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Starting with SENCER: A First-year Experience Framed by the Science and Civic Issues of the Chesapeake Bay

Abstract

In 2017, Longwood University launched the LIFE STEM Program, a holistic program girded by best practices in STEM teaching: cohorts of students, summer bridge program, genuine community building, intentional faculty-student mentoring, focused academic support and professional development, early research experiences, engagement with challenging civic issues, and, importantly, financial support for students. The first-year experience is critical in establishing the academic expectations of the LIFE STEM Scholars, supporting their development as a community of learners, and engaging them in real work of scientists. That yearlong journey opens with a one-week summer bridge program on the Chesapeake Bay. While on the Bay, the Scholars begin to frame scientific questions tied to key civic issues and grapple with intersections of science, economics, and politics. In a two-semester Entering Research course sequence, Scholars expand on key questions, process field-derived samples, analyze data, and consider the meaning of their work in this complex and contested civic context.

Introduction

The LIFE STEM Program (Longwood Initiative for Future Excellence in STEM) was created to provide wrap-around support for academically talented science students with financial need. With funding from the National Science Foundation’s Scholarships in STEM (S-STEM) program (Award #1564879), the LIFE STEM Program is supporting, through curricular, co-curricular, and financial elements, the four-year college experience of two cohorts of 12–14 students representing  Longwood’s four natural science majors (Biology, Chemistry, Integrated Environmental Sciences, and Physics).  

In the 2017–2018 and 2018–2019 academic years, the first two multidisciplinary cohorts of LIFE STEM Scholars completed the first-year experience, which serves as the foundation on which the rest of the LIFE STEM Program builds. Recognizing the important challenges of the transition to college (PCAST, 2012), the program immediately connects the incoming Scholars with peer and faculty mentors and invests heavily in intentional community building. The fall course schedule of the Scholars includes cohort sections of the introductory chemistry course (CHEM 111), a first-year seminar focused on the transition to university work (ISCI 100), and a second seminar focused on research (ISCI 120; Table 1).  

Table 1: Overview of the LIFE STEM Program.

The context for the Scholars’ first-year research activities—almost from the minute they arrive on campus—is the Chesapeake Bay, the largest of over 100 estuaries in the United States (US) and the third largest in the world. Throughout the written history of the US, the Bay has provided vital resources (e.g., blue crabs [Callinectes sapidus], oysters [Crassostrea virginica], and menhaden [Brevoortia tyrannus]) and has fueled robust local and regional economies. In fact, still today, the small town of Reedville ranks first in the contiguous US for fish landings (by weight of catch; NMFS, 2017). A focus of intensive conservation efforts since the 1970s, the Bay’s key health indicators have improved, but overall it continues to earn a barely passing grade of D+ (CBF, 2018). With a watershed encompassing more than 64,000 square miles, the Bay is affected by land management practices extending from northern New York to southern Virginia. Furthermore, the watershed is home to more than 18 million people who have direct and indirect impacts on the Bay and the complex natural systems within it (CBF, 2018; CBP, 2019).

Clearly, this body of water presents almost endless potential for scientific research at all levels. Indeed, scholars in higher education and government service have invested careers in studying these natural systems. With its incredible jurisdictional complexity—six states and the District of Columbia and nearly 1,800 local jurisdictions (i.e., towns, cities, counties, and townships; CBP, 2017)—the Bay offers another level of scholarly engagement at the intersections of science and civic issues. For the LIFE STEM Scholars, the Bay is a study site in which they collect a variety of scientific data, but they also experience it as a home to the human communities that depend on it. Furthermore, many of our Scholars have a personal connection to the Bay, as it is an area where they and their families live. It is a contested space in many ways, and it has been for generations. Thus, the LIFE STEM Scholars do not start the college experience with prepared lab exercises at the bench, activities with known outcomes. Instead, they begin with an immersion in a complex civic issue, one where scientific study can offer new insights but for which science alone cannot offer solutions.

This focus on the Chesapeake Bay for the first-year experience grew from Longwood University’s long-running engagement with the SENCER program (Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities). The SENCER approach to teaching and learning (SENCER Ideals)

•  robustly connects science and civic engagement “through” complex, contested, capacious, current, and unresolved public issues “to” basic science;

•  invites students to put scientific knowledge and the scientific method to immediate use on matters of immediate interest to students;

•  helps reveal the limits of science by identifying the elements of public issues where science does not offer a clear resolution;

•  shows the power of science by identifying the dimensions of a public issue that can be better understood with certain mathematical and scientific ways of knowing;

•  conceives the intellectual project as practical and engaged from the start;

•  locates the responsibilities (the burdens and the pleasures) of discovery as the work of the student;

•  and, by focusing on contested issues, encourages student engagement with “multidisciplinary trouble” and with civic questions that require attention now. (SENCER, 2017)

The LIFE STEM Scholars’ yearlong exploration of the challenging issues of the Chesapeake Bay was designed to intentionally operationalize the SENCER Ideals in each of the cornerstones of the first-year experience.

Cornerstones of the First-year Experience

Immersion Experience on the Chesapeake Bay

In the two weeks prior to the start of the fall semester, the LIFE STEM Scholars participated in a summer bridge program. The first week of that program was an immersion experience at the Chesapeake Bay for which Longwood University’s 662-acre field station, Hull Springs Farm (HSF), situated on tributaries to the Potomac River and just a short distance from the Bay proper, served as the center of operations.

One important goal of the HSF week was to set the stage for a guided interdisciplinary research project in the Scholars’ first year. That project intentionally incorporated the SENCER Ideals and, in so doing, expanded on Longwood’s previous SENCER projects focused on non-science majors and the general education curriculum. Using the place-as-text approach to learning (Braid and Long, 2000), Scholars explored issues that link scientific and civic discourses, such as water quality (e.g., stormwater runoff, eutrophication, dead zones) and resource use (e.g., oysters, blue crab, menhaden). During their explorations on Tangier Island, Scholars engaged with members of the local community in order to begin to understand the complex intersections of civic and scientific issues (e.g., sea-level rise) and to connect them to the individuals who must live with them. As a culmination to the week, a scientist from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation presented data on the state of the Bay, supporting Scholars’ development of their final projects and their team presentations, which focused on civic and science engagement (Table 2). 

Honors Leadership Retreat

The second week of the summer bridge integrated the Scholars with the Cormier Honors College (CHC) students for the annual Honors Leadership Retreat, an on-campus “mini-bridge” program. The CHC has facilitated this retreat and its embedded peer mentoring for more than a decade and has had great success in building a cohesive community. During the Honors Leadership Retreat, Scholars participated in activities to promote leadership skills, community building, an academic mindset, and identification with a group of students for whom intellectual challenge and curiosity are shared values. Each LIFE STEM Scholar was paired with an experienced honors science major (for the first cohort of Scholars) or a current LIFE STEM Scholar (for the second cohort of Scholars), who served as a peer mentor. The retreat provided Scholars with opportunities for personal growth and connection to a larger cohort of academically talented students with whom they lived in the honors residence hall.

Coursework

In order to promote a strong cohort of Scholars, a sense of community, a scientific mindset, and the successful transition to college, the LIFE STEM curriculum has a deliberate focus on the first semester during which all Scholars are required to take three courses together (see Table 1). Two of those courses (CHEM 111 and ISCI 120) have explicit scientific connections to the bridge experience, including the analysis of water and sediment samples and associated environmental data, while the other course (ISCI 100) focuses on the transition to college. In addition to those common courses, Scholars also complete introductory courses in the major. During the second semester, Scholars focus primarily on their major course requirements but continue in ISCI 121, the second half of the two-semester course focused on promoting a scientific mindset and developing scientific skills. These courses are taught by members of the LIFE STEM Leadership Team, all of whom attended at least one HSF summer bridge. Thus, a strong sense of scientific community was initiated during the summer bridge and continued throughout the Scholars’ first year. 

Fundamentals of Chemistry I (CHEM 111)

Fundamentals of Chemistry I (CHEM 111) is a required course for science majors and a common stumbling block for first-year students. This course is taught using an inquiry-based model and utilized the POGIL (Process-Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) pedagogy (Hein, 2012; De Gale & Boisselle, 2015) in both lecture and laboratory components. The collaborative POGIL environment is intended to help students learn, understand, and remember more while practicing skills essential for future success in the classroom, laboratory, and beyond. Connections to the summer bridge program were incorporated into the classroom component of the course as appropriate (e.g., polyatomic ions, molecular bonding, intermolecular forces, solubility, etc.). During the last five weeks of the laboratory portion of the course, the Scholars in the first cohort participated in “The Nitrate Analysis Project.” The Scholars used a spectrophotometric method to determine nitrate concentrations in a series of simulated Chesapeake Bay water samples. The second cohort participated in a final laboratory project focused on harmful algal blooms. In this project, the Scholars grew cultures under differing conditions to determine the effect of nutrient levels on algal growth.​ Algal growth was determined using a fluorescence technique to measure the chlorophyll content.

LIFE STEM Seminar I (ISCI 100)

Scholars completed a one-credit freshman seminar course that blended an introduction to academics with the transition to college life. Scholars were expected to demonstrate critical thinking skills necessary for college success, learn the importance of a digital professional presence, begin the development of a four-year e-portfolio project, design a graduation plan, demonstrate an understanding of academic resources on campus, explore career opportunities through events on campus and guest speakers, and engage in activities with the college and local community. 

Entering Research I (ISCI 120) and II (ISCI 121)

The first half of the Entering Research course sequence, adapted from Balster, Pfund, Rediske, and Branchaw (2010), engages LIFE STEM Scholars in an authentic, albeit guided, research experience and supports their development of basic skills necessary for a successful research experience. The Chesapeake Bay serves as the research focus. It is a context broad enough to support a wide range of learning activities: field, bench, and modeling work by students in all four majors; literature searches and critical reading of relevant scientific articles; explorations of connections between science and society; and consideration of research ethics. Drawing on data collected during the summer bridge, Scholars developed research questions and hypotheses in multidisciplinary student teams. This experience culminated with project presentations that outlined all aspects of the project, from definition of the problem, formulation of the hypothesis, design of the experiment, collection and analysis of the data, and drawing of the conclusions (Table 3). Several experiences within this course added to the breadth of content that continues to define the Scholars’ e-portfolios.

Table 3: The Entering Research Sequence: Student Outcomes for Key Skills, Weekly Course Topics that Support Development in Those Areas ,an Student Research Products.

Entering Research II reinforces and expands upon the knowledge and skills practiced in Entering Research I. Scholars continue to hone their skills in reading and comprehending primary literature by making a formal oral presentation of the background and findings of a scientific paper in their field of choice, thus allowing flexibility of interest in this multidisciplinary group.  In addition, continuing the focus on the Chesapeake Bay, Scholars design formal proposals for research—from posing a question through final presentation—in a multidisciplinary team. This process challenges Scholars to practice experimental questioning and implementation, expand their thinking to consider the larger scope of a research proposal, and establish a strong argument to convince an audience of the significance of a project (Table 3).  

Mentoring

Each LIFE STEM Scholar was paired with a faculty mentor prior to the Scholar’s arrival on campus. This mentoring relationship, which is intended to grow and mature over four years, is a core component of the LIFE STEM experience. Mentoring is intensive in the first two years with weekly and biweekly meetings; regular but less frequent meetings continue during the third and fourth years as the Scholars develop more independence. Fourteen faculty members from the two science departments mentored at least one Scholar, with most mentoring two Scholars, one from each cohort. To prepare for this individualized work with Scholars, mentors participated in a workshop provided by Dr. Janet Branchaw of the University of Wisconsin’s Institute for Biology Education. In addition to faculty mentors, Scholars also benefited from student peer mentors either from the CHC (cohort 1) or a current LIFE STEM Scholar (cohort 2). Although the structure was informal, peer mentors were often able to better understand and assist with the struggles associated with college life.

Student Voices: Reflections on the First-year Experience

Four LIFE STEM Scholars provided reflections on their experiences in the program: Samuel Morgan and Charlotte Pfamatter, Class of 2021 Integrated Environmental Sciences majors; Kelsey Thornton, Class of 2021 Biology major; and Cecily Hayek, Class of 2022 Biology major. These Scholars’ voluntary narratives (for which no specific directions were given) articulated insights on their learning in the affective domain. Drawing on a framework outlined by Trujillo and Tanner (2014), we tie their reflections to three key constructs related to the successful transition to the college environment and subsequent academic success: a sense of belonging in an academic community; identity as a professional and, more specifically, a scientist; and self-efficacy. Importantly, the development of their understanding of the connections between science and civic issues also was highlighted.

Sense of belonging

Students’ sense of belonging affects academic motivation, academic achievement, and well-being (Trujillo & Tanner, 2014), and first-year college students who experience more peer support performed better academically and had lower levels of stress, depression, and anxiety (Pittman & Richmond, 2008). LIFE STEM Scholars highlighted their early, meaningful, and persistent connections.

“The immediate connections and opportunities we were afforded upon arrival to Longwood have had a lasting impression on my time here, thus far. I was able to develop friendships before other college students, which made the transition less intimidating.”   (Kelsey)

“I cannot think of too many better ways that I could have started off college than going on my freshman summer bridge program. Meeting so many bright students and adults who shared my interest for science was an unexpected delight. What has been even more remarkable has been how I have kept my friendships and connections for almost two years and they have only gotten stronger. I have teamed up with many of my LIFE STEM friends for presentations, posters, and conferences, and each time, I know that I am able to rely on my cohort for sterling work and helpful insight.”

“While my duty is to my assigned mentee, I see both cohorts as one community where we are all trying to help each other get through college and make it out with a brighter future. Besides partnering with them on projects, I have enjoyed many one-on-one conversations on making it through college. I have gotten to bond over dinners and lunches, and I have benefitted from a few late-night study groups. I see this community best exemplified when many of us go back each semester to Hull Springs to beautify the area through gardening. We get to spend a weekend doing some service while also bonding. We get to self-lead and organize ourselves while giving back to the university that granted us this excellent program in the first place.” (Samuel)

“My LIFE STEM peer mentor has been so kind and supportive this year that I decided to apply to be a peer mentor for the next cohort. I know that these relationships that I have formed over this past year will continue to grow, and I am so thankful that I have been able to create such a great support system.”  (Cecily)

The development of sense of belonging is not limited to peer interactions: connections to faculty members also are important in promoting students’ sense of belonging in the university context (Freeman, Anderman, and Jensen, 2007).  

“I believe that the faculty-student connections we made upon arrival, and continue to make to this day, are the best reward of this program. Being able to go to any science faculty member and ask them about anything, whether it be in regard to academics or just life, they already know you and they are there and willing to help.”  (Kelsey)

“The LIFE STEM faculty have been able to make Chichester (our science building) feel like home. I have gone to so many faculty STEM mentors for guidance on school projects, and I will always be thankful for the many opportunities they have afforded me.”  (Samuel)

“Other than academic success, this program has also given me many great mentors who have been integral in helping me plan out my future. My faculty mentor is always there to give me advice on anything I ask about and is even assisting me in contacting people in my desired field.”  (Cecily)

Identity as a scientist

A student’s identification as a scientist is linked to persistence, and students who left the sciences often did not adopt that professional identity (Trujillo & Tanner, 2014). Science identity can be framed as a composite of multiple factors, including performance, recognition, and competence (Carlone & Johnson, 2007). Those dimensions are evident in the following statements by LIFE STEM Scholars:

“I have become a strong leader and a confident biologist in the making. I am excited to move forward in this program, meet and connect with future cohorts, and continue growing as a student and as a Citizen Leader.”  (Kelsey)

“One of my proudest titles at Longwood is being a LIFE STEM Scholar. . . . LIFE STEM has been pivotal for me not only as a student but as a young professional. . . . Also, LIFE STEM has brought me confidence as an aspiring scientist. Coming to college, I had limited experience in science and had only brief exposure to it in high school. I was not knowledgeable on scientific writing and presentations. The LIFE STEM courses have groomed me to become a professional in the STEM world through step-by-step writing and presenting exercises, while providing many opportunities for practice. This program has equipped me with the tools I need to be a competitive student in my major, which will help me thrive in a STEM career and graduate school after Longwood.” (Charlotte)

“I hope to continue to grow as a student and forge even more connections that will allow me to further my education as a biologist.” (Cecily)

Self-efficacy

A student’s self-efficacy is the belief or confidence that his/her/zir actions can affect outcomes and have desired effects (Bandura, 1997). It is an ingredient that can move students beyond the “raw materials” of knowledge and skills to academic success (Klassen & Klassen, 2018). LIFE STEM Scholars’ reflections indicate that the program’s scaffolded academic experiences and early research immersion supported students’ confidence in moving forward positively to more advanced work.

“This program helped me to grow in many aspects, both professionally and personally. In my first year, I learned how to do scientific research and had the opportunity to improve my public speaking skills. The second year was predominately learning how to be a scientist; that is, how to read articles, how to synthesize, and how to report to different audiences. These were all skills that were challenging at the time; however, I was grateful to have learned them in the LIFE STEM Program classes. Once the cohort started taking classes outside of the program, I was personally able to see how far ahead we were compared to other students in regard to simple skills such as writing and public speaking.”  (Kelsey)

“As a mentor to the second cohort of LIFE STEM students, I have been able to grow in my leadership skills. In my first year, I was provided with lots of help, advice, and opportunities, but, as a mentor in my second year, I got to provide those things to my mentees.” (Samuel)

“LIFE STEM has helped me gain momentum in pursuing undergraduate research. This academic program is designed for students to learn about undergraduate research, with the hope of actually taking on a research opportunity. The courses have exposed me to examples of some of the faculty’s work, while also being able to meet face to face with professors to learn what research entails. Because of LIFE STEM, I was able to take on research in my sophomore year and the summer before my junior year. LIFE STEM prepared me with professional communication skills, which landed me an opportunity to do research for the duration of my time at Longwood.”  (Charlotte)

“Coursework as a Biology major can be challenging, and I was pleased when I found myself performing much better on assignments and assessments than other students that are not in the program. This success is because of the skills and knowledge that LIFE STEM Scholars are exposed to within the first semester. I have been able to improve my writing immensely and even broaden my skills in researching and reading scientific articles. I believe that this program has opened doors for me within the scientific field as well as my other courses.” (Cecily)

Connections between Science and Civic Issues

The LIFE STEM Scholars begin their university careers immersed in a complex and contested civic issue that at first is framed as a scientific problem. Their “engagement with ‘multidisciplinary trouble’ and civic questions that require attention now” (SENCER, 2017) has prompted students to reevaluate their perceptions of their identities and their responsibilities as citizens and scholars.

