Paper No. 5
Presentation Time: 10:00 AM


KINNER, David A.1, LORD, Mark1 and CROW, Robert2, (1)Geosciences and Natural Resources, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC 28723, (2)Dept. of Human Services, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC 28723,

Student benefits of the individual undergraduate research (UR) experience have been established in the literature and include analytical, technical, writing, and presentation skills, intellectual, professional, and personal growth, and career preparation and clarification. UR experiences provide students skills that employers look for in recent college graduates such as problem solving, applying skills to new settings, and effective communication. Employers also look for a graduate’s ability to work in a team.

Our NSF TUEs funded study examines these benefits in the context of group UR experience implemented in traditional classes at different curricular levels. The overall research question is whether the benefits are the same and different in individual and group UR experiences. If the benefits of group UR are similar to the individual experience, then a group model provides a way for geology programs to provide UR experiences to a larger student population.

UR-based learning is implemented in one course per semester, is hydrogeomorphology-themed, relates to course goals, and varies in length from about a month to a semester. Faculty and peer mentors help direct research projects. We collect quantitative data on the student perceived benefits through a modified URSSA instrument, and qualitative data through focus groups and written feedback. Oral and written feedback is coded into overall student benefit themes.

Results are similar across three semesters of URSSA data. Research skills rank low in URSSA, whereas gains related to personal growth and the scientific process rank more highly. The themes generated from three semesters of qualitative data are fairly similar across semesters, with student cited benefits of our approach including: (1) the open-ended, ill-structured nature of the authentic research questions, (2) group collaboration, and (3) hands-on, field learning. Students provide us formative feedback on project logistics that allows us to continue to refine our research model. These experiences do not significantly enhance student interest in graduate school, but qualitative feedback indicates many students perceive that these experiences prepare them for their careers. Using class time for UR provides a rich opportunity not readily available in a lecture format class or online.