Course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) are a type of inquiry-based laboratory pedagogy in which students undertake an authentic, hypothesis-driven research problem, with unknown results, that are of interest outside the classroom. Since their introduction in the mid-2000s, CUREs have been developed and studied in a wide variety of contexts, and their unique characteristics and benefits have been systematically investigated. In one landmark study of 1026 students from 57 diverse colleges and universities, researchers found the variable most strongly correlated with students’ perceived learning gains was instructional time [Shaffer, et al. CBE-Life Sci. Educ. 2014]. However, almost all CUREs are designed and studied as stand-alone experiences. Thus, there is a need to design, develop, and investigate multi-year CURE curricula and to study their impacts on student learning.
This work addresses this need by developing and implementing CUREs in four chemistry laboratory courses at the State University of New York – Geneseo, a primarily undergraduate institution of 5,000 students in upstate New York. The CUREs are introduced in students’ first year laboratory experiences and are scaffolded in a multi-year sequence spanning a range of chemistry sub-disciplines throughout a 4-year curriculum.
The guiding question of this work is “What are the impacts of a multi-year, sequenced laboratory CURE curriculum on student learning?” More specifically, we hypothesize that a multi-year CURE curriculum will produce larger gains in student self-efficacy compared to stand-alone experiences. We have designed a longitudinal study utilizing the Persistence in the Sciences (PITS) survey data, a validated and reliable instrument to measure student perception self-efficacy, to answer this research question.
The first iteration of curriculum design for a multi-year CURE was completed in 2021. Actions associated with five scientific practices (hypothesis generation, experimental design, data acquisition and iteration, analysis and interpretation of results, and communication] are identified at three levels of expertise (introductory, intermediate, advanced). CURE projects are mapped onto this design, with intentional sequencing that allows both re-iteration of practices and long-term growth of student abilities.
The first survey data set was obtained from 8 first-year students in a general chemistry laboratory completed in 2021. Preliminary results indicate students had positive experiences and baseline measurements of self-efficacy were obtained. On-going work aims to implement CUREs in additional chemistry courses, to monitor growth in student learning, and to revise design materials based on student and instructor feedback.
Through this project we aim to transform the chemistry laboratory curriculum by centering it on the high impact practice of undergraduate research. We anticipate the effort will result in improved student learning and experience, a better prepared STEM work force, greater persistence in pursuing post-baccalaureate education, and more effective STEM educational practices. Furthermore, we are interested in investigating if this intervention has disproportionately positive effects among historically excluded groups, which could help diversify the STEM workforce, a key national goal.
Eric Helms, State University of New York, Geneseo; Rabeka Alam, State University of New York, Geneseo