“As I spent time on the Chesapeake Bay, I realized that an environmental scientist’s purpose cannot be to merely understand the relationship between a community of organisms and the landscape they inhabit, or to work to preserve beneficial ecosystems. Instead, an environmental scientist’s job is to lend their knowledge and skills to a cooperative effort of maintaining and improving a society’s relationship with the natural world. The Bay is much more than a tidal estuary for crabs, oysters, pelicans, and shad. The Bay has historical, economic, and recreational significance, and serves as a home to millions of people. Sometimes natural preservation conflicts with keeping these other values. An environmental scientist’s purpose must involve attempting to preserve all of society’s values.”  (Samuel)

Conclusion

Although it is still in the early stages of the evaluation process, initial assessment by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium (MERC) suggested that the LIFE STEM Program has been successful in achieving its objectives. From first to second semester, LIFE STEM Scholars were retained at a higher rate than their peers in the science majors (Table 4). Additionally, Scholars reported feeling academically supported through the program and expressed gratitude for the opportunity to connect with a cohort of science peers and faculty through the summer bridge, mentoring program, and LIFE STEM coursework (MERC unpublished data). Scholars from the first cohort also informally reported to the LIFE STEM Leadership Team that as they transitioned to upper-level courses, they perceived themselves to be better prepared for scientific writing and oral presentations than their peers. They attributed that to the Entering Research course sequence. Longwood University also recognized the successes of the program by providing institutional funding to enroll a third cohort of LIFE STEM Scholars, which extends the positive impacts of the program to continue beyond the timeline initiated in the NSF S-STEM award. 

Though the program is off to a strong start, it is not immune to both program- and institutional-level challenges such as faculty workload and sustainability. To address that, some members of the LIFE STEM Leadership Team applied and were accepted to the 2019 ASCN (Accelerating Systemic Change Network) Systemic Change Institute. The team’s major goals for the institute were to develop a realistic plan for engaging faculty from the science departments in discussions about lessons learned and opportunities for implementation beyond LIFE STEM, learn about proven strategies for engaging faculty in scaling up nascent efforts, identify strategies for engaging faculty and staff in recruiting efforts, and consider program elements that might support different funding opportunities, including the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Inclusive Excellence program. 

As the LIFE STEM Leadership Team and MERC continue to learn about the program’s successes, identify areas for improvement and growth, and pursue opportunities for scaling beyond the small cohorts, the Scholars’ first-year immersion at the intersection of science and civic issues continues to serve as a foundation for the Scholars’ academic and co-curricular efforts. The SENCER Ideals are infused into the upper-level LIFE STEM coursework, and Scholars are pursuing leadership roles on campus that again position them at that intersection (e.g., Eco-Reps in the university’s Office of Sustainability).

Table 4: Retention Rates of Longwood University Undergraduates (UG) for the Two Classes in Which the LIFE STEM Cohorts are Embedded.
Authors
Michelle Parry

Michelle Parry is associate professor of physics in the Department of Chemistry and Physics (C&P). She serves as the LIFE STEM Program coordinator and teaches the LIFE STEM Seminar I course that focuses on the successful transition to college. She also serves as the physics area coordinator and is responsible for program assessment and for leading curriculum change. 

Wayne Znosko

Wade Znosko is associate professor of biology in the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences (BES). He leads the two-semester sequence of Entering Research for the LIFE STEM Program. His research on the effects of impaired waterways on the development of vertebrates helps to inform some of the data collection and analysis techniques during this sequence.

Alix Dowling Fink

Alix Dowling Fink is dean of the Cormier Honors College for Citizen Scholars and professor of biology in BES. She has been involved with SENCER for more than 15 years and, with Michelle, developed a SENCER Model Course, The Power of Water. Collaborating with colleagues across the disciplines, she also developed a transdisciplinary student program in Yellowstone National Park focused on the stewardship of our public lands. Her commitment to the SENCER Ideals continues to shape her work with students in the classroom, in the field, and through her administrative efforts.

Mark Fink

Mark Fink is the chair of BES and associate professor of biology. Since 2011, he has facilitated immersion learning experiences on the Chesapeake Bay, first with teacher candidates and in-service teachers and currently with students from all majors. In those programs and his life science course for future K–8 teachers, Mark has sought to engage students in learning science concepts by using relevant, timely, and challenging civic contexts.

Kenneth Fortino

Kenneth Fortino is an associate professor of biology in BES, where he teaches courses in introductory biology, ecology and evolution, ecosystem ecology, and introductory environmental science. His current research is on the factors that affect organic matter processing in freshwater ecosystems.

Melissa Rhoten

Melissa Rhoten is a professor of chemistry in C&P. Her research interests include topics in chemical education, bioanalytical electrochemistry, and biosensors. Melissa has been involved in pedagogical activities focused on the implementation of inquiry-based learning in Longwood’s chemistry curriculum. She currently serves as the director of Longwood’s new Civitae Core Curriculum.​

Sarai Blincoe

Sarai Blincoe is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology and is the discipline-based educational researcher for the LIFE STEM Program. She regularly teaches undergraduate courses in research methods and social psychology and publishes research on disrespect, trust, and the scholarship of teaching and learning. Sarai serves as assistant dean of curriculum and assessment in the Cook-Cole College of Arts and Sciences.

Student Contributors

Cecily Hayek

Cecily Hayek is a biology major who graduated from Lake Braddock Secondary School in Fairfax, VA, in May 2018. In June 2019, she attended the Mid-Atlantic Marine Debris Summit that sought to find solutions for marine litter and subsequent problems such as microplastics. Cecily plans to pursue a career in veterinary medicine.

Samuel Morgan

Samuel Morgan is an integrated environmental sciences major who started his studies at Longwood University in August 2017. Since then, he has been a LIFE STEM mentor as well as a student collaborator on faculty research focused on allelopathy.

 

Charlotte Pfamatter

Charlotte Pfamatter is an integrated environmental sciences major who graduated from Monacan High School in North Chesterfield, VA, in May 2017. In the summer of 2018, Charlotte participated in the School for Field Studies program in Turks and Caicos Islands that explored issues in marine conservation.

Kelsey Thornton

Kelsey Thornton is a biology major who graduated from Thomas Dale High School in Chester, VA, in May 2017. In the summer of 2019, she participated in the Longwood University study abroad experience examining conservation and economics in Ecuadorian Amazon. Kelsey’s professional goal is to become a veterinarian.

References

Balster, N., Pfund, C., Rediske, R., & Branchaw, J. (2010). Entering research: A course that creates community and structure for beginning undergraduate researchers in the STEM disciplines. CBE Life Sciences Education, 9(2), 108–118. Retrieved from http://www.lifescied.org/content/9/2/108.long 

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.

Braid, B., & Long, A. (2000). Place as text: Approaches to active learning. National Collegiate Honors Council. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nchcmono/3/ 

Carlone, H. B., & Johnson, A. (2007). Understanding the science experiences of women of color: Science identity as an analytical lens. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(8), 1187–1218.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF). (2018). State of the Bay report.  Retrieved from https://www.cbf.org/document-library/cbf-reports/2018-state-of-the-bay-report.pdf 

Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP). (2017). Facts and figures. Retrieved from  https://www.chesapeakebay.net/discover/facts 

Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP). (2019). Bay barometer.  Retrieved from https://www.chesapeakebay.net/documents/2017-2018_Bay_Barometer.pdf 

De Gale, S., & Boisselle, L. (2015). The effect of POGIL on academic performance and academic confidence. Science Education International, 26(1), 56–79. 

Freeman, T. M., Anderman, L. H., & Jensen, J. M. (2007). Sense of belonging in college freshmen at the classroom and campus levels. Journal of Experimental Education, 75(3), 203–220.

Hein, S. M. (2012). Positive impacts using POGIL in organic chemistry. Journal of Chemical Education, 89(7), 860–864. 

Klassen, R. M., & Klassen, J. R. L. (2018). Self-efficacy beliefs of medical students: A critical review. Perspectives on Medical Education, 7(2), 76–82.

National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). (2017). Commercial fisheries statistics. Retrieved from  https://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/commercial-fisheries/commercial-landings/other-specialized-programs/total-commercial-fishery-landings-at-major-u-s-ports-summarized-by-year-and-ranked-by-dollar-value/index 

President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). (2012). Engage to excel: Producing one million additional graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Retrieved from https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/pcast-engage-to-excel-final_2-25-12.pdf 

Pittman, L. D., & Richmond, A. (2008). University belonging, friendship quality, and psychological adjustment during the transition to college. Journal of Experimental Education, 76(4), 343–362.

Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER). (2017). SENCER Ideals.  Retrieved from http://sencer.net/sencer-ideals/ 

Trujillo, G., & Tanner, K. D. (2014). Considering the role of affect in learning: Monitoring students’ self-efficacy, sense of belonging, and science identity. CBE Life Sciences Education, 13, 6–15.  Retrieved from https://www.lifescied.org/doi/full/10.1187/cbe.13-12-0241 

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Summer 2019: From the Editors

For the Summer 2019 issue, we are pleased to provide a new journal feature—a collection of short books reviews to stimulate your reading. The books reviewed in this issue include a cultural history of infectious microorganisms, a chronicle of wolf ecology in Yellowstone National Park, a summary of the cognitive processes involved in learning, a revolutionary proposal for a new type of higher education in the 21st Century, and a nuanced examination of human heredity. These book reviews will become a regular feature in the summer issue of the journal, so we welcome contributions from eager readers for Summer 2020! 

We are also excited to share two project reports that provide inspiring examples of science education and civic engagement. 

A diverse team of faculty members and students from Longwood University describes the LIFE STEM Program, which provides low-income students with an intentional and supportive transition to the study of science in college. As described by lead author Michelle Parry, first-year students use the Chesapeake Bay as both a natural laboratory and a contested civic space. In addition to linking the Bay to students’ coursework and research projects, LIFE STEM also focuses on cultivating students’ sense of belonging in an academic community, developing their professional identity as scientists, and promoting their self-efficacy. Preliminary data suggest a positive impact of the project on the retention of STEM students and the development of their skills in research and communication. 

The second project report describes an interdisciplinary collaboration at New York City College of Technology, with contributions from Liana Tsenova, Urmi Ghosh-Dastidar, Arnavaz Taraporevala, Aionga Sonya Pereira, and Pamela Brown. Students enrolled in a microbiology course and a statistics course worked together to examined the growing problem of healthcare-associated infections by antibiotic-resistant microorganisms. Using authentic data from 15 Brooklyn hospitals, students performed statistical tests to examine variation in antibiotic resistance among different bacterial species. Students then learned about methods to reduce hospital-based infections and developed informational flyers for public distribution. As an outcome of this project, students make meaningful connections between scientific knowledge and civic action.

We wish to thank all the book reviewers and manuscript authors for sharing their scholarly work with the readers of this journal.

Matt Fisher and Trace Jordan
Co-Editors-in-Chief

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Study of Healthcare-Associated Infections and Multi-Drug Resistance in Brooklyn: An Integrative Approach

Abstract

One SENCER ideal is to connect science education and civic engagement by student learning through complex, unresolved public issues. Using this approach, we established a collaborative interdisciplinary project involving faculty and undergraduate students at NYC College of Technology. Over several semesters, students conducted literature search and discovered the complex factors contributing to the occurrence and transmission of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). Using microbiology data from 15 hospitals in Brooklyn, NY, they applied statistical analyses, studied the antibiotic resistance, and developed a campaign to bring more awareness of this problem. The results of the project highlight the importance of immediate action in combating HAIs and support the need for a public health campaign. Undergraduate students were provided with the opportunity to conduct research, perform scientific and mathematical analyses, and present their results. They gained better understanding of the complex interactions among microbiology, epidemiology, and mathematics that is needed to develop preventative measures and combat HAIs.

 Introduction

In April 2014, World Health Organization officials released a comprehensive report on antibiotic resistance, calling it a “major threat to public health” and seeking “improved collaboration around the world to track drug resistance, measure its health and economic impacts and design targeted solutions” (WHO, 2016). Using the SENCER ideals of connecting science education and civic engagement by teaching through complex, unresolved public issues, and inspired by the SENCER Summer Institute (SSI) in Chicago, we established a collaborative interdisciplinary project for undergraduate students at the NYC College of Technology, led by faculty from the Biological Sciences and Mathematics departments. By combining epidemiology and microbiology with mathematics, the project addressed the need for public education and awareness of two emerging health care problems: (a) healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), formerly known as nosocomial infections (NIs), and (b) antibiotic resistance. HAIs are infectious diseases, acquired during a hospital stay, with no evidence of being present at the time of admission to the hospital. HAIs affect 5–10% of hospitalized patients in the US per year. Approximately 1.7 million HAIs occur in U.S. hospitals each year, resulting in 99,000 deaths (CDC, 2015). Today the complications associated with HAIs may be responsible for an annual $5–10 billion financial burden on our healthcare system (Cowan, Smith, and Lusk, 2019). Education and public awareness campaigns have been among the most effective tools used in many industries, including healthcare.  HAIs are easily transmitted due to the numerous microbes in the hospital environment, the interaction of healthcare workers with multiple patients, the compromised immunity of patients, improper use of antibiotics, and inadequate antiseptic procedures. More than 70% of these infections are caused by multi-drug resistant (MDR) pathogens, which contribute to increased morbidity and mortality (Black and Hawks, 2009). Antibiotic resistance is the capability of particular microorganisms to grow in the presence of a given antibiotic. The acquired resistance results from spontaneous mutations or from the transfer of resistance genes from other microbes (Drlica & Perlin, 2011). Each year in the US, at least 2 million people are infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria, and at least 23,000 people die as a result (CDC, 2018; Sifferlin, 2017). With the increased levels of antibiotic usage among humans, livestock, and crops, antibiotic resistant bacteria have increased dramatically in the past few decades (Foglia, Fraser, & Elward, 2007;  Sedláková et al., 2014). If a bacterial cell carries several resistance genes, relating to more than just one antibiotic, it is termed MDR, for multiple drug-resistant. Today these organisms are known as superbugs (Sifferlin, 2017).

The rising rate of antimicrobial resistance demands research and development of entirely novel drugs and new therapeutic strategies, from small-molecule antibiotics to antimicrobial peptides, from enzymes to nucleic acid therapeutics, from metal-carbonyl complexes to phage therapy (Medina & Pieper, 2016; Brunetti et al, 2016; Betts, Nagel, Schatzschneider, Poole, & Ragione, 2017; Nayar et al., 2015; Phoenix, Harris, Dennison, & Ahmed, 2015. 

The main goal of this research project was to study the complex factors that contribute to the occurrence and transmission of HAIs associated with antibiotic resistance in Brooklyn hospitals, to apply statistical analyses to the data, and to bring more awareness of this problem to our college community.

Student Involvement

Students enrolled in Microbiology (BIO3302) and Statistics (MAT1272) worked collaboratively on this project.  Undergraduate researchers, with a greater time commitment, were also involved in the project, through the college’s Emerging Scholars program (New York City College of Technology, Undergraduate Research, 2019) or the Honors Scholars Program (New York City College of Technology, Academics, 2019) the former providing stipends to students and the latter providing honors credit in a course. Both programs require student professional development related to research, such as abstract writing, preparing a poster, and making oral presentations, and each provides the opportunity for undergraduate students to conduct research with a faculty mentor and gain a practical understanding of the material learned in courses. Undergraduate researchers included students majoring in nursing and other health sciences (for whom both BIO3302 and MAT1272 are required), applied mathematics, and computer engineering technology.  

The specific objectives of the project were (a) to define the most common bacterial pathogens responsible for the spread of HAIs; (b) to identify risk factors and common infection sites; (c) to analyze microbial resistance to commonly used antibiotics, using data on multi-drug resistant bacterial isolates from hospitals in Brooklyn; (d) to study variations of resistance rates among different hospitals, using statistical analysis; (e) to study association among resistant isolates, using regression analysis; (f) to define the antibiotics with the highest bacterial resistance;  (g) to raise awareness of preventative measures for reducing HAIs;  and (h) to introduce students to an interdisciplinary practical field. 

Over six semesters, students performed comprehensive literature search on scientific articles by using the following key words: healthcare-associated infections, hospital acquired infections, HAI, nosocomial infections, antibiotic resistance, multi-drug resistance, epidemiology, Brooklyn hospitals. Additionally, they obtained already published data on multi-drug resistant clinical isolates from 15 coded (unidentified) hospitals in Brooklyn, (kindly provided by Dr. J. Quale, Division of Infectious Diseases, State University of New York Downstate Health Sciences University) (Bratu, Landman, Gupta, Trehan, Panwar, & Quale, 2006; Manikal, Landman, Saurina, Oydna, Lal, & Quale, 2002;  Landman et al., 2002; Landman et al., 2007). Using the data, students performed statistical analysis, using chi-squared tests on antibiotic resistance and regression analysis. 

Results

Most Common Bacterial Pathogens
and Risk Factors

As a result of extensive literature search, students defined twelve bacterial pathogens associated with HAIs. The most common ones in Brooklyn were Staphylococcus aureus, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Klebsiella pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Acinetobacter baumannii, and Clostridium difficile. Next, the specific bacterial characteristics and the most prevalent sites of infections (urinary tract, lower respiratory tract, surgical incisions, and bloodstream) were described. Those at highest risk of contracting HAIs are patients with (a) a compromised immune system as a result of a transplant, HIV infection, malignant tumors, or possible prolonged treatment with antibiotics, cytostatics, or corticosteroids; (b) surgical procedures; (c) invasive procedures (e.g., urethral catheters, trachea ventilators, and/or intravenous therapy); (d) trauma and burn patients; (e) an underdeveloped immune system (e.g., newborns); and (f) diminished resistance (e.g. elderly); and (g) prolonged hospitalization, also a significant risk factor.

Statistical Analysis of Antibiotic Resistant Clinical Isolates

The next step of the project was to study the impact of multi-drug resistance on HAIs. One of the project participants established personal communication with Dr. J. Quale, who provided numerically coded data on clinical isolates collected from 15 Brooklyn hospitals. The percentage of resistance to the following most commonly used antibiotics was examined and compared: Amikacin (AK), Gentamicin (GEN), Ceftazidime (CAZ), Piperacillin-Tazobactam (Pip-Taz), Ciprofloxacin (Cip), and Imipenem (Imi). 

Analyses of the antibiotic resistance indicated that most of the clinical isolates were highly resistant to Ciprofloxacin, reaching 100% resistance among Acinetobacter baumannii. These results demonstrate that Ciprofloxacin should be used minimally for the tested HAI pathogens. Newer therapies such as Tigecycline and the combination of Polymixine + Rifampin showed much better bacterial susceptibility. 

Chi-squared tests (Table 1) revealed significant resistance variations of Klebsiella isolates to the antibiotics AK, CAZ, Cip, and Imi among the hospitals, that is, the variations of drug resistance of these isolates were too large to have occurred by chance alone.  Significant resistance variations of Pseudomonas isolates to AK, Cip, and Imi were also observed. The underlying causes of these disparities are most likely the differences in the inpatient population. Elderly and sicker patients usually take in more antibiotics and thus harbor antibiotic resistant bacteria. Patients in trauma centers are also more likely to develop antibiotic resistance. Furthermore, overuse or repeated use of a specific antibiotic by a hospital would lead to a higher resistance rate for that particular antibiotic. 

