BioSOLVE Brings Undergrad Research to a Small College

Return to search results | New search

Title of Abstract: BioSOLVE Brings Undergrad Research to a Small College

Name of Author: Gail Rowe
Author Company or Institution: La Roche College
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: All Biological Sciences Courses
Course Levels: Upper Division Course(s)
Approaches: Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.)
Keywords: Service Research ABSL BioSOLVE Service-Learning

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The summary of recommendations from the 2009 AAAS conference, Vision and Change: A Call to Action indicated that scientifically literate undergraduates need to understand the scientific process and to obtain competence in communication, collaboration, understanding and interpretation of scientific data. At many institutions, these goals are met by student participation in novel laboratory research. The report further called for students to understand the integration of science in society. La Roche College is a small, undergraduate, liberal arts college with resources and faculty dedicated to classroom teaching but little opportunity for students to engage in laboratory research. While the application of science to social issues may be mentioned in some of our lecture courses, there has been no specific plan for biology students to experience the integration of science in society. Application-Based Service Learning (ABSL) is an educational pedagogy that trains undergraduates in all these areas. At the 2009 Vision and Change conference, Trun et al from Duquesne University (a Ph.D. granting institution) presented ABSL as a combination of novel research and service learning focused on a community based problem, all within a structured biology laboratory course. They also presented the Feral Cat Project as the initial community issue addressed by their ABSL courses. At the same conference, I presented BioSOLVE as a different model for ABSL. ABSL was designed by Trun et al as a way to offer relevant service learning experience in the sciences and to engage students in novel research as an alternative to traditional 'canned' lab activities within their existing undergraduate biology laboratory courses. My interest in ABSL was not to change existing biology laboratory courses, but to bring real lab research experience, including its application to social issues, to our non-research undergraduate biology program.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: To improve the quantity and quality of biology student research within the limitations of our college, I established a two-semester series of biology courses, called BioSOLVE, using ABSL in collaboration with Dr. Nancy Trun at Duquesne University. BioSOLVE I meets for 6 hours per week. BioSOLVE I students learn about the process of scientific research, including the role of science in solving community problems, the nature of scientific collaborations, searching and reading scientific literature, developing and testing a research hypothesis, designing and trouble-shooting experiments, recording and interpreting data, scientific writing and oral presentations. BioSOLVE I students learn about the specific community problem to be addressed and are taught the biology theory and lab skills needed to address that problem. After showing competency in laboratory theory and techniques, BioSOLVE I students begin working on novel research. BioSOLVE II students focus on lab research. BioSOLVE II is scheduled for 4 hours per week but students work independently on their novel research project both in and outside of scheduled class time. Both courses require community service and engage students in all aspects of novel research. We collaborate on the Feral Cat Project as our community issue.

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 test the hypothesis that BioSOLVE improved the quantity and quality of biology student research, I assessed data from 4+ years of BioSOLVE. A course evaluation showed that all students enjoyed the research and service, felt the combination was an effective way to learn, and would recommend the course to others. Comments showed that students had gained an understanding of novel research, including its rewards and challenges. Analytical, communication, and lab skills were assessed by graded lab performance, lab notebooks, scientific writing and oral presentation. All students earned high grades, similar to their other science courses. The number of BioSOLVE students and the duration of their participation in research were compared to student researchers before BioSOLVE. 22 students were involved in research in 4+ years of BioSOLVE, compared to 8 students over the previous 12 years combined. 10 BioSOLVE students worked on the same project for 2-4 semesters, compared to only 1 prior student working beyond one semester. 6 of the 10 BioSOLVE II students did additional research credits. 3 of those 6 did Honors research projects; 2 won a campus-wide competition for best Honors presentation. In the previous 12 years, no biology student did an Honors project. Thus, BioSOLVE increased student interest and involvement in biology laboratory research, and created an ongoing cohort of student researchers unlike any before at La Roche College.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: BioSOLVE alumni have had excellent success obtaining research internships, graduate school admission, and graduate scholarships. The success of BioSOLVE students has helped gain support for biology research from other biology faculty and the administration and trustees of La Roche College. At the request of administration, I gave a presentation about BioSOLVE to our faculty in-service, which resulted in our Computer Science faculty adopting aspects of the ABSL pedagogy in their senior capstone course. The BioSOLVE program has been used for college recruitment and to seek outside investments in updating our Sciences Center. I have continued to collaborate with Dr. Nancy Trun and her colleagues on NSF-funded expansion of the ABSL pedagogy, which now includes two additional community-based problems, 6 additional academic institutions, and additional disciplines of chemistry, architecture, geology, English, and several sub-disciplines of biology. I believe the BioSOLVE model of ABSL can help other small colleges bring meaningful undergraduate research opportunities to their biology programs, as it has at La Roche College.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: The large number of students in BioSOLVE II created logistical problems with sharing reagents, equipment and limited research lab space. The reagents problem was solved by giving each student an aliquot of reagents and making them responsible for notifying staff when supplies got low. The issues of shared equipment and space were addressed by letting students to do most work outside of scheduled class time. However, this resulted in decreased quantity and quality of the research done without faculty supervision. In the future, I will require all BioSOLVE II students to give a progress report at a weekly lab meeting during class time, even if they are doing more of their research outside of class. The equipment problem has also been addressed by new purchases, supported by La Roche College’s Academic VP and through an NSF TUES grant. A second problem is the instructor’s lack of interest and current knowledge in novel lab research. I love teaching college biology courses, including lab classes, but I find basic lab research to be more frustrating than fun. It has been more than 17 years since I worked as a research scientist, so teaching BioSOLVE, with its emphasis on novel research, is difficult for me and not particularly enjoyable. I believe that BioSOLVE students would be better served by an instructor who has current knowledge and genuine enthusiasm for novel research. To address this issue, I have acquired NSF TUES funding to hire a post-doctoral fellow to teach BioSOLVE for two years; first as my assistant, then as the primary instructor. I am hoping that our college administration will eventually create an ongoing position for a post-doctoral fellow with current research experience who is also committed to undergraduate education. This person would learn about the scholarship of teaching and learning from me and get experience teaching traditional undergraduate courses while also running our BioSOLVE program.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: I have given presentations about BioSOLVE at a La Roche College faculty in-service and a meeting of the college’s Board of Trustees. I have also presented BioSOLVE at regional and national conferences including a Microbiology Education symposium at the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) General Meeting, a branch meeting of ASM, ASM Conference on Undergraduate Education, and the American Association of Colleges and Universities conference on Undergraduate Research. My collaborator, Dr. Nancy Trun, has referred to BioSOLVE in many of her presentations on ABSL. Both of our courses have been listed as model courses for science education with civic engagement on the SENCER website. We are in the process of writing a manuscript for publication of the ABSL pedagogy. Our current NSF TUES grant includes funding to establish an ABSL website and to expand ABSL to two additional community-based problems, 6 additional academic institutions, and several different academic disciplines.

Acknowledgements: Dr. Nancy Trun, Associate Professor of Biology, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA, for sharing the ABSL pedagogy, inviting me to collaborate on the feral cat research project, and ongoing guidance with the novel lab research. The National Science Foundation and La Roche College for funding.