A Course-Based Research Experience: How Benefits Change with Increased Investment in Instructional Time


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Abstract: There is widespread agreement that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs should provide undergraduates with research experience. Practical issues and limited resources, however, make this a challenge. We have developed a bioinformatics project that provides a course-based research experience for students at a diverse group of schools and offers the opportunity to tailor this experience to local curriculum and institution-specific student needs. We assessed both attitude and knowledge gains, looking for insights into how students respond given this wide range of curricular and institutional variables. While different approaches all appear to result in learning gains, we find that a significant investment of course time is required to enable students to show gains commensurate to a summer research experience. An alumni survey revealed that time spent on a research project is also a significant factor in the value former students assign to the experience one or more years later. We conclude: 1) implementation of a bioinformatics project within the biology curriculum provides a mechanism for successfully engaging large numbers of students in undergraduate research; 2) benefits to students are achievable at a wide variety of academic institutions; and 3) successful implementation of course-based research experiences requires significant investment of instructional time for students to gain full benefit.

Self-reported student learning gains using the SURE survey. Blue squares indicate the mean for GEP students, while red squares indicate the mean for SURE summer research students, 2009. Error bars represent two SEs below and above the means. The SE for the averages of the GEP and SURE responses was <0.04. Data shown combine results from surveys given in academic years 2010–11 and 2011–12; the data include between 652 and 751 responses on each of the 20 items from GEP students. The comparison group is the 2009 SURE survey of 1653 students who had just completed a summer in the lab. The large number of students allows for smaller error estimates than in our previous study (Lopatto et al., 2008).

Shaffer CD, Alvarez CJ, Bednarski AE, et al. A Course-Based Research Experience: How Benefits Change with Increased Investment in Instructional Time. CBE Life Sci Educ. 2014;13(1):111‐130. doi:10.1187/cbe-13-08-0152