 1) a set of research-based labs with potential to yield results of interest to a scientific group, and 2) a means for disseminating student-generated results. For lab modules, we capitalized on the need for functional annotation of the recently-sequenced Tetrahymena genome. For high-visibility dissemination, we developed a database (superdb.org) for presentation of student results that links to the official Tetrahymena Genome Database. The resulting Ciliate Genomics Consortium is a research-based learning community of undergraduate peers, mentors, and outside scientists from a variety of institutions (state and private universities, liberal arts colleges) who collectively contribute to the gene annotation project.
For classroom students engaging these research-based modules, generation of novel information for immediate publication on a database used by the science community was an effective motivational tool that: enhanced studentsﾒ effort, interest in learning, confidence as contributors in a research community, and interest in pursuing additional research opportunities. Faculty have published results from course-based research, and engaged in new research collaborations leading to publication. We next hope to disseminate our consortium model to other biology research communities that work on a model system with a published genome to promote their engagement of undergraduates as scientific contributors.
Many hundreds of undergraduates have published new discoveries on gene function to the research community, and have been motivated to pursue further research. Research and pedagogical findings have been published in journals. The model has also been particularly supportive of new faculty development through research collaborations and mentoring that naturally arise through from the consortium structure and goals. Key features of this consortium model are transferrable to a variety of STEM communities that currently have shared datasets, or desire their development. We have identified and shared (through workshops and conference presentations) transferrable features of the model that enhance student engagement with research, while advancing research priorities of individual faculty members, and priorities for the larger research community.
Challenge: Time during academic year to provide support for new faculty adopting our curriculum (we've had more than anticipated). Solution: Identify a 'point person' in the consortium to oversee support for an individual research module. Challenge: Fulfilling requests for early-career faculty mentoring that have arisen from our consortial interactions. Solution: Weave career mentoring sessions into our regular summer workshops; we are develop a paired mentoring system for consortium participants.
Wiley, E.A. and Stover, N. (2014) Immediate dissemination of student discoveries to a model organism database enhances classroom-based research experiences. CBE Life Sci. Educ. 13(1) 131-8