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Undergraduate Research

Resources for course-based undergraduate research experiences

Design

There are numerous factors to consider when designing a URE. Having a clear vision for each can help to lay the foundation for your URE design. Below is a table reviewing the variables you must consider when first approaching your URE design.

 

Overview of the Variability of Attributes of UREs

Leadership                                            •Professor
                                                                •Lecturer
                                                                •Senior researcher
                                                                • Postdoctoral scholar
                                                                • Industry researcher

Mentoring                                                • Informal arrangements
                                                                 • Assigned mentor
                                                                 • Multiple mentors

Format                                                       • Apprentice-style URE
                                                                   • Course-based URE for academic credit
                                                                   • URE program that includes professional development
                                                                   • Industry URE

Duration                                                      • Several weeks to several years

Expectations for students                        • Learn discipline-specific procedures
                                                                    • Conduct an original investigation
                                                                    • Prepare poster or presentation on work

Student goals                                            • Career awareness
                                                                    • Apprenticeship in a research environment
                                                                    • Insight into the nature of research
                                                                    • Contribution to a larger STEM discipline–specific goal

Value for student career trajectory         • Prepare informed citizens
                                                                   • Strengthen likelihood of graduate school admissions
                                                                   • Helpful for industry employment
                                                                   • Useful for recommendations in general

Measured outcomes                                 • Self-report survey
                                                                    • Interview
                                                                    • Assessment of knowledge
                                                                    • Journal
                                                                    • Research report or presentation

Populations(s) served                               • STEM majors/non-STEM majors
                                                                    • Historically underrepresented students
                                                                    • First generation students

Student funding                                         • Unpaid (generally receive course credit)
                                                                    • Stipend
                                                                    • Full support

from Gentile, Brenner, Stephens, 2017

retrieved from https://frdo.unm.edu/sites/default/files/Undergraduate_Research_Experiences_for_STEM_Students.pdf

When designing UREs, there are several axes of values that you must locate yourself on to guide the rest of your design process.

 Below is a decision tree outlining these value axes that you can work through to begin your URE design.

 

Authenticity

The dimension of Authenticity reflects the degree of fidelity to the research process that you would like to incorporate for your undergraduate research experience (URE). while still providing scaffolded opportunities that don’t leave students lost and discouraged
In essence, you must decide how much scaffolding you want to incorporate into your URE so that students feel both challenged and adequately supported. 
this decision should be informed by the level of research experience and skill that students already possess before taking your course. First-year students will likely need more guidance than a traditional research project would typically provide as they learn and practice research techniques for the first time and as they are still being inaugurated into the academic community. On the other hand, senior level students who have had research opportunities throughout their undergraduate degrees will benefit from an URE with a higher degree of fidelity to real-life academic research so that they are better prepared for future careers. 

 

 

Class vs. Independent student time – how much class time will you dedicate to research processes (brainstorming, team meetings, peer reviews, instructor feedback) and how much time do you expect students to devote to furthering their research on their own (literature reviews, method design, team meetings?) (Govindan et al, 2020)

True for any CUREs, but particularly for those tailored to novice students, it is best practice to build in class time dedicated to research development. This ensures that you (and your teaching team (i.e. teaching assistants)) have the opportunity to correct any misconceptions early on while providing formative feedback to direct students’ efforts (Govindan et al, 2020).

Moreover, providing class time for students to make progress on their research is a key move towards mitigating some barriers to research for students from underserved communities. It is imperative to remember that not all students will have equal time to devote to project development outside of class. Providing them with dedicated time in class ensures that they are not disadvantaged based their socioeconomic class, family structure (i.e. children, single parenthood), or other obligations outside of school that may take up their time outside of class.  

Iteration – how many opportunities will you provide for students to fail safely, receive feedback and integrate.

