An Entry-Level Research Lab at a PUI and a Community College

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Title of Abstract: An Entry-Level Research Lab at a PUI and a Community College

Name of Author: Lisa Hines
Author Company or Institution: UCCS
Author Title: Asst Prof
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, General Biology, Genetics
Course Levels: Faculty Development, Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Mixed Approach
Keywords: research experience; introductory-level; community college; public primarily undergraduate institution; evaluation/assessment

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Thomas D. Wolkow, University of Colorado Colorado Springs

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The Vision and Change report recommends integrating research-based experiences into the undergraduate curriculum. While there is much enthusiasm and a growing number of examples of this type of transformation, there are relatively few examples in large, entry-level biology courses, and insufficient research on the overall efficacy. Can the research-based approach work with entry-level courses at public, primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs) and community colleges (CCs) that typically serve a more diverse student population and lack a strong research infrastructure? Using a randomized, controlled study design, we evaluated whether integrating a yeast genetics research experience into an otherwise traditional introductory laboratory course would increase knowledge and perception of learning and enjoyment at a public PUI and a CC. Both the PUI and CC students demonstrated significant improvements in knowledge. However, only the PUI students enjoyed the experience while the CC students overwhelming preferred the traditional labs. In an attempt to improve enjoyment at the CC, we identified factors that were potentially problematic and made modifications accordingly. Upon reevaluation at the CC, the research-based sections rated enjoyment either equivalent to or higher than the traditional labs.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: We designed a 7-week research module that allows students to create fission yeast DNA damage response (DDR) mutants and characterize them in terms of sensor/transducer or effector mutations using microscopy and bioinformatics. Lab 1 is a preparatory lab that allows students to learn about genome integrity and connect it to the carcinogenic effects of ultraviolet light. In addition, it introduces students to some basic techniques and equipment that are fundamental to biological research, such as pipetting, dilutions and microscopy. During Labs 2 thru 4, students randomly mutate the S. pombe haploid genome with UV-radiation and use replica plating to screen for mutations in genes of the DNA damage response (DDR). Finally, students use bioinformatics and both brightfield and fluorescence microscopy to place their mutants in the sensor/transducer or downstream effector parts of the DDR signal transduction pathway. Throughout the module, students develop scientific literacy skills by collecting, graphing and evaluating data. After each lab session, students are given an assignment that allows them to apply the concepts and techniques that they learned in a different context. This module incorporates four of the five V&C literacy concepts. Utilizing a randomized controlled trial study design, we evaluated the module in equivalent introductory-level general biology course at a PUI and a CC. The PUI has a highly diverse student population that comprises 20% minorities, 20% military affiliates, 37% first generation, and 63% financial aid recipients. Approximately 200 students enroll in the PUI introductory biology laboratory course per semester, of which 35% are non-majors. The student demographics at CC are even more diverse, and the introductory biology course has a substantially larger representation of non-majors and a low course retention rate.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: To minimize the influence of extraneous variables, we employed a randomized controlled trial study design where sections were randomly assigned to either the research-based or traditional format. At the PUI, this included 3 research-based (n=40 students) and 3 traditional sections (n=48 students) with three instructors teaching one of each format. A similar study design was employed at the CC. Based on demographics and performance on knowledge pre-assessments between the research-based and traditional sections, randomization was effective at the PUI and CC. Two assessment strategies were used to measure knowledge gains and perceived learning and enjoyment. The knowledge assessment included two pre-post tests: 1) the Introductory Molecular & Cell Biology Assessment (IMCA) and 2) a 10-question multiple-choice assessment of basic concepts addressed in the module. In addition, a Likert scale survey was administered at the end of the semester to measure student perception of each weekly lab activity with respect to learning and enjoyment, as well as other aspects of the laboratory course. Pre-post test comparisons demonstrated that both PUI and CC students who participated in the research-based sections had higher learning gains when compared with students in the traditional sections, yet there were notable differences in perceived learning and enjoyment. While the PUI students in the research-based sections perceived greater learning and enjoyment, the CC students in the traditional labs overwhelmingly perceived greater learning and enjoyment when compared to those in the research-based sections. After identifying factors that were potentially problematic, we made adjustments accordingly and the course was reevaluated at the CC. With these modifications, we observed increases in learning and perception among CC students. Overall, the research-based sections rated enjoyment either equivalent to or higher than the traditional labs.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: We have demonstrated that it is feasible and efficacious to implement a research-based experience at a public PUI and a CC that serve diverse student populations and have limited research infrastructure. We have also identified unique challenges and ways to overcome them that will be informative to other PUI and CC educators and administrators who are interested in this type of curricular transformation.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Lack of research infrastructure and the need for instructor and laboratory support staff training were the most significant, albeit expected, challenges faced at both institutions. NSF funding and institutional support proved critical in overcoming both. Unexpected challenges arose from institutional differences in job obligations and promotion structure. In other words, there are better incentives for faculty to implement educational innovations at the PUI. Without NSF-TUES Type 1 funding to provide stipends, it would have been challenging for CC faculty to commit to this type of endeavor. Additional challenges also arose from differences between the PUI and CC course and institutional logistics. For example, the CC laboratory courses are much shorter, their equipment is shared among multiple courses and campuses, and the CC has different institutional policies. Classroom adjustments, adaptions to acquire the appropriate resources, and modifications to the module allowed us to overcome many of these logistical challenges. We suggest that the transferability of a research experience can be measured in terms of funding, institutional policy and logistics, and adaptability of the research experience.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We have participated in various activities to promote project dissemination. First, we generated several resources that have improved the quality of the module and will facilitate transferability and dissemination to other institutions. These include: complete student and instructor laboratory manuals, preparations manual and worksheet, powerpoint slides for instructors, students worksheets with answer keys, and videos demonstrating laboratory techniques. Second, we recently made arrangements with a publishing company in order to enable large-scale production and distribution of the laboratory manual. We will continue to make improvements to the laboratory manual based on student, faculty and staff feedback. Third, we have drafted a manuscript based on this research that we plan to submit to a peer-reviewed journal. Lastly, we will continue to present our project and research at science education-related conferences and other forums.

Acknowledgements: Lisa Durrenberger (UCCS) Robert Henderson (PPCC) Lisa Hollis-Brown (PPCC) Melissa Lema (PPCC) Michael Maynard (UCCS) Anne Montgomery (PPCC) David Oswandel (PPCC) Stephanie Pauley (PPCC) Jennifer Swartz (PPCC) Brent Wallace (UCCS)