Integrating and Scaffolding Research into Undergraduate STEM Curricula

Probing Faculty, Student, Disciplinary, and Institutional Influences

Pathways to Transformational Change – National Science Foundation (16-25354)

Published 2024

eBook ISBN: 9781003448327

Transforming Academic Culture and Curriculum

Integrating and Scaffolding Research Throughout Undergraduate Education

Edited by Mitchell R. Malachowski, Elizabeth L. Ambos, Kerry K. Karukstis, Jillian L. Kinzie, Jeffrey M. Osborn

Institutions across the higher education landscape vary, and each navigates change in its own way. This volume describes how institutions and departments influence the success of structural and cultural transformations to advance curricular reform.

Major Goals of the Project

The CUR Transformations Project is intended to address an urgent need in the undergraduate science community to connect faculty research activities to the curriculum in ways that will lead to a research-rich curriculum for students.  Seen through the lens of undergraduate research, science curricula provide an amazing number of opportunities for enriching student experiences on a larger scale than one-on-one research mentoring experiences can provide.

The overarching goal of this project is to work intensively with 12 institutions and 24 departments over a sustained period to conduct fundamental research on student, faculty, departmental, and disciplinary influences on the process of integrating and scaffolding undergraduate research experiences throughout the curriculum. We will also pursue departmental and school/college-wide transformations in student learning and the learning environment at the 12 partner institutions. The sustainability of these changes will be further enhanced by assisting institutions to integrate research-based curricula into student and faculty cultures and reward systems and by developing expanded undergraduate research assessments, including the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and the Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (FSSE) instruments.

To accomplish this goal, the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) will team with Indiana University’s Center for Postsecondary Research, an international leader in studies of high-impact educational practices. Since 1996, CUR has worked with more than 600 academic institutions to help integrate deeper levels of undergraduate research into their educational processes and campus strategic plans. Almost without exception, two interconnected objectives described in each campus plan have been to focus on the curriculum to make it more research-rich and to change the academic culture to support sustained and scaled-up success of a greater number of students, faculty, and institutions. Achievement of these integrated objectives requires a college-wide approach, orchestrated through departments, and a deep understanding of each discipline’s curriculum design and culture.

Participating Disciplines/Departments

We will work with four disciplines/departments in this project: biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology. We have selected these disciplines for several reasons. First, one of our research questions is “How do different STEM departments effectively integrate the components and outcomes of high-quality UGR to reach more students?” As such, we need to limit the number of disciplines that we’re working with in order to ensure that we have a robust enough sample size of each discipline. Moreover, we want to ensure that there is a large enough cohort of each discipline involved in the project, so that those disciplines/departments from different institutions can have rich interactions and learn from each other, provide a supportive network for each other, and serve as exemplars for the broader community to ensure long-term sustainability of project outcomes.

Project contacts/PIs

To achieve a well-balanced and diverse group of participating institutions (e.g., public/private, geography, size, mission/Carnegie classification, student demographic served), we utilized a three-stage application process with (1) a pre-proposal stage, (2) an invited full-proposal stage, and then (3) an invited interview stage. Such a multistage process has been very effective in our past projects in achieving a diverse balance of highly qualified institutions.

Our selection criteria included the following: (This application period was open in 2017.)

  • A commitment for long-term, sustained engagement;
  • A clear statement of the current state and future goals for institutionalizing UGR within the two STEM departments and across the entire institution, including an environmental scan/self-assessment benchmarked against CUR’s Characteristics of Excellence in Undergraduate Research;
  • A deep commitment to, and history of, significant change;
  • Two STEM departments/disciplines committed to participating and sustained engagement;
  • A demonstrated need and readiness of the departments and the institution for participation in this integrated curriculum, workload, and leadership project;
  • Strong administrative support through the direct participation of deans and/or provosts in the institutional team (i.e., those with resource allocation responsibility);
  • Strong faculty support and direct participation of chairs, course coordinators, and curriculum committee members; and
  • Identification of the departmental team leaders and team members, with the clear commitment to multiple layers of “nested leaders” involved in the planning and implementation stages, including provision for non-tenure-track faculty leadership and participation.