This speaks to the value above but focusing more on the nature of how you will frame failure as part of the research process. It is considered best practice to provide opportunities for students to fail in their research as they could expect to as researchers outside of your course and to have your support in correcting their missteps. This provides students with a chance to not only understand what they did wrong, but also an opportunity to learn how to fix mistakes they may make again in the future. Formative feedback, as opposed to summative feedback, provides learners with an opportunity to integrate the feedback given to grow from their missteps. Failure then is framed as a learning experience and opportunity to further one’s research.
Building in opportunities for this type of formative feedback is especially important if you want your students to take away an attitude of persistence necessary to succeed in the often tumultuous academic process. As Govindan et al, (2020) states, “learning how to troubleshoot, reflect, redesign, and persist in the face of challenges are all practical skills that students will use in the real world, no matter what careers they pursue.

The way formative feedback is communicated can be varied. Self-assessments, peer feedback, practice conference presentations, mock “peer reviewed” journal articles are all ways you can provide formative feedback to your students with varying degrees of fidelity to the research process.

Skill practice – how much time will you provide for students to learn and practice new skills required for research before they are expected to apply them to their projects?

This is related to the idea of failing safely but reflects what you expect your students to come in knowing and what research skills you expect to explicitly teach them. Will you provide demonstrations? Lab time with teaching assistants? Dedicated class time for skill practice and mastery? 

Independent design – to what degree would you like your students to personalize their research inquiry and design?
do you expect students to find their own opportunities in the field related to the discipline?
will you provide examples? Or a limited number of choices to choose from?

or will students be taking part in a larger singular inquiry you assign to the class?

The degree of freedom you provide students to choose and design their research projects reflects not only the degree of fidelity to the research process but also the degree student ownership you wish for students to feel over the knowledge they produce at the end of the course. Your location on this value axes may depend on what year of study your students are at the time of your CURE. 

  • Prescribed, bounded, scaffolded, open-ended, unbounded

Student Resources – what resources will you engage and make available to your students?

There are numerous resources that students have access to in order to build their research skills. This can include office hour meetings with the instructor, tutorials or labs run by teaching assistants, the writing center, and librarians’ expertise. How will you build in opportunities to engage with these resources in your course?

 

Output – what output/type of product do you want students to produce at the end of this CURE?
if research report, will you provide explicit instruction on academic communication?
if oral presentation style, will students have opportunities to produce and practice during class?

portfolios – do you expect students to produce a final portfolio they can add to for the rest of their academic careers or one that is course specific?

There are numerous ways students can communicate their research findings at the end of your course. What is key is providing an opportunity for research dissemination in which students are able to reflect and present on their research as they would in future real-life studies. This dissemination also encourages students to see themselves as contributing to the sharing and building of academic knowledge.

What do you want students to takeaway or learn after the URE?

Now that you have located yourself on the various value axes pertinent to UREs, you must articulate the learning outcomes around which you will base the design of assignments and assessments related to your URE.

Your URE design should be aligned with your desired learning outcomes throughout. For example, if you were to want students to take away research communication skills, you would build in opportunities for students to report on their research progress and as their final assignment. However, if you wanted students to take away a sense of confidence as academics, then you would build in opportunities for reflection on their budding sense of self as researchers throughout the course.
There are several ways to categorize and understand learning outcomes related to UREs. Below is a categorization from Wilson et al (2016b) articulating the various types of learning outcomes one could have for course-based undergraduate research experiences. Keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list that covers the wide gamut of possible desired learning outcomes you may have for your students. Use this list as a starting point and ensure that you personalize your desired learning outcomes.

Types of desired learning outcomes (Wilson et al, 2016b)

Nitty gritty

  • skills necessary for the mechanical/procedural performance of the research project
  •  domain specific skills (specific lab or computer skills),
  • methodological skills (statistical analysis) and
  • generic skills (communication and time management)

Research process

  • coming up with a research question, turning question into research, designing academically defensible and feasible approach to answering question,
  • being able to address complex problems without simple answers,
  • understanding what constitutes relevant data/evidence,
  • making inferences/drawing conclusions, and understanding how the process fits together

Ways of thinking

  • independent/creative/original thinking and an awareness that creativity is connected to logical process,
  • critical thinking both externally and internally,
  • pattern-seeking
  • generalizing, integrating, synthesizing knowledge and ideas from multiple sources, seeing body of knowledge as something that can be built on rather than simply absorbed/retained

