A Culturally Competent Course-Based Research Experience (CRE) for Graduate Students

Sehoya Cotner, Lorelei Patrick, Aud Helen Halbritter Reichsteiner, Brian Engquist, Vigdis Vandvik

For developing scientists, the myriad benefits of research experiences are well established. In response, many collegiate science departments have begun to reimagine the curriculum in ways that incorporate more meaningful (or “authentic”) scientific experiences. Course-based research experiences (CREs) make research more inclusive and can lead to positive outcomes similar to those realized from a more traditional, apprentice-style research experience. A growing body of literature documents novel course-based undergraduate research experiences (or CUREs), but less work has focused on opportunities in graduate-level training. Also, developers have struggled with ways to make curriculum-based research broadly relevant to a community beyond the classroom (and thus authentic). We present a course-based research experience for graduate students that is intensive, international, and collaborative. Specifically, graduate students from 12-plus nationalities participated in one of two Plant Functional Traits Courses (PFTC) offered in March (in the Peruvian Andes) and July (on Spitsbergen, Svalbard Archipelago, Norway) 2018. Students contributed to ongoing, Principle Investigator-driven research projects while learning transferrable skills such as measurement techniques in plant functional ecology, collaborative research, data management and interpretation, and scientific communication. Further, students participated in a small outreach project, surveying area inhabitants (in Peru and Norway) about their knowledge and perceptions of climate-change ecology; these data then informed a discussion about culturally variable challenges in scientific communication. This course was thus doubly innovative: the student experience was evaluated to determine a relationship between specific course elements and desired outcomes (something rarely done for graduate level science courses); and cultural competence, alongside scientific communication, was integrated into the experience. Surveys, as well as pre- and post-course writing assignments, form the basis of assessment—both of the course in general, and the scientific communication piece specifically. Discussion will conclude with recommendations for other educators, who seek to make discipline-based education more collaborative, inclusive, and culturally competent.

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