Improving UREs for STEM Majors and Pre-Service Teachers via Berkeley Undergraduate Research Tools

Anne Baranger
Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
UC Berkeley

Undergraduate research experiences (UREs) are widely believed to be a valuable component of undergraduate STEM education, yet there has been little systematic study of the learning gains that students make during these experiences. In this project, we have investigated three primary aims: (1) develop, refine, and test tools to assess student integration of scientific practices and content while participating in UREs, (2) characterize how undergraduate researchers and pre-service teachers develop an integrated understanding of scientific practices and content, and (3) explore interventions for graduate student mentor training workshops.

We have been guided by the Knowledge Integration Framework to develop two instruments for assessing learning in UREs around four Indicators for Integration of Scientific Practices and Content (ISPC). The first is a set of reflective prompts and an associated rubric to probe student understanding about data analysis and future directions for their own project. The other is an interview protocol and corresponding rubric for assessing undergraduates’ understanding of their research projects in capstone poster presentations. Using these instruments, we have characterized strengths and gaps of novice and advanced students participating in UREs. Overall, the analysis of both instruments detect a progressive continuum of learning for populations of undergraduates who have spent increasing time participating in research (Helix, et al., Chem. Ed. Res. Pract., 2022). These results have informed the development of the workshops described below.

We have developed a 5-part workshop series aimed at supporting graduate student mentors to develop effective teaching practices for their undergraduate mentees to improve learning of scientific practices and content for undergraduate researchers. An important component of graduate student professional education is mentoring undergraduate researchers. However, it is rare for mentors to receive formal training in teaching and mentoring undergraduate researchers. Each workshop session engages participants with content and interactive activities around central themes, including strategies for probing undergraduate understanding, fostering student independence, and supporting diverse students equitably. We have investigated a) the elements and ideas from the workshop that mentors found most helpful to their teaching and mentoring practices; b) the ways in which participants describe changes to teaching and mentoring practices and impacts on student learning of scientific practices and content; and c) the extent to which participants report that the workshops promote a mentor community.

Overall, BURET has contributed to improving undergraduate STEM education by developing and testing instruments that assess learning for UC Berkeley STEM majors as they participate in undergraduate research. We have collaborated with groups across campus to bring the results and workshops to a broad range of students. We have focused on developing programs to support transfer students, who are a key contributor to the demographic diversity of UC Berkeley and STEM majors, to enter and succeed in UREs. In addition, this project impacts K–12 education by engaging and assessing CalTeach pre-service teachers engaged in STEM research.


Elisa Stone, UC Berkeley, Laleh Coté, UC Berkeley, Max Helix, UC Berkeley, Christiane Stachl, UC Berkeley