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Innovation and Incubator Grants from the University System of Georgia

Embedding Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) in Gateway Biology Courses

University of Georgia


Grant Type: 
Project Lead: 
Dr. Kristen Miller
Division of Biological Sciences
Other team members: 

Dr. Andrea Sweigart
Genetics Department, UGA

Dr. Norris Armstrong
Genetics Department, UGA and Lead Instructor BIOL 1107 (Principles of Biology I lecture)

Dr. Emily Bewick
recently finished post-doc Genetics Department, UGA; has taken full time position at Piedmont College, Demorest GA

Ms. Letitia Saunder
Laboratory Manager for BIOL 1107L, Division of Biological Sciences, UGA

Undergraduate student assistant, TBD
Genetics Department, UGA

Graduate Student Assistant, TBD

Project Overview: 

We propose to implement a Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) examining evolutionary genetics in BIOL-1107L (Principles of Biology I Laboratory) for the 2015-2016 academic year. This CURE will introduce ~1200 students to research being conducted by Dr. Sweigart's lab on how populations diverge to form reproductively isolated species. Other project goals include recruitment of additional interested faculty to begin development of further CURE modules, potentially impacting five additional introductory biology laboratory courses (~3600 students/year) at UGA. 

Project Description: 

Impact on Completion

Approximately 1200 first- and second-year students will have been introduced to a research-oriented experimentation. Potential new faculty collaborators for other CURE modules at UGA will be identified. A framework for conducting CUREs in large enrollment STEM courses will be established and available to science educators and researchers.

Potential Lessons to be Learned

Pre- and post-module student data will be collected to determine if engaging in the CURE module affects their reported likelihood of seeking out additional undergraduate research experiences or completing a STEM undergraduate major. Additionally, a framework for developing and implementing CUREs for large enrollment STEM laboratory courses will be determined.

Project Description

Area of need on campus and how project would address this need

The Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education report from NSF and the AAAS advocates the reform of undergraduate biology education to include more undergraduate research experiences for all students, and that these experiences should occur throughout a student’s undergraduate biology career – not just in one or two courses (AAAS, 2011). This push to better link biology teaching and research is supported by educational research showing that undergraduate research experiences strengthen student awareness and pursuit of science careers (see Sadler, Burgin, McKinney and Ponjuan, 2010 for review) and coincides with UGA’s current efforts to increase experiential learning opportunities for students. Unfortunately, accessibility to research opportunities is typically constrained due to limited high tuition rates that may be charged to students (Burgin, McConnell and Flowers III, 2015), faculty support, and funding (Wei and Wooden, 2011). At UGA, students who engage in undergraduate biology research experiences primarily do so through independent research projects with faculty for course credit (BIOL 4960). Currently, only 16% (N=210) of declared biology majors (Juniors and Seniors, ~N=1300) are involved in this intense, apprenticeship model in an academic year. Furthermore, only 2% of students participate in independent research projects before their junior year.

Numerous ways have been found to provide undergraduates with more research experiences (see Wei and Woodland, 2011, for review). One successful effort is the use of Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) in which faculty research is incorporated into laboratory classes for biology and other STEM majors. For example, one version of a CURE affords students the opportunity to collaboratively design original experiments to investigate topics aligned with faculty research interests (Project Laboratory in Genetics and Genomics, Brandeis University, 2015). Other versions allocate time within otherwise traditional laboratory courses for students to conduct experiments that generate usable data for research faculty who are investigating larger – and related- research questions (Authentic Research in Microbiology, (AREM), Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, 2015).   

UGA offers four introductory biology laboratory courses for science and non-science majors that serve ~1800 students each semester. These courses are inquiry driven and are designated as writing intensive courses through UGA’s Writing Intensive Program (WIP, Department of English). Each laboratory module engages students in some or all aspects of the process of science including generating research questions, designing and implementing experiments, collecting data, and developing arguments to support their conclusions. Students learn to work in collaborative groups and carry out peer review. Graduate Laboratory Assistant Instructors are also trained to use teaching methodologies that support both the inquiry and writing intensive aspects of these courses. Though the topics currently examined in the labs are based on artificial contexts, the courses are “ready-made” to go one step further and provide experiences linked to actual faculty research projects. However, projects derived from active faculty research that can be used for CUREs have not yet been implemented in these courses. This project proposes to introduce a CURE currently under development into BIOL 1107L, an introductory biology laboratory for science majors, and to begin development of additional CUREs in collaboration with UGA research faculty.

