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Carleton’s Bachelor of Computer Science teaches the principles of solving computational problems, while providing up-to-date applied skills for working in the information technology, biotech and multimedia industries.

Best Practices for STEM CUREs Teaching Circle–Fall 2023

In the fall of 2023, five Carleton STEM faculty members met to discuss the elements of Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs), their experiences implementing CUREs at Carleton, and the desired student and faculty outcomes of CUREs. Below, we outline CUREs, provide links to each of our CURE approaches, and identify benefits for students and faculty of participating in a CURE.

There are a variety of barriers to implementing effective CUREs, as outlined in detail by Calède  ( 2023 ). Overall, the faculty in our CURE Teaching Circle believe that the challenge of designing and implementing a CURE is the primary barrier to the broader incorporation of CUREs into the curriculum at Carleton. While we found no “magic bullets” to mitigate this problem, it seems that collaboration can help to lower the barrier.

What is a CURE?

Undergraduate research in the sciences is broadly recognized as a high impact practice.  Among other benefits, it is highly effective in teaching the scientific process, generating excitement about science, and improving students’ persistence in STEM ( Lopatto, 2010 ).  Undergraduate research has also become an expected part of a student’s dossier when applying to graduate school in many fields.  Course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) embed undergraduate research experiences into courses. This has an overall effect of making them more accessible to students, and thereby expanding students’ access to them.

CUREs are defined as involving five features.  “1) There is an element of discovery, so that students are working with novel data [we are inclined to expand ‘data’ to include ‘ideas, equations, data, and similar products of scientific inquiry’]. 2) Iteration is built into the lab [we believe that ‘experience’ is a more inclusive term than ‘lab’]. 3) Students engage in a high level of collaboration. 4) Students learn scientific practices. 5) The topic is broadly relevant so that it could potentially be published and/or of interest to a group outside the class.” ( Auchincloss, et al., 2014 )

In our STEM CURE Teaching Circle discussions, the element that imposes the greatest challenge for CURE implementation is number 5–the expectation that the experience will generate publishable or novel results, of interest to a community outside of Carleton. In our collective experience, only one of us has been able to consistently incorporate our primary research program, in which the results are not previously known, into a CURE (Meerts). 

CURE Models–Nationally and at Carleton

As described by Erin Dolan ( 2016 ), there are a variety of models for CURE implementation nationally. These examples generally are implemented at R1 institutions or institutions with graduate programs. They include:

  • National projects focused on a specific research goal (such as: Genomics Education Partnership {GEP} led by Sarah Elgin at Washington University in St. Louis; the Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters program {SEA-Phages} led by Graham Hatfall at the University of Pittsburgh); 
  • National projects focused on a particular technique or mode of inquiry (such as: the Genome Consortium for Active Teaching; the Small World Initiative; and the Partnership in Research and Education in Plants for Undergraduates {PREP-U});
  • Institutional programs that incorporate individual faculty research programs (such as: the Center for Authentic Science Practice in Education at Purdue University; the Freshman Research Initiative {FRI} at the University of Texas at Austin; and the Vertically Integrated Projects Program at Georgia Tech);
  • Individual faculty-led programs, as described in Table 1 of reference 2.

The Science Education Resource Center (SERC) at Carleton also showcases a wide range of undergraduate research experiences on its website.

At Carleton, we identified four general approaches to CURE implementation in STEM:

  • Research-only courses based on faculty members’ primary research programs (PSYCH, NEURO, or CHEM 300 courses),
  • Foundational science courses, some with associate laboratory components, that incorporate faculty members’ research programs or that serve to pilot new ideas in support of faculty research (Foundations of Neuroscience { Meerts and Hoopfer}, Advanced Mechanics { Tasson }, Biochemistry {Calderone, Chihade, Sung}),
  • Student research projects based on existing data sets, faculty research materials, or faculty-assigned research topics (Introduction to Geology {Haileab }) 
  • Student designed research projects (Cog Sci {Galotti and McKinney })

The examples above are not comprehensive and do not include the many inquiry-based lab experiences developed and implemented by Carleton faculty members, which may not include every element defined by the wider CURE community. In particular, one of the questions that we grappled with was whether the 5th element, that the research be authentically of interest to the broader scientific community, is necessary for students to accrue the benefits ascribed to their CURE experiences .

What CURE elements are crucial to promote a student’s persistence or sense of belonging?

Allen and coworkers have reviewed the body of research concerning a sense of belonging, and used this to develop a framework for understanding and informing the interventions and practices that could enhance one’s sense of belonging within an institution or structure. ( Allen , et. al. 2021)  They suggest “that belonging is a dynamic feeling and experience that emerges from four interrelated components that arise from and are supported by the systems in which individuals reside. The four components are:

(1) competencies for belonging (skills and abilities);

(2) opportunities to belong (enablers, removal/reduction of barriers);

(3) motivations to belong (inner drive); and

(4) perceptions of belonging (cognitions, attributions, and feedback mechanisms – positive or negative experiences when connecting).”

