Executive Summary

There have been numerous reviews of the nature, benefits, structure, and design of Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs). The goal of this pressbook is to draw on these efforts and expand on them to provide guidance for instructors at the Ohio State University and beyond in designing and implementing CUREs. This pressbook is not a prescriptive set of guidelines for the development of a particular model of CUREs. Instead, it is a set of ideas, recommendations, and best practices based on published evidence. Instructors may develop different models of CUREs than those suggested herein.

CUREs promote student learning, foster students’ identity as scholars, build community, and shape professional futures. They do so by actively engaging students in an original research or creative contribution project within a course and lead to a deliverable accessible to stakeholders. The primary characteristic of a CURE is that it involves all students of a class who are primarily working during class time. In a CURE, students engage in multiple research practices to investigate a novel question whose outcome is unknown. Such research is associated with an inherent risk of generating “messy” data and involves collaboration among students as well as with the instructional team.

CUREs differ from traditional course projects by the explicit relevance of the research to the scholarly community and their integration with an instructor’s research program (or a national research program), which guides the direction of the project and questions. CUREs have been implemented in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math), social science, and humanities courses. CUREs are used in introductory, upper division, and non-major courses.

By opening research opportunities to all students as part of the regular curriculum for a degree, regardless of the individual circumstances of students, CUREs help level the playing field of high-impact practices. They give everyone the opportunity to engage in research and thus can spark interests in research careers, contributing to changing the demographic and identity make-up of the research community. CUREs themselves lead to increased engagement in research, and persistence in STEM. The integration of research into the regular course load of students and the concentration of the work associated with the research project into the class time (or in replacement of regular homework) helps overcome many obstacles encountered by research internships in diversifying the research community including awareness of research opportunities, awareness of benefits of research experiences, unconscious societal bias, financial constraints, and personal barriers.

Student gains in CUREs meet or exceed those observed in summer internship and mentored student research experience models and are higher than those experienced by students in traditional labs. Benefits of CUREs for students include gains in content knowledge and technical skills, gains in broadly applicable skills, changes in attitudes towards and understanding of research, gains in confidence and self-efficacy, and changes in professional/career paths.

CUREs also benefit instructors with opportunities to perfect the crafts of teaching and research including for postdoctoral scientists and graduate students, the chance to engage in a meaningful research-driven teaching practice, and increased research productivity.

There are three possible paths to designing a CURE: (1) implementing a researcher-independent CURE for which there is a pre-existing structure available through national programs, (2) developing a new researcher-independent CURE, or (3) designing a unique researcher-driven CURE. When designing a new CURE, instructors should adopt a backward-design approach, which requires first the identification of the outcomes desired from the CURE, then the determination of the acceptable evidence that these outcomes have been met, and only afterwards, the planning of the learning experiences and instruction (Cooper et al., 2017). A successful CURE:

  • Is part of the curriculum: It is critical to determine the audience of the course, the level of preparation and prior knowledge instructors can expect from students, the duration of the CURE, the scope and intent of the research, and the needs to integrate program requirements.
  • Considers intellectual responsibility and ownership of the research: Student ownership of the CURE project positively impacts student benefits and their experience of the course. Instructors should allow students to make decisions throughout the design and implementation of the research protocols. Instructors should also give students opportunities to develop their own claims and hypotheses.
  • Integrates the research process: CUREs should integrate responsible and ethical conduct of research. Consider the use of published data, online databases, citizen-science projects, and data collected by previous iterations of CUREs or collaborators. Set-up checks and balances for student-collected data. Formally training students in the reading and analysis of the primary literature is critical to their engagement with scholarship. Build room in the course structure for failure and iteration.
  • Balances research progress with student learning and development: Mini-workshops and activities on subsets of the dataset analyzed or published data can help students understand critical concepts that cannot be authentically explored because of time. Students can benefit from intellectual or data exchanges with other members of the research team, including graduate students, postdocs, and undergraduates in mentored research experiences.
  • Structures the research learning tasks to foster students’ development as scientists: The incorporation of a carefully thought-through scaffold that includes a series of activities and assignments is critical. Each assignment should itself be scaffolded. Writing-to-learn activities can facilitate student learning and development as writers. Information literacy should be fostered through reflective work as well as activities promoting metacognition.
  • Leads students to communicates their research results: It is important to consider the appropriate mode(s) of dissemination of the CURE’s findings, the division of labor among students in preparing the deliverable, and authorship rules. Different deliverable formats are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Communicating the results of the CURE should reflect authentic scholarly communication in the field.

CUREs can be evaluated through a suite of tools aimed at assessing learning, attitudes changes, and skills. Many published tools involve pre-post comparisons of students engaged in CUREs and can be easily implemented by instructors without prior experience in discipline-based education research.

Designing and implementing a CURE is a challenge but also an immensely rewarding experience. Many of the obstacles to the development and implementation of CUREs can be overcome with careful design and by leveraging institutional and professional resources. In an effort to contribute to facilitating the development of CUREs, several class activities and document templates are provided along with an extensive literature cited section providing many models of CUREs, example assignments, and best practices.

Original data from a survey of a small number of instructors at Ohio State are presented as part of an overview of the structure, benefits, and challenges of teaching CUREs.