Confidence/sense of self as scientist

  • having sense of ownership and control,
  • coping with setbacks and persisting despite being stuck,
  • becoming part of community,
  • experiencing what it is like to have expertise and be responsible for an area of knowledge,
  • developing confidence in one’s own capacity for research

Before URE

During URE

After URE

Assess what resources you will have available for the URE (i.e. lab time, teaching assistants, course funds, field time)

If needed, establish a lab chore schedule with students to create accountability for research space and resource maintenance

Facilitate student presentation of research to peers, faculty, and/or community stakeholders (e.g. poster, paper, oral presentation, student conferences)

Prepare proposed schedule and write detailed desired learning outcomes

Establish a regular record-keeping and reflection journal practice to record progress

Communicate with local or university media outlets for opportunities to recognize and celebrate student research

Prepare materials and resources needed

Regularly consult with students/student teams to keep tabs on progress and course correct any potential missteps

Conduct reflection on URE design (what went well? What needed improvement?)

Consult with colleagues who can provide feedback

If needed, provide explicit instruction on research skills, provide class time to practice, and offer formative feedback

Encourage students to pursue research opportunities around their implicit interests

Arrange workshops and skill building sessions with resources available through the University of Calgary

Facilitate mid-semester progress presentations and discussion

If course-based, design assignments and class activities that enable students to practice their research skills

Require student accountabilities through written assignments and reports throughout (proposals, data collection reports, mid-semester and final report)

Prepare assessments aligned with desired learning outcomes (consider both formative and summative assessment)

If possible, check in regularly with teaching assistants on their perception of skill retention, research progress, and student attitudes

Adapted from Govindan et al (2020)

Mentorship

While UREs can work to democratize access to research opportunities, mentorship is key to maximizing the benefits of UREs. Hickey et al (2019) go so far as to assert that evidence-based mentorship is required to facilitate meaningful engagement with the research process. Moreover, intentional mentorship can also work to reduce power imbalances inherent in the research process by promoting research collaboration and encouraging students to feel as though their contributions are valuable and meaningful (Hickey et al, 2019).
 

When you begin to consider your mentoring approach, you should first outline parts of the research process in which novice researchers can be included and the skills that can be cultivated in those contexts (Hensel, 2018). Hensel (2018) highlights four research skills that mentors can work to develop with their undergraduate students. 

Observing: Mentors can encourage undergraduate researcher to fine tune their observation skills such that they are able to observe accurate and relevant information that they can expand upon throughout the research process.

Questioning: Mentors can facilitate student development of critical analytical skills by engaging them in open-ended reflective discussions and activities that encourage them to question existing assumptions and their subtle biases. 

Connecting: Mentors can promote students' abilities to make connections between seemingly disparate points of data and information from different projects and discipline. Mentors can do so by encouraging students to explore beyond the limits of what initially seems relevant. 

Use of evidence: After students are able to collect information, mentors can facilitate student ability to use said evidence to draw valid conclusions. One way mentors can encourage this skill is by having students conduct literature reviews and engage them in discussions regarding the credibility and reliability of their findings. Mentors can promote a questioning of how other researchers have come to the conclusion they did from their data. 

(For more information, refer to University of Calgary's 2019 CURES handbook)

 

Below are key elements of mentoring undergraduate research that mentors can include their mentorship practice (Hickey et al, 2019). 

Collaborative goal-setting: Mentors should create opportunities for undergraduate researchers to express their personal goals and expectations for the research process. By doing so, mentors are acknowledging that knowledge is co-created between their personal experiences, previously acquired skills, and the input of others. 

Reflect: Mentors can encourage students to reflect on their personal motivations and their progress throughout the research process. This reflection can occur privately and/or discursively with the mentor. This practice encourages students to actively participate in the co-construction. This can be facilitated through regular check ins and encouraging debrief sessions for student teams. 

Fade Control: Progressively reduce formal guidance as students gain greater confidence and skill performing essential research tasks. This practice encourages students to take greater ownership of their research. While the mentor maintains their responsibilities to their students, their role can progress from careful monitoring, supervising, and simply directing.  