Interestingly, different scenarios were observed for Acinetobacter isolates. Variations of Acinetobacter resistance to the antibiotics AK, CAZ and Cip among the hospitals were not statistically significant; however, significant variations to Imi were observed. Patients with Acinetobacter infections are usually very ill and heavily exposed to antibiotics. Acinetobacter bacteria are resistant to most antibiotics, and thus for these isolates, variations of resistance to most antibiotics do not show statistically significant differences among the participating hospitals.

Table 1: Chi-Square Tests on Resistance Variations Among Hospitals.

Regression analysis showed high correlation between the antibiotic resistance of different pathogens. The correlation coefficient between Klebsiella and Pseudomonas was 0.929, Klebsiella and Acinetobacter – 0.825 and between Pseudonomnas and Acinetobacter – 0.859. The correlation between resistance of a specific organism to different antibiotics was also studied. Extremely strong positive correlation was found between Ceftazidime and Ciprofloxacin (R2 = .9961) in K. pneumoniae (Table 2), suggesting that these bacteria may carry the resistant genes for both antibiotics. Most hospital facilities nowadays use common antibiotics to treat infections. Within inpatient population there is a greater chance of contracting and spreading infections due to compromised or weakened immunity and the variety of pathogenic organisms present in such settings. Therefore, resistance to antibiotics that are prevalently used is higher.

Table 2: Correlation of Resistance to Different Antibiotics in Isolates of K. pneumoniae.
Preventative Measures

Another important objective of our study was to understand the need for proper preventative measures for reducing HAIs. In order to protect all individuals in the clinical setting—patients, healthcare workers, and public (visitors), CDC has laid down strict guidelines for handling patients and body specimens, termed Universal Precautions (CDC, 1998). All students, especially those majoring in health sciences, became acquainted with and learned these guidelines. The fight against the spread of MDR organisms begins with proper hand hygiene, correct use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and judicious use of pharmacologic treatment (Weinstein, 2001). Practicing proper frequent hand hygiene is essential to prevent the transmission of infections. It requires washing hands with soap and vigorous rubbing under running water for at least twenty seconds. Alcohol-base sanitizers are also used on unsoiled hands and require less time than hand washing. However, sanitizers are not effective in killing bacterial spores, whereas hand washing is effective on all microbes.  PPE includes gowns, goggles, or facial shields to protect skin and mucus membranes. Targeted pharmaceutical treatment, as a result of an antibiogram, should be prescribed instead of blind use of broad-spectrum antibiotics. Repeated bacterial cultures are necessary to assess the effectiveness of treatment. Additional preventative measures to reduce HAIs are (a) decreasing the number of skin punctures on a patient, since they provide opportunities for colonizing microflora; (b) following aseptic techniques when performing invasive procedures such as placing urethral and intravenous catheters; (c) reducing the duration of intravenous lipid use, since lipids are immunosuppressive, are easily contaminated, and support growth of fungi and bacteria; and (d) limiting the number of days for percutaneous deep lines. 

Technology is also playing a role in preventing and improving effective patient care through sharing health information. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act allows hospitals and providers to share patients’ health information (ONC, 2019). In New York City many healthcare providers are taking advantage of programs like the Regional Health Information Organization, a network that contains a complete picture of patient’s health history. 

Assessment and Outcomes

The information gained in this project highlights the importance of immediate action in combating HAIs and supports the need for a public health campaign. The project provided students with the opportunity to conduct mentored interdisciplinary research, work as a team, perform scientific and mathematic analyses, participate in discussions, and exchange opinions. Students were enabled to better understand the complex interaction between microbiology, epidemiology, and statistics and to gain knowledge of the need for preventative measures to combat HAIs. Adding the research component to the Microbiology course has helped students connect the information learned in class to the real world and to recognize the importance of HAIs and MDR as a threat to public health. Throughout the project, in a creative environment, students defined the most common bacterial species responsible for the spread of HAIs in Brooklyn and identified the risk factors and common infection sites. Using the data on multi-drug resistant isolates, they performed statistical analysis to study the correlation between two different antibiotic resistances and variability among Brooklyn hospitals. Their work was disseminated by publishing flyers (Figures 1 and 2) for distribution in local hospitals and clubs. Currently, the information from the project continues to be used by the participating faculty in MAT1272 for “hand washing habits” assignments, which also leads to a discussion on antibacterial soaps, sanitizers, and the occurrence of superbugs.

Furthermore, different phases of the project were presented at the end of each semester at the Semi-Annual Poster Sessions for Honors and Emerging Scholars at the New York City College of Technology. Several undergraduate students presented their research at regional and national conferences such as NYSMATYC (NYSMATYC, 2011), MAA Regional Meetings, Math Fest (Ghosh-dastidar, 2010), the 13th Annual CUNY Pipeline Honors Conference, and the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS). The project was also presented at the SENCER Washington Symposium and Capitol Hill Poster Session in Washington DC. The work was also reflected in MAA Focus magazine (Baron, 2011), and in the NY Daily News.

Figure 1: Flyer with information about Nosocomial Infection (courtesy of Gillian Persue).
Figure 2: Flyer with information about Nosocoial Infection (courtesy of Michell Cadore)

In conclusion, we consider the research project very successful. Our main goal was achieved: to combine different subject areas, to address serious public health issues, such as HAIs and antibiotic resistance, and to bring more awareness in our community. The students were very enthusiastic and eager to learn and interacted very efficiently among themselves as a team.  The success of the project is best conveyed by the students’ reflections on their research work: 

“This was my first research project and it was challenging. I never thought I could do pathology research, but it opened a door to a new area. The experience was especially important for me, since health care workers can spread nosocomial infections. We’re supposed to help patients, but we can harm them. I would encourage everyone to do a research project in college. It’s definitely worth it.” 

“The most significant part of this project for me was working as an interdisciplinary team. I am proud to say that the results of our research were later presented on a state level at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.” 

Acknowledgement

 This work was supported by a sub-award from SENCER, SSI 2009 to P.B. and the Emerging Scholars Program at New York City College of Technology. Many thanks to Dr. J. Quale, Division of Infectious Diseases, State University of New York Downstate Health Sciences University for sharing his knowledge and his valuable suggestions. We acknowledge the excellent research performance of all student participants, led by Rona Gurin, Aionga Pereira (currently a co-author), Farjana Ferdousy, Efrah Hassan, Cintiana Execus, Jessica Obidimalor, Hui Meen Ong, Philip Ajisogun, and Jennifer Chan Wu. 

Authors 

Liana Tsenova

Liana Tsenova is a professor of Biological Sciences at the New York City College of Technology. She earned her MD degree and specialty in microbiology and immunology from the Medical Academy in Sofia, Bulgaria. Dr. Tsenova received her postdoctoral training at the Rockefeller University in NYC. Her research is focused on the immune response and host-directed therapies in tuberculosis and other infectious diseases. She has co-authored more than 50 publications. At City Tech she has served as the PI/project director of the Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program, funded by NIH ($1.2million. She is a SENCER leadership fellow. She mentors undergraduate students in collaborative interdisciplinary projects, combining the study of microbiology and infectious diseases with chemistry and statistics, to address unresolved healthcare problems. 

Urmi Ghosh-Dastidar

Urmi Ghosh-Dastidar is the coordinator of the Computer Science Program and a professor in the Mathematics Department at New York City College of Technology. She received a PhD in applied mathematics jointly from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University and a BS in applied mathematics from The Ohio State University. Her current interests include parameter estimation via optimization, infectious disease modeling, applications of graph theory in biology and chemistry, and developing and applying undergraduate bio-math modules in various SENCER related projects. She was elected a SENCER leadership fellow by the National Leadership Board of the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement.

Arnavaz Taraporevala

Arnavaz Taraporevala is a professor of mathematics at New York City College of Technology.  She received her doctorate in statistics from Michigan State University. She is a member of the Curriculum Committee of the Mathematics Department and is actively involved in curriculum development.  Her courses include an intensive writing component and student portfolios.  Professor Taraporevala has served as a mentor to several students in honors projects. Her research interests are in stable processes and in pedagogical issues in mathematics. She co-wrote (with Professors Benakli and Singh) the text Visualizing Calculus by Way of Maple (New York: McGraw Hill Publishers, 2012).

Aionga Sonya Pereira

Aionga Sonya Pereira is a registered nurse. She graduated from Long Island University with a BSN and is currently working on her MSN. Her specialty areas and passion are emergency medicine and psychological health, and she has worked in both areas for the last six years. She is a reserve Air Force officer and is the current officer in charge (OIC) of mental health at the 459th ASTS at Joint Base Andrews. Most recently she joined the Mount Sinai Healthcare System as an RN. Her love for research started as an undergraduate student at the New York City College of Technology, where she participated in the Emerging Scholars Program. Aionga continues to seek ways to merge civic engagement research and nursing. 

Pamela Brown

Pamela Brown, PhD, PE, is associate provost at New York City College of Technology of the City University of New York, a position she has held since 2012. Before assuming her current position, Dr. Brown was dean of the School of Arts & Sciences for six years. Dr. Brown also served as a program director in the Division of Undergraduate Education at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2011–2012. She is a chemical engineer by training, having earned her PhD from Polytechnic University and SM from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her research interests include development and assessment of student success initiatives.

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In Memoriam – David L. Ferguson

A beloved member of the SENCER community died suddenly in July. Dave Ferguson had been a leader and supporter of Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities since it was first established by David Burns and Karen Oates at the Association of American Colleges and Universities in 2001.  I recall Dave as a generous and engaged SENCER participant, particularly in aspects of the work that he was passionate about: mathematics education and supporting the academic success, especially in STEM, of underserved minority students. 

Although I always appreciated Dave as a steady presence at SENCER Summer Institutes, one whose graciousness and enthusiasm made all interactions with him a pleasure, I only got to know him well as a colleague in 2015, when I succeeded David Burns as Executive Director of the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement (SENCER’s organizational home). At that time the NCSCE and its staff moved to Stony Brook University under the auspices of the Department of Technology and Society.   Dave was Chair of Tech and Society and Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion, among other roles, but it was clear that he saw the development and advancement of NCSCE at Stony Brook as an integral part, not only of the overall mission of the department, but part of his personal mission of ensuring that all students have access to the high-quality STEM learning they will need to address the “grand challenges” we are all facing.  Although in administrative hierarchy he was our supervisor, Dave respected our autonomy as a program and our expertise as staff members, while offering us support, guidance, and wholehearted commitment.  

I can honestly say that working with Dave these last few years has been an inspiration and a joy, not least because you knew you could trust him completely to do what was right, even though it might be hard.  He was a lifelong student at heart and still lit up with excitement at new ideas, new projects, and especially, the creativity and achievements of his students. At the 2019 SENCER Summer Institute, where he posthumously received the Wm. E. Bennett award, so many colleagues and friends noted that when you were working with Dave “you had his complete attention, and felt like you were the only person who mattered.”  His ability to listen, understand, and fully engage with others partly explains why so many considered him their role model, mentor, and champion, and why he was widely respected on the campus he spent his entire career. The NCSCE gained immeasurably from our association with him, not only at Stony Brook, but in the national arena, as he opened up new avenues and audiences for NCSCE in engineering education and industry partnerships, all focused on “social good.” 

Dave was a stubbornly modest individual who rarely talked about himself, and many of us were unaware of his lifetime of accomplishments and many honors and awards until we read his obituary.  It is not an exaggeration to say, as many did in reflecting on his life, that he was “irreplaceable.” He left us too soon, but with a legacy of good works and achievements that we can only try to carry on. 

Eliza Reilly
Executive Editor

 

Summer Reading List – Five Book Reviews

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West

Nate Blakeslee

320 pp. 2017. Broadway Books.

9781101902806

In American Wolf, Nate Blakeslee presents the historic movement that led to what many have dubbed the greatest natural experiment of our time—the reintroduction of gray wolves (Canis lupus) to Yellowstone National Park. Blakeslee’s account details two complex landscapes: the 18-million-acre Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, one of Earth’s largest intact temperate ecosystems,and the equally immense human cultural, political, and economic web into which the translocated animals were released. Unlike many accounts of this epic experiment, Blakeslee’s focuses not on the Yellowstone wolves broadly but rather on the story of alpha female “O-Six.” As he shares the natural history of O-Six and her kind, he weaves a parallel tale of the human communities that are at once removed from the wild wolves and yet absolutely tied to them. Chief among the human actors is Rick McIntyre, a now-retired National Park Service employee who for decades—and for countless visitors—was the interpretive voice for the animals. Though arguably pro-wolf narratives dominate, particularly through accounts of wolf watchers who spend their vacations—and, in some cases, their retirements—following wolves, other perspectives, including those of citizens who opposed reintroduction and some who legally hunt wolves, are represented thoughtfully and meaningfully. Drawing on years of field notes, countless interviews with stakeholders, national and regional media, and scientific data on this well-studied population, Blakeslee exposes the harsh realities of these linked landscapes, both the almost unbelievable tales of wolf interactions and the equally fraught and often harsh environmental politics in the human sphere.

Our instructional team assigned this text as part of a collaborative program that for fourteen years has immersed students from across the majors in contentious stewardship issues in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The course uses real issues of our public lands to teach students majoring both in science and in other disciplines. For our students, American Wolf grounded the thrills of seeing wild wolves in Yellowstone in a much larger context and longer narrative. It deepened students’ engagement with both the Yellowstone landscape and that paired system of human politics, economics, history, and culture that created space for wolves within the boundaries of Yellowstone, but not always beyond. Blakeslee’s exposition of these landscapes is transferrable to many teaching-and-learning contexts that seek to draw on unresolved public issues and make explicit the ways in which science and citizens can and cannot affect them.

JoEllen Pederson, Jessi Znosko, Alton Coleman, Jennifer Cox, Alix Dowling Fink, Edward Kinman, Kevin Napier, and Phillip Poplin are all at Longwood University and are involved in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem educational experience offered by the institution.

She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potentials of Heredity

Carl Zimmer

672 pp. 2018. Dutton.

ISBN 9781101984598

The subtitle of Carl Zimmer’s latest work makes explicit reference to powers, perversions, and potentials in relation to heredity. But he could easily have added complexity and subtlety as descriptors: Zimmer’s goal is to provide an overview of “heredity,” which in this case is not simply another word for “genetics.” Certainly, the development of the concept of the gene and genetics as a mature science is an important part of the story Zimmer tells. But Zimmer weaves a far richer tapestry, looking not only at how characteristics get passed on from one generation of organisms to the next, but also how they can be passed on from one generation of cells to the next within the same organism. She Has Her Mother’s Laugh takes the reader through Mendelian inheritance, genetic recombination and mosaicism, epigenetic inheritance in cells, and CRISPR technology, and even a fascinating exploration in one chapter of possible relationships between human biological evolution and how culture might be “inherited.” The last pages make clear that the book was written to broaden how we think of heredity, and I was quite impressed at how Zimmer accomplishes this aim. He also does a masterful job of incorporating the process of science as well as societal contexts into the book. His description of efforts to find the genetic basis of intelligence and race powerfully demonstrates how science can be influenced by social contexts and factors.

Zimmer’s book is a wonderful resource for faculty members teaching in a variety of disciplines, including (but not limited to) the life sciences. One aspect of the book that I found particularly useful is the way that Zimmer documents the enormous number of sources he has drawn on. Rather than footnotes or numbered endnotes, the Notes section at the end of the book is organized by page, with a brief phrase allowing the reader to connect an idea to the source Zimmer used. With the notes section running more than 20 pages paired with a bibliography more than 40 pages in length, interested instructors will find themselves with a wealth of resources that they can track down.

We live in a time when genetic determinism still seems thoroughly entrenched in modern society. News stories regularly touch on issues such as criminal justice, health, medicine, and the alteration of the genomes of a variety of organisms, where heredity is an important consideration. In She Has Her Mother’s Laugh, Carl Zimmer has provided us with a superb overview of the many facets of heredity, what we understand now, and what questions scientists still wrestle with today.

Matt Fisher is a chemistry professor at Saint Vincent College and co-editor-in-chief of Science Education and Civic Engagement: An International Journal.

Silent Travelers

Alan M. Kraut

384 pp. 1994. Johns Hopkins University Press.

ISBN 9780801850967

Alan M. Kraut’s Silent Travelers describes the history of American immigration alongside medicine and science, emerging diseases, prejudice against outsiders, and nativism. With the Irish being blamed for cholera in New York in 1832, the Chinese in San Francisco deemed the source of bubonic plague in 1900, Jews the reservoirs of tuberculosis in the early 1900s, and Haitians being targeted as the source of HIV in the 1980s, outsiders and immigrants have long been linked to contagion and disease. Prejudices and the associated stigmatizing of groups greatly influenced public health and immigration policy and drove much of the change we see today in our schools, workplaces, hospitals, and clinics. Kraut’s book presents accounts from all sides. The nativists rejected immigrants for fear of their genetic “inferiority,” together with other flaws—vice, physical weakness, and crime—that were attributed to them. Public health activists sought to protect Americans through quarantine, internment, and forced inoculation. Others lobbied and pressured the establishment to improve the infrastructure and living and workplace conditions of immigrant communities. When all else failed, former immigrants, traveling nurses, religious orders, benevolent societies, and philanthropists did the work themselves; immigrant physicians such as Maurice Fishberg and Antonio Stella were able to navigate the cultural and local practices of their patients while maintaining their own up-to-date medical standards. Silent Travelers is filled with evidence and data taken from government and medical records, along with personal anecdotes and detailed facts and figures in tables, appendices, and notes. 

SENCER faculty teaching about public health and cultural and economic sensitivity though a civic lens will find a collection of photographic images depicting immigrants’ daily lives and artwork, as well as posters and infographics that spread misinformation about the immigrant threat. In addition, Silent Travelers includes poetry and accounts from the lips of poor souls struggling to adapt to life in America. The book is filled with fascinating accounts of cultural differences regarding medicine and fear, as well as the acceptance of aid from nurses and physicians amid the shock and trauma of finding oneself in an alien world, without fluency in the language or understanding of the culture. While Silent Travelers was published 25 years ago in 1994, the landscape for today’s immigrants—documented and undocumented alike, both here and abroad—is still much like that described in the book. Even today, we still see news outlets, political entities, and social media platforms continuing to spread myths of the immigrant menace and their silent travelers. As Kraut says, “The double helix of health and fear that accompanies immigration continues to mutate, producing malignancies on the culture, neither fatal nor readily eradicated.” (p. 272)

Davida Smyth is an associate professor of biology at the Eugene Lang College of the Liberal Arts at the New School and a SENCER Leadership Fellow.

The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World of Flux

Cathy N. Davidson

336 pp. 2017. Basic Books.

