Adapting a National Model for Freshman Research Experience

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Title of Abstract: Adapting a National Model for Freshman Research Experience

Name of Author: Kim Mogen
Author Company or Institution: University of Wisconsin-River Falls
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: General Biology
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.)
Keywords: general biology, authentic research, honey bees, collaboration

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Karen Klyczek, University of Wisconsin-River Falls

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Our goal is to infuse authentic research experiences into our first year biology courses, in an effort to increase retention in STEM majors and careers in science. This goal addresses the recommendation to introduce research experiences as integral components of biology education for all students. For three years, we have participated in the HHMI Science Education Alliance PHAGES (Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science) program, which supports a two-semester course sequence incorporating bacteriophage research. This program models a multi-faceted curriculum that is powerful in its ability to excite freshmen undergraduate students and interest them in pursuing a scientific research career. We are continuing to offer the phage course beyond the expiration of HHMI funding, but are also expanding this model to include other research projects in additional sections of the freshman course. Thus, we are interested in determining what components of the PHAGES model are necessary to provide a transformative first year experience. These elements include: 1) the research question poses an important, interesting question that engages students; 2) students can generate data that makes an authentic contribution to a larger research project; 3) students feel they are part of a larger community/collaboration; 4) students have a sense of ownership of their data; 5) students can experience the thrill of discovery/nature of science; 6) the lab techniques must be simple enough for first year students; and 7) the experience be immersive, rather than a single module in part of a course (Hatfull et al., PLoS Genet 2(6), e92. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.0020092 (2006).

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Two years ago we adapted many of the components of the PHAGES model into a one-semester freshmen research course based on honey bee biology (we are calling this program Bees Enhancing Education (BEE)). The students were engaged with an important question “What is happening to the honey bees?“ which requires an understanding of the environmental and agricultural impact of pollinator decline. We collaborated with the Bee Lab entomologists at the University of Minnesota and tested bees that were exposed to varying levels of either pesticide or propolis. The students isolated honey bee RNA and, using qPCR, tested them for several RNA viruses that are thought to be negatively influencing bee health, to determine whether virus levels correlated with exposure. In this way they made real contributions to the field and along the way felt excitement in their discoveries. However, in the constraints of the one-semester course the students were not able to interact much with the greater honey bee research community, nor did they feel particular ownership of their data. Beginning Fall 2013, we are implementing a version of the BEE class that adds a second semester of research, including bioinformatics analysis, to parallel the PHAGES courses. We also modified the introductory biology course to include additional lab time, to allow for more engagement with the research project. If this next expansion is successful, we would like to provide this opportunity for more first year students in biology, recruiting additional faculty to adopt their own research projects for this model. Implementing this program has enhanced undergraduate research throughout our curriculum. Research results from the freshman PHAGES and BEE classes have been used to develop research projects for the upper level Virology course. Students in all of these classes have continued elements of the projects as independent research experiences, presenting their results at regional and national meetings.

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 focus of our evaluation so far has been to compare the outcomes of the BEE courses to the PHAGES program, which has been demonstrated at our institution and others to increase student retention in STEM. Surveys based on the CURE survey were administered at the beginning and end of the class. For both courses, survey results indicated that the experience positively influenced students’ intentions to pursue science-related careers, although the PHAGES course had a greater positive impact. The component that PHAGE students ranked the highest in the post-course survey was being part of a regional or nationwide research collaboration. Thus, to continue the development of the BEE course, or to adopt the PHAGES model to other research questions, it may be important to include activities that bring the students inside the greater research community such that they feel like true collaborators. We will continue to assess the student responses to these research courses, and to follow their progress to determine the impact on their educational and career choices, including whether they obtain additional research experiences. We also have tracked retention of students in these classes. Average retention for first year students at UWRF is 70%; for BEE students the retention rate is 75%, and for the PHAGE students it is 85%.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: This project overall has impacted 120 first year students during the last three years, and will impact a minimum of 80 students per year going forward. These students will experience the scientific process in their first biology course, and have an opportunity to impact scientific discovery. Four biology faculty have modified their teaching to incorporate these labs, and an additional four faculty will begin to do so during the next year. Three of these new faculty are instructional academic staff, who will be able to enhance their research participation as a result.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: We were surprised by the survey results indicating that student in the BEE courses were not as engaged as in the PHAGES courses. We think that is largely because the PHAGES students spend more time in the lab involved in the research, and that increasing lab time and adding the second semester for the bee project will address that issue. The extended time will also increased opportunities for students to engage with the research community.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We have presented this project and initial assessment as posters at the following venues: American Society for Microbiology Conference for Undergraduate Educators, San Matteo, CA, June 2012 Introductory Biology Project Meeting, Washington, DC, June 2012 HHMI SEA PHAGES Symposium, Ashton, VA, June 2013 In addition, we led faculty discussions at the 2012 SEA PHAGES Symposium and the National Conference for Undergraduate Education, about the key elements necessary to include when developing a research-based course for first year students. We plan to present the assessment of the expanded version of the BEE project at future biology education conferences.

Acknowledgements: The HHMI SEA PHAGES program and staff provided resources and support for the phage research courses. Graham Hatfull, University of Pittsburgh, is the lead scientist for the PHAGES program, and he and other members of his lab (Debbie Jacobs-Sera, Welkin Pope, Dan Russell) provide invaluable assistance with research and pedagogy issues. Brad Mogen, University of Wisconsin-River Falls, provided assistance with access to bees and ideas for research projects. Marla Spivak, University of Minnesota Bee Lab, is collaborating on research experiments and data analysis. The Wisconsin Bee Keepers Association donated funds to support the honey bee research projects. The administrative team at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, including Biology Chair Mark Bergland, College of Arts & Sciences Dean Bradley Caskey, Provost Fernando Delgado, and Chancellor Dean Van Galen, have provided significant support and resources for implementing the freshman research program.