Research experiences can often be inspiring and life-changing for
young college students and pivotal in their making decisions about
college majors and careers. Purdue University is beginning to implement
research as part of the regular curriculum for first and second
year students in chemistry. This session focused on Purdue’s
Center for Authentic Science Practice in Education (CASPiE) project,
which was the first Undergraduate Research Collaborative (URC) program
established by the NSF Chemistry Division three years ago. The goal
of the URC program is to develop new models for undergraduate research
that extend research opportunities to students early in their college
In addition to Purdue, the principal investigators are located
at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Ball State University,
and the College of DuPage, with seven other institutions also participating.
CASPiE utilizes authentic research projects, a remote-access network
of chemical instruments, the peer-led team learning (PLTL) model,
and the first- and second-year laboratory courses for involving
students in research. The session explored several themes relating
to CASPiE’s design and implementation: Inter-institutional
collaborations in undergraduate education, infrastructure considerations
for undergraduate research, and roadblocks to reaching large numbers
The National Science Foundation’s 2002 and 2004 Science and
Engineering Indicators drew attention to high attrition rates among
undergraduates who enter college planning to major in the sciences
(National Science Board, 2002, 2004). Many of these students switch
to non-science majors or do not graduate at all. The largest drop
in enrollment in the physical sciences occurs between the first
and second years of college. The drop is larger for women than men,
and even larger for underrepresented minorities.
A solution to the attrition problem may be found through undergraduate
research. Research examining the University of Michigan Undergraduate
Research Opportunities Program (UROP) demonstrated that students
who are involved in scientific research early in their college careers
are more likely to stay in college, earn their degrees, and continue
on to graduate school (Nagda et al., 1998). Seymour and her colleagues
have recently conducted an extensive study of undergraduate students
who were involved in research through the traditional model of summer
REU programs (Seymour et al., 2004). The authors interviewed 76
students at four institutions and carried out an ethnographic analysis
of the interview themes they identified. Overall, they found that
students reported an increased sense of confidence in their abilities
to do and understand science, a more positive attitude about science
and scientific careers, and gains in their abilities to explain,
present, discuss, and defend their work. The research also showed
that students actively engaged in research develop critical thinking
and problem-solving skills, an understanding how to frame research
problems, and a clearer sense of how scientific knowledge is constructed.
Two models of undergraduate research prevail at U.S. colleges and
universities. Many students work as part of a faculty-led research
group during the summer or academic year. Students acquire scientific
content knowledge, learn how to be and think like scientists, and
generate new scientific knowledge. However, this one-to-one model
reaches a limited number of students and is usually available only
to students at the junior or senior level who have already decided
to major in science. In the second prevalent model, upper division
or honors laboratories include inquiry activities in which students
verify known scientific results. Faculty may connect the experiments
directly to the literature, but the students are exploring questions
for which the answer is known. This model reaches a broader student
population, but, as with the first model, the students are those
who have already decided to stay in science.
CASPiE’s fundamental goal is to bring the benefits of the
two models of undergraduate research together in a format that involves
first- and second-year undergraduate students doing authentic scientific
research within the context of their mainstream chemistry laboratory
courses; the hope is that the student’s direct engagement
in research will result in increased student retention in science.
The approach is three-pronged, consisting of laboratory experiments
based on authentic research, student access to a remote instrumentation
network, and the creation of a research group environment using
Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL). The CASPiE model should be adaptable
to any undergraduate institution, from two-year community colleges
to research universities.
By participating in CASPiE, institutions receive a number of other
benefits. Involvement in CASPiE enhances research capacity at partner
institutions, especially two-year community colleges. Students develop
scientific process skills such as understanding of experimental
design. Typically, large-enrollment introductory chemistry courses
are much more diverse in terms of students’ gender and ethnic
background than the group of graduating chemistry majors. By targeting
students in their first year, CASPiE hopes to diversify the group
of students who major in science. Also, as students gain research
experience through courses early in their college careers, they
become more attractive candidates for conducting research in the
traditional model with a research advisor later in their college
careers. Another important aim of CASPiE is to change faculty attitudes
about what undergraduate students are capable of achieving. Early
research results from CASPiE indicate that when average students
are given room for creativity and exploration of science, they can
be quite successful. Finally, the students’ work must contribute
authentic, usable data to the faculty module developer.
The main teaching vehicle within CASPiE is the research module,
a six-to-eight week lab-based experience centered around a research
field in which students, guided by faculty and peer mentors, work
on ongoing problems related to the faculty’s own research;
the understanding is that their work will contribute to current
research in the field. Module authors are drawn from a variety of
fields, including biomedical engineering, chemistry, food science,
and chemical engineering. The modules are used in second semester
General Chemistry, but all of organic chemistry (i.e. semesters
2, 3 and 4 of a typical undergraduate sequence. Four modules have
been completed to date, with topics ranging from antioxidant content
in foods to solid-phase organic synthesis. Three modules are currently
under development, and more are planned for the future.