9780465079728

In The New Education, the scholar and educational innovator Cathy Davidson provides a comprehensive portrait of U.S. higher education’s past, a stringent critique of its present, and a vision of a better future. Winner of the 2018 Ness Book Award, The New Education begins with Charles W. Eliot’s 1869 manifesto, also called “The New Education,” a radical prescription for the reform of higher education that launched his appointment and 40-year tenure as president of Harvard University.  Eliot was convinced, as the second industrial revolution took shape, that an educational system designed for ministers, scholars, and sole-proprietors required a radical overhaul if it was to produce the managers, supervisors, bureaucrats, and policy makers needed for the emerging industries and professions that would dominate the US for the next century. Eliot’s visionary and radical reform effort produced the university we know today, with divisions and departments, majors, minors and electives, credit hours, letter grades, distribution requirements, and admission standards. Most significantly, Eliot departed from European models in making the undergraduate college separate, and a pre-requisite for, graduate and professional programs.  His approach, formulated in collaboration with industrial titans, efficiency experts, and eugenicists, also reinforced social and economic hierarchies, prioritized research over teaching, institutionalized exclusionary rankings and testing regimes, promoted disciplinary silos, and calcified an undergraduate curriculum that no longer serves the needs of the workforce and civil society in the age of the internet, big data, and artificial intelligence.  

Davidson’s proposed correctives to this situation will be familiar to educators acquainted with current research on learning and the “high-impact,” problem-based approaches it advocates. However, her historically grounded analyses and case studies offer a tough-minded acknowledgement of the barriers to change, including shrinking financial support for students and institutions, the adjunctification of the faculty, outmoded and ineffective assessment strategies, and credential-centered, rather than student-centered, curricula.  Fortunately, case studies also offer much-needed (and evidence-based) optimism regarding innovations and reforms that are taking place across a wide range of institutions.  Davidson especially singles out community colleges, which educate more than half of all college students, for outperforming four-year colleges on the “social mobility index,” for their integrative curricula, and for their rejection of the “tyranny of meritocracy,” quoting LaGuardia Community College’s president Gail Mellow’s proud claim that “we take the top 100%.” 

For readers of this journal, her chapter dissecting reductionist, workforce-based arguments for STEM education may be of special interest.  While she acknowledges the importance of, and national need for, more STEM graduates, she insists that the “hard” skills imputed to STEM may help graduates get their first job, but they are not enough for career advancement in what is now called “the fourth industrial revolution.”  Those “hard” skills, which could become irrelevant given the pace of technological change, must be integrated with transferable and enduring “soft” or “human” skills, such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, historical analysis, and interpretation—all skills as important for civic agency and democracy as they are for employment.  In fact, as AI and automation develop, “evidence suggests that over time the tortoise humanist may actually win the career race against the STEM hare” (p. 140) 

In an age where so much of the blame for higher education’s shortcomings falls on the faculty, or even on today’s students themselves (branded as “excellent sheep,” or “the dumbest generation” in recent polemics), Davidson’s prescriptions, and her unflagging confidence in the transformative potential of higher education to prepare us to survive and thrive in an uncertain future, is most energizing.

Eliza Reilly is the executive director of the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement and past
co-editor-in-chief of
Science Education and Civic Engagement: An International Journal.

Understanding How We Learn

Y. Weinstein and M. Sumeracki with illustrations by O. Caviglioli

176 pp. 2018. Routledge Books.

ISBN 9781138561724

At only 165 pages, this well-organized book provides an accessible introduction to the cognitive processes underlying learning and presents clear, evidence-based strategies for improving learning. The strategies are explicitly tied both to the cognitive processes and to concrete recommendations for teachers and learners. The authors, Yana Weinstein and Megan Sumracki, are cognitive psychologists and faculty members engaged in research that links teaching strategies to learning. Their prior experience in communicating research results to practitioners is the foundation for this solid overview of the recent literature in learning and teaching that is clear yet not condescending. 

The book models their recommendations in many ways. For example, they suggest interleaving to increase learning and transfer, and throughout the book they explicitly refer back to or forecast content covered elsewhere. Most strikingly, they model their recommendation for dual coding (visual and text or auditory) by collaborating with illustrator Oliver Caviglioli to visually represent main concepts. I particularly appreciate the visual summaries of each of the four sections (the science of learning, cognitive processes, strategies for effective learning, and tips for teachers, students, and parents) and of each chapter. I expect these digests will be very useful when discussing active learning design with students as well as with other faculty members. Despite the book’s brevity, the authors include thorough reviews of relevant literature and clear indications of where we need further research in both cognitive psychology and curriculum design. Here again, Caviglioli’s illustrations effectively convey the sometimes complex experiments and results summarized in the text.  

There are only two points that I would like to see added. First, experimental results clearly indicate an advantage of handwritten notes and drawings, which would seem to tie in well with the cognitive approach these authors are using. Yet these studies are not mentioned even in the context of dual coding or the brief mention of multiple choice versus short-answer quizzes, a gap I find surprising. Second, perhaps reflecting the authors’ research programs, the focus is entirely behavioral. I would have appreciated at least some connection to the issues of self-efficacy and epistemological development. My reasoning is that the “non-cognitive” components of self-efficacy combine with epistemological development to generate considerable variation among the students in our classrooms; including some brief introduction to both topics could help practitioners choose strategies appropriate for different students. These are, however, minor complaints in what is a thorough yet highly accessible introduction to the cognitive processes of learning and the educational implications of what we know (and do not know). I think that it will appeal to faculty in many disciplines at both the K-12 and college level.

Linden Higgins is a lecturer and research affiliate in the Department of Biology, University of Vermont, and founder of Education for Critical Learning LLC.

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Winter 2019: From the Editors

We are pleased to announce the Winter 2019 issue of Science Education and Civic Engagement: An International Journal.

This issue focuses on undergraduate research and civic engagement, which readers will see reflected in three articles. Jay Labov (retired, National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine), Kerry Brenner (National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine), and Cathy H. Middlecamp (University of Wisconsin-Madison) contribute a review that summarizes the work to date on undergraduate research experiences (UREs), much of which is discipline based. The authors then explore the potential for UREs which integrate civic engagement, both from the perspective of challenges and potential benefits. An interdisciplinary URE coupled with civic engagement that has operated for several years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is used as an illustrative example by the authors. 

Drew Sieg (Truman State University), Joshua Sabatini (Passaic County Community College), Davida Smyth (New School), and several faculty from Mercy College—Nancy Beverly, Madhavan Narayanan, and Geetha Surendran—collaborate on an article that describes their efforts and experiences at two liberal arts institutions to promote civic and scientific engagement through undergraduate research and project-based learning. This article complements the one by Labov, Brenner, and Middlecamp in several different ways: the type of institutions involved and the contrasting approaches taken by faculty at two institutions on how to connect civic engagement with project-based learning and course-based undergraduate research. 

Finally, Jeffrey Olimpo, Jennifer Apodaca, Aimee Hernandez, and Yok-Fong Paat (all at the University of Texas at El Paso) describe their work with “Health Disparities in the Border Region,” a course-based undergraduate research experience with a clear civic engagement dimension. Their work focuses particularly on student development of public outreach skills, researcher self-efficacy, and understanding of research-community connections. Their mixed methods study showed evidence of significant improvement by the end of the semester in these different areas. 

We are particularly happy to present all three articles in the same issue, as we feel this will provide readers of the journal with more opportunities for reflection. It is our hope that these three articles will contribute to the ongoing discussion of how the high-impact practices of undergraduate research and civic engagement can continue to be connected.

In addition to the above three articles that explore undergraduate research and civic engagement, we are also pleased to publish three different pieces. Rebecca Mazumdar, Nadia Benakli, and Pamela Brown (New York City College of Technology) describe how a virtual learning community involving freshmen students enrolled in chemistry, English, and math helped promote student engagement and persistence. The courses in the virtual learning community were linked by the impact of human activities on the environment, specifically the de-icing of roads with salt.

Alicia Wodika (Illinois State University) describes the Global Public Health course offered at her institution, which focuses on the complexity of communicable and non-communicable diseases, determinants of health, and delivery of health services. As part of a campus “International Education Week,” groups of students in the course created posters on such topics as disease reduction, cash transfer programs, health systems comparisons, and emergency preparedness. The evidence collected indicated that students saw the project as helping them develop an appreciation for how vast the subject of global health is.

Finally, Marisha Speights Atkins, Cheryl Seals, and Dallin Bailey (all from Auburn University) describe the development of a computation tool that automatically grades the phonetic transcription assignments that constitute an important part of the speech pathology curriculum. The development of this particular tool provided a service learning opportunity for students in a User Design Interface course  offered by Auburn’s Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering to meet a real need of students and faculty in the Department of  Communication Disorders.

We would like to thank all the authors for sharing their work with the readers of this journal.

Matt Fisher and Trace Jordan
Co-Editors-in-Chief

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Integrating Undergraduate Research in STEM with Civic Engagement

Abstract

Undergraduate research experiences (UREs) are part of an expanding toolkit of experiential learning experiences that can help students engage with the practices and processes of STEM. Civic engagement is another type of experiential learning experience that can offer students meaningful interactions in the wider community, thus leading to greater relevance and application of their work.  Research studies suggest that both civic engagement and UREs are high-impact practices. 

Much of the work to date on experiential learning has been discipline based.  This may be due to challenges in getting faculty members from different disciplines to work together, or because of issues with infrastructure, budget policies, credit hours, incentives, and/or the reward systems in higher education.   This paper aims to help readers better understand the potential for UREs that integrate civic engagement to enhance learning.  To illustrate how the obstacles might be surmounted, an example of an interdisciplinary URE that is coupled with civic engagement is provided.

Introduction 

Undergraduate Research Experiences (UREs)

Traditional introductory laboratory courses at the undergraduate level generally do not capture the creativity of STEM disciplines. They often involve repeating classical experiments to reproduce known results, rather than engaging students in experiments with the possibility of true discovery. … Engineering curricula in the first two years have long made use of design courses that engage student creativity. Recently, research courses in STEM subjects have been implemented at diverse institutions, including universities with large introductory course enrollments. These courses make individual ownership of projects and discovery feasible in a classroom setting, engaging students in authentic STEM experiences and enhancing learning and, therefore, they provide models for what should be more widely implemented. 

President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, 2012, pp. iv–v

This statement precedes a recommendation from a 2012 report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST, 2012), which urges the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) higher education community and funding agencies to “advocate and provide support for replacing standard laboratory courses with discovery-based research courses.” When the report was published, limited but potentially promising evidence was emerging about their value to enhance learning and understanding of the processes and nature of STEM. Much of the research on undergraduate research experiences (UREs) has focused primarily on STEM. The purposes of this paper are to 

Provide an overview of some of the evidence for the efficacy of using both apprentice- and classroom-based research experiences to enhance, broaden, and deepen student learning. 

Discuss how UREs have great potential to enhance learning about science and other disciplines and how integrating STEM learning with civic engagement may enhance the efficacy of student learning in both areas. 

Introduce readers to resources about UREs that are freely available and help readers to better appreciate some of the opportunities and challenges that individual faculty, departments, and institutions may encounter when attempting to introduce or expand UREs, especially those which are classroom based.

STEM Learning and Evidence for the Efficacy of UREs

There have been many efforts to improve undergraduate STEM education. Research about the science of learning provides extensive and robust information on how people learn as well as the teaching practices, strategies, and approaches that have been shown to be most effective (Blumenfeld et al., 2000; Handelsman, Miller, and Pfund, 2007; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine [NASEM], 2015, 2017a, 2018a; National Research Council [NRC], 2012 a,b; President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, 2012). When students are engaged in experiential learning that piques their curiosity, they are motivated to investigate the world around them and improve their understanding of scientific concepts (Cook and Artino, 2016). However, these student-centered approaches are not always applied in the college classroom. Partly in response to this research, increasing numbers of courses and other learning experiences are now incorporating aspects of active learning, which research has demonstrated can significantly improve learning and academic achievement (e.g., Freeman et al., 2014), and high-impact practices, which serve as specific manifestations of active learning (Kuh, 2008; Brownell and Swaner, 2010; Kuh and O’Donnell, 2013). 

An important example of active learning has been the increasingly widespread use of UREs to increase interest in science and engineering, to help students understand the processes and nature of science, and to empower students to “do” science and engineering rather than just reading about it or listening to others provide instruction.  UREs can provide students with some combination of experience in designing and conducting research, troubleshooting, analyzing and writing the results and implications of their work, and presenting their projects to the scientific community through publication, or oral or poster presentations at professional meetings. They can help students internalize and accept that failure is often a normal component of the process of science and engineering research and that such failure often leads to new questions and sometimes to new insights, advancements, and breakthroughs. There also is evidence that learning gains can be similar for both STEM majors and non-majors who undertake UREs early in their college careers (Stanford, Rocheleau, Smith, and Mohan, 2017).

While undergraduates have long had opportunities to pursue research by working with faculty at their home institutions or through various kinds of apprenticeships or internships off-campus, relatively few students have been able to take advantage of such opportunities. Associated with limited access are the problems of which students are selected and how they are chosen. Much has been written about the tendency to offer these experiences primarily to certain types of students to the exclusion of others. For example, faculty may be inclined to seek students with the best grades (but who may not necessarily be best suited to undertaking original research). Students whose families have research or other scientific backgrounds may be more attuned to the kinds of URE opportunities that exist on their campus and thus may be better poised to pursue them. Students who attend institutions where faculty are not expected to undertake research and thus may not have the equipment and financial support to make such opportunities apparent or be readily available to them will be at a distinct disadvantage compared with their counterparts at research-intensive institutions. Thus, issues of equity and access become paramount when considering institutional policies for instituting, maintaining, or expanding these kinds of undergraduate research experiences (Laursen, Hunter, Seymour, Thiry, and Melton, 2010; NASEM, 2015; Hernandez, Woodcock, Estrada, and Schultz, 2018; see also the recent literature review in McDonald, Martin, Watters, and Landerholm, 2019). 

More recently, increasing numbers of individual faculty, academic departments, and institutions have attempted to assuage these issues through the promotion and development of course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs).  When appropriately structured and implemented, CUREs can provide research experiences of varying lengths and levels of sophistication to much larger numbers of undergraduates than is possible with apprentice- or internship-based UREs (Dolan, 2016; Frantz et al., 2017); many CUREs are targeted to first- and second-year students (e.g., Harrison, Dunbar, Ratmansky, Boyd, and Lopatto, 2011; Rodenbusch, Hernandez, Simmons, and Dolan, 2016) in addition to juniors and seniors. Such experiences may help non-traditional and underrepresented students (Bangera and Brownell, 2014), especially in community colleges (e.g., NRC, 2012a; Hensel and Cejda, 2014), better engage with science and engineering and increase their chances of transferring to a four-year institution and becoming part of the STEM workforce (Felts, 2017). Indeed, some institutions have opted to use CUREs as an important tool toward improving retention in STEM (e.g., Locks and Gregerman, 2008). 

Importantly, education researchers have followed the development of many types of CUREs from their inception. Some researchers have attempted to measure their efficacy in various dimensions and combinations, examining potential impacts on students’ understanding of the processes and nature of science, development of specific research skills, increased interest in STEM, and viewing themselves as contributors to the STEM community. Others have focused on effects of CUREs on retention of students in STEM degree programs, especially students from populations that historically have been underrepresented in these disciplines. It has become increasingly clear that when there are clear goals and expectations for CUREs coupled with departmental and institutional support, these approaches to active learning can have profound effects on student learning, affective behaviors, and deeper connections with and greater appreciation of STEM (Laursen et al., 2010; Peteroy-Kelly et al., 2017; although see cautions expressed by Linn, Palmer, Baranger, Gerard, and Stone, 2015). 

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has published two reports about UREs. One report summarizes a convocation that considered the roles, structure, opportunities, and challenges of CUREs (NASEM, 2015; see also Elgin et al., 2016). The second report is based on the work of a committee that for almost two years examined the evidence base for the efficacy of both CUREs and apprentice-based research experiences in STEM and which produced its findings in a consensus report (NASEM, 2017a). Two of the coauthors of this paper served as the staff directors for these projects (Labov for NASEM 2015, Brenner for NASEM 2017a), and each worked as support staff on the other project.  The third coauthor (Middlecamp) was invited to give a presentation at the convocation to describe her efforts to offer a CURE at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, because of its emphasis on and integration of both scientific research and civic engagement; that course is described in greater detail below. 

Additional overviews of the efficacy of CUREs are available in NASEM, 2015. In addition, an important online resource (CUREnet, http://curenet.org) offers invaluable assistance to faculty who are seeking to engage their undergraduate students in research experiences through courses, especially in the life sciences. Many of the ideas on CUREnet are evidence based, with some of the preeminent education researchers in this realm contributing.  Table 1 provides along with other selected  resources that offer guidance to instructors who are looking to initiate or expand opportunities for UREs.

The report from the National Academies’ convocation (NASEM, 2015) provides an array of examples and descriptions of different types of CUREs, including several national consortia in different STEM disciplines. Brief descriptions of all of these examples along with links to the original sources can be found in Table 1 of Elgin et al., 2016 (reprinted here as Table 2). 

Synergistic Benefits of Integrating UREs and Civic Engagement

Readers of this journal understand well the mission as well as many of the dimensions and logistics of civic engagement, so we will not focus in this essay on the basics of this approach to teaching and learning.  Rather, the purpose of this section of the paper is to emphasize how combining and integrating more traditional aspects of UREs with practices of civic engagement can enhance the breadth, depth, and value of teaching and learning experiences in both dimensions. 

The first quote from Ehrlich defines the nature and dimensions of civic engagement. The second quote describes the characteristics of people who are civically engaged. 

Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.

Ehrlich, 2000, p. vi.

A morally and civically responsible individual recognizes himself or herself as a member of a larger social fabric and therefore considers social problems to be at least partly his or her own; such an individual is willing to see the moral and civic dimensions of issues, to make and justify informed moral and civic judgments, and to take action when appropriate.

Ehrlich, 2000, p. xxvi

The definition of civic engagement emphasizes that it encompasses “…developing the combination of knowledge, skills, and values” that can make a difference in the vitality, health, and vibrancy of communities.  Research questions directed toward the improvement of communities and the skills needed to provide answers and insights to critical questions that a community faces can all become critical components of UREs. 

This definition of a civically engaged person can also be applied to ethical researchers. Thus, civic engagement can help undergraduate researchers better appreciate the need for both basic and applied research, to approach both kinds of research with integrity, and to follow up on important questions both as scientists and as citizens (e.g., Clements et al., 2013). The final sentence in this definition (“. . . to make and justify informed moral and civic judgments, and to take action when appropriate”) also suggests the need for the development of empirical questions and experiments to evaluate those questions as a critical component of civic policy- and decision-making. 

Too often community-based decision-making and actions may be based on finances, emotion, and conventional wisdom about ways to address a given set of challenges. It is here where UREs can be especially effective by helping students as well as the other members of a community with whom they interact to appreciate the roles of scientific inquiry and processes and the importance of bringing data to the table when decisions are being made. CUREs especially can be used as an opportunity for larger numbers of undergraduates working collectively to learn practices and approaches of science and can be designed to provide an opportunity for civic engagement, making them more interesting and relevant to students. 

