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REU 2020 Project Descriptions

CiDER faculty at North Dakota State University engage in discipline-based education research at the undergraduate level in biology, chemistry, computer science, math, and physics. These faculty have compiled brief REU project descriptions that include studying instructional innovations, conceptual reasoning, and student approaches to learning. Each REU student will work closely with associated project mentor(s), taking ownership of a portion of the research. As part of your application and to help ensure a good research experience this summer, we ask you to identify your top 3 project choices.

Project descriptions

(1) Charting Change in Undergraduate Instruction
Faculty mentor: Lisa Montplaisir
Graduate student mentor: Becky Reichenbach

Change, as they say, is hard. We know that undergraduate instruction must change if we are to meet the ever-evolving needs of our students, and yet university classrooms nationwide are still dominated by traditional lecture. A large, and growing, group of STEM faculty at NDSU are participating in a reform project seeking to change this profile. What happens as faculty change and transition away from lectures? What changes do faculty make within a course? How much change is needed? We have a rich set of observations and course artifacts to explore, including syllabi, exams, projects, and formative assessments. Our data set includes instructor samples from four different colleges: Agriculture, Food Systems, & Natural Resources; Engineering; Health Professions; and Science & Math.

 Student researchers on this project will be able to:
-Choose which type of course artifacts they want to examine,
-Develop and implement coding schemes,
-Analyze and summarize qualitative data,
-Synthesize data and present a scientific poster, and
-Develop new questions for future research

(2) Students’ Conceptual Understanding of Fundamental Chemistry Concepts
Faculty mentor: James Nyachwaya

Conceptual understanding in chemistry is a goal that instructors have for their courses and students. One way of measuring or ascertaining the level of conceptual understanding is through assessment. Research in chemistry education has consistently shown that while most students show mastery of facts and memorized procedures, they struggle to demonstrate true conceptual understanding. Through student responses to open ended questions, we seek to characterize students’ conceptual understanding of basic, fundamental chemistry concepts. Our data is drawn from a general chemistry course.

Research Question:
What is the nature of general chemistry students’ conceptual understanding of fundamental concepts such as the particulate nature of matter?

In the course of the research experience, participants will:
-Synthesize literature on conceptual understanding in chemistry,
-Analyze student data to determine the nature of understanding
-Synthesize research findings in the form of a scientific poster presented at the conclusion of the program 
-Present their research progress in lab group meeting at least once during the summer

(3) Tough Decisions: WWSD (What Would Students Do?)
Faculty co-mentors: Kimberly Booth, Jennifer Momsen 

Students encounter socio-scientific issues on a consistent basis. Should I seek antibiotics for my cold? Do I really need to get a flu shot? The ability to make evidence-based decisions about socio-scientific