The modules begin with an introduction to establish the “big
picture” of the research field and emphasize the students’
role in the research. Next, skill building sessions introduce students
to the important techniques and analytical equipment they will use
in their research. Finally, every module identifies potential research
areas, guides students to design experiments based on literature
reading, and outlines the product or information students should
provide to the research faculty member at the end of the module.
CASPiE labs differ from traditional verification labs since the
student work contributes directly to the discovery of new knowledge,
thus yielding students ownership of their work. Research in chemistry
requires a large amount of creativity; many students do not realize
this before they enroll in a CASPiE course. Students develop their
own experimental procedures, and the data they collect is analyzed
for meaning, not for the “right” answer. Students are
given the opportunity to revise their plans as they gain information
from their experiments. All either write a paper or prepare a poster
or oral presentation describing their findings.
The CASPiE modules are designed to fit within standard lab schedules
of one three-hour lab session per week. Their 6-8 week time frame
(approximately half of a semester), allows the students sufficient
time to revise their research plans based on preliminary results.
Course instructors are able to decide which parts of the existing
curriculum will be replaced by a CASPiE module. Modules utilize
materials and equipment that are commonly available or easily accessible.
When necessary, modules provide alternatives to expensive equipment.
For example, one module requires every student have access to a
goniometer, an instrument which costs $5000. The module provides
instructions on how to build a $75 alternative.
Assessment of students in CASPiE courses focuses on evaluating
their written descriptions and analysis of their research process.
Student lab notebooks are graded on pre-lab, in-lab, and post-lab
writing. Students are given grading rubrics at the beginning of
the CASPiE course outlining the criteria that will be used to evaluate
their lab reports, research papers, and/or poster assignments.
Module development has brought rewards to many faculty. Two professors
at Northeastern Illinois University, where faculty laboratory research
is not common, have developed a module to engineer catalysts for
use in converting waste fats to biodiesel fuel. Through developing
the module, these faculty have launched a research program. A Purdue
pharmacy professor has created a module focused on small molecule
drug design via computer simulations and laboratory work. Students
piloting the module have already discovered new methods that the
author plans to publish.
Remote Instrumentation Network
To support the generation of research-quality data by students
involved in modules, CASPiE has established a remote instrumentation
network with research-quality instrumentation. Due to the high cost
of some instruments, CASPiE’s approach is to purchase a single
instrument, equip it with an autosampler, and connect it to a network
so that students at all CASPiE institutions can access the instrument.
Currently, the network includes a FTIR/Raman spectrometer, an HPLC,
a gas chromatograph, and a gas chromatograph/ mass spectrometer.
Future plans call for the purchase of FTIR, UV-Vis, and NMR spectrometers.
For analysis, student samples are mailed to the institution hosting
the instrument. Students use computers at their own institutions
to log on to instruments in the remote network, collect data, and
store the data on a file server. Later, students can access the
data and process it without interfering with others’ use of
the instrument. For large classes, a CASPiE instrument network staff
member can run samples from an entire class sequentially in batch
mode and return the data to each student team. Video cameras installed
in the instrument laboratory allow students to observe the instrument
as it runs their sample. The instrument’s software must be
adaptable so that the options available to students can be limited
to avoid overwhelming the students and damaging the instrument.
Peer-Led Team Learning for CASPiE
Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL) has been used to increase student
learning in lecture based courses (Gosser and Roth, 1998). Since
its introduction in chemistry courses more than ten years ago, it
has been successfully implemented in numerous other fields. In the
model, a student who recently took the course leads a small group
of students in problem-solving activities designed to teach course
content. The leaders are not teaching assistants and are not involved
in grading. Because the peer leader’s course experience is
recent, the students can trust them to provide helpful advice.
CASPiE has adapted the PLTL model to establish a sense of scientific
community and mimic the traditional research group environment.
CASPiE peer leaders have completed the module in a previous semester.
Students work in teams of three in the lab but join to form groups
of six working with each peer leader. Each team is a research group.
When PLTL groups meet, they first discuss the previous week’s
lab experiments and plan for the next week’s lab. Then workshop
sessions focus around one theme per week. A series of workshop materials
has been developed which introduces students to information and
skills they need to be successful laboratory researchers. Workshops
cover a wide range of topics, from keeping a research lab notebook
to scientific ethics to designing experiments. Activities in the
workshops are designed to encourage interaction between students
in the group. Usually, students are not taught these skills in any
formal manner, but instead acquire them through interaction with
more experienced students in a research group.
Every CASPiE research module is developed by a research faculty
member working with a faculty partner from a 2-year or non-research
institution. The involvement of the second person ensures that the
completed module will be transportable to a variety of institutions.
The two-year partner provides a reality check to the researcher
by identifying areas where the module requires equipment that is
not usually available or describes the chemistry in language that
will confuse students.
CASPiE’s partner institutions interact in a number of ways.