Taken from the website of SENCER (Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities), Table 3 provides an additional set of rationales for instructors to consider when developing UREs that integrate civic engagement and for helping to convince departmental and campus faculty colleagues and other academic leaders about the importance of initiating interdisciplinary experiential learning experiences for undergraduates.  

The research literature suggests that, to date, much of the development of UREs, both apprentice-based and course-based, has focused on individual disciplines in STEM (including the social sciences) and the humanities. The National Academies symposium on CUREs (NASEM, 2015) featured several models of research-based courses that have promoted interdisciplinary teaching and learning, both across STEM disciplines and between STEM disciplines and the arts and humanities (see Table 2). Integrating civic engagement either with apprentice- or course-based research would add an important additional impetus for some students (especially non-STEM majors) to engage with research and for faculty from different academic departments to work with each other in developing such opportunities. 

UREs that integrate STEM with civic engagement can also benefit institutions of higher education in the following ways:

Research can be directed toward addressing problems on the campus itself. For example, “The Campus as a Living Laboratory” developed into a system-wide initiative at the California State University, has provided small grants to faculty who engaged their students with addressing campus-based issues after funding from the state was severely restricted. Since then, many campuses have embraced this concept in a variety of ways. For additional information, see https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0,47&q=campus+as+a+living+laboratory. See also Lindstrom and Middlecamp, 2017, and  Lindstrom and Middlecamp, 2018 below. 

Civic engagement can be integrated with UREs into programs that help communities surrounding the campus address local issues. Focused attention to community-based issues can help improve relationships between a campus and the community in which it resides.

The integration of civic engagement and UREs may help with recruitment and retention of students from populations that historically have been underrepresented in various STEM disciplines. For example, research on improving retention of women and underrepresented minorities in engineering has indicated that many of these students are seeking to solve real-world problems that help their communities (National Academy of Engineering [NAE], 2008, 2013a). Based on this research, the NAE has helped lead a campaign to change messaging about and images of engineers and engineering (NAE, 2012, 2013b, 2014). 

Interdisciplinary education is becoming more widespread in higher education. Importantly, there is increasing evidence that interdisciplinary approaches, combined with various forms of active engagement, can enhance student learning in multiple dimensions (NASEM, 2018c). UREs that involve civic engagement can serve as both a lens and a catalyst for institutions to encourage greater interdisciplinary cooperation across academic departments or clusters of faculty with differing but complementary areas of expertise. 

While the benefits of integrating UREs in STEM with civic engagement are apparent, there are fewer examples and exemplars of these kinds of programs than for disciplinary UREs,  and actually implementing such integrated programs may seem daunting. Thus, the next section of this paper provides details about one such URE that has successfully encompassed this kind of integration. Readers  also may be able to seek assistance and resources from on-campus offices that focus on research opportunities for undergraduates (e.g., Kinkead and Blockus, 2012).

Research on Campus Waste: An Experiential Learning Experience That Integrates URE with Civic Engagement

Trash audits determine what is being thrown away, allow auditors to assess whether or not waste is properly sorted, and help to pinpoint incorrectly recycled items. Ultimately, audits are powerful tools for helping other entities to analyze the results from their facilities and provide feedback on areas of improvement. (La Susa, 2018)

Almost a decade ago, one of the authors of this article (Middlecamp) accepted the assignment of teaching a large introductory environmental science course at her state’s flagship research university where she is a member of the faculty, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The 4-credit course included both weekly lectures and a 3-hour laboratory period and counted toward fulfilling a requirement for both the environmental studies major and certificate.  For the past four years, the course has counted toward the sustainability certificate as well.

Seizing the opportunity, she designed a new course that was place-based, drawing its content from the campus on which students studied, lived, worked, and played.  Although officially titled “Principles of Environmental Science,” the course quickly earned the nickname of “Energy, Food, and Trash” because it addressed these three topics using campus data sets, food supply chains, and waste protocols.  The course used the university campus as a “living laboratory” for sustainability (Lindstrom and Middlecamp, 2017; Lindstrom and Middlecamp, 2018).

By design, the new course was interdisciplinary from its inception.  Not only do the topics of energy, food, and trash draw from the natural sciences, but they also touch on topics from the social sciences and humanities, including social psychology and environmental history.  The sustainability-related course content includes dimensions that are environmental, social, and economic. The laboratory activities for this course are interdisciplinary as well.  

This section describes the use of trash audits as a URE that connects to civic engagement. In essence, a trash audit is research to learn something about what is in the garbage.  For example, some audits are of the contents of “general” trash bins to determine which or how many items are heading to the landfill that could have been composted or recycled instead.  Other audits are of “specialty” bins, such as plastic recycling bins, to determine to what extent the recycled items are contaminated.  Still other audits might determine what is in the trash that should not be there, such as silverware, cups, or plates.  The use of trash audits at UW-Madison was reported in NASEM 2015:  

At first, the projects may not appear to be “real” research. A trash audit, however, gives students the opportunity to follow a protocol, collect data, and ask research questions of their own. For example, an unexpected finding in the study described above was that this trash also included 20 pounds of cups, dishes, silverware, and even a tray from a campus dining hall. This finding in turn catalyzed a future research agenda for the undergraduate students. (p. 32)

The rationale for the use of trash audits in an undergraduate course that integrates scientific research with civic engagement is threefold.  First, trash audits are a low-cost way to involve large groups of students in a meaningful research project. Required is an enclosed space (i.e., an enclosed loading dock) to carry out the audit, protective gear for students who dig in the trash (i.e., Tyvek suits, Kevlar gloves, safety goggles), and some nearby safety equipment (i.e., a portable eyewash) for the use of all.  Second, this type of research is a form of civic engagement because it provides useful data to campus officials, including those in charge of dining halls, athletics, hospitals, and residence halls.  And third, this type of research engages students.  

Trash audits typically are carried out by a team, with each student performing a different role. For example, in a team of four, one person may open the bags and sort the trash.  This person wears protective gear. Two other people might hold bags to receive trash items, perhaps one for recyclables and another for landfill.  A fourth person records the data and receives “unusual” items found in the trash, e.g., money, plates from the cafeteria, or medical records. 

Trash audits also need to be conducted with proper safety protocols. Students and staff need proper training, appropriate personal protective equipment, and clear guidelines for emergency procedures. Table 4 lists the safety precautions given to students. 

Finally, and most important to this article, trash audits couple undergraduate research with civic engagement.  Here are four possible ways for a campus to utilize the data that students obtain, thus opening avenues for civic engagement by a broad range of stakeholders:

Cost saving – Some items may be found in the trash that do not belong there (and have value), signaling the need for a change in the policies at campus eateries.  Examples include knives, forks, spoons, dishes, and plates.  

Recycling protocols – An audit of a recycling bin can show the degree of contamination; similarly, an audit of a trash bin may show items that should have been recycled.  Examples include food and trash in recycling bins and aluminum cans in trash bins.

Student life issues – If items that connect to student health and well-being are found in residence hall trash, these items may signal the need to reassess campus policies.  Examples include alcohol bottles and cans.

Environmental issues – If prescription drugs are found in audits of residence hall trash, this may signal the need to set up collection stations or to change the protocols for existing ones, thus providing proper disposal instead of releasing drugs into the local environment.

Each of these can serve as the start of a campus conversation involving different stakeholders.  In addition, if students or campus staff design and implement an intervention, each of these can serve as the impetus for future audits to assess the success of the intervention.

Over the years, some students have chosen to continue their research projects after their course ended.  For example, Figure 1 shows a new recycling sign displayed at a campus library where the food items brought in by student produce a lot of waste.  The project was run by a team of staff and students who had completed a course in life science communications (Jandl, 2018).  Again, UREs can not only benefit the students but can also serve their campus and the local communities in which they live.

Image courtesy of Carrie Kruse
Policy Issues and System Challenges

Development, implementation, or expansion of UREs presents opportunities as well as challenges at the levels of individual facuty, teams of faculty, academic departments and programs, and institutions.  Much has already been written about how to address and surmount many of these issues, and it is beyond the scope of this paper to provide a comprehensive review of the literature. For such summaries we recommend that readers consult NASEM, 2015 and 2017a and Dolan, 2016.

Integrating civic engagement with UREs adds additional layers of complexity to an already complex system because such research necessarily will be more applied than basic, will likely involve multiple faculty or departments, and may also require collaboration with organizations outside the college or university. Thus, we conclude this section with several points that initiators of UREs that include civic engagement may wish to consider.

Assessment 

The good news about the development of UREs in STEM is that they have attracted the attention of the STEM education research community. Many such references are cited in this paper. Thus, there is a great deal of guidance in the literature about how to assess the efficacy of UREs and how to incorporate various kinds of assessments into program design from the beginning (e.g., Shortlidge and Brownell, 2016). However, there is greater debate about what to assess and whether or not those criteria should be standardized to facilitate comparisons across programs. 

These issues, and especially what variables to measure, are compounded when interdisciplinary UREs or those that involve civic engagement are attempted. At a minimum, faculty who are planning such programs need to discuss openly, as critical components of the initial planning stages, what they value and what they expect their students to learn and be able to do, as well as the methods they will use for assessment.

Professional Development and Departmental Support 

Many faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students, especially at research-focused institutions, have experience in providing individualized or small group UREs to students in their laboratories.  Adapting these kinds of experiences to CUREs can present challenges to faculty who have little teaching experience or who have not engaged in various kinds of active, high-impact practices in their courses. Here again, an additional layer of complexity is added when either apprentice- or course-based UREs involve interdisciplinary foci such as civic engagement.  Thus, providing these kinds of experiences to undergraduates will require investment of time and departmental or institutional funds for programs as well as professional development for instructors (faculty of all ranks and career paths as well as postbaccalaureate assistants). Such departmental and institutional investments could significantly enhance the quality and efficacy of such programs (e.g., NASEM 2018; McDonald et al., 2019; Huffmeyer and Lemus, 2019). The institution’s teaching and learning center may be able to offer such programs. Many professional development workshops and other programs are currently offered by disciplinary and professional societies as well as other national organizations that can help faculty and other instructors become more comfortable with and adept at initiating more active, high-impact practices. Given the large increase in the number of adjunct faculty who are now involved with undergraduate instruction, including them in on-campus professional development programs or supporting their registration and travel to attend off-campus offerings could also greatly enhance the capacity of the institution to offer UREs. Providing these opportunities to adjunct faculty could also allow them to undertake original or applied research with students in their courses to enhance their own publication record, thereby offering a path toward professional advancement in academia.

Financial and Other Incentives

Much has been written about how incentives drive faculty productivity, retention, and motivation. It is difficult enough to address these issues within individual disciplines. Extending the discussion to include multiple departments makes the required discussions and actions that much more difficult. Money is not the only consideration. Faculty time to develop UREs, sufficient space, equipment and expendables, and professional recognition and credit for such participation (including serious consideration during decisions about tenure and promotion) are all essential if UREs involving civic engagement are to be successful. Who “owns” the course? How are FTEs assigned to what are still unconventional approaches in many academic settings? Who should be responsible (and appropriately compensated) for seeking out and engaging off-campus community organizations?

Student Considerations

The demographics of undergraduate student populations have changed a great deal during the past two decades (summarized in NASEM, 2016). These changing demographics can pose challenges to the successful development of integrated UREs. For example, the age of the average undergraduate is now in the mid-twenties. Many of these students are working at full- or part-time jobs. Increasing numbers of students have children, and a significant component of these students may be single parents. Today’s students are also much more likely to complete their degrees across multiple institutions and take much longer than four years to complete their degrees, often due to the aforementioned contingencies (NASEM, 2016).

If UREs are to be successful, then they must account for these kinds of exigencies. Even within disciplines, if a URE requires additional fees, many students may be unable or unwilling to pay them. Due to high interest rates on student loans, those undergraduates who pay tuition and fees actually end up paying much more to enroll in these courses than students who do not have these kinds of financial burdens. If a URE requires students to be engaged with research outside of class time such as in the evenings or on weekends, students who are parents may be excluded from taking advantage of such opportunities. (For additional student considerations related to the designing of CUREs, see NASEM, 2015). 

If UREs are to incorporate civic engagement, then additional barriers and challenges may ensue. For example, while such experiences could greatly benefit both STEM majors and non-majors, non-STEM students may not be willing to participate if they have to pay any additional lab or equipment fees, since many majors outside of STEM don’t require them. 

Finally, the issue of assessment and evaluation of student learning is germane to this discussion. Because many students’ choices for courses during college are driven both by requirements and by the need to maintain a high grade point average, they will often opt to enroll in courses where standards and expectations for grading are clear. Thus, for example, instructors need to consider as part of their approaches to grading how they will assess students when their data are ambiguous or they don’t obtain experimental results that match the hypotheses that they’ve originally proposed. Unless such expectations are established well in advance, agreed upon by all instructors, and conveyed clearly to students in the college catalog and course syllabi, some students who might benefit most from challenging themselves through undertaking a URE may opt to instead enroll in courses with more traditional approaches to grading. Of course, this challenge becomes magnified when instructors from different disciplines or academic traditions are working together on courses or other programs that integrate more traditional disciplines with civic engagement. 

Conclusions

Efforts to expand participation in UREs have shown promise, and the strongest evidence for their benefit comes from studies of students from groups historically underrepresented in scientific fields (NASEM, 2017a, 2017b). Additional expansion of opportunities for students to participate in traditional formats of UREs are likely to benefit their learning. CUREs can bring research experiences to classrooms, transform more traditional laboratory and field venues into broader learning and discovery experiences, and decrease the importance of requiring students to bring prior knowledge and connections to a course, which also increases opportunities of access and equity for a broader array of students (NASEM, 2015). Other types of experiential learning can be obtained from service-learning projects and internships in industry or the community (NASEM, 2017b, 2018b).

The potential for engaging a broader spectrum of students, instructors, departments, institutions, and communities in the support of UREs may also be enhanced by integrating learning in the STEM disciplines with civic engagement. This melding of learning can help students better understand and appreciate the importance of challenging themselves, sometimes failing at what they are trying to do, and seeing how the subjects they learn can be applied to real problems that face society and the planet. We encourage readers who care about and currently involve their students in civic engagement to work with colleagues from the STEM disciplines (both on- and off- campus) to develop richer learning and more exciting teaching experiences through the integration of these approaches. As we have tried to articulate, the challenges for successful integration are many and may be more difficult to address than when we seek to improve teaching and learning within a discipline. However, the rewards can be many. The SENCER Guidelines (Table 3), coupled with serious consideration of an institution’s mission statement, can become valuable guides for proceeding. Given the challenges that the current generation of students will face during their lifetimes and the critical need for using evidence to address problems, the importance of integrating STEM and civic engagement through undergraduate research experiences has never been greater. 

About the Authors

Jay Labov

Jay Labov-Before retiring in November, 2018, Jay Labov served as Senior Advisor for Education and Communication at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Washington, DC. He has directed or contributed to some 30 National Academies reports on K–12 and undergraduate, teacher, and international education. He was a Kellogg Foundation National Fellow, currently serves as a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow and was recently appointed as a Fulbright Specialist for the U.S. Department of State. He is a Lifetime Honorary Member of the National Association of Biology Teachers, an Education Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a recipient of NSTA’s Distinguished Service to Science Education award. He served as chair of AAAS’s Education Section and now represents the section as a member of the AAAS Council and the Council’s Executive Committee. He has been deeply involved with SENCER since its inception. 

Kerry Brenner

Kerry Brenner is a senior program officer for the Board on Science Education at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. She was the study director for the 2017 consensus report Undergraduate Research for STEM Students: Successes, Challenges, and Opportunities and the 2017 workshop as well as the recently released report Science and Engineering for Grades 6–12: Investigation and Design at the Center. She is the director of the Roundtable on Systemic Change in Undergraduate STEM Education. She previously worked for NASEM’s Board on Life Sciences, serving as the study director for the project that produced Bio2010: Transforming Undergraduate Biology Education for Future Research Biologists. As an outgrowth of that study she participated in the founding of the National Academies Summer Institutes for Undergraduate Education. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT and her PhD in Molecular Biology from Princeton University.

Cathy Middlecamp

Cathy Middlecamp, a chemist by training, is a professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  As a longtime member of the SENCER community, she is a senior associate, a model developer (2004), and a member of the National Fellowship Board.  The recipient of SENCER’s William E. Bennett Award for Extraordinary Contributions to Citizen Science (2011), she has received three national awards from the American Chemical Society (ACS) for her work in chemistry education; she also is a fellow of the ACS (2009), of the AAAS (2003) and of the Association for Women in Science (2003).

Acknowledgments

The authors thank Matthew Fisher for inviting this paper and for providing helpful comments and suggestions for improving it. 

Note

While Kerry Brenner is an employee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; the views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine or any of its constituent units.

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Incubating the SENCER Ideals with 
Project-Based Learning and Undergraduate Research: Perspectives from Two Liberal Arts Institutions

Abstract

Maintaining undergraduate interest in STEM is a formidable challenge. Numerous studies have reported that structured, authentic research experiences in the classroom increase retention rates and introduce students to the skills needed to conduct independent research as upperclassmen and beyond. Most importantly, these strategies are inclusive, enabling all students, regardless of their backgrounds, to be exposed to and involved in research. However, few reports are available on the efforts of SENCER faculty to grow and support inclusive undergraduate research at small liberal arts institutions. Here we describe approaches being taken and challenges being faced by SENCER faculty at two liberal arts institutions while they strive to achieve the SENCER ideals and to promote civic and scientific engagement at their institutions through research and project-based learning. 

Introduction

Classroom-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) and Project-Based Learning (PBL) have been shown to enhance the career development and readiness of students and can substantially impact retention in STEM disciplines (e.g. Strobel and van Barneveld, 2009; Bangera and Brownell, 2014; Jordan et al., 2014). CUREs and PBL are inclusive, exposing a greater number of students to high-impact experiences (Bangera and Brownell, 2014). Projects can also be designed to generate meaningful data that can inform further student research projects as well as the research agenda of the faculty member (Shortlidge, Bangera, and Brownell, 2017). 

At Mercy College and Young Harris College (YHC), the faculty define PBL as a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge (Eberlein et al., 2008) and a CURE course is one in which students are expected to engage in science research with the aim of producing novel results that are of interest to the scientific community (Corwin, Graham, and Dolan, 2015). We use an inclusive definition of undergraduate research (UGR) here as being an inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline. 

