The best way to learn about science is by doing science. Doing science both develops important skills and helps students self-identify as scientists. Authentic research experiences also increase student engagement in STEM and have a disproportionally positive impact on students from underrepresented groups. However, creating authentic research experiences for students at scale can be challenging, because these experiences typically require extensive mentoring and resources. In addition, although authentic research experiences are typically offered to upper-division students (Linn et al. 2015), most undergraduates leave STEM fields earlier in their career (Chen 2013). For example, at UCI and CSUDH respectively, 40% and 68% of incoming students leave the major, and >80% of them leave within the first two years of the program.
To address these challenges, this project will develop and assess hybrid, lab-based courses at three universities in the Greater Los Angeles area — CSU Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), El Camino College (ECC), and UC Irvine (UCI). By incorporating hybrid components, this project will be able to offer lab courses at scale, to better serve non-traditional students, and to more nimbly respond to challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic. Across the three campuses, faculty will collaborate to re-design a total of 15 courses, which annually will serve 650 students at CSUDH, 375 at ECC, and over 1000 at UCI. As all 15 of the redesigned courses are core, required courses in the biology degree programs, these changes will have a lasting impact on the shape of the biology curriculum at each institution.
This project will redesign these 15 lab courses to introduce modules featuring open-ended lab inquiries. Each of these modules will take three to five weeks and will guide students through the steps in scientific process: observing systems, posing questions and hypotheses, collecting, analyzing, and graphing data, and presenting results to others. In particular, these modules will be designed to strengthen quantitative skills, reflect student interests, and incorporate local context and campus resources. This approach will help develop students’ quantitative and written abilities, better preparing them for upper-division coursework and future careers.