The Bean Beetle Microbiome Project: The impact of student-autonomy on CURE efficacy

Lawrence Blumer
Professor of Biology
Morehouse College

Need: Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) are an effective means of transforming the learning and teaching of science by involving students in the scientific process. However, the factors that lead to improved student outcomes are not fully understood. To study the effect of varying degrees of student autonomy on the efficacy of CUREs, the Bean Beetle Microbiome CURE was implemented across multiple institutions. The degree of student autonomy varied in each implementation, and there were both full-semester and half-semester implementations. Implementations in which students generated their own questions were categorized as high-autonomy, while those with instructor-specified questions were categorized as low-autonomy. The CURE was implemented twice at each institution (one high-autonomy, one low-autonomy).

Guiding Question: Do student’s science identity, project ownership, and abilities to overcome perceived challenges in course-based undergraduate research experiences improve with greater student autonomy to choose the research question to be studied?

Outcomes: Student perceptions of the CURE were assessed using the Laboratory Course Assessment Survey (LCAS) (Corwin et al., 2017). To examine student perceptions of project ownership and scientific community values, the Persistence in the Sciences Survey (PITS) was used (Hanauer et al., 2016). In addition, to assess how students coped with perceived challenges they experienced during the CURE, five novel open-ended questions were developed and administered to students post-CURE. The LCAS survey responses suggest that students perceived their CURE activities as novel and of interest to the scientific community. The results of the PITS survey showed no significant difference between scores among students in the high-autonomy compared to the low-autonomy implementations for questions pertaining to science identity, scientific community values, project ownership of content, and emotional project ownership. We will use thematic analysis of the responses to the open-ended questions to identify common themes related to overcoming perceived challenges related to course-based research experiences.

Broader Impacts: If these preliminary results are confirmed, it will indicate that low-autonomy CUREs are as effective as high-autonomy CUREs in fostering the outcomes that lead to student success. We generally view lower-autonomy CUREs to be easier to implement since the instructor knows in advance the question to be addressed by the student research activity. Finding that student autonomy level in a CURE does not influence student outcomes, will make it easier to foster systemic change in STEM education through broader development and successful implementation of CUREs to improve STEM learning and teaching.


Anna J. Zelaya, Emory University, Atlanta; Sinead N. Younge, Morehouse College, Atlanta; Nicole M. Gerardo, Emory University, Atlanta; Christopher W. Beck, Emory University, Atlanta