With careful and thoughtful design, these experiences can help students gain exposure to research while enhancing their critical thinking, communication, and quantitative reasoning skills (Auchincloss et al., 2014). Providing authentic experiences also improves student confidence, motivation, and attitudes about research in comparison to “cookbook” labs (e.g. Brownell, Kloser, Fukami, and Shavelson, 2012; Brownell et al., 2015), which can prompt greater retention in traditionally challenging disciplines. For instance, students in an open-ended research laboratory course reported greater project ownership and a desire to discuss materials and collaborate with other students, in contrast with students who followed predetermined lab protocols from a manual (Brownell et al., 2012). A CURE approach also significantly increased the likelihood that undergraduates would want to pursue independent research (Brownell et al., 2012) and their ability to correctly analyze novel datasets during exams (Brownell et al., 2015). Numerous models and resources to implement CUREs and PBL have been described, and there are several faculty and institutional networks that encourage and foster collaborative experiences between students and faculty to tackle real-world problems. CUREnet: Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences (https://curenet.cns.utexas.edu) hosts a plethora of CURE examples and a detailed compendium of funded projects (with faculty contact information, objectives, and lab overviews). SEA-PHAGES: Science Education Alliance – Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science (https://seaphages.org) is designed to isolate new viruses from soil samples and expose undergraduates to research methods in microbiology, genomics, bioinformatics, and evolutionary biology. Two antibiotic discovery networks, the Small World Initiative (http://www.smallworldinitiative.org) and Tiny Earth (http://tinyearth.wisc.edu) task students with isolating bacteria from soil samples to screen for antibiotic production and resistance while promoting science literacy and training in microbiology, molecular biology, and genetics lab techniques. 

The learning outcomes of CUREs and PBL clearly overlap with SENCER ideals. Both invoke complex, open-ended problems that challenge students to recognize the limits of scientific knowledge and apply quantitative reasoning to address global issues. These key learning outcomes will help us improve civic and scientific literacy among our students, which we define as literacy that deals with  accessing and assessing basic scientific constructs required to generate informed public policy decisions involving science and technology. By first understanding the relevance of wicked problems and then striving to solve them, students construct skills for independent learning, develop intrinsic motivation, and are prepared to be engaged 21st century citizens. At both institutions, we are scaffolding the experiences and approaches throughout our curricula so students gain relevant training that can be reinforced as they progress towards capstone courses and independent research. While students from Mercy College and YHC have not directly interacted, faculty from both institutions have recognized overlapping goals regarding the implementation of UGR at small liberal arts institutions. This has led to ongoing discussions during SENCER meetings between the schools to build on existing initiatives. Given their different demographics and mission statements, we felt that contrasting approaches undertaken by both institutions would illustrate unique strengths and challenges associated with implementing pedagogical reform within diverse liberal arts environments.

Leveraging SENCER at Two Small Liberal Arts Institutions

Mercy College is a federally designated Hispanic Serving Institution with about 6300 undergraduate students, 62% of whom are underrepresented ethnic minorities (UMs), with three main campuses in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Dobbs Ferry. Admission to Mercy is SAT/ACT optional. The biology program enrolls approximately 250 students and attracts a high percentage of UMs. Many are transfer students, of nontraditional age, and/or commuters, and the majority receive federal Pell grants. In the biology major, many students hail from high-needs high schools, are of first-generation college status, and/or care for a dependent. 

National data trends show that the biology program has had a substantially higher attrition rate at Mercy than at colleges with similar admission standards. When asked, most often Mercy students have concerns regarding the biology major; worries about getting a job post graduation, about the impact of negative course outcomes on their GPAs, and about the workload associated with STEM courses (both the rigor and extent of work required). Analysis of our students has shown that they are most often transferring to majors that they perceive to be less arduous (psychology and health sciences), regardless of whether or not they are, in fact, less difficult. While there are great opportunities for students to engage in research in upper-division courses, we tend to lose students in their first year, since many students fail or fail to continue introductory biology and chemistry courses. This indicates that our efforts need to target the introductory sequence and improve our pedagogy and outcomes therein.   

Our concerns about student success and retention in STEM majors like biology have led to major efforts within our college, our school, and the Natural Sciences Department. The Maverick Success Toolkit (a college-wide initiative of our President Timothy Hall is targeting “High-Impact Practices, including undergraduate research” (AAC&U, 2008). In Natural Sciences, the high-impact practices (HIPs) we are focused on includ CUREs and PBL, which address key program outcomes for the biology program at Mercy, include students being able to (a) critically examine basic, applied, and societal problems in the biological sciences and through the lens of life sciences professionals, (b) propose problem-solving strategies to address these problems, and (c) work as effective team members on collaborative projects. By engaging our students in collaborative projects and improving their problem-solving strategies with PBL and CUREs, we could reach our desired programmatic outcomes. Other initiatives and activities supporting the growth of UGR at Mercy include regular Faculty Seminar Days, when all faculty across the college participate in faculty development, a Council of Undergraduate Research (CUR) site visit, a monthly seminar series featuring local researchers, a yearly STEM day open to local high schools, and regularly co-hosting the Westchester Undergraduate Research Conference with Manhattanville College. 

Young Harris College is a rural, residential, Methodist-affiliated liberal arts institution with just under 1,000 undergraduate students, over 80% of whom are white. The vast majority (93%) of students are Georgia residents, with an average SAT score of 1083 in 2017. Biology is consistently one of the top majors at the institution, comprising 15–18% of the total declared majors in a given year. As at Mercy, there is a drop in declared majors following the introductory biology and chemistry sequence, as they are perceived to be challenging courses. 

YHC has a mixture of established initiatives in place to promote UGR and scholarship among upperclassmen. Biology majors are primed for research via a two-semester course sequence on experimental design and analyzing scientific literature. In their senior year, majors can choose between conducting an independent research project or a literature review. Only about a third of majors conduct research projects, and students who elect to do research typically spend one semester on the project before presenting it as a senior capstone. The college holds an annual campus-wide Undergraduate Research Day, which provides students the opportunity to present original research in a low-stakes environment. The Biology Department also provides travel stipends to students who conduct UGR to present findings at the annual Georgia Academy of Sciences meeting, but travel by students to national conferences is less common.

 YHC has had a minor SENCER connection since transitioning from a two- to a four-year institution in 2008, including a site visit and an interdepartmental team trip to a SENCER Summer Institute. However, campus-wide knowledge of SENCER is low, even though several faculty members actively promote civic engagement in their classrooms. Many of these initiatives are conducted independently, without extensive intra- or inter-departmental knowledge of the projects. This issue stems from a high teaching load and limited course release options, reducing the ability of faculty to apply for fellowships and grants.

What we have done at Mercy 

Currently our efforts are focused on making UGR more inclusive. One approach is to integrate research across the curriculum, thereby serving more students. Particular focus has been placed on engaging students earlier on in the curriculum such as in introductory courses. Internal funding from Mercy has been directed towards the CURE project, to help the faculty attend professional development opportunities such as the PBL Institute at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and to bring experts to the campus, including Dr. Monica Devanas of SENCER. A new position, the Undergraduate Research Coordinator, was created in the department to support UGR. Figure 1 shows our progress towards the incorporation of CUREs or PBL across the curriculum. To reach across the disciplines and to break down the discplinary silos, our approach to defining research has been broad and inclusive, and we have included aspects of the research process (literature reviews, poster presentations, designing experiments in silico) in our scaffolded approach. Here are some examples of our SENCERized efforts across the curriculum:

At the General Education level

Students in the Environmental Science class for non-science majors self-assign into teams and engage in student-chosen and student-driven projects aimed at solving environmental problems visible and meaningful to the Mercy community. At the end of the semester, they present proposals to solve a particular problem. In Fall 2016, students surveyed the college community on recycling, and generated an interdisciplinary proposal to reduce plastic use in the Mercy cafeteria. It was presented to the Mercy administration and helped make the case to reduce plastics in the cafeteria. 

At the Introductory Level

In General Biology 1, students choose to research topics of civic and scientific importance relevant to the biology course (climate change, emerging infectious diseases, GMOs). The students generate posters, and learn how to cite and produce a bibliography. Librarians help us print and present the posters in the library and we hold poster sessions in public spaces, such as the corridor outside the labs, allowing the greater community to witness and engage with student work. 

General Chemistry 1 also involves public poster presentations of the students’ work. The projects are constructed around the theme of isotopes and nuclear chemistry, and students choose a project topic linking nuclear chemistry to societal issues such as radioactive accidents, global warming and evolution. As with biology, the students work in teams and are peer-assessed on their teamwork. The General Chemistry laboratory has also been redesigned to include a project, the theme of which centers on connecting acid-base chemistry to commercially available antacids. Antacids provide a perfect entry point for freshman students to understand the concepts of acids and bases and their relevance to health and biology. Students generate their own hypotheses to test, and in consultation with the instructor, design experiments, collect and analyze data, and submit a comprehensive lab report on their project. 

Introductory Physics is a two-semester sequence, with embedded exploratory laboratory modules. It is project based, with students posing their own inquiries and making inferences based on analysis of their own data. Initially, student inquiries focus on biomechanics with emphasis on experimental design and collaborative execution. Then, inquiries expand to the physical mechanisms underlying biological processes, normal and impaired physiological functioning and/or medical diagnostics and treatment. Every student creates an ePortfolio of their final project work, which is viewable by the entire college community. Students self-assess and peer-assess their progress, and final projects are used to evaluate their competence in their inquiry, modeling, quantitative analysis, and communication skills.

At the Intermediate Level   

We’ve previously reported on the development of a SENCERized elective CURE course called the “Microbiome of Urban Spaces” (Smyth, 2017), which began in Spring 2016. The microbiology lecture course was also redesigned to help students be more civically engaged using PBL. Students were instructed in aspects of policy and regulations (clean air and water acts, the EPA), health care disparities, and the rise of antibiotic resistance. They prepared educational materials (brochures, infographics, posters) that would be accessible and promote awareness of various topics of civic import in their communities, such as antibiotic-resistant bacteria in food, climate change, and emerging infectious diseases such as Zika. 

PBL was introduced in the Organic II lab curriculum in the Fall of 2017. The topic chosen was sunscreens, as they are organic compounds that absorb solar radiation and can minimize UV damage or sunburn. Recently Hawaii banned sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate as active ingredients (these ingredients have a high sun protection factor). Divers use these on their faces, but the compounds are insoluble in water and can cause coral bleaching and disruption of marine ecosystems. The topic has societal implications and would appeal to students going into medical fields, as it links the study of organic chemistry to cancer, a topic usually restricted to biology students. Students chose to analyze the different active ingredients present in commercially available sunscreens to measure their UV absorbance/antioxidant properties. Currently the students are synthesizing organic compounds and are going to evaluate these for sunscreen properties. 

At the Advanced Level

Our efforts at the introductory and intermediate levels have prepared students for more advanced research experiences in developmental biology, neuroscience, and in a new “Research in Biology” course. The capstone course has also been redesigned from a literature review course to an authentic lab-based research course in which students can conduct independent projects. Faculty who work with students on independent projects have benefited from students progressing through the scaffolded curriculum, as these students are more confident, capable, and dependable in the lab. Their successes at conferences and meetings and acceptances to prestigious Research Experiences for Undergraduate programs (REUs) and internships support these observations. Student presentations at local conferences (such as the Westchester Undergraduate Research Conference, the SENCER SCI Mid-Atlantic Meeting, and the Metropolitan Association of College and University Biologists Conference) have increased from one in 2012/2013, two in 2013/2014, three in 2014/2015, nine in 2015/2016, six in 2016/2017, 28 in 2017/2018, and 11 in 2018/2019. There were no student presentations at national/international conferences (such as ABRCMS, ASM, SACNAS, and CSTEP) from 2013–2015, but there were eight student presentations in 2016/2017 and four in 2017/2018. Students have also increasingly been rewarded for their work with poster awards at CSTEP (in 2017 and 2018), travel awards to attend ABRCMS (in 2016), and an ASM Capstone award (in 2017), and they have been accepted to prestigious REUs for the first time in many years, such as SURP at Albert Einstein (in 2017), SURP at Rutgers (in 2018), and at SURP at NYU (in 2018). One of the most significant changes is the increase in chemistry-focused research involving undergraduates at Mercy, which had been stagnant for many years. 

What We Have Done at YHC 

The teaching load at YHC provides challenges and opportunities for incorporating SENCER ideals across the curriculum. In biology, most courses are developed without substantial input by other faculty. Faculty who choose to implement novel pedagogies are encouraged and have free rein to do so. However, the benefits of these designs can go unnoticed by administrators or colleagues unless explicitly promoted. In recent years, subsets of the division have applied for educational grants (e.g. NSF S-STEM) but have not received an award thus far. Therefore, although financial support for developing a cohesive departmental initiative is minimal at present, a scaffolded, SENCERized curriculum is certainly feasible in the future.

At the General Education and Introductory Levels

Arguably the area of greatest need for promoting civic engagement and scientific literacy at YHC is within non-majors courses, as these students generally fail to see the relevance of or are disinterested in biology. Similar trends have been observed at other institutions (e.g. Cotner, Thompson, and Wright, 2017). To combat this, one non-majors course (Exploring Life) was redesigned to promote the civic value of biological literacy in addition to content-related learning objectives. Instead of a traditional exploration of molecular biology, genetics, and evolution, these concepts were built into a modular approach. Each module was selected by students and used four weeks to explore a critical biological issue, such as epidemics, vaccinations, GMOs, or the antibiotic resistance crisis. Whenever possible, community connections were brought into each unit to promote a civic outlook in the topic, such as instilling awareness of disease agents on campus or considering the prevalence of GMOs in local markets. One unique element of the Exploring Life redesign was that students in the course were offered a choice between six potential modules at the beginning of the semester, of which the three topics with the highest number of votes were used as topics for the course.  This design provides greater flexibility to other instructors, as they can select which six modules they are most comfortable offering each semester, or they can develop a new panel of modules to add to the course portfolio, provided that they meet established content guidelines. 

 During redesign for non-majors biology, a concerted effort was made to expose social challenges, embrace statistical analysis, and analyze peer-reviewed articles using established, student-centered teaching practices. Final projects for each theme were designed to promote scientific communication to non-scientists, such as designing a board game to illustrate how viruses spread through a community, or constructing a college flyer to highlight contributors to antibiotic resistance. Labs used an inquiry-based approach to demonstrate modern research techniques, although more structure was provided in comparison to recently redesigned open-ended labs in majors’ introductory biology courses. Some lab modules were based on previously established CUREs (such as Tiny Earth), while others were developed following workshops with Research Experiences in Introductory Laboratories (REIL)-Biology.

Our non-majors chemistry course also explores subjects that enhance student awareness of globally relevant topics, such as green chemistry. Introductory courses at the majors level are moving towards student-centered practices, but arguably lag behind efforts at the non-majors level. The degree of active learning within a section of introductory biology varies widely depending on the instructor of record; however, groups of faculty have collectively restructured lab activities to include inquiry elements, including a multi-week student-designed authentic research project for our introductory organismal biology course.  

At the Intermediate and Advanced Level

In addition to department-wide initiatives to reinforce scientific literacy and training for biology majors (see examples in the institutional profile), most faculty promote a student-centered teaching environment to some degree, such as utilization of kinesthetic models in cellular biology, analysis of public environmental science data, preparing students for the workforce by utilizing discipline-relevant, open source statistical software (e.g. the R Project), and flipped classrooms. When possible, YHC faculty tie course content into their own research interests or connect topics to the rural, montane environment where our campus resides. Many YHC students hail from the Atlanta suburbs, and finding ways for them to connect to the YHC community is critical for retention.   

Over the past five years, the majority of biology faculty teaching upper division courses have shifted from “cookbook” labs to incorporate greater inquiry-driven pedagogical approaches. The rationale for this is twofold. First, group-based projects prime sophomores and juniors for the rigors of independent research, and second, concepts illustrated in previous courses on experimental design and statistics can be reinforced. As an example, half of our Invertebrate Zoology labs were removed last year to make room for a student-designed project on chemoattractants to beehive pests. This project tied into the YHC community, as we have established beehives and an annual course on beekeeping that is among the most desirable courses on campus. Students wrote a proposal and budget, managed the project, designed a scientific poster, and orally defended their research one-on-one. The end product was of sufficient quality to be presented on campus during YHC’s Undergraduate Research Day. Projects of similar complexity can be found among many upper-division science courses at YHC, but this is a bottom-up movement by faculty who see the value in reinforcing research methods and/or SENCER ideals in their courses. Table 1 demonstrates how these activities across the curriculum synergize between Mercy and YHC. 

Student and Faculty Benefits and Successes

We’ve demonstrated that there are many ways to bring research to our students. By scaffolding research across the curriculum at Mercy, we enable our students to gain the skills and experiences they need at several stages throughout their academic careers, and across multiple disciplines including biology, chemistry and physics. This cross-disciplinary approach, spanning introductory to advanced courses, ensures that their learning is reinforced through multiple and varied exposures to research and authentic questions/projects that are of interest to them. At YHC, faculty are supportive of one another’s efforts to incorporate research in the classroom. There has been minimal resistance to this approach, although greater communication and institutional support is needed at this time to transition from independent efforts to a cohesive, scaffolded approach that reaches across the curriculum.

What did we find at Mercy? 

Feedback from our students enrolled in these modified courses has demonstrated that the students themselves feel that they have benefited in the areas of teamwork, communication, and in their appreciation of the course and of science in general. Many Mercy faculty have now adopted the SALG as a means of assessing student perceptions of their own learning. Students in microbiology reported “the projects were great, especially the microbe Digication project. I heard from past classes that they just wrote a paper for a project grade and I much preferred the Digication project that my class did.” Digication is an online platform for electronic portfolios (DIGI[cation], n.d.). A chemistry student commented, “I think working as team with my peers and professor was great because we all learned from one another and each made great suggestions that contributed to the success of our project,” and a physics student wrote, “Having the whole semester for a project of our choosing gave us the power to pursue our interests while learning physics instead of focusing on memorizing formulas and regurgitating ideas.” Faculty themselves are enjoying teaching the courses and having more engaged students. 

A barrier that remains for us is a means to assess the specific gains in the areas of civic engagement and scientific literacy. We are currently focused on developing assessment tools and metrics for determining our impact across the curriculum. Despite this we have demonstrable evidence of student successes both in the classroom, outside the classroom, and beyond, after graduation. Since Fall 2016, more than 40 students have participated in the Microbiome of Urban Spaces CURE, resulting in more than 27 posters and presentations at local, national, and international conferences by Mercy students. A pilot of the URSSA survey (Westin and Laursen, 2015) in Spring 2018 demonstrated that students are considering graduate school after participating in this CURE (Table 2). Additionally, participants have received honorary mentions, research fellowships, and travel awards from the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP), Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), American Society for Microbiology (ASM), and Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS), and several have been accepted to research-intensive internship programs such as at Albert Einstein, NYU, and Rutgers. 

We’ve also increased the numbers of engaged and interested faculty. We started with eight engaged faculty and have grown to include more than 20, including visiting and adjunct faculty. While it is too soon to determine if we are affecting the graduation or retention rate, the number of students enrolling in the biology major has increased to 236 in Fall 2017 (3.5% of total Mercy College enrollment, 22.8% of the School of Health and Natural Sciences) compared with 216 in 2017 (3% of total Mercy College enrollment, 20% of the School of Health and Natural Sciences) and 213 in 2016 (2.7% of total Mercy College enrollment, 18.8% of the School of Health and Natural Sciences). 

What Did We Find at YHC? 

