Track: Organized Oral Session
Hands-on research experiences are invaluable opportunities for students to learn about scientific inquiry, gain confidence in overcoming obstacles, and self-identify as scientists. Because limited opportunities, time, and finances prevent many students from participating in extracurricular research, Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) are increasingly promoted as a strategy for providing equitable access to research opportunities. However, instructors in the ecological sciences face a number of barriers when trying to integrate authentic research into classes. Although many excellent CUREs focus on lab-based activities, existing field-based CUREs are rare, and the development and maintenance of new CUREs can be time consuming and unsustainable without support from an institution or network. Furthermore, field-based activities can be difficult to fit within the constraints of scheduled classes, may require additional permitting (e.g., Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) approval for work with vertebrates, or local land-use permits), and often result in inadequate data for meaningful data analysis. In this session, we will (1) discuss how we created an ecology-based CURE network to address these challenges, (2) present instructor and student perspectives on participation in the network, and (3) share results from the first year of pedagogical assessment of CURE implementation. Squirrel-Net started as a group of nine educator-researchers who wanted to integrate meaningful ecological research into undergraduate biology education. We developed a series of four CUREs investigating the behavioral ecology of sciurid rodents (e.g., squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, prairie dogs). Each module uses standardized protocols, accompanied by templates for institutional approvals (e.g., IACUC protocols), to collect data on local species which students contribute to a linked multi-institutional dataset. These national datasets allow students to test broader and more complex hypotheses than would be possible using data from a single institution (or species/habitat). Access to the national datasets also helps instructors and their students to overcome common obstacles associated with small datasets (e.g., missing data or unmet model assumptions) and engage in hands-on ecological research, even during remote instruction. Here, we present both instructor and student perspectives on participation in the network. Finally, in creating a network that links data collection across institutions, Squirrel-Net has also created opportunities to evaluate how variations in implementation of CUREs across diverse courses and institution types influence student outcomes. We report the findings from the first year of a three-year NSF-funded study assessing the value of utilizing networked CUREs to positively influence student learning and development as scientists.
Presenting Author: Jennifer Kovacs – Biology, Agnes Scott College
Presenting Author: Jennifer M. Duggan – Department of Applied Environmental Science, California State University, Monterey Bay
Presenting Author: Lorelei Patrick – Fort Hays State University
Presenting Author: Elizabeth Davis-Berg – Columbia College Chicago
Presenting Author: Emily L. Kiehnau – Biology, University of Oklahoma
Presenting Author: Tori Gyorey – Biology, Agnes Scott College