Primarily, schools are implementing the CASPiE modules in their
first- and second-year chemistry curricula. Some schools are adapting
the PLTL materials and are taking advantage of the remote instrumentation
Outcomes to Date
In its first year, CASPiE involved a total of 38 students in piloting
the first research modules at three sites. In the spring of 2006,
the project’s second year, 230 students at eight institutions
enrolled in CASPiE courses. Scale up will continue in the spring
of 2007, when 450-600 students are expected to enroll in CASPiE
courses at 10-15 schools.
The Center has developed a series of educational materials related
to CASPiE, including an implementation guidebook for faculty, a
module writer’s guidebook which provides research faculty
with an approach to adapting their research into an undergraduate
lab setting, the series of PLTL workshops and an accompanying guidebook,
and the research modules. On the Web, instructional videos assist
partner institutions with accessing the remote network, faculty
post module updates and supplementary materials, and data archives
are available to collect information for module authors.
Preliminary evaluation shows that CASPiE students are more positive
about their lab experience than students enrolled in a traditional
Session participants were asked to consider three questions:
- What are the best ways to initiate collaboration across institutions
pertaining to undergraduate education?
- What are the incentives and obstacles for faculty and departments
to participate in curriculum reform and undergraduate research
efforts? What strategies might be used to overcome the obstacles?
- What are the strategies to institutionalize undergraduate research
efforts and reach large numbers of students?
In response to the first question, participants encouraged the
development of formalized structures that encourage faculty collaborations
across institutions and assist faculty in finding research partnerships.
One group suggested creating a Web site that could serve as a clearinghouse
for collaboration ideas. The Web site might include a blog, a list
of resources available to faculty, and a format that allows faculty
to post “seeking collaborators” notices. Another group
recommended the establishment of regional conferences where faculty
could meet in discipline-specific groups to build collaborations.
Groups identified two primary obstacles that prevent faculty participation
in curriculum reform and undergraduate research: A lack of financial,
human, and/or physical resources, and the culture within universities,
specifically, the absence of rewards for participation in undergraduate
research. To overcome funding shortages, faculty should be encouraged
to pursue research questions with their students that are less expensive
and can be sustained for a long period of time. Public databases
on the internet are a possible resource for some faculty. Non-financial
forms of support were also suggested. Research faculty with exciting
ideas should partner with centers for teaching and learning and/or
science education faculty, who can oversee the implementation and
provide a dose of reality. Junior faculty members who have the most
at risk in adapting educational innovations should be paired with
experienced senior faculty.
There was a consensus on the need to affect a cultural shift within
departments that do not currently reward faculty who are involved
in undergraduate research or curricular innovation. Several approaches
were suggested. One is for faculty and administrators to work to
change the criteria for promotion and tenure to include research
supervision. Another is for departmental and senior administrators
to provide financial support to faculty and/or administrators to
go to conferences to gain new ideas to share with the department.
Demonstrated success in one course can enable the extension of an
idea to other courses in a department. Directors of undergraduate
research can be valuable sources of support. Graduate and professional
schools that do not teach undergraduates can be leveraged to provide
research opportunities for undergraduates.
At some universities, changes have originated with the faculty
rather than the administration. A department at one university has
implemented a single-champion model by choosing a set of “torchbearers”
for undergraduate research to be contact people for other faculty.
These cases are noteworthy because the changes have arisen from
faculty/faculty interactions. Reaching significant numbers of students
requires curriculum reform initiatives in which research and research-related
activities are embedded in specific courses.
For Individual Campuses
- In order to encourage more faculty to participate in curriculum
reform and undergraduate research, institutions should partner
junior faculty with more senior faculty. Partnerships between
faculty in traditional science fields and science education specialists
should also be encouraged.
For the Reinvention Center
- Create resources for faculty seeking inter-institutional collaboration
opportunities. This could take the form of a website (consisting
of a listing of resources and/or a forum for an exchange of ideas)
or regional conferences.
- There is a need for a cultural shift in academia such that educational
work is regarded as equal in importance to research work. Administrators
and faculty need to seek ways to encourage such a shift to take
place. The Reinvention Center can play a role in bringing together
administrators and faculty from numerous campuses to articulate
this message and work collaboratively to develop strategies and
programs that will help bring about the shift.
- National Science Board (2002). Science and Engineering Indicators
– 2002. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation, 2002
- National Science Board (2004). Science and Engineering Indicators
2004. Two volumes. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation
(volume 1, NSB 04-1; volume 2, NSB 04-1A).
- Nagda, B. A., Gregerman, S. R., Jonides, J., von Hippel, W.,
and Lerner, J. S. (1998). Undergraduate Student-Faculty Research
Partnerships Affect Student Retention. The Review of Higher Education,
- Seymour, E., Hunter, A.-B., Laursen, S. L., and Deantoni, T.
(2004). Establishing the Benefits of Research Experiences for
Undergraduates in the Sciences: First Findings from a Three-Year
Study. Science Education, 88, 493-534.
- Gosser, D. K. J., and Roth, V. (1998). The Workshop Chemistry
Project: Peer-Led Team Learning. Journal of Chemical Education,
- The NSF Undergraduate Research Center: http://www.caspie.org.
- The Web site for the national Peer-Led Team Learning project: