Teaching-Research Integration in an Ecological Curriculum

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Title of Abstract: Teaching-Research Integration in an Ecological Curriculum

Name of Author: Tadashi Fukami
Author Company or Institution: Stanford University
Author Title: Assistant Professor
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Ecology and Environmental Biology
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Adding to the literature on how people learn, Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development
Keywords: inquiry-based instruction, microbial ecology, pollination, research-based laboratory curriculum, student performance assessment

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Sara E Brownell, University of Washington Matthew J Kloser, University of Notre Dame Patricia C Seawell, Stanford University Nona R Chiariello, Stanford University Richard J Shavelson, Stanford University

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: National reports, including Vision and Change (AAAS, 2011), have emphasized the positive impact that a research-based curriculum can have on undergraduate biology students (NRC, 2000, NRC, 2003). However, few research-based curricula have been developed at research-intensive institutions due to logistical challenges and a lack of incentives for faculty to dedicate time to teaching rather than research, with teaching and research often perceived as competing demands. We have designed and implemented an introductory ecology-based lab course at Stanford University (Biology 44Y), a research-intensive institution, that has many of the hallmarks of authentic research - a single longitudinal question that is the focus for the whole quarter, research questions with unknown answers, the use of modern ecological and molecular techniques in the field and in the laboratory, an emphasis on data analysis, and collaboration among lab peers. This lab course is a direct extension of the research platform of a tenure-track professor, synergistically offering students an authentic research experience and contributing to his research (Kloser et al. 2011, Fukami 2013).

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: In this lab course, students used the biotic and abiotic relationships surrounding the sticky monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus), the hummingbirds and insects that pollinate the plant, and the yeast and bacterial communities that assemble in the floral nectar of the plant as a basis for generating and testing hypotheses on ecological interactions.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: External assessment of students was conducted using a mixed methods approach of pre- and post-course Likert-scale surveys, coded open-ended written responses, and a performance assessment task. The assessment revealed that the new course had a significant positive effect on student attitudes regarding authentic research practices and student perceptions of their ability to do lab-related tasks (Brownell et al. 2012). In addition, student perception of the purpose of the course shifted from learning lab techniques to understanding research design and data analysis (Kloser et al. 2013), which was corroborated by significant gains in students’ experimental design and data interpretation abilities measured by a performance assessment. The in-depth teamwork, which included students working with partners and sharing data with the whole class, succeeded in developing students’ collaborative skills.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: The success of this curriculum serves as a case study showing that, by merging research and teaching, a research-based curriculum can provide mutual benefit to undergraduates and faculty. Of note, this curriculum goes beyond its pedagogical functions to provide a source of novel data that has an epistemic function. For example, student-collected data are being used to answer research questions that are the subject of additional research-based manuscripts (Belisle et al. 2012, Peay et al 2012, Vannette et al. 2013).

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: The large number of students that take our course (about 120 students each year) make it necessary to offer many sections to keep the class size small, and it was important to ensure that the team of instructors each teaching different sections are well trained and informed in the subject matter. For this reason, instructors (normally 4 instructors each year), graduate teaching assistants (normally 5 TAs each year), and the faculty member (Fukami) met for a training session that lasted several hours each week during the academic quarter prior to the offering of the course.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: Drawing on our experience developing and teaching this course, we have presented seven recommendations that could be applied to develop courses that can provide students with a research-based experience and contribute to the instructor's research platform (Kloser et al. 2011, Fukami 2013). These recommendations include: (1) a low barrier of technical expertise needed for students to collect data; (2) established checks and balances to ensure that student mistakes will not compromise research quality; (3) a diverse set of variables that present many combinatorial choices for students to investigate without overwhelming the instructional team; (4) a central standardized database into which students can upload data and from which they can download data relevant to their hypotheses; (5) assessment measures that are representative of real-world science; (6) involvement of instructors with expertise in the study system; and (7) small lab sections to cultivate a communal environment for collaborative research. For others interested in designing this type of research-based lab course, specific institutional contexts will likely influence the creation of different courses, but it is our hope that these recommendations can be used as a guide for developing high-enrollment courses based on a faculty research program. In addition, we have gone to Bio-Link workshops and have participated in Stanford Summer Teaching Institute to share our experience with high-school and college teachers.

Acknowledgements: Acknowledgements: We thank the students who took the new Biology 44Y class at Stanford in 2010-2013 for their participation and feedback. For their contribution to the development and implementation of the class, we are grateful to the Biology 44Y staff, including N. Bradon, E. Curten, D. Hekmat-Scafe, M. Knope, S. Malladi, B. Pham, N. Zimmerman, as well as teaching assistants, especially M. Belisle and D. Sellis; Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve staff, especially B. Gomez and T. Hebert; departmental colleagues, particularly R. Simoni, T. Stearns, M. Cyert, and D. Gordon; and R. Dunbar and M. Marincovich at Stanford's Center for Teaching and Learning. Work described here has been funded partly by the NSF (award numbers: DEB1149600 and DUE0941984). References: AAAS (2011). Vision and Change: A Call to Action, Washington, DC: AAAS. https://live-visionandchange.pantheonsite.io/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/VC_report.pdf; Belisle M, Peay KG, Fukami T, Flowers as islands: spatial distribution of nectar-inhabiting microfungi among plants of Mimulus aurantiacus, a hummingbird-pollinated shrub. Microb. Ecol. 63, 711 (2012); Brownell SE*, Kloser MJ*, Fukami T, Shavelson RJ. Undergraduate biology lab courses: Comparing the impact of traditionally-based ‘cookbook’ and authentic research- based courses on student lab experiences. Journal of College Science Teaching. March/April 2012. (*these authors contributed equally); Brownell SE*, Kloser MJ*, Shavelson R, Fukami T. An authentic research-based ecology lab course has a significant impact on student attitudes towards authentic research and achievement. Journal of College Science Teaching. January/February 2013. (*these authors contributed equally); Fukami, T (2013) Integrating inquiry-based teaching with research: an ecological example. Science 339: 1536-1537; Kloser MJ*, Brownell SE*, Chiariello NR, Fukami T. Integrating teaching and research in undergraduate biology laboratory education. PLoS Biology. November 2011. (*these authors contributed equally); National Research Council (2003). BIO 2010, Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists, Washington, DC: National Academy Press.