Early feedback from the redesigned non-majors biology course is encouraging. We are using the Student Assessment of their Learning Gains (SALG), Test of Scientific Literacy Skills (TOSLS; Gormally, Brickman, and Lutz, 2012), and the Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey for Biology (CLASS-BIO; Semsar, Knight, Birol, and Smith, 2011) instruments to track whether the redesign has affected non-majors’ views on their ability to conduct scientific research, interpret it, and apply it to their lives, although post-implementation data are still being generated. Informal feedback confirms that students (a) appreciate that course material is relevant to non-scientists, (b) overcome misconceptions about the scientific method, and (c) apply a global outlook regarding solutions to the challenges associated with each topic.

 One assignment clearly illustrated that the SENCER approach promotes biology as a globally relevant topic to non-majors. Pre-course surveys suggested that most students had not considered the socioeconomic or biological challenges associated with disease. While discussing HIV/AIDS, Dr. Sheryl Broverman’s work with WISER was used as an example of an initiative that grew to have a huge impact. Students were tasked with writing a reflective response after investigating the WISER NGO. Their submissions illustrated how their perceptions of the world had changed over just a few months. As two examples:

 “People like Dr. Broverman are impressive and can make a big difference…what would happen if all of the privileged people could help all of the non-privileged people?” and “I am so impressed by the efforts [of WISER] that I plan to pitch this NPO as my sorority’s next philanthropy. While I am aware that the dent that a small-town sorority is able to make may not be huge…I have held steadfast to the idea that small changes can be monumental.”

As the course has progressed, these sorts of reflections have become more commonplace. What is needed at this stage is to expand on this vision for non-majors and apply it to majors-level courses. If students can be motivated early on and if faculty receive support for classroom initiatives, YHC could promote active research opportunities continuously throughout the major. 

Recently, several STEM faculty have engaged in pedagogical research and civic engagement endeavors, resulting in travel awards and presentations at national educational conferences, including the SENCER Summer Institute (SSI), Association for Biology Laboratory Education (ABLE), American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), and National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT), where two faculty were trained on CURE development through the Research Experiences in Introductory Laboratory in Biology (REIL) program. These faculty represent a minority at YHC, but there is a growing interest in building interdisciplinary connections among disparate majors. 

Future Directions

While we have been able to champion “SENCERized” CUREs and PBL at our respective institutions, for many faculty, there remain several considerable barriers and challenges. What these challenges are, and where and when they arise, can often impede buy-in among reluctant faculty and administration. Despite the challenges, there are several strategies that we have used to achieve buy-in:

  • Show the data – One of the most successful strategies to encourage your colleagues to participate or gather administrative and financial support is to show the results of your efforts. Take every chance to present your efforts at departmental meetings, school meetings, conferences, and in journals such as this one. Even preliminary data can serve to bolster your argument for your efforts and can greatly serve to encourage others to join you. We have presented our ongoing efforts to the broader community at SENCER meetings and at Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL) and Quantitative Undergraduate Biology Education and Synthesis (QUBES) meetings. These efforts not only help us identify allies at other schools and institutions, but also help our colleagues who may be struggling to find ideas, methods, and strategies for success. Communication between faculty at Mercy and YHC is one such example of the community building that can occur by sharing one another’s efforts through SENCER. In the case of this particular project, D. Sieg and D. Smyth met as new attendees to the 2014 SENCER Summer Institute (SSI) in Asheville and saw mutual alignment in their pedagogical interests. They built on these connections over the years, leading to collaborations for SSI workshops and Leadership Fellow opportunities. These initial connections led to recruiting more faculty into the fold, culminating in this article.
  • Program Assessment – At Mercy, we have strategically placed PBL and CUREs at the forefront of achieving our programmatic goals. Tying PBL and CUREs to program outcomes can serve as a means of directing funding towards the efforts. Better yet, there can be direct funding and support when PBL and CUREs are tied to assessment, including expertise from assessment coordinators for generating tools and rubrics to help measure impact. 
  • Provide the support – If you are an administrator or dean, consider providing technical support for your faculty. Even small amounts of money can make all the difference when considering these types of projects. Fund opportunities for your faculty to attend workshops and training sessions. Better yet, consider lines that support the efforts directly. Hire technical staff, or train graduates of the program to support the efforts.  
  • Support Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) for promotion and tenure – An effective way to both support and encourage faculty is to align promotion and tenure expectations with Boyer’s model, which places value on SOTL (Boyer, 1990). Many teaching institutions lack adequate research facilities for faculty to engage in high-impact research analogous to what they conducted during their PhD and postdoctoral training. When the practice of implementing and assessing evidence-based and effective pedagogy in the classroom is valued and is tied to promotion and tenure, faculty will also benefit from engaging in these types of efforts.
  • Build community from within – Often, the greatest support for new initiatives comes from one’s peers. Upon our return from WPI, Mercy gathered as a learning community to continue the efforts to develop PBL. While this was not always fruitful (we often could not meet due to scheduling, and we differed in our approaches), it reinforced a common language and helped continue the momentum of our efforts beyond WPI. Recent efforts by YHC opened doors between departments by providing a forum for “Lightning Talks” where faculty can promote classroom initiatives to colleagues in a low-stakes setting. 
  • Bring the support to you – A more successful and inclusive approach was to bring the support to us. Our second collaborative community at Mercy involved Monica Devanas. She supported and bolstered our efforts to integrate CUREs into introductory courses by visiting the campus and using Skype to meet with us monthly. Her constant support and encouragement helped our CURE working group stay on track. We have also hosted Erin Dolan and CUREnet at Mercy in Spring 2018 and the Mid-Atlantic and New England PULSE network in October 2017. These efforts not only helped Mercy faculty develop curricula and innovate, but also helped support peers at neighboring institutions who are also dedicated to improving undergraduate education in STEM.
  • Leadership – To garner faculty collaboration and administrative support of initiatives, having someone with a SENCERized vision who takes on a leadership role can be invaluable. Someone with the resources and experience with pathways to curricular reform can seek out others with a similar outlook to start a collaborative effort, encourage the nascent interest in others to grow, and be poised to confidently provide the needed rationale to administrators. Having the support of the SENCER community (or other similar communities) can provide campus leaders with the tools, support, and confidence they need to help make a difference at their institutions. 

Despite our efforts, barriers and challenges remain. At many teaching-intensive institutions, the overreliance on contingent or adjunct faculty can be a barrier to implementing CUREs and PBL. At Mercy College the Department of Natural Sciences hires approximately 60 adjuncts each semester, to supplement 18 full-time faculty, teaching upwards of 200 sections. Often, these adjunct faculty are hired at the last minute and are insufficiently prepared or trained to implement high-impact practices (HIPs), and few if any have ever had any training in implementing or teaching PBL or CUREs. Having lectures and lab classes taught by different instructors (full-time or adjunct) can also cause difficulties, if students are not adequately prepared from lecture to be successful in the lab, and ensuring synergy of lab and lecture courses can be difficult. There are very few models available that address this issue. In Fall 2018, Mercy was awarded an Inclusive Excellence Grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; among other things, the awardees aimed to develop an Adjunct Academy, the goal of which is to recruit, train, and retain adjunct faculty who will support teaching with PBL and CUREs at the college (HHMI, 2019). There are often small numbers of full-time faculty who make sustained efforts to incorporate HIPs, constraining efforts to expand and integrate these HIPs across the curriculum. By encouraging more full-timers to engage with SENCER and supporting them to attend the Summer Institutes and regional meetings, we can bring more full-time faculty to the table. 

Lab support and lack of time can be another major barrier. Faculty at teaching-intensive institutions often teach four or more courses a semester (such as at Mercy and YHC), and part-time faculty generally have no access to active research programs or laboratory space. Technical support is often lacking and graduate assistants or technicians may not be available, meaning faculty must prepare materials for these courses themselves. Our pilots were supported by grants and faculty awards, as well as with funding from our deans and administration that helped purchase reagents and provide technical support to faculty. While pilots may be feasible, sustaining funding may be a challenge.

Infrastructure remains a significant barrier for many faculty, as we often lack dedicated research labs or areas for group work. When courses are taught across several campuses or buildings such as at Mercy, access to research space to support the CURE can be an issue. At Mercy, we’ve rearranged the teaching schedule to accommodate access to laboratories for preparation to make the teaching laboratories available for research when class is not in session. At YHC, we recently renovated a classroom into a shared research lab for chemistry and biology. While the space is functional, it is limiting to have only a single space for all undergraduate researchers. Since Mercy had no room for the poster sessions, we bought boards and easels and did our poster session in the corridors outside the labs. Currently we’re trying to rearrange the available research space to make it more equitable and supportive of all faculty.

While a plethora of assessment tools are available for assessing the impact of CURE and PBL experiences on students (Shortlidge and Brownell, 2016), there are limited resources tailored to determine whether students make specific gains in SENCERized classes in the areas of civic engagement and scientific literacy. More tailored assessment tools could help faculty present a data-driven and evidence-based case for SENCERized approaches to the administration and faculty. 

About the Authors

R. Drew Sieg

R. Drew Sieg is an assistant professor of biology who recently transferred to Truman State University from Young Harris College. He is a SENCER Leadership Fellow whose traditional research interests examine chemically mediated ecological interactions among plants, fungi, algae, and herbivores. He is also increasingly involved in educational research, particularly examining how authentic research experiences and other novel pedagogies affect student engagement in STEM.

 

Nancy Beverly

Nancy Beverly is an associate professor in physics at Mercy College, in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. Her pedagogical work focuses on the development of engaging and relevant curricular materials, activities, and approaches for the introductory physics for life science (IPLS) students. Her contributions to the national IPLS physics education community include organizing many national IPLS workshops and conference sessions, as well as being a part of multi-institutional collaborative NSF grants in this area. She is particularly interested in assessment and in guiding students to frame and investigate their own inquiries to make their own data-driven inferences. 

Madhavan Narayanan

Madhavan (Madi) Narayanan is an assistant professor of chemistry and a biophysical chemist at Mercy College. He is the Undergraduate Research Coordinator of the Natural Sciences Department and the Adjunct Academy Team leader for the Mercy Inclusive Excellence award from Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He uses both computation and experiments to understand structure and mechanisms in biological molecules. His current research interest is in developing and characterizing novel molecular probes which can serve as useful reporters of structure and dynamics in biomolecules and for applications in biological imaging. 

Geetha Surendran

Geetha Surendran is an associate professor of chemistry in the Department of Natural Sciences at Mercy College. She teaches general chemistry and organic chemistry. Her research focuses on sunscreens as well as on antioxidants from natural sources. Currently she is developing active ingredients to be used in sunscreen formulations for the UV as well as the blue light region. She is also involved in developing Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CURE) projects for General Chemistry students.

Joshua Sabatini

Joshua Sabatini is a new member of the faculty at Passaic County Community College and former instructor at Mercy College. His main work is leading students through all the finer points of general and organic chemistry. As a former organic chemist in the pharmaceutical industry he also seeks to pique students’ interest in chemistry through work in the laboratory. Joshua led the students through the general chemistry CURE-based lab at Mercy in Fall 2017.

 

Davida Smyth

Davida S. Smyth is an associate professor of natural sciences at Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts at the New School in New York. She has previously served as associate professor and Chair of Natural Sciences at Mercy College. A SENCER Leadership Fellow, her research focuses on the genomics of Staphylococcus aureus, and the prevalence of antibiotic resistance in clinical and environmental strains of Staphylococci. She is also interested in pedagogical research in the area of student reading skills in STEM disciplines, classroom undergraduate research experiences and Peer-Led Team Learning in biology. 

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to acknowledge the hard work and diligence of the students and faculty at Mercy College and Young Harris College as well as their research collaborators at CUNY, Professors Jeremy Seto (New York City College of Technology), Avrom Caplan (City College), and Theodore Muth (Brooklyn College). We are grateful to the librarians at Mercy, especially Susan Gaskin Noel, Hailey Collazo, and Andy Lowe, who assisted with the generation and printing of research posters. Our CURE courses were initiated and sustained through a Mercy Senate Micro-Grant for Course Redesign (to D. Smyth) and a Mercy Faculty Development Grant (to D. Smyth). We are very grateful for the support of our school dean Dr. Joan Toglia (who provided funding for the CURE initiative and for professional development of the faculty including support for the Project-Based Learning Institute at Worcester Polytechnic Institute). Initiatives at YHC were supported through Faculty Development funds to D. Sieg and J. Schroeder, both of whom were also trained in CURE design during an REIL-Biology workshop at NABT. Lastly we would like to thank our colleagues at SENCER, especially Monica Devanas, who worked with Mercy College faculty, and Eliza Jane Reilly, Stephen Carroll, and Kathleen Browne for their constant support, guidance, and assistance with our projects to date, and for supporting D. Sieg and D. Smyth as SENCER Leadership Fellows.

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Local to Global: Civic Engagement with Education, Awareness, 
and Global Health

Abstract

Global Public Health is a course that allows students to learn about the complexity of communicable and non-communicable diseases, determinants of health, and delivery of health services.  The Global Public Health course partnered with the Center for International Students to co-host International Education Week in November 2017.  Specifically, the course held a “global successes” poster presentation event highlighting various initiatives including disease reduction, cash transfer programs, health system comparisons, and emergency preparedness. The project encouraged a dissection of the biological aspects while also focusing on the socioeconomic contexts, geo-political partners, and advocacy efforts to determine the factors that played into successful health initiatives.  Quantitative and qualitative data were collected to assess project outcomes.  The reach of the event was with the campus and local communities.  Students reported that the project allowed them to develop an appreciation for the vastness of global health, while also identifying the importance of sustainability.  

Introduction

Global health courses offer excellent opportunities for students to learn about issues outside of their local, state, and national communities. By developing projects that allow them to transcend their texts and engage with the content, they can begin to step out of their local contexts and apply their learned global knowledge.  Along with learning about global health issues, students often feel disengaged to such “wicked” or massive global problems that exist.  Wicked problems, including climate change, gender inequality, famine, human trafficking, and complex humanitarian issues, are defined as such because there are many stakeholders with differing opinions, and ultimately, “each attempt to create a solution changes the problem” (Kreuter, De Rosa, Howze, and Baldwin, 2004, p. 443).  Focusing on a massive problem like climate change, studies have demonstrated that students are disengaged with the science regardless of their knowledge about the topic, because they lack action and self-awareness about their roles with the issue (Wilson and Henson, 1993; Cordero and Abellera, 2008; Feldmann, Nisbet, Leiserowitz, and Maibach, 2010; Wachholz, Artz, and Chene, 2014; Pfautsch and Gray, 2017).  According to Reimers (2017), leaders in multiple fields including business, diplomacy, and military science were interviewed regarding their views on student readiness to address challenges with a global mindset. It was consistently reported that gaps among students exist for awareness of global issues (National Research Council, 2007; Reimers, 2017).  Using case studies in the classroom has been demonstrated to assist students in identifying the “solutions for real-world scenarios . . . to raise self-awareness and improve sustainability literacy” (Pfautsch and Gray, 2017, p.  1168; see also Remington-Doucette and Musgrove, 2015). 

Although global challenges exist, successes in addressing these issues are evident as maternal and child mortality have continued to decrease along with a more pronounced focus on diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2011; Jacobsen, 2014; Merson, 2014; Glassman and Temin, 2016).  New medications are being developed along with lifesaving technologies and vaccinations, and via enhanced surveillance and reporting efforts, preparedness for global threats continues to be strengthened (CDC, 2011; Jacobsen, 2014).  By highlighting that achievements are possible, we can assist future generations in identifying how to harness their knowledge and incorporate moral and ethical reasoning to enhance their competency in addressing issues that need sustainable solutions (Pfautsch and Gray, 2017). 

Identified in the texts, Millions Saved: Proven Successes in Global Health (Levine and Kinder, 2004) and Millions Saved: New Cases of Proven Success in Global Health (Glassman and Temin, 2016), are over 35 different examples of interventions that have lasting health education and promotion effects.  Using these case studies, college students can embark on an educational journey to better identify the roots of disease, disability, and death from a global perspective.  In the Global Public Health course, students were challenged to find a global health endeavor that was “successful” and define, using multiple lenses, what “success” means.  Students had to go beyond reading a case study and dissect the topic to gain a better understanding of factors such as the physiology of disease and the impacts of economic policies on effective health measures.  

Project Description

Six student groups, ranging from two to four students per group, researched case studies including neglected tropical diseases and successes of the Deworm the World Initiative (https://www.evidenceaction.org/dewormtheworld), global vaccination perspectives in Cameroon and Southern Ethiopia, and behavior modification to eradicate guinea worm.  Incorporating an interdisciplinary approach to understanding their chosen case studies, students identified underlying causes of disease (or health issues) using an agent, host, environment model to better explain how the interventions and/or successes broke the chain of causation.  Specifically, students focused on disciplines including public health, health education, epidemiology, and biology.  To display their case study outcomes, students developed professional 3×4 posters. In a partnership to co-host International Education Week with the Center for International Students (November 2017), students in the Global Public Health course held a poster presentation focusing on global health successes. The event was the kick-off feature, and all of campus and the local community was invited.  Goals of the event were to invite discussion about pertinent global health issues that transcend national borders.  To encourage attendee participation, international coffee, tea, and food items were served. All materials and supplies were purchased with funds from the Missouri Campus Compact mini-grant.  For project assessment, student groups were evaluated on the guiding research questions developed for their topic, the historical and health background, elements for success (including impact, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness), the organizations involved with continued efforts, policies in place to address the issue, and finally, ways for individuals to get involved locally. To evaluate the poster event, attendees completed a short survey with 5-point Likert-scale questions from strongly agree to strongly disagree regarding the presenter knowledge, enthusiasm, professionalism, and preparation.  An open-ended question was added to seek what attendees learned from attending the poster event.  At the end of the course, student feedback was obtained via a short survey with a 5-point Likert-scale regarding their development of the poster content, impacts of the project on their learning, and three open-ended reflection questions. Open-ended questions were analyzed using a content-analysis procedure for patterns and themes (Altheide, 1987; Merriam, 2009), and quantitative data were analyzed using IBM SPSS 25.  IRB approval was obtained in Fall 2017 before any data were collected.  

Project Outcomes

Six different posters were presented. Student presenters interacted with attendees (n=~40) including members of campus administration, faculty, staff, and students from various majors.  Overall, feedback from presentation attendees (n=20) was positive, with 90% strongly agreeing that presenters were prepared and knowledgeable about the material.  Regarding enthusiasm and professionalism, over 95% of attendees either agreed or strongly agreed that students were excited to present and were credible regarding the content.  Attendees’ comments for learning outcomes were positive and varied about what they gained from the experience. Themes from those outcomes included being unaware (n=9), identifying keys to health successes (n=8), and that successes have global outcomes (n=1). A sample of quotations for each theme is available in Table 1. 

For project impacts for students in the course, 100% of students who completed an evaluation agreed or strongly agreed that focusing on global health successes was important, and over 90% agreed or strongly agreed that providing service-learning opportunities in global health was important.  Overarching themes students reported focused on their surprise for the vastness of global health successes (n=5), different ways to measure success (n=4), personal gains acquired from the project (n=1), and that we are all global citizens (n=1) (Table 2). 

