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A large body of evidence supports the value of traditional research apprenticeships in the academic, personal, and career development of undergraduates. Unfortunately, the research apprenticeship model reaches only a small proportion of biology majors and essentially no non-majors. Research participation is limited by many hurdles, including the substantial obstacles in finding a faculty research mentor and the student's own pre-existing biases, motivation, or confidence in science. In an effort to overcome both challenges, the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota has embedded authentic research experiences in all of our introductory biology courses. As a result, more than 4,000 students currently engage in classroom-based authentic research experiences. However, these experiences do not yet provide opportunities for students to participate in the full range of scientific inquiry, from asking a question to producing new knowledge.

This proposal is inspired by the Integrated Science Education Outreach (InSciEd Out) Program, which involves middle school children in research projects that produce publishable results. The InSciED Out experience begins with a guided experiment that introduces students to zebrafish development from an egg to a swimming fish. Students ask questions in the presence of zebrafish biologists, who answer any questions they can. Invariably, students come up with questions that have not yet been fully answered and these unanswered questions are the ones they pursue. Over the semester, they engage in the full, rich, messy process of science, from hypothesis building to presentations in public forums. Assessment, including standardized testing, shows that participation in InSciEd Out increases student academic performance across the board and decreases the performance gap between majority and
minority students.

Using InSciED Out as an inspiration and guide, we will transform our existing research experiences into Integrated Science Education for Discovery in Introductory Biology (InSciED-In) experiences. Our aim is to provide undergraduate students, including both biology majors and non-majors, with a rigorous, comprehensive research experience that includes observation, questioning, hypothesis building, experimental design, data collection/analysis/presentation, and the expectation that, through this work, they will discover new knowledge.

Intellectual Merit

Because all student projects have the potential for discovery of new insights into biological processes, we expect that many will result in publishable research results. As a result, we expect this work will enhance our understanding of basic processes of life, including the genetics of complex traits, developmental biology, behavior, and ecosystems. In addition, implementing the InSciED-In approach will create an opportunity for us to examine differences in student outcomes between inquiry-based labs, classroom-based research apprenticeships, faculty-led research apprenticeships, and complete (InSciED-In) research experiences. Finally, as part of our research plan, we will also examine whether discovery-based research that uses computational approaches to probe databases provide equivalent learning outcomes as bench-based research. Thus, our studies will help us better understand which aspects of research  experiences produce the greatest impact on students, and which students are most affected.

Broader Impacts

Over the five years of this grant, more than 11,000 non-majors and 2,000 majors will participate in an InSciED-In research experience. We expect that these students will exhibit significant gains in: (1) Science Process Skills, including the ability to make observations, ask questions, propose hypotheses, make predictions, design and execute experiments, and communicate  results; (2) The ability to articulate their research plans and findings; and (3) The ability to evaluate the research of others. In addition, we expect that they will develop more positive attitudes toward science and confidence in their ability to do science, which in turn will have positive impacts on their academic performance, persistence in science, and pursuit of careers that involve science. If these predictions are supported, the InSciED-In approach will provide an attractive, feasible model for providing research experiences that can be readily implemented at other institutions.