Walker and colleagues at East Carolina University have approached this question in the context of evaluating the social development among CURE student participants. They conducted focus group interviews with small groups of students, at the conclusion of the academic term in which they participated in a CURE. Three overarching beneficial themes emerged from these focus group discussions: (1) working towards a common goal; (2) addressing obstacles; and (3) developing a deeper understanding of the science content. The three identified themes correlate well with the three elements of a Community of Practice : Domain (Working towards a common goal); Community (Addressing obstacles); and Practice (Understanding science content).

There is considerable overlap between these two descriptions of the elements necessary for belonging to a community, but how do they align with the five elements of CUREs? Quite well, in fact:

  • Students receive the opportunity to practice a particular skill enough to become an “expert” in that area (iteration, scientific practice)
  • Barriers are addressed through collaborative work among the students and faculty engaged in the project (collaboration)
  • Motivation is enhanced when students recognize that they are working on an important problem, or that people outside of their own institution are interested in their results (novel, broadly relevant)

Perceptions of belonging is not embedded into the definition of a CURE per se–it is important for the faculty leader(s) to be attuned to the social dynamics of the group and to provide feedback that will encourage students to persist. In this regard, the “Ten Simple Rules for Creating a Sense of Belonging in Your Research Group” are relevant ( Ruedas-Gracia , et. al. 2022):

  • Reflect on belonging
  • Be mindful of names, pronouns, and diverse identities
  • Proactively engage with your research group members
  • Discuss, document, and embody lab values
  • Be transparent about lab expectations
  • Provide opportunities to learn about each other
  • Foster connection outside of the lab
  • Build in time for kudos
  • Conduct equity checks
  • Ask for feedback regularly

What are examples of CURE “products,” or benefits to faculty?

While peer-reviewed publication remains a gold standard for research results, CURE faculty have incorporated poster presentations, presentations to interested community groups, and web page publication as useful ways to ensure that students integrate and communicate their results in the short term. For example, Haileab’s students make their data available to the broader community via his website. 

One area that continues to be a challenge for faculty is to integrate the students’ CURE results into peer-reviewed publications. In a recent study by Wolfe and Steed, only 25% of 51 faculty surveyed, who have implemented CUREs, had published results from a CURE ( Wolfe and Steed , 2023). These authors identified the following challenges that faculty faced in bringing their CURE work to publication:

1. Lack of faculty time to develop and implement CUREs. 

2. Lack of cohesive data to generate a publishable story. 

3. Lack of quality student generated data. 

4. High faculty effort needed after the course concludes to prepare data for publication and write the manuscript.

They then offered some tips for overcoming these challenges:

  • Team-teach CUREs to help reduce individual faculty workload, foster research collaboration, and provide students an opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary research (1 and 4).
  • Utilize experimental design guidelines that result in a useful class-wide data set at the end of the course (2−4).
  • Narrow the focus of student projects to generate higher quality data during the course, which reduces follow-up work needed to publish (2−4).
  • Build in time to troubleshoot and overcome challenges, which provides students an opportunity to get creative and results in more high-quality data generation (3−4).
  • Incorporate manuscript preparation into the course assessments, which reduces barriers to publication and provides students an opportunity to understand what is required in a scientific manuscript (4).

[1]  Kelly-Ann Allen, Margaret L. Kern, Christopher S. Rozek, Dennis M. McInerney & George M. Slavich (2021) “Belonging: a review of conceptual issues, an integrative framework, and directions for future research.” Australian Journal of Psychology, 73:1, 87-102.

[2] Lisa Corwin Auchincloss, Sandra L. Laursen, Janet L. Branchaw, Kevin Eagan, Mark Graham, David I. Hanauer, Gwendolyn Lawrie, et al. (2014) “Assessment of Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences: A Meeting Report.” CBE—Life Sciences Education 13 (1): 29–40.

[3] Jonathan Calède (2023) “ A CURE for everyone: A guide to implementing Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences .” licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

[4] Erin L. Dolan  (2016) “Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences: Current Knowledge and Future Directions.” Commissioned for Committee on Strengthening Research Experiences for Undergraduate STEM Students. https://sites.nationalacademies.org/cs/groups/dbassesite/documents/webpage/dbasse_177288.pdf

[5] Ruedas-Gracia N, Botham CM, Moore AR, Peña C (2022) “Ten simple rules for creating a sense of belonging in your research group.” PLoS Comput Biol 18(12): e1010688. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1010688

[6] David Lopatto (2010) “Undergraduate Research as a High-Impact Student Experience.” Peer Review ; Washington Vol. 12, Iss. 2,  (Spring 2010): 27-30.

[7] Joi P. Walker, William E. Allen, Lindsey Clevenger, Kathryn N. Hosbein, Anthony M. Kennedy, Heather Vance-Chalcraft, and Brandon Whiting (2023) Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences as a Community of Practice (CoP) J. Chem. Educ. 100, 2520−2528

[8] Amanda L. Wolfe and P. Ryan Steed (2023) Generating Publishable Data from Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences in Chemistry,  J. Chem. Educ. 100, 9, 3419–3424

  • Course Design
  • High Impact Practices
  • Teaching in the Disciplines
  • Active Learning
  • Collaboration
  • Experiential Learning
  • pedagogical frameworks
  • Teaching Circle

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