REVISION: Implementing "Vision and Change" increases student aspirations for STEM degrees
Increasingly, studies show that “traditional” methods of teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) discourage rather than encourage students to continue in STEM disciplines. One recommendation has been to engage students in authentic research experiences in the early years of their college experience. An important aspect of our program, REVISION, is to engage biology students in research both as part of our two-course introductory biology and introductory biotechnology sequences and, for some, a summer research internship. The course-based research experience is part of the HHMI’s SEA-Phage (Science Education Alliance) program, in which students isolate novel soil-born bacteriophages and then analyze their genomes. Students take SEA-Phage surveys about attitudes and experiences at the beginning of the first course and then again at the end of the second course. The post-course survey also includes questions concerning specific benefits that the students perceived. Summer research internships take place at various partner colleges, universities, and institutes. To assess the impact of these experiences, we survey students periodically for perceived benefits and gains, as well as current status. All surveys (both SEA-Phage and our summer internship surveys) employed a 5-point scale. We present 2013-14 SEA-Phage course results (N=10) and 2010-2014 summer results (N=22).
Student responses to course-based research (2013-14) were overwhelming positive. For example, students perceived large gains (mean 4.45 for 25 course elements) in their abilities to take exams, maintain a lab notebook, and read primary scientific research materials, among others. Students also perceived that they made large gains in other learning benefits, including “clarification of career path,” “readiness for more demanding research,” and “understanding how scientists think” (mean of 4.25 for 21 learning gains). Interestingly, more students indicated an interest in post-graduate work in STEM fields in the post-course survey (7 in post-course vs. 3 in the pre-course survey). Summer research students also perceived large gains. For example, 82% agreed or strongly agreed that their internship experience helped them clarify their career path and 91% felt ready for more demanding research. In addition, > 80% agreed or strongly agreed that they also gained important interpersonal skills, including working in a team and time management, as well as life skills such as perseverance and working under stress. Finally, although 55% planned to go onto graduate school, all students planned to do so after their research. Obviously, both course-based and summer research experiences increase student aspirations to continue in STEM fields.