 

Lopatto (2003) found that while faculty may emphasize research outcomes and content retention, students most valued faculty communicating support and care in student work.

While there are various ways to be an effective mentor, what follows is a list of best practices that mentors can consider incorporating to better facilitate student learning (Shanahan et al, 2015).

1.) Do strategic pre-planning in order to readily respond to students’ varying needs and abilities throughout the research process.

2.) Set clear and well-scaffolded expectations for undergraduate researchers.

3.) Teach the technical skills, methods, and techniques of conducting research in the discipline.

4.) Balance rigorous expectations with emotional support and appropriate personal interest in students.

5.) Build community among groups of undergraduate researchers and mentors, including graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and any other members of the research team.

6.) Dedicate time as well to one-on-one and hands-on mentoring.

7.) Increase student ownership of the research over time

8.) Support students’ professional development through networking and explaining norms of the discipline.

9.) Create intentional, laddered opportunities for peers and “near peers” to learn mentoring skills and to bring larger numbers of undergraduates into scholarly opportunities.

10.) Encourage students to share their findings and provide guidance on how to do so effectively in oral and poster presentations and in writing.


From Ten Salient Practices of Undergraduate Research Mentors
by Shanahan et al, 2015  From: https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/undergraduate-research-ensuring-a-high-impact-and-resilient-experience-for-all/ 

 

Concerns

One of the most salient concerns/issues with for credit undergraduate research opportunities is an issue of equitable distribution of opportunities. While CUREs are often proposed as a way to distribute undergraduate research opportunities more equitably than relying on limited and competitive research internships available to undergraduate students, CUREs can still encounter issues of inequity that disadvantage students from underserved communities. It is imperative that for credit undergraduate opportunities be designed with these issues in mind such that they are able to minimize/mitigate issues of inequity. 

Healy and Jenkins (2009) suggest an institutional and broader cultural reimagination of the very goals pursued by higher education. They suggest a reconceptualization of higher education’s raison d’être from that of knowledge acquisition to knowledge discovery for all students, not just those that prove particularly keen. Healy and Jenkins (2009) thus promote a refocus of higher education onto that of education as opposed to the reputations, academic might, accolades, and publications pursued by so many institutions. While this is too broad of an issue for this one guide to dissect and work to correct, faculty practices for supporting underserved students effectively can be addressed meaningfully here.

Issues of inequity crop up partially due to limited resources and support for faculty facilitating undergraduate research opportunities on scale. Other issues of inequity emerge from oppressive biases and attitudes against underserved communities around student efficacy, intelligence/ability, and deservedness. Shanahan (2018) suggests various practices developed specifically to address inequity experienced by students from lower income backgrounds, racial and cultural minorities, and first generation students. Below are five ways to meaningfully mentor and support students from underserved communities.

  • Seeking out and recruiting diverse students intentionally
    Literature on undergraduate research emphasizes over and over again that there is both a systemic and interpersonal selection bias that works against underserved students (Shanahan, 2018) .Systemically, programs that require volunteered or otherwise unpaid labour hours from students, exceptional time commitments, inconsistent schedules, and extensive travel discriminate against students not from middle to upper class families. Students can have multiple part time jobs to fund their education and/or family, caretaker responsibilities to dependents like children or sick relatives, or no disposable income to spend on travel, equipment, or registration costs. Intentionally designing URE's to be for-credit, fairly compensated, finding opportunities for greater financial support, and/or flexible to students' required accommodations can alleviate such barriers. Interpersonally, faculty are not immune to misinformed and discriminatory biases that prevent them seeing underserved students as viable candidates for research opportunities. Attending equity, diversity, and inclusion workshops, intentionally educating one's self on barriers students face, and enacting practices that create safer spaces for diverse students can challenge the the interpersonal barriers students encounter in academia. 

