Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Geoscience Education Research Project: Student Benefits and Effective Design of a Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experience

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Geoscience Education Research Project: Student Benefits and Effective Design of a Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experience

Article excerpt



The purpose of this paper is twofold. First, it describes an innovative, course-based undergraduate research project. This project allows introductory-level students to complete all parts of a scientific research project, such as asking a question, collecting and analyzing data, peer review, drawing conclusions, and sharing findings. There are few published examples of projects with a similar scope and audience. The design and scaffolding of the project can be used directly in other courses or as a model for other undergraduate research projects. Second, this paper describes an analysis of the effectiveness of the research project, breaks down the aspects of the project that were particularly effective and beneficial to students, and provides recommendations for their incorporation into other introductory course undergraduate research projects.

Benefits of Undergraduate Research

Undergraduate research is recognized as an effective learning tool and is recommended by the President's Council of Advisors on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics to be incorporated into courses (President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology [PCAST], 2012). Although it can be defined in many ways, the Council for Undergraduate Research (CUR) defines undergraduate research as "an inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline" ( Similar to the Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action (Brewer and Smith, 2011), the Summary Report for Summit on Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education recommends undergraduate research be an integral part of students' education (Mosher et al., 2014).

Various studies have looked at the benefits of undergraduate research to students. Osborn and Karukstis (2009) categorized the benefits into cognitive growth, personal growth, and professional growth. Cognitive growth is the most widely studied of these divisions and includes gains in knowledge and skills as well as progressing academic achievement and educational attainment. For example, various studies have found that participating in undergraduate research results in students being more able to think and work like a scientist (Lopatto, 2004; Seymour et al., 2004; Harrison et al., 2011), communicate effectively (Bauer and Bennett, 2003; Lopatto, 2004; Seymour et al., 2004), and think analytically and critically (Ishiyama, 2002; Bauer and Bennett, 2003). In addition, studies report an increase in students' retrospective belief of the quality of their undergraduate education experience (Bauer and Bennett, 2003; Lopatto, 2004, 2007) and an increased retention in the course and/or discipline (Nagda et al., 1998; Bauer and Bennett, 2003; Brandt and Hayes, 2012; Brownell and Kloser, 2015).

In additional to cognitive growth, students also experience personal growth in affective elements and professional growth and advancement (Osborn and Karukstis, 2009). For example, students gain confidence (Lopatto, 2004; Seymour et al., 2004; Russell et al., 2007; Brandt and Hayes, 2012), are more independent in learning, thinking, and working (Ishiyama, 2002; Lopatto, 2004, 2010; Seymour et al., 2004; Shaffer et al., 2010; Brandt and Hayes, 2012), and are more self-motivated (Brandt and Hayes, 2012). Finally, students' interests in a science career are validated or enhanced (Lopatto, 2004; Seymour et al., 2004; Harrison et al., 2011), and they develop ties to the scientific community (Lopatto, 2004; Seymour et al., 2004).

Student interest is a complex and multifaceted construct, but at its essence, it is an important driver of motivation (Hidi et al., 2004; Renninger and Hidi, 2011). Several factors associated with participating in undergraduate research are related to triggering interest. Student interest in science typically does not match what is taught as part of school curriculum (Häussler and Hoffman, 2000; Maltese and Tai, 2010). …

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