skip to main content

Title: Addressing the Unique Qualities of Upper-Level Biology Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences through the Integration of Skill-Building
Synopsis  Early exposure to course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) in introductory biology courses can promote positive student outcomes such as increased confidence, critical thinking, and views of applicability in lower-level courses, but it is unknown if these same impacts are achieved by upper-level courses. Upper-level courses differ from introductory courses in several ways, and one difference that could impact these positive student outcomes is the importance of balancing structure with independence in upper-level CUREs where students typically have more autonomy and greater complexity in their research projects. Here we compare and discuss two formats of upper-level biology CUREs (Guided and Autonomous) that vary along a continuum between structure and independence. We share our experiences teaching an upper-level CURE in two different formats and contrast those formats through student reported perceptions of confidence, professional applicability, and CURE format. Results indicate that the Guided Format (i.e., a more even balance between structure and independence) led to more positive impacts on student outcomes than the Autonomous Format (less structure and increased independence). We review the benefits and drawbacks of each approach while considering the unique elements of upper-level courses relative to lower-level courses. We conclude with a discussion of how implementing structured skill-building more » can assist instructors in adapting CUREs to their courses. « less
; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Integrative and Comparative Biology
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) are an effective way to integrate research into an undergraduate science curriculum and extend research experiences to a large, diverse group of early-career students. We developed a biology CURE at the University of Miami (UM) called the UM Authentic Research Laboratories (UMARL), in which groups of first-year students investigated novel questions and conducted projects of their own design related to the research themes of the faculty instructors. Herein, we describe the implementation and student outcomes of this long-running CURE. Using a national survey of student learning through research experiences in courses, we found that UMARL led to high student self-reported learning gains in research skills such as data analysis and science communication, as well as personal development skills such as self-confidence and self-efficacy. Our analysis of academic outcomes revealed that the odds of students who took UMARL engaging in individual research, graduating with a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) within 4 years, and graduating with honors were 1.5–1.7 times greater than the odds for a matched group of students from UM’s traditional biology labs. The authenticity of UMARL may have fostered students’ confidence that they can do real research, reinforcing their persistencemore »in STEM.« less
  2. The STEM Excellence through Engagement in Collaboration, Research, and Scholarship (SEECRS) project at Whatcom Community College is a five-year program aiming to support academically talented students with demonstrated financial need in biology, chemistry, geology, computer science, engineering, and physics. This project is funded by an NSF S-STEM (Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) grant awarded in January 2017. Through an inclusive and long-range effort, the college identified a strong need for financial and comprehensive supports for STEM students. This project will offer financial, academic, and professional support to three two-year cohorts of students. The SEECRS project aims to utilize a STEM-specific guided pathways approach to strengthen recruitment, retention, and matriculation of STEM students at the community college level. Scholarship recipients will be supported through participation in the SEECRS Scholars Academy, a multi-pronged approach to student support combining elements of community building, faculty mentorship, targeted advising activities, authentic science practice, and social activities. Students are introduced to disciplines of interest through opportunities to engage in course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) in Biology, Chemistry and Engineering courses, funded summer research opportunities, and seminars presented by STEM professionals. Communities of practice will be nurtured through the introduction of cohort building and facultymore »mentorship. Cohort development starts with a required two-credit course for all scholars that emphasizes STEM identity development, specifically focusing on identifying and coping with the ways non-dominant individuals (racial/ethnic minorities, non-male gender, lower socioeconomic status, first-generation, 2-year community college vs. 4-year institutions) are made to feel as outsiders in STEM. Each SEECRS scholar is paired with a faculty mentor who engages in ongoing mentor training. The project evaluation will determine the efficacy of the project activities in achieving their intended outcomes. Specifically, we will collect data to answer the research question: To what extent can a guided pathways approach provide a coordinated and supported STEM experience at Whatcom Community College that: (1) increases student success, and (2) positively shifts students’ STEM self-identity? The evaluation will employ a quasi-experimental research design, specifically a pretest-posttest design with a matched comparison group. Our first cohort of 14 students was selected over two application rounds (winter and summer 2017). We awarded ten full scholarships and four half-scholarships based on financial need data. Cohort demographics of note compared to institutional percentages are: females (64% vs. 57%), Hispanic (14% vs. 17%), African American (7% vs. 2%), white (79% vs. 66%), first generation college bound (43% vs. 37%). The cohort is comprised of six students interested in engineering, six in biology, and one each in geology and environmental sciences. With increased communication between the project team, our Financial Aid office, Entry and Advising, high school outreach, and the Title III grant-funded Achieve, Inspire, Motivate (AIM) Program, as well as a longer advertising time, we anticipate significantly enhancing our applicant pool for the next cohort. The results and lessons learned from our first year of implementation will be presented.« less
  3. Here we evaluate undergraduate student attitudes about science after each of three authentic research experiences in a semester of an introductory biology laboratory course at Utah State University. The three course-based research experiences (CUREs) vary in length and student freedom, and they cover different areas of biology. Students responded to the science attitude items of the CURE Survey. When compared to national data, our students faired similarly, and all students struggled with certain epistemic assumptions about science knowledge. As also seen in the national database, change in science attitude was slight and nonlinear. Student self confidence in what a career scientist is and in scientific process skills was the best predictor of scientific maturity, not the three CUREs or other aspects of students’ background. We discuss the slight positive and negative change in attitude we did influence, and we note that most students would choose to have another research experience.
