Group Research: Experiment in Efficiency of Delivery

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Title of Abstract: Group Research: Experiment in Efficiency of Delivery

Name of Author: Louise Temple
Author Company or Institution: James Madison University
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Bioinformatics, Biotechnology, Evolutionary Biology, Genetics
Course Levels: Upper Division Course(s)
Approaches: Mixed Approach
Keywords: Undergraduate research Efficient delivery Multiple students Single mentor

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: With the overwhelming documentation of undergraduate research as a transformative experience, biology educators are being challenged to offer research to more students. The goal of this project is to offer original research opportunities to more undergraduates by developing experimental questions that can be addressed by small groups of students mentored by one faculty. Since 2008, we have offered a research class to freshman involving bacteriophage discovery and genomics, originally sponsored by HHMI and now continuing with institutional support. This program has been extremely successful, so much so that there is enormous pressure on faculty to host more upper-level students in their research labs. One solution to this fortuitous problem is to continue a more advanced research project with groups of 6 to12 students mentored by one faculty member. We have dubbed this class 'Superphage'. The intended outcomes of the project are twofold: (1) students will derive the benefits of an undergraduate research experience similar to that offered by a one-on-one mentoring situation, and (2) different models will reveal the best possible way to offer this opportunity to more students.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: The SuperPhage course has been offered for four semesters and involved 25 students. Half of these enrolled for two semesters, which is the limit, and the other half for one semester. Four different models have been tried: (1) 16 students working in groups trained and supervised by the faculty mentor, (2) 12 students working in small groups of 3-4 with an assigned student leaders, (3) 11 students working at designated times all together for several hours a week, and (4) 5 students working somewhat independently on the same project. In every case, the research questions have derived from the freshman Viral Discovery course, building directly on biological discoveries and data generated by the first year students, as well as an additional project that utilizes the skills learned in the course and applied to a different question. Regardless of the model, the groups have met more or less regularly for journal club, which has consisted of primary data literature reading and discussions, as well as reports on individual results and issues.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Every semester, the students have answered questionnaires and been involved in discussions about the effectiveness of the course for them, what they would change about how the course is run, and what they would change about their own behavior. In addition a recent survey was given which included the attitude assessment questions from the Classroom Undergraduate Research Experiences (CURE) survey. It is our intention to track the students for the next few years, as closely as possible, in their career tracks.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: The major question, 'Do students benefit from group (as opposed to individual) research experiences'? seems clear from the early outcomes. All student report that they strongly benefited from this experience. There are several other measurable outcomes, including that all these students have continued beyond the group experience into individual, independent projects, and high numbers of them obtain summer research opportunities outside our school. One additional, explicit goal of this project is to address the challenge of publication of undergraduate research results. In this regard, a second outcome has been the preparation of two manuscripts that are student driven, one accepted for publication in the journal, Virology, and the other likely to be ready for submission by the end of the summer. The strategies used in designing research with the expressed goal of publication have been documented and student feedback recorded. Our initial observation with regard to the different models described above is that different groups of students will be differently successful due not only to the model but also to their personalities, motivation, and preparation. One incontrovertible conclusion is that regular journal clubs are extremely valuable, giving students a strong background for the particular project and the skills needed to read primary literature, and fostering ideas that directly impact their approaches to their research. An additional outcome is new collaborations within our institution and with another university, which have already resulted in external funding and promise higher success rate in dissemination of the work.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: The challenge of this model is to ensure that the members of the group receive the benefits that have been shown so profoundly in the one-on-one, mentor - mentee model. The CURE attitudinal question results are not completely analyzed at this writing, but initial observations indicate this model provides equal or better self-evaluation than other high research classes, including intense summer experiences. A second challenge for the model is faculty effort. Regardless of which of the four models is used, a large effort is required of a single faculty mentor. Because the students are signed up for academic credit under a single rubric, the faculty member receives teaching credit for this 'course'. Financial support for the projects is also a challenge, which in our case has been met largely by departmental support and some external funding from the state of Virginia.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: The science produced by the students has been disseminated in several regional and national meetings. This write-up is the first effort to disseminate what we have learned from the faculty and educational standpoints, about this model.

Acknowledgements: Several faculty members in the Viral Discovery and Biotechnology programs have assisted in this project, either by helping students directly or by teaching coverage to allow a single professor to mentor students using this model. These include Drs. Steve Cresawn, Stephanie Stockwell, Ron Raab, Crystal Scott, and Bob McKown. The Department of Integrated Science & Technology and Dr. George Coffman have been very supportive from financial and lab support perspectives.