Discussion and Suggestions for Future Practice

By engaging with the broader campus community, students participated in open discourse to identify the importance of partnership, science, sustainability, and global citizenship to address the issues.  To promote the events of International Education Week, a local news station also attended the poster presentation to learn more about the topic and provide awareness.  As previously stated, students may be disengaged in the classroom if lectures and assignments lack an action or self-awareness component (Wilson and Henson, 1993; Cordero and Abellera, 2008; Feldmann et al., 2010; Wachholz, Artz, and Chene, 2014; Pfautsch and Gray, 2017). This course project was an attempt to combine students’ awareness for these massive problems and research the failures and successes of the efforts to address these real-world issues. An additional component for the case study was to suggest ways in which we can advocate for these topics. Students developed ideas including identifying NGOs that are continuing to work on the issues, specifying ongoing research studies and ideas for further research, and ways in which we can expand community-based programs. 

With the knowledge gained from implementing this project, instructors should build in more class time for posters to be developed and for students to reflect and to determine their questions as they navigate the research process.  Students should also engage in peer review frequently throughout the semester. Peer review only occurred one time, at the mid-point of the project, and everyone would have benefitted from hearing regularly about each other’s topics, challenges, and strengths. Another interesting learning outcome would be to prepare students on how to present at a formal poster event and explain who might be in attendance.  According to one student, “I was caught a little off guard when [the Vice President] and [Department Chair] showed up.”

To broaden this type of project, as Merson (2014) demonstrates, universities can engage in global health endeavors by acting as springboards for interdisciplinary collaboration of faculty and students from various institutions.  Next steps for more transformative student experiences and value-added projects would be to build existing projects by partnering with different disciplines and other institutions (domestic and international).  According to Ehrlich (2000), civic engagement is defined as “working to make a difference in the civic life of our common unities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference” (p. vi).  As this project started in the classroom and expanded to the campus and surrounding community, this definition of civic engagement was followed, demonstrating that global successes are evident and that we should celebrate them.

About the Author

Alicia Wodika

Alicia Wodika is currently an assistant professor in Health Sciences at Illinois State University. She currently teaches Program Planning and Evaluation and Introduction to Public Health. Previously, she taught Global Public Health, Research Methods for Health Sciences, Program Planning, and Environmental Health at Truman State University.

References

Altheide, D.L. 1987. “Ethnographic Content Analysis.” Qualitative Sociology, 10(1): 65-77.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]. 2011. “Ten Great Public Health Achievements: Worldwide, 2001-2010.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 60: 814-818. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6024a4.htm

Cordero, T.E., & Abellera, D. 2008. “Climate Change Education and the Ecological Footprint.” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 89(6): 865-872.

Ehrlich, T. (2000). Civic Responsibility and Higher Education. Westport, CT: The American Council on Education and The Oryx Press.

Feldmann, L., Nisbet, M.C., Leiserowitz, A., & Maibach, E. 2010. “The Climate Change Generation? Survey Analysis of the Perceptions and Beliefs of Young Americans.” Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, p. 23. 

Glassman, A. & Temin, M. 2016. Millions Saved: New Cases of Proven Success in Global Health. Washington, D.C.: Center for Global Development.

National Research Council. 2007. International Education and Foreign Languages: Keys to Securing Americas Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Jacobsen, K.H. 2014. Introduction to Global Health. 2nd ed. Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett publishers.

Kreuter, M.W., De Rosa, C., Howze, E.H., & Baldwin, G.T. (2004). “Understanding Wicked Problems: A Key to Advancing Environmental Health Promotion.” Health Education and Behavior, 31(4), 441-454.

Levine, R. & Kinder, M. 2007. Case Studies in Global Health: Millions Saved. MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Merson, M.H. 2014. “University Engagement in Global Health.” New England Journal of Medicine, 370(18): 1676-1678.

Merriam, S.B. 2009. Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 

Pfautsch, S. & Gray, T. 2017. “Low Factual Understanding and High Anxiety About Climate Warming Impedes University Students to Become Sustainability Stewards: An Australian Case Study.” International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 18(7): 1157-1175.

Reimers, F.M. 2017. “Engaging our Students in Conversations About the Consequences of Disengaging from Global Institutions: Lessons on US Withdrawal from UNESCO.” Retrieved from https://worldsofeducation.org/en/woe_homepage/woe_detail/15527/engaging-our-students-in-conversations-about-the-consequences-of-disengaging-from-global-institutions-lessons-on-us-withdrawal-from-unesco

Remington-Doucette, S. & Musgrove, S. 2015. “Variation in sustainability competency development according to age, gender, and disciplinary affiliation,” International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 16(4): 523-536.

Wachholz, S., Artz., N. & Chene, D. 2014. “Warming to the Idea: University Student’s Knowledge and Attitudes about Climate Change.” International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 14(2): 128-141.

Wilson, & Henson. 1993. “Learning about Global Warming: A Study of Students and Journalists.” National Center for Atmospheric Research. Boulder, CO. 

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At the Intersection of Applied Sciences: Integrated Learning Models in Computer Science and Software Engineering and Communication Disorders

Abstract

The use of innovative technologies in speech-language pathology is revolutionizing diagnostic and treatment approaches for individuals with communication disorders.  This evolution has required educators to integrate the use of technologies into the clinical training pedagogy.   Phonetic transcription is a foundational skill presented early in the undergraduate speech-pathology curriculum and serves as the basis for advanced course work in clinical diagnostic decision-making.  Mastery requires regular practice and performance feedback.  One factor that impedes the provision of more practice opportunities is the widely agreed-upon problem of grading phonetic transcription assignments by hand. The development of a computational tool that automatically grades transcription assignments served as the mechanism for an integrated learning opportunity between the departments of Communication Disorders and Computer Science and Software Engineering at Auburn University.  

Introduction

The use of innovative technologies for clinical practice in speech-language pathology is revolutionizing practices for diagnosis and treatment of communication-related disorders across the lifespan. This evolution has also required educators to integrate the use of technologies into the clinical training pedagogy. One such area is in the teaching of phonetic transcription (Abel et al., 2016; Mompeán, Ashby, and Fraser, 2011; Sullivan and Czigler, 2002; Titterington, and Bates, 2018; Vassière, 2003 Verhoeven and Davey, 2007).  Phonetic transcription allows speech-language pathologists (SLPs) to (1) create a visual representation of the status of speech production skills and (2) to interpret the coded speech in order to make diagnostic decisions for individuals at risk for communication disorders. 

Phonetic transcription is a foundational skill presented early in the undergraduate communication disorders curriculum (Howard and Heselwood, 2002; Randolph, 2015). Students of communication disorders must become experts in phonetic transcription, which involves capturing the sounds of speech in written form in order to create a transcript that represents how words were produced by an individual speaker (Knight, 2010).  This written phonetic transcript is important for continued assessment and clinical diagnostics.  However, phonetic transcription requires the development of the ability to categorize speech sounds perceptually into phonemic categories and to write what was perceived using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) coding system (Howard and Heselwood, 2002, Ladefoged, 1990). The IPA coding system contains over 100 symbols representing consonants, vowels, diacritics, accents, and suprasegmentals. This is a substantial number of symbols to become familiar with, learn to identify, and use, within a single course.  As in other scientific disciplines such as chemistry and computer science, a universal code allows for the standardization of the documentation, analysis, and interpretation of the code by specialists in the field, and just as the periodic table or JAVA Code may seem at first to be a foreign language to novices, the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) presents as a new language as well (Müller and Papakyritsis, 2011).  Many students find this written code to be challenging, as it requires a cognitive shift from the standard written alphabetic code system to a perceptual system that captures the contrastive distinctions between the sounds in language (Knight, 2011). For example, although the words ‘coat’ and ‘king’ start with different letters in the standard written alphabet, phonetically, there is no distinction, and so the IPA characters are the same (‘k’).  Similarly, a single alphabetic character, such as the ‘s’ in ‘sing’ and ‘has,’ may be represented by different IPA characters (‘s’ and ‘z’, respectively, in the previous example). In some cases, such as the words ‘ball’ and ‘light,’ the IPA characters have to be further notated with additional symbols (diacritic [ł] versus phoneme /l/, respectively) that describe the variation in how these two same sounds are produced in different places in the mouth although they are the same sound.  This challenge is compounded as phonetic transcription tasks increase in complexity from individual sounds to full words and sentences. Advanced skills are required to transcribe using diacritics.  

Students who want to become speech pathologists typically receive one semester of instruction in phonetics; however, recent attention has been drawn to whether this provides students with enough opportunities for learning (Randolph, 2015). Recent evidence supports the idea that additional opportunities for practice may positively affect student success (Hillenbrand, 2014; Hillenbrand, Gayvert, and Clark, 2015).  Conversely, “the less experience students have in conducting phonetic transcriptions, the less apt they are at becoming proficient in this skill” (Randolph, 2015, p. 1). Surveyed practicing clinicians have also expressed the need for additional practice opportunities as students and for meaningful opportunities to extend their training further as practitioners (Knight, Bandali, Woodhead, and Vansadia, 2018).  

The Real-World Issue

When learning methods for the transcription of disordered speech, it is beneficial for students to receive regular feedback on their progress and to have opportunities to collaborate with peers to understand the flexibility of speech perception during the transcription process. One factor that limits the provision of such experiences is the widely agreed-upon problem of grading phonetic transcription assignments (Heselwood, 2007). Traditionally, phonetic symbols are taught sequentially in a face-to-face instruction model, the students are assigned phonetic practice assignments on paper, and the assignments are graded later by hand. Students rarely get immediate feedback on transcriptions since grading by hand is time intensive. Additionally, when trying to provide timely feedback to students, it is often difficult for an instructor to get a clear picture of the overall types of mistakes students are frequently making and to utilize this feedback to inform instruction. The teaching of phonetic transcription therefore presents a unique pedagogical opportunity for enhancing student learning with the support of online learning platforms that could automate some of these processes (Titterington and Bates, 2018).  The lack of an automated grading model for phonetic transcription assignments presents an important gap in the existing teaching tools. To address this gap, faculty from the Auburn University Department of Communication Disorders proposed the development of a computational tool, the Automated Phonetic Transcription Grading Tool, to automatically compare students’ phonetic transcriptions of speech samples to their instructor’s transcriptions.

Operationalizing and automating the phonetic transcription grading process through the implementation of such a computational tool has many benefits, including (1) decreasing instructor time and effort in grading phonetic transcription accuracy, (2) reducing scoring bias, (3) facilitating learning by providing students with immediate feedback, (4) informing the teaching process by providing data on student performance, and (5) increasing engagement and dynamic learning. Also, the ability to visualize summative class results allows students to see differences between their transcriptions and those of their peers. This visualization can promote discussion about differences in human speech production and perception and replicate real clinical cases where clinicians have differences in perception and clinical decision-making.

Interdisciplinary Learning Model 

The development of the Automated Phonetic Transcription Grading Tool (APT-GT), served as a mechanism for an integrated learning opportunity between the departments of Communication Disorders (CMDS) and Computer Science and Software Engineering (CSSE) at Auburn University. Faculty in the CMDS department challenged the CSSE department to create a user-friendly, aesthetically pleasing web-based interface for practice transcription assignments (Norman, 2002), and to implement an algorithm to automatically grade the assignments.  An answer to this challenge was the integration of student learning in CSSE and CMDS to inform the design and implementation.  This service-learning opportunity allowed students in a User Interface Design course, a software engineering upper-level undergraduate and graduate course, to connect engineering science with the public issue of effective and efficient identification of individuals with communication disorders.

To design the APT-GT, the CSSE team first gathered requirements from the subject matter experts in the field (the CSDS team), then crafted user scenarios for the Student User, Teacher User, and Admin User of the system.  The scenarios were captured utilizing Unified Modeling Language (UML) to capture a pictorial description of the system and cataloging roles, actors and their relationships, system interaction, and flow (Booch, Rumbaugh, and Jacobson, 2005; Rumbaugh, Booch, and Jacobson, 1998). Operation Logic was codified through simplified class diagrams to inform the design and describes the structure for the users of the system as illustrated in Figure 1 (Sparks, 1995).

Once the system scenarios were captured, software requirements created, software language identified, and environment identified, the software development team began iteratively developing software to instantiate this software system. The initial development began with the creation of low-fidelity drawings (i.e., paper prototypes) of our vision of the system and the creation of quick wire-frames of the envisioned system (Bailey, 1982; Shneiderman and Plaisant, 2010). In the second stage of prototyping, these images were refined to make them more detailed and to improve aesthetic appeal (Norman, 2002).

Keyboard development

One special requirement of the system was the design of the IPA keyboard.  Many of the other features that we have developed in the APT-GT system are available in existing course management systems, but one unique aspect was the development of an interactive IPA keyboard. Students typically are required to complete assignments by hand, download special fonts, or copy and paste symbols from websites (Small, 2005, p. 4–5).  Students who are initially learning IPA may be additionally encumbered by the need to search for symbols in texts or online.  In the design process, key placement and size were considered to reduce the time searching for keys.  Multiple versions of the keyboard were implemented to engage students in basic American English broad transcription (“Keyboard 1”), advanced narrow transcription of disordered speech using diacritics (“Keyboard 2”), and a complete set for full IPA implementation for international and multilingual use (“Keyboard 3”).  Scaffolding the keyboard complexity was considered in order to reduce confusion for the novice user and build confidence in the task incrementally. 

Outcomes of the Integrated Learning Model

CMDS course

Implementation of the software tool was supported by the first and third authors’ articulation and motor speech disorders courses in CMDS. CMDS students collaborated through the participatory design process (Bailey, 1982; Shneiderman and Plaisant, 2010) to aid in the development of the first version of APT-GT.  Students (n=67) in undergraduate and graduate course work were used as beta testers to provide ease of use feedback to the student-led design team.  Student feedback was used for refinement of the software to meet identified instructional needs.  The students were surveyed at the beginning and end of the semesters to determine if the applied computer-supported learning environment with automated performance feedback increased confidence in their mastery of transcription when given additional practice.  Students were asked the following: What is your greatest concern in transcribing disordered speech? What do you think you need to learn to be a more confident transcriber? If your level of confidence is different now compared to the beginning of the course, what aspects of the training modules do you think affected your level of confidence? What components of the transcription modules seemed helpful to you in learning phonetic transcription? The data were analyzed qualitatively to understand student sentiment following transcription practice modules.   Open-ended responses were collapsed into themes independently by two research analysts. Themes were further collapsed into broad categories agreed upon by the two researchers.

Results

Students’ greatest areas of concern in transcribing disordered speech were in their ability to understand disordered speech (38%), to transcribe accurately (39%), to transcribe speech sounds (20%), to transcribe quickly (1%), and their general lack of experience (1%).  To be a more confident transcriber, students expressed the need for increasing their knowledge of the phonetic symbols (39%) and additional opportunities for practice (35%).  Levels of confidence were reported to have increased as a result of additional practice opportunities (32%), the variety of speech samples, which included talkers with different disorders (31%), automated feedback (13%), and comparison of peer results (13%). Others commented on the ease of use of the keyboard and the frequent opportunities for practice.  When asked which components of the transcription modules were most helpful, students rank-ordered the following items (one being the highest): (1) access to real clinical speech samples, (2) the ability to compare transcriptions with those of classmates, and (3) obtaining automated transcription feedback (see Figure 4).  A few (six) students indicated that they did not think the transcription modules increased their confidence, and one student did not feel that they benefited from the modules.

CSSE course

This User Interface Design course helped CSSE students integrate the theory of user interface design by engaging in practical software development projects through a fully elaborated real-world case study. This course model typically gives students a solid understanding of the user interface design process (Wolf, 2012; Holtzblatt and Beyer, 2014; Caristix, 2010). The current learning episode included the following components: gathering of requirements, task analysis, development, testing, and a project presentation of findings from preliminary user evaluations pertaining to the analysis of user satisfaction and system effectiveness.  It also gave them real-world experience in teamwork, as they collaborated with a team of four to eight individuals, as well as additional practice in important programming skills.  

Conclusion

Through this collaborative and multifaceted effort, we aimed to create a rich learning experience for students in both departments to increase the efficiency of CMDS and CSSE instruction.  Students in both classes had opportunities that increased engagement and interaction with science-based applied methodologies for addressing current public health issues. This marriage of computer software engineering and communication disorders learning objectives met two major goals: (1) to provide increased student engagement and (2) to increase applied science by addressing real-world problems.  Instructors were able to close the theory-to-practice gap in two different disciplines through interdisciplinary collaboration. 

Future directions

We are currently working on making the learning management system more widely available to allow for testing by faculty at other institutions, particularly within the CSD profession, but also by teachers of linguistics and foreign languages and teachers of English to speakers of other languages.  We also aim for further development and refinement to improve the user interaction experience and to improve technical support for usage with other languages.

About the Authors

​​

Marisha Speights Atkins

Dr. Marisha Speights Atkins is an assistant professor at Auburn University and Director of the Technologies for Speech-Language Research Lab. Her work focuses on the development of innovative technologies for diagnosis and treatment of speech disorders.  Her research interests include child speech production and disorders, acoustic-based technologies for assessment and treatment of speech disorders, speech intelligibility, and remote assessment of speech disorders through telepractice.

​​

Cheryl Seals

Dr. Cheryl Seals is an associate professor in Auburn University’s Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering. Dr. Seals directs the Auburn University Computer Human Interaction Lab, which develops computing applications to improve the usability of products for many different populations (4-H, K-12 Teacher Education, introductory computer programming, and mathematics education and reinforcement applications). Lab efforts include development of educational applications to support advanced personalized learning tools and testing applications to determine instructional potential and design usability for a population, with the goal of universal usability.

Dallin Bailey

Dr. Dallin Bailey’s clinical research efforts primarily involve using linguistic tools to enhance treatment outcomes and patient satisfaction for aphasia and apraxia of speech treatments. His research focuses on the development and testing of treatments and treatment outcome measures for aphasia and apraxia of speech, kinematic measurement of speech motor learning, abstract word processing, verb processing, and single-subject research design.

References

Abel, J., Bliss, H., Gick, B., Noguchi, M., Schellenberg, M., & Yamane, N. (2016). Comparing instructional reinforcements in phonetics pedagogy. In Proc. ISAPh 2016 International Symposium on Applied Phonetics (pp. 52–55).

Bailey, R. W. (1982). Human performance engineering: A guide for system designers. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Brooch, G., Rumbaugh, J., & Jacobson, I. The Unified modeling language user guide (2nd ed.).  (2005) Boston: Addison-Wesley. 

Caristix. (2010). 8 Stages in an HL7 Interface Lifecycle .  Retrieved from http://caristix.com/blog/2010/10/8-stages-in-an-hl7-interface-lifecycle/

Heselwood, B. (2007). Teaching and assessing phonetic transcription: A Roundtable discussion. Centre for Languages Linguistics & Area Studies. Retrieved from https://www.llas.ac.uk/resources/gpg/2871.html 

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