     
  • Bridge-building between academia and home life
    Shanahan (2018) notes that first generation students in particular but not exclusively experience conflicting priorities and senses of identity as they begin to develop academic identities. Students from underserved communities can often experience a profound internal struggle that students can face when there is little overlap between academic priorities and commitments and home priorities and commitments (Stephens et al, 2012). Faculty can help to alleviate the friction of seemingly divergent identities by connecting them to mentors from underserved communities or following a community mentoring model in which a team of faculty and graduate students work with students such that they have more flexibility in who they feel most like they can be their authentic selves around (Kobulnicky & Dale, 2016). However, in mentoring students in their development of academic identities, it is critical for students to maintain their foundational identities rooted in home/family/culture. Becoming a scholar should not mean students relinquish their diverse identities, perspectives, and experiences. Rather, mentors who highlight the benefits of a diverse perspectives can help the two identities coalesce. 

     
  • Alleviating minority students’ “racial battle fatigue” and isolation on campus
    Students from underserved communities are often tasked with the responsibility conversations about diversity, to demonstrate that their diverse identities do not hinder their academic performance or "fit" within a research team. It is important to acknowledge and openly facilitate conversations about racialization, social disadvantage, and the value of diversity in research without making the student advocate for themselves (Shanahan 2018). 

     
  • Committing to a long-term relationship with student-researchers and making oneself accessible and open to their needs
    Experiences of financial precarity and unpredictable stressors throughout life for some students in underserved communities make expectation setting at the beginning of the mentoring relationship critical to students sense of safety and commitment (Shanahan, 2018). Faculty can communicate their availability for meetings and email responses early on, plan for breaks from research that may come up (e.g. when faculty are away attending conferences), and accommodate students communication needs in order to set expectations for students (Shanahan, 2018). Practices that work to prepare and explain cultural and professional expectations can help students to navigate their academic surroundings and experience less stress from unpredictability.  

     
  • Advocating for and sharing power with students, especially through professional socialization
    As discussed previously, it is critically important to share power and control of the research process with students as they begin to build greater academic skills and literacies. The practice of sharing power assists students to feel a sense of ownership and control over their scholarly work and ultimately develop a sense of self as a valuable member of the scholarly community. Colleague-like relationships with students are especially helpful when mentoring students from underserved communities that face particular barriers to seeing themselves and members of their community as valued contributors to scholarly knowledge (Shanahan, 2018). Connecting students with other scholars in their field of interest and assisting in their navigation of what might be an unfamiliar cultural landscape are also ways to facilitate the development of an academic identity (Mekolichick and Bellamy 2012). 

Dissemination

Dissemination strategies can be designed to express different levels of student autonomy over the communication of their work and varying levels of adeptness in effectively communicating scholarly findings to narrow or broad audiences. What follows are examples of dissemination methods you can consider when designing the final components of your URE.

Dissemination Methods (Spronken-Smith et al, 2013):  

  •  Journal Clubs
    This activity asks students to present their critical perspectives of journal articles published by other scholars. While they are presenting the work of other authors, students are also being tasked with presenting their unique thoughts on the work. This activity can be done in pairs or teams with the instructor reviewing the articles students submit for critical analysis to ensure variety.
  • Poster sessions
    Inviting students to present their findings from a small scale research project through a poster either to their classmates or broader audiences like other students in the discipline, instructors from the field, or in a gallery open to the campus community affords an opportunity to scaffold dissemination towards broader audiences. These enable students to  refine their oral presentation skills and practice distilling complex disciplinary concepts into lay terms.
  • Conferences
    Undergraduate specific research conferences provide a professionally accurate but educationally safe environment for students to disseminate their research findings and open up their work to broader scrutiny. These conferences can be department wide, institution wide, or national. All levels afford students experience in disseminating their work to greater exposure with high levels of student autonomy. Conferences are also an effective environment for practicing networking skills.
  • Journals
    Undergraduate research journals invite students to communicate their research in professionally realistic ways that afford opportunities to refine their scholarly writing skills. This method of dissemination also provides students with experience on the publication process. There are a variety of journal types with different levels of peer-reviewed rigour that instructors can choose from based on subject matter, student skill and experience, and desired level of exposure. 
  • Product Launches
    Disciplines amenable to project-based work and product development such as engineering and business can consider product launches in which students are invited to introduce broad audiences to their final product and invite scrutiny based on professional standards. These can also be designed as a competition with standards based on professional realistic criteria that can be assessed by industry experts. This method of dissemination fosters high levels of student autonomy and provides authentic experiences pertinent to students' future careers.  