 BIOL 1107L (Principles of Biology I Laboratory) is the first of two required biology classes taken by natural sciences and other STEM majors at UGA and serves approximately 600 students each semester. Over 50% of all natural science majors at UGA take BIOL 1107L, and embedding research-oriented experiences into this and other introductory classes enables students to experience research earlier in their college careers. Also, the topics addressed in this CURE (evolutionary genetics) are covered in the BIOL 1107 lecture, and the lecture can provide scaffolded support to help students prepare for the CURE module. Once established, resources previously allocated to the labs being replaced can be used to maintain the new CURE laboratory module.

Project’s potential impact on student success and college completion in STEM

Research indicates that engaging undergraduates in research experiences can positively impact retention of students in science majors as well as decisions to attend graduate school for advanced science degrees (see Sadler, Burgin, McKinney and Ponjuan, 2010 for review). By offering CUREs within the structure of BIOL 1107L, we have the ability to start many first and second year STEM-intended majors with research-oriented experiences. Exposing these students to these experiences early in their academic careers may encourage more of them to seek out additional research experiences at UGA or through internships. Additionally, if CUREs were offered in BIOL 1107L, this may positively impact the research experiences students have in BIOL 1108L (while BIOL 1108L does offer a two-week student generated research project experience, it is limited in scope). The projects that students design and implement in BIOL 1108L may be enhanced by scientific process skills developed from the CURE module in BIOL 1107L. Finally, having a long-term goal that the undergraduate biology student body generates “usable” data for the Sweigart and other participating research faculty may impact student buy-in to working through the CURE modules. If students see that their data collection is contributing to investigations of a "real" research question, and if students are able to compare the data they collect with analyses of previous semesters' student-generated data, they may feel more ownership of their lab experience. This, in turn, could maintain their interest in completing the course and staying in a STEM field.  Additionally, if data were to be collected and analyzed across multiple semesters, student groups may generate new scientific questions that could be tested in the lab CURE module or in research labs. How best to emulate how science actually happens in research labs than to allow it to happen naturally in the laboratory classroom?

Potential lessons learned from the project and the impact the project could have on the institution as well as the University System of Georgia if it were scaled

Several lessons could be gleaned from this project. One, the development and implementation of this CURE can establish a framework to be used for the development and implementation of additional CUREs in the other large STEM laboratory classes at UGA (i.e., not just biology). In the Biological Sciences Division alone, there is the potential to reach ~3600 students per academic year across our four introductory biology courses. In fact, since these courses are largely independent from lecture and are viewed as an opportunity to support lecture by presenting content in a complementary but different way, it is feasible for the Division to re-imagine what these courses would look like as partial or full CUREs. There is also the possibility of expanding CUREs to upper level laboratory courses such as BIOL 3110L. As an example, Georgia Gwinnett College (Lawrenceville, GA) serves as an outstanding model for the process of developing CUREs in both laboratory and lecture STEM courses as a four-year undergraduate experience (Sloop, Awong-Taylor, and Mundie, 2012). While these GGC courses have smaller class sizes than the lecture and laboratory courses at UGA, their suggestions of how to improve “students’ awareness of the undergraduate research opportunities available and to promote the growth of our undergraduate research program” can be applied across any sized-class (Sloop, Awong-Taylor, and Mundie, 2012). Additionally, by gathering data on students’ experiences with the module and if those experiences impacted their thoughts of engaging in more undergraduate research or continuing in their intended STEM major, we can provide UGA with valuable information as to how to potentially attract and retain more STEM majors, including those of underrepresented communities. This could even be the basis for a longitudinal study on how CUREs at UGA impact STEM major retention.

Project Plan and Timeline

Goal 1: Pilot two-week CURE module on evolutionary genetics in BIOL 1107L, Summer 2015


  1. Implement recently developed 2-week evolutionary genetics module that investigates how populations diverge to form reproductively isolated species: ~70 students, 2 instructors The module includes two pre-lab exercises, in lab activities, two post-lab exercises. Module authors (Sweigart and Bewick) have also developed instructional notes for lab instructors and grading rubrics for all assignments. Module is based on research questions currently being address in the Sweigart lab.
  2. Assess implementation: lab observations and discussions with lab instructors and lab managers for both pre- and post-module implementation. Adjustments to all aspects of the module will be made based on feedback from collaborators, instructors and Lab Manager.
  3. Assess if taking part in CURE module changed students’ ideas about prospects of engaging in undergraduate research at UGA, continuing in their STEM-intended major.
  4. Begin development of an online, pre-lab video featuring UGA researchers that introduces students to 1) biological concepts in the module and 2) current research from laboratories directly involved with the investigations presented in the module. Ideally, the video will be modeled after the Sean Carroll HHMI evolution videos (e.g.