  4. Here we present unique perspectives from undergraduate students (n=3) in STEM who have taken both a traditional laboratory iteration and a Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) iteration of the same introductory chemistry course. CUREs can be effective models for integrating research in courses and fostering student learning gains. Via phenomenological interviews, we asked students to describe the differences in their perspectives, feelings, and experiences between a traditional lab guided by a lab manual and a CURE. We found that (i.) critical thinking/problem solving, (ii.) group work/collaboration, (iii.) student-led research questions and activities, and (iv.) time management are the top four emergent themes associated with the CURE course. Students also indicated that they learned more disciplinary content in the CURE, and, importantly, that they prefer it over the traditional lab. These findings add another dimension of success to CUREs in STEM education, particularly surrounding student retention.
  5. Responding to the need to teach remotely due to COVID-19, we used readily available computational approaches (and developed associated tutorials ( to teach virtual Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) laboratories that fulfil generally accepted main components of CUREs or Undergraduate Research Experiences (UREs): Scientific Background, Hypothesis Development, Proposal, Experiments, Teamwork, Data Analysis, Conclusions, and Presentation1. We then developed and taught remotely, in three phases, protein-centric CURE activities that are adaptable to virtually any protein, emphasizing contributions of noncovalent interactions to structure, binding and catalysis (an ASBMB learning framework2 foundational concept). The courses had five learning goals (unchanged in the virtual format),focused on i) use of primary literature and bioinformatics, ii) the roles of non-covalent interactions, iii) keeping accurate laboratory notebooks, iv) hypothesis development and research proposal writing, and, v) presenting the project and drawing evidence based conclusions The first phase, Developing a Research Proposal, contains three modules, and develops hallmarks of a good student-developed hypothesis using available literature (PubMed3) and preliminary observations obtained using bioinformatics, Module 1: Using Primary Literature and Data Bases (Protein Data Base4, Blast5 and Clustal Omega6), Module 2: Molecular Visualization (PyMol7 and Chimera8), culminating in a research proposal (Module 3). Provided rubrics guide student expectations. Inmore »the second phase, Preparing the Proteins, students prepared necessary proteins and mutants using Module 4: Creating and Validating Models, which leads users through creating mutants with PyMol, homology modeling with Phyre29 or Missense10, energy minimization using RefineD11 or ModRefiner12, and structure validation using MolProbity13. In the third phase, Computational Experimental Approaches to Explore the Questions developed from the Hypothesis, students selected appropriate tools to perform their experiments, chosen from computational techniques suitable for a CURE laboratory class taught remotely. Questions, paired with computational approaches were selected from Modules 5: Exploring Titratable Groups in a Protein using H++14, 6: Exploring Small Molecule Ligand Binding (with SwissDock15), 7: Exploring Protein-Protein Interaction (with HawkDock16), 8: Detecting and Exploring Potential Binding Sites on a Protein (with POCASA17 and SwissDock), and 9: Structure-Activity Relationships of Ligand Binding & Drug Design (with SwissDock, Open Eye18 or the Molecular Operating Environment (MOE)19). All involve freely available computational approaches on publicly accessible web-based servers around the world (with the exception of MOE). Original literature/Journal club activities on approaches helped students suggest tie-ins to wet lab experiments they could conduct in the future to complement their computational approaches. This approach allowed us to continue using high impact CURE teaching, without changing our course learning goals. Quantitative data (including replicates) was collected and analyzed during regular class periods. Students developed evidence-based conclusions and related them to their research questions and hypotheses. Projects culminated in a presentation where faculty feedback was facilitated with the Virtual Presentation platform from QUBES20 These computational approaches are readily adaptable for topics accessible for first to senior year classes and individual research projects (UREs). We used them in both partial and full semester CUREs in various institutional settings. We believe this format can benefit faculty and students from a wide variety of teaching institutions under conditions where remote teaching is necessary.« less