 

Alternative Dissemination Methods
Alternative dissemination methods refer to more creative, less academically or professional authentic means of knowledge dissemination that challenge students to creatively distill their scholarly work in more unconventional ways.

  • Podcasts
    Insert description from UofC KINES podcast 
  • Art Gallery 
  • Video Presentations      

Assessment

Assessment of URE's often take the form of final reports in the style of a journal article, thesis, or conference presentation. However, this approach alone can unintentionally reinforce misconceptions around the neatness and linearality of the research process (Wilson, Howitt, Higgins, 2016). Moreover, the bulk of the work students engage in are not represented in their final report (Wilson, Howitt, Higgins, 2016). Therefore, it is important to design assessment strategies that are aligned with desired learning outcomes. For example, if you wanted to emphasize the research process, then assessments based on a final report are ineffective at capturing this desired learning outcome. Reflective journals, progress reports, and peer feedback sessions are practices that would align more with process related learning outcomes. Below are steps that can be followed to design student assessments for your URE. 

from Shortlidge & Brownell (2016) 

References

Gentile, James, Kerry Brenner, and Amy Stephens. 2017. Undergraduate Research Experiences for STEM Students: Successes, Challenges, and Opportunities. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Govindan, B., Pickett, S., & Riggs, B. (2020) Fear of the CURE: A Beginner’s Guide to Overcoming Barriers in Creating a Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experience, Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education, 21(2), DOI: https://doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.v21i2.2109

Hall, E., Walkington, H., Shanahan, J. O., Ackley, E. &  Stewart, K. (2018) Mentor perspectives on the place of undergraduate research mentoring in academic identity and career development: an analysis of award winning mentors, International Journal for Academic Development, 23(1), 15-27, DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2017.1412972

Healy, M. & Jenkins, A. (2009) Developing undergraduate research and inquiry. The Higher Education Academy. Retrieved from https://s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/assets.creode.advancehe-document-manager/documents/hea/private/developingundergraduate_final_1568036694.pdf

Hensel, N. 2018. Course-Based Undergraduate Research: Educational Equity and High-Impact Practice. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Mekolichick, J. & Bellamy, J. (2012) Research experiences for undergraduates: Student presenter’s perceptions of mentoring and conference presentation by college generational status and sex. Perspectives on Undergraduate Research Mentoring 1(2). retrieved from http://blogs.elon.edu/purm/2012/04/13/research-experiencesfor-undergraduates-student-presenters%E2%80%99-perceptions-of-mentoring-andconference-presentation-by-generational-status-and-sex-purm-1-2/ 

Shanahan, J. O. (2018) Mentoring Strategies that Support Underserved Students in Undergraduate Research. In Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research, Edited by J. Moore, M. Vandermaas Peeler, & P. Miller. Washington, DC: Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR).

 Shanahan, J. O.,  Ackley-Holbrook, E., Hall, E., Stewart, K. & Walkington, H. (2015) Ten Salient Practices of Undergraduate Research Mentors: A Review of the Literature, Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 23:5, 359-376, DOI: 10.1080/13611267.2015.1126162

Shortlidge E. Brownell, S. (2016) How to Assess Your CURE: A Practical Guide for Instructors of Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences, Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education, 17(3), 399-408 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.v17i3.1103

Spronken-Smith, R. A., Brodeur, J. J., Kajaks, T., Luck, M., Myatt, P., Verburgh, A., Walkington, H., & Wuetherick, B. (2013). Completing the Research Cycle: A Framework for Promoting Dissemination of Undergraduate Research and Inquiry. Teaching & Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal1(2), 105–118. https://doi.org/10.2979/teachlearninqu.1.2.105

Wilson, A., Howitt S. & Higgins D. (2016) Assessing the unassessable: making learning visible in undergraduates’ experiences of scientific research, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41(6), 901-916, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2015.1050582

Wilson, A., Howitt S. & Higgins D. (2016b) A fundamental misalignment: intended learning and assessment practices in undergraduate science research projects, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41(6), 869-884, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2015.1048505