Managing the load and maximizing the gains for all: Project PLURIS (Purposeful Learning in Undergraduate Research and Independent Studies)
PLURIS aims to improve the cost-effectiveness and academic consistency and auditability of undergraduate STEM independent study and research activities by designing experiences that clarify purposeful learning, so these activities can be offered to larger numbers and diversities of students. We propose that this process can be applied to many types of independent studies, such as completing research projects within courses, carrying out internship activities, and conducting supervised lab- or field-based research projects.
This project aims to help faculty and students: elucidate opportunities for learning in host projects and to recruit students; align individual student learning agendas with goals of supervising faculty or institutional requirements; clarify intended student learning outcomes; use clear assessment techniques to monitor and document actual learning outcomes.
Evaluation methods and results include rapid prototyping that benefits from brisk testing of concept designs and prototypes, good flows of formative evaluation data, generous access to potential users and actual testers. This produces written reflections from students for triangulation with survey and focus group results. Faculty are testing this prototype PLURIS process and materials with students and, along with administrators and other stakeholders, are evaluating the prototype as it is built and offering recommendations for improvement.
This project is developing and testing a prototype system using selection options for faculty and students to identify expected learning outcomes and negotiate learning agendas for supervised research and other informal learning opportunities. By doing so faculty can develop syllabi for such opportunities to help improve recruitment, better matching for faculty-student mentoring, and obtaining institutional recognition for teaching and learning.
Outcomes include 1) providing a model to enhance current science education efforts within and beyond the university, 2) forming a collaboration among scientists, educators, and educational technology professionals to further develop the science education expertise of STEM faculty, and 3) encouraging undergraduate, postdoctoral, and faculty researchers to think metacognitively about library-to-“bench” research experiences and learning in general. Results show that all three can happen, even in the project's early stages, in integrative biology and across departments and colleges at our university, and we are building collaborations with other campuses to test the process.