Testing a Collaborative CURE Model Using a Large-scale Salamander Research Network

Kristine Grayson
Associate Professor
University of Richmond

Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) engage students in the practice of science and can enhance undergraduate education by including a large number of students in authentic research. We developed a CURE framework that integrates students into an intellectually diverse and established research network. Our course-based research modules leveraged the Salamander Population Adaptation Research Collaboration network (SPARCnet). This network was founded in 2013 by researchers at Pennsylvania State University and the USGS Northeast Amphibian and Research Monitoring Initiative, and has since grown to include collaborators at 19 institutions and 8 education organizations. The research questions examine individual and population level responses of red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) to environmental variation and changes expected under human disturbance. Researchers, educators, and citizen scientists apply the same cover-board plot study design and sampling methods across the range of the salamander in eastern and north-central North America. Most participants mark the salamanders they find, and thus have long-term spatial-capture-recapture data, along with basic population demographic data. Our modules engage students in collecting and analyzing field data from a wide geographic range, emphasizing ecology and evolutionary processes, while simultaneously helping students understand both the collaborative nature of science and the quantitative skills required for working with large data sets.The PIs implemented modules in a variety of courses, ranging from Introductory Biology to Molecular Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Building course-based modules from an established research network allows students to engage in original and publishable data collection, leading to analysis and interpretation of large, multi-year data sets. Despite pandemic restrictions on field work, we paired classrooms during the research experience to develop cross-institution student collaborations. We measured student self-efficacy, science identity, and quantitative and scientific literacy in courses using our modules, comparing paired and unpaired implementations. Our preliminary results show gains in student literacy and identity, and we aim to increase our sample size for comparing paired and unpaired classrooms. The results of the project will advance knowledge of how this pedagogical approach impacts student outcomes using a cross-institution collaborative CURE framework.


Kristine Grayson, University of Richmond, Richmond VA; Louise Mead, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI; Caitlin Fisher-Reid, Bridgewater State University, Bridgewater, MA; Raisa Hernández Pacheco, California State University, Long Beach, CA; Alexa Warwick, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI; Tanya Matlaga, Susquehanna University, Selinsgrove, PA; Sean Sterrett, Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey; Chris Sutherland, University of St Andrews, Fife, Scotland; David Miller, Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA; Evan Grant, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Turners Falls, MA.