Undergraduates Developing Resources for Lost Crops of Africa

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Title of Abstract: Undergraduates Developing Resources for Lost Crops of Africa

Name of Author: Christopher Cullis
Author Company or Institution: Case Western Reserve University
Author Title: Professor
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Agricultural Sciences, Biotechnology, Genetics, Plant Biology & Botany
Course Levels: Upper Division Course(s)
Approaches: Material Development
Keywords: critical thinking, data development, research

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: To engage students in a course that can provide research resources for faculty and graduate students in the developing world. These resources could not be generated in a similar timeframe without the activities carried out in this course. Therefore the students materially contribute to the development of a new crop by providing original data for analysis without their having to arrive at a pre-determined ‘correct’ solution. Since the students interact with the faculty and graduate students in Southern Africa the course also provides the students with an experience of international civic engagement and global responsibility. Outcomes The course has been popular with the students, they have become engaged with the material and some have been recruited into related research projects. New data has been developed that is being applied to improving the crops and students from previous years continue to enquire about the progress years later. Student interest has been assessed through permit requests for the course which been oversubscribed each time it is offered. The data generated by the students has contributed to three published papers and is the basis of two manuscripts in preparation and three additional independent research projects. The data is being used to develop molecular markers for various phenotypic characters that the students can measure, for example internode length, flowering time and the number of flowers per inflorescence. They get to understand the relationship between the various ways of categorizing biological material. The new Chemical biology major that has just been developed by the Chemistry Department has organized a follow-on laboratory on Proteomics that will consider using the same experimental material to permit the students to extend their research activities. Students career paths have been altered through taking this course since some initially intent on going to Medical School have switched to research careers.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: The method is to include authentic research experiences into the curriculum. This has primarily been done in upper level courses but the experience gained there is being transferred to the introductory courses. These research-based courses allow more students to get authentic research experiences than are available through individual laboratory experiences. The students are also introduced to collaborative research activities since the whole class is working on the same problem, while sharing and interpreting the complete data set. The strategy of developing laboratory course material in the upper level courses and then developing a subset of those experiments to be included in the core courses has previously proved successful, for example, half of the lab exercises in the first lab course of the biology core arose from exercises developed in an earlier iteration of this upper level course.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: The evaluation of the project has been through student outcome assessment, adoption of similar methodologies in other courses and wider adoption. The student evaluations show the course is well received and the application to a real world problem is highly valued. The exposure to primary data and the challenges in interpretation develop new analytical skills that can be transferred to other courses. The manipulative skills could be applied to career options.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: The students particularly appreciated the exposure to original data and critical thinking skills. The significant analysis part in each experiment which a scientist should develop in order to improve the ability to carry out research, guided or independent, shows up in the way the students have to reason out for anything that happens in the experiment. The students had to perform the experimental methods that previously they had only been able to learn theoretically. The approach has been adopted in other upper level courses as well as infiltrating the introductory courses and labs. Dissemination within the Institution has had a thought impact but less tangible adoption instances.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: The problem with a research-based course is that the material has to be updated each year. If the students have to develop new data then the approach has to be modifiable. Therefore choosing a problem that can be sustained over multiple years is essential. The choice of the domestication and marker-based improvement of marama allowed such a progression. Once the basic genomic information has been developed then the students can carry out specific mapping projects that will feed back directly into the improvement program. New export controls have to be factored into projects that deal external entities.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: Dissemination of the project has been at both the local and national levels. The project has been described to various organizations on campus (for example at the University Center for Innovation of Teaching and Education). It has also featured on the web-site of the World-wide Learning Environment through which the first iteration was supported. Results will continue to be published with attribution to the undergraduates who were involved in generating the data. Additionally a full description of the course and associated resources will be published to encourage more participants of the adoption of similar strategies to bring the resources of talented undergraduates to bear on important global problems.

Acknowledgements: Financial support from the McGregor Fund award to the College of Arts and Sciences, Case Western Reserve University. International Collaborators Professor Karl Kunert, University of Pretoria Dr. J. Vorster, University of Pretoria Dr. C. van der Vyver, University of Stellenbosh Dr. P. Chimwamarombe, University of Namibia Mutsa Takwunda, University of Namibia Emanuel Nepolo, University of Namibia