2014 GSA Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia (19–22 October 2014)

Paper No. 244-11
Presentation Time: 3:45 PM


LORD, Mark1, KINNER, David1 and CROW, Robert2, (1)Geosciences and Natural Resources, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC 28723, (2)Human Services, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC 28723

Undergraduate research (UR) and cooperative learning have long been valued as high-quality educational experiences. Higher education organizations (e.g. CUR, AAC&U), employer surveys, and student surveys consistently place high value on ‘real world’ experiences that develop critical thinking, communication, creativity, and collaboration. Effective course-based, collaborative research can be an excellent vehicle to accomplish these goals.

At Western Carolina University, we have used a collaborative course-based UR model for 3 years at all levels of the geology curriculum. With support of a NSF TUES grant, we further developed the on-campus Western Carolina Hydrologic Research Station (wchrs.wcu.edu) to provide on-going, diverse opportunities for course-based UR. An educational research objective of our NSF grant project is to assess if UR in small-groups provides benefits in addition to those documented for individually mentored research. To date, we’ve evaluated this question by assessment of 7 research-based courses involving 160 students with quantitative, self-perception surveys (URSSA) and qualitative (focus group) data.

In sum, small-group interaction in conducting course-based UR is highly valued. An interim quantitative assessment report states, “meaningful work and collaboration are complimentary outcomes (both with scores of 3.44 of 4 points) that lead to a beneficial, integrated learning experience”. Qualitative small-group and focus group analyses indicate team work was the major benefit to participating in group, research-based learning experience for most courses. Among other benefits, students reported benefitting from leveraging each other’s diverse strengths and backgrounds, modeling a professional collaborative environment, ability to accomplish more together, and developing leadership and interpersonal skills.

The strong emphasis we have placed on effective small-group research in our courses has benefits beyond student learning. It provides an additional model on how to scale-up and provide equitable access to a high-impact practice, which are well correlated with student success metrics such as retention and graduation rates. Faculty scholarship can benefit by having the research of many students aligned to their research program.