Best practices in undergraduate biology education call for the incorporation of authentic research experiences in the curriculum. The primary goal of this project is to evaluate the student learning gains associated with a CURE within a 4000-level undergraduate Ecology lab course at St. Edward's University, a Hispanic-serving institution in Austin, TX. This project investigates how participating in a semester-long collaborative CURE affects students' 1) experimental design ability (EDAT); 2) scientific communication skills; 3) ability to apply ecological content knowledge to original scientific research; 4) interest in ecosystem services research. For the CURE, students and faculty collaborate on original research investigating the role of urbanization on the ecosystem services. We hypothesized that students’ EDAT and scientific communication skills significantly improves as a result of participating in the activities in this CURE. We also hypothesized that students would be better able to apply ecological knowledge to research, and would be more interested in research on ecosystem services. In order to test these hypotheses we first designed the framework for the CURE during an REIL-Biology workshop at the 2015 ESA annual meeting. This included choosing or developing pre- and post- assignments. We implemented the CURE during two semesters. The majority of assignments were scored by the course instrucotr for the course however, pre- and post- EDAT were scored by the instructor and two other PhD-level ecologists.
Results from this course indicate that participation in the CURE resulted in gains in students’ experimental design ability, especially in terms of students' incorporating larger sample sizes and replication within experimental designs. There were differences in how the scorers evaluated experimental designs, indicating that it is important to involve multiple researchers when scoring these types of assessments for SoTL projects. In terms of scientific communication, student participants' scientific communication skills improved for the majority of students. Student participants achieved minor improvements in terms of their ability to apply content knowledge to scientific research. We observed enhanced interest and confidence in conducting scientific research, as well as interest in ecosystem services. Future research on this topic will focus on improving assessment tools for evaluating leanring gains associated with undergraduate CURE courses, and will include more PhD-level SoTL scorers in order to better evaluate student work.