Creating and Supporting Systemic Change: Scaffolding Undergraduate Research as a Vehicle for Equitable Transformation
The involvement of undergraduate students in research is a proven and powerful pedagogy due to the many benefits gained in their cognitive, intellectual, professional, and personal growth realms. Integrating research skills and experiences throughout the undergraduate curriculum – via a comprehensive, course-embedded, and scaffolded strategy – is a powerful and more equitable way to engage students and expand student involvement. The curriculum allows for more equitable access to undergraduate research for students from all backgrounds as many students are unable to engage in mentored experiences during the semesters or the summer months. Importantly, scaffolding and connecting curricular elements of individual courses or entire programs serve as more equitable ways to ensure that all students are exposed to how knowledge is created across the disciplines.
The Council of Undergraduate Research (CUR), with Indiana University's Center for Postsecondary Research, is working with 24 departments at 12 diverse institutions across the U.S. over a five-year period, to conduct fundamental research on student, faculty, departmental, and disciplinary influences on the process of integrating and scaffolding research into four-year undergraduate STEM curricula. To achieve a cohesive four-year curriculum that initiates students into a culture of inquiry and research in the discipline, the participating departments are using a backward-design approach to develop scaffolded, research-rich courses that guide students to greater independence and ownership of their learning. Providing all students with more equitable access to the benefits of undergraduate research is critically dependent on adapting not only curricula, but on faculty and student engagement and departmental cultures.
Our project is addressing two overarching questions: (1) What effect do student characteristics (e.g., pre-existing academic preparation) have on student-learning experiences and outcomes in a scaffolded, research-based curriculum? (2) How do different departmental approaches and distinct disciplinary cultures impact the integration of the components and outcomes of undergraduate research into the curriculum? A mixed-methods approach is being used, including surveys, focus groups with students and faculty, observations and interviews with faculty and consultants, annual progress reports, and in-depth site visits.
An emerging Theory of Change (TOC) model was developed and published in the latest ASCN "Transforming Institutions" volume. We will share our updated TOC model and insights from our 24 institutional teams that advance understanding of the transformational change process.