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National Academies Press: Original Research in Undergrad Science Courses Could be 'Powerful'

Engagement in scientific research could reach more students if it were integrated into courses rather than done outside of class as a separate activity. A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine shares the findings of an ad hoc committee convened to examine just what the impact would be of "engaging large numbers" of undergraduates in life and related science courses in original research. Their overarching conclusion: Course-based research may be one way to generate deeper student learning, but more evidence is still needed.

Participants in the convocation included higher ed faculty and administrators, private and public funders of curriculum innovation, students from both two- and four-year schools, leaders of various societies, federal government representatives and others with expertise and interest in the topic.

Most students who do scientific research as undergrads do so as part of an internship or under a particular faculty member's guidance, the report noted. Because instructors and sponsoring companies have "limited time and funding" for this form of research, most institutions engage only a "small fraction" of their students in such experiences, which limits its "overall impact."

However, many more students could be involved in research projects if faculty received help in converting their "on-going research projects into research modules for the classroom," observed one member of the committee.

The impact of integrating research this way could be potent. The more students can be directly engaged in posing and addressing important research questions, the more likely they are to learn about the nature of science and consider pursuing further research, said two participants. Another person said offering such classes could turn into "powerful recruiting and retention tools for the departments or colleges that offer them."

In closing remarks, committee member Susan Wessler, who has implemented a research-based courses at the University of California, Riverside, asserted that course-based research could show legislators and other funders that research and education go hand-in-hand and can "produce benefits simultaneously."

And it doesn't have to be expensive, Wessler added. "Many of these [needed] dollars exist in universities. We just need to be creative about it," she said. "There's huge potential here."

The report, "Integrating Discovery-Based Research into the Undergraduate Curriculum," summarizes the presentations and discussions from the event. It's freely available on the National Academies Press website in digital format.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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