Course-Based Research Projects

Friday 11:30am-1:30pm UMC Aspen Rooms
Poster Session

Session Chairs

Suki Smaglik, Yakima Valley College
Paul Kelso, Lake Superior State University
Plastics, Oceans, and Earth: Field-based Learning Influencing Education
Julie Masura, University of Washington-Tacoma Campus
Cheryl Greengrove, University of Washington-Tacoma Campus
Peter Selkin, University of Washington-Tacoma Campus

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Faculty at the University of Washington Tacoma offer several opportunities for students to engage in field-based learning to explore science topics. These experiences are intended to evaluate student ability to apply the process of science, use quantitative reasoning, and connect science with society. This presentation will highlight student projects from three courses including introduction to science, oceanography, and field studies. Introduction to science is a general education course, affording a field experience for incoming freshmen. Specifically, this course collects samples from a local beach and surface waters of Commencement Bay to evaluate the presence of plastics in the ocean. A survey is given to each student at the beginning and end of the course to assess their growth in learning the process of scientific applications and discovery. Oceanography is a laboratory science course designed for both science and non-science majors. Students participate in lectures and laboratories with an oceanographic cruise on a research vessel, affording students an opportunity to look at water properties discussed in class. The course ends with a comprehensive report demonstrating their understanding of concepts learned in class and what they experienced in the field. Field studies are actually a number of courses students may take as an upperclassman in environmental science. These students are out in the field weekly engaging in research activities throughout the Pacific Northwest. A collaborative exercise is completed by the group to share class results with interested community partners. Results from each of these courses have shown that students gain a better understanding of concepts addressed in class when they participate in real-world, hands-on activities. Field-based experiences are not only important for upper division environmental science majors, but also important for all students entering the university as freshmen.
Sustaining Student Enthusiasm for Research Beyond the Classroom Introduction
Suki Smaglik, Yakima Valley College

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Great strides have been made in recent years to integrate research into the undergraduate classroom, especially in the early undergraduate and community college years. Bringing research experiences to students in the classroom has the benefit of using hands-on, real-life, and/or guided-inquiry experiences, to develop students' critical thinking skills early in their academic career. For first-generation and under-represented students, this can be a life-changing experience. A benefit for the instructor is finding new students with the aptitude to take on a smaller roll in long-term projects. However, often the students get excited to take on a project when they see only the short-term gain. The process of developing their skills over a process longer than a few class periods, or even a full term, can lead to frustration and disinterest when the going gets tough. Using more experienced students to mentor the newer students can help keep the enthusiasm going forward. In the geosciences, field-based research is the draw for many students. The struggle for them comes when data processing and report writing must be completed in order to take the next step in the research process. This presentation will showcase some examples of field-based geoscience research projects taking place at a small rural community college, and describe the state-wide connections being made to help maintain the enthusiasm of our two-year students as they transfer on to 4-year institutions and beyond.
Writing a Magazine Article as a Final Project: the Good, the Bad, but Mostly the Good
David Parr, University of Colorado
Christi Townsend, Texas State University-San Marcos

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In this talk, we discuss our experiences with the final project in our classes. The end-of-the-semester project is a staple of the undergraduate curriculum that creates both excitement and anxiety in many students. In many cases, this is the first time students have been tasked with a longer-term, multi-step project. Today's workforce employers need hires who can think across multiple scales, manage information and time, write and communicate well, and are computer literate. To help students develop these skills, we tasked them with writing the final project in the style of a National Geographic magazine article for our introductory statistics and Geographic Information Science classes. For many of us (particularly in the United States), our first exposure to the wider world and many of the concepts in geography and other Earth studies was expressed through the pages of National Geographic magazine and the work of the National Geographic Society (NGS). Using the model of a magazine article for a final project captured many students' imaginations. Students were given outlines, timelines, and templates for writing and were guided through the process of developing an applied research article for a general audience. Although it requires more work on the part of the instructors, producing a high-quality article for publishing on the web develops planning, writing, editing, and research skills while providing the student with a finished project they can feature in the job market. The magazine also shows off the work of the students in the department and serves as a potential recruiting tool for these classes.
Involving undergraduate students in primary research: examples and student perspectives
Christy Briles, University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center

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It is recognized that participation in an undergraduate research program significantly improves a student's trajectory into a STEM career (Eagan et al., 2013). As an undergraduate I was given several opportunities to conduct primary research in the environmental sciences both in a class environment, but also independently under the guidance of professional scientists. These experiences opened my eyes to the power of the scientific method and put me on a path of becoming a scientist and providing the same opportunities for my students. In this presentation, the elements and structure of a course involving primary data collection and reporting that has allowed students to develop meaningful research projects and outcomes will be discussed. Examples will be drawn from a paleoenvironmental course taught at Monash University in Australia, involving 25-30 students, where the process of conducting scientific research, including collecting new data in the field, analyzing it in the laboratory, and writing a final research report, was the main learning outcome. In addition, at the University of Colorado Denver undergraduate students are currently involved in projects where they are developing and conducting their own multi-year research projects involving physical and human (specifically warfare and agriculture) factors influencing the legacy of northern Vietnam landscapes and using pollen to authenticate and geolocate honey samples in Colorado. The student's perspectives on the process of conducting their own research and on the value of these research opportunities will be presented. STEM talent is in high demand worldwide and giving students hands-on experience early on in their educational career will assure that US students are competitive nationally and internationally for STEM careers. Reference: Eagan, K.M, Hurtado, S., Chang, M., Garcia, G.A., Herrera, F.A., Garibay, J.C. 2013. Making a Difference in Science Education: The Impact of Undergraduate Research Programs. American Education Research Journal. 50 (4): 683-713.
Ohana and Aina: Field-based Environmental Education in Hawaii
Sara Cina, Stanford University
Peter Vitousek, Stanford University

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Stanford University's Wrigley Field Program in Hawaii is an interdisciplinary field-based program investigating the Earth sciences, life sciences, and Hawaiian culture. Having completed its third iteration this past fall, the program sends up to 20 undergraduates to the islands of Hawai'i and Kaua'i for an entire academic quarter (10 weeks) and has become a model for immersive, experiential education in the university's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. The students spend their days exploring a range of natural sciences through intensive fieldwork—collecting data and making observations—followed by synthesis, analysis and presentation of that data. The program culminates in student-designed research projects carried out over the final two weeks. A combination of Stanford faculty and local experts provide instruction during a series of one-week long blocks, each devoted to an individual topic: marine biology, ecology, anthropology, volcanology, geomorphology, soils, and resource management. One of the most powerful aspects of the program, however, is the way that the study of Hawaii's unique geology and diverse ecosystems is interwoven with an exploration of cultural perspectives through service-learning and interaction with native Hawaiian community leaders. The program is targeted towards freshmen and sophomores; however, it is open to any student and, in the most recent iteration, nine different majors were represented ranging from Product Design and Psychology to Geological and Environmental Sciences. While a rigorous study has not yet been done on specific educational outcomes, students report that the experience—field-based investigations of natural systems coupled with exposure to native Hawaiian values and cultural practices—gave them a deep appreciation of the connections between environment, community, and the acquisition and application of scientific knowledge. All students who completed the most recent program evaluation (13 out of 19) rated their overall learning as greater than a typical quarter on campus.