Deliverable: two-week CURE module on evolutionary genetics ready to be implemented on large scale

For this Success Goal, we define “success” as an increase in the number of students who plan to seek out research opportunities while undergraduates at UGA and/or in potential STEM post-­‐baccalaureate careers. We propose to collect data before and after completing the CURE module that assess students’ attitudes towards taking part in scientific research and how participating in a CURE changes those attitudes. Data can be collected in aggregate but also per individual student (the latter will require Institutional Review Board (IRB) Human Subjects approval). There are multiple published tools that provide both reliability and validity data on assessment of undergraduate research experiences (e.g., CURE Survey, LaPatto and Tobias, 2010; ICURE Analysis Survey, LoPatto, 2007; Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey (CLASS), Adams et al., 2006; Undergraduate Research Student Self-­‐Assessment (URSSA), Hunter et al., 2009). The grant team will review these and other published tools to determine which best fits the goals of the project.

Goal 2: Hire a full-time graduate student to contribute and manage Goals 1, 3, and4. This person will be trained in theory and content of module as well as the module’s implementation. S/he will help modify piloted module in preparation for large-scale implementation; help improve instructional and prep notes; conduct observations of module implementation; lead instructional teaching preparation sessions for module; collect student survey data; help design 2-week extension of module; help create pre-lab video.

For this Success Goal, we define “success” as an increase in students’ confidence in developing a novel research project with their team members in BIOL 1108L. This may be best ascertained by students’ self-­‐reports once the student-­‐designed experiment module in 1108L is complete. The lab instructors of BIOL 1108L would distribute a survey to their students that will address students’ confidence in designing their own research experiments and if it was influenced by taking part in the 1107L CURE. We would begin to collect these data in Spring 2016 after a fall semester of students successfully completed BIOL 1107L and moved on to BIOL 1108L. The data could be collected in aggregate through a post-­‐research project survey. This will likely require Institutional Review Board (IRB) Human Subjects approval.

Goal 3: Implement modified CURE module in fall 2015 and spring 2016 semesters.


  1. Refine 2-week module and assess ease of implementation with large number of students, lab sections, and instructors. Implement refined module: ~ 15-20 lab instructors, ~ 600-700 students/semester.
  2. Finish development of online pre-lab video.
  3. Continue ongoing assessment of implementation of module (see Goal 1, Objective b.)
  4. Begin to develop resources for two additional labs that enhance students’ research experience in module.. Along with developing extra educational materials, the Sweigart lab will breed additional plant lines to facilitate data sharing by students across years and expand learning goals. An undergraduate research assistant will be hired to help generate the plant resources.

Deliverables: Finalized CURE module on evolutionary genetics that can be implemented on large scale. Basic plan for expansion of module to four weeks.

Goal 4: Establish meetings with other STEM faculty to recruit some that might interested in developing CURES in introductory biology laboratory courses.

Objectives and Deliverables:

  1. Create short list of faculty interested in developing CURE modules
  2. Attempt to establish one new collaboration for 1107L or other intro bio lab course for the 2016-2017 AY.


  • July 20-28, 2015: Pilot 2-week lab CURE module on evolutionary genetics in BIOL 1107L
  • July – Aug, 2015: Hire graduate student assistant and undergraduate student assistant.
  • Fall semester 2015: Revise module and associated instructional and lab prep notes. Assess ease of implementation with large number of students, lab sections, and instructors.  Implement revised module late Nov - early Dec. Begin contacting new potential faculty collaborators. Collect pre- and post- module student data. Begin discussion of module extension. Production of pre-lab video.
  • Spring semester 2016: Finalize module, associated instructional and lab prep notes. Implement late Apr - early May. Formulate plan for module extension. Collect pre- and post- module student data. Continue contacting new possible faculty collaborators. Establish one new partnership for new CURE module in one of four intro bio lab courses.

Logic Model




  • 4 faculty
  • 1 graduate student
  • 2 Laboratory Managers (staff)

~1200 undergraduate students


  • Dissecting microscopes
  • Mimulus plants
  • Teaching computer and projection system

Standard teaching laboratory equipment: forceps, calipers, color cards




  1. Pilot two-week CURE module on evolutionary genetics in BIOL 1107L: summer 2015
  2. Assessment and revision of piloted module, instructional teaching notes, lab prep notes
  3. Assessment of student experiences with piloted CURE module in relation to staying in STEM major and pursuing additional research experiences
  4. Two separate two-week implementations of revised CURE module: fall 2015 and spring 2016. Repeat of Activity 3 for each of these sessions
  5. Six total instructional laboratory preparation meetings for lab instructors for all implementations of module.
  6. Establish general framework to extend CURE module by up to another two laboratory periods.
  7. Establish general framework for how to develop and implement CUREs in large enrollment biology and other STEM laboratory courses.
  8. Establish conversations with additional faculty researcher collaborators for future CURE modules in BIOL 1107L and other biology laboratory courses
  9. Potentially confirm one new partnership for a new CURE module


  1. Piloted and revised two-week CURE module (including online pre-lab video) on evolutionary genetics ready to be implemented on small and large scale in an instructional laboratory course setting
  2. Piloted and revised instructional teaching notes and laboratory preparation notes to accompany module
  3. Basic plan for expansion of module to four weeks.
  4. Short list of faculty interested in developing CURE modules
  5. One established new CURE collaboration for BIOL 1107L or another intro bio lab course for the 2016-2017 AY.
  6. Undergraduate research-oriented experiences for ~1200 STEM majors

Short-Term Outcomes

Impact data: Pre-post module student data on how module influenced self-reported information such as likelihood to investigate more undergrad research experiences, inclination to continue with intended STEM-major, etc.

Framework for how to develop and implement CURE modules in large enrollment STEM laboratory courses, including establishing collaborations

General plan to expand this CURE module to four weeks to better enhance/provide “authentic” research experiences – novel questions and unknown data

Long-Term Outcomes

Impact data: Potential baseline data for longitudinal study on how implementation of CURE modules in intro biology labs affects STEM retention and therefore completion of STEM major

Potential for students to generate “usable” data for the Sweigart lab; if other CUREs are developed and implemented these data collection methods could extend to these new collaborations

If data were collected and analyzed across multiple semesters, student groups may generate new scientific questions that could be tested in the lab CURE module or in research labs.


Embedding Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) in Gateway Biology Courses





4/9 time, Franklin College Academic rate, PhD-level graduate student: $18143.81


Greenhouse Fee

Monthly greenhouse fee to grow and maintain Mimulus plants: $35.00/mo for 12 months


Pre-lab video production

Fee to assist with production cost of quality pre-lab video



Undergraduate assistant for generating plant resources:

15 hrs/wk for 30 weeks (2 semesters) at $8.50/hr






Much of this project will require ongoing evaluation made by the collaborators. Since the project is not a one-time event, there will need to be consistent checks on both quality and implementation of the proposed CURE model. For example, observations of the implementation of the module will need to be made by the collaborators. Feedback from lab instructors about the module itself, the instructional teaching notes, and the implementation will need to be collected and incorporated into modifications of the module. Feedback from the Laboratory Managers associated with this project will also need to be collected in order to accurately update Lab Manager preparation notes for the module.

Additionally, since we are interested in providing CURE experiences for first and second year declared natural science majors and others STEM fields in the hopes that the experiences may influence the students’ choices to 1) remain in the STEM fields through graduation; and 2) to see out additional research experiences as an undergraduate student, it will be important to collect data to see if the 1107L students change their ideas about this once they have completed the module. Therefore, a survey will need to be constructed and distributed prior to the module and then once the module is complete. The data can be analyzed to look for pre-post differences in topics such as “What is the likelihood that you will investigate taking part in undergrad research?” or “would you like to have more CUR experiences in your undergraduate courses?”


Literature Cited

Authentic Research in Microbiology, (AREM). (2015). Brooklyn College of the City University of New York.

AAAS. American Association for the Advancement of Science (2011). Vision and Change: A Call to Action, Washington, DC.

Burgin, S.R., McConnell, W.J., and Flowers III, A.M. (2015). ‘I Actually Contributed to oTheir Research’: The influence of an abbreviated summer apprenticeship program in science and engineering for diverse high-school learners. International Journal of Science Education. 37(3), 411-445.

Project Laboratory in Genetics and Genomics. (2015)., Brandeis University.

Sadler, T.E., Burgin, S., McKinney, L., and Ponjuan, L. (2010). Learning Science through Research Apprenticeships: A Critical Review of the Literature. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. 47(3), 235-256.

Sloop, J.C., Awong-Taylor, J., and Mundie, T.G. (2012). Raising Student Awareness of Research Opportunities at Georgia Gwinnett College. CUR Focus, 33(2), 3-8.

Wei, Cynthia A. and Woodland, T. (2011{). Undergraduate Research Experiences in Biology: Alternatives to the Apprenticeship Model. CBE – Life Sciences Education, 10, 123-131.