Applying the CURE model to facilitate multi-institutional investigations

Recent evidence suggests Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) lead to increased persistence of students in STEM disciplines. As part of an NSF Improving Undergraduate STEM Education grant, we are testing several hypotheses related to the effectiveness of implementing CUREs for undergraduates through linked multi-institutional investigations using SPARCnet data and field experiences.

Education Research Questions

  • What are the specific learning gains in quantitative and scientific literacy for students engaging in SPARCnet teaching modules?
  • What impact do SPARCnet modules have on student self-efficacy and science identity?
  • Do students who complete SPARCnet modules and interact directly with the research network through multi-institution collaborations show a greater increase in their sense of belonging, science identity, and/or self-efficacy?

We have developed SPARCnet teaching modules to engage undergraduates in collecting and analyzing field data while learning about the collaborative nature of science. As part of these modules students: address spatiotemporal ecological and evolutionary research questions; engage in data collection and analysis that promotes quantitative skill development, and share their data with students at other institutions.

A graphic of how SPARCnet education modules are used to connect students to nature, to each other, and to real-world data.
Structure of the SPARCnet CURE and measured course outcomes
Students working in SPARCnet salamander plot
Students sampling salamanders in the field.
A student holds a salamander in their hands.
A student holds a salamander in their hands.

Adjusting for Virtual Education

As with other research projects, this project was significantly impacted by the shift to virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic because of the focus on field data collection. As a result, the connected classroom model shifted from field-based experiences to sharing data across different sites for student projects. In addition, in summer 2020, we created a virtual lab group, bringing together undergrads from five of the SPARCnet institutions to test our cross-institutional collaboration model and learn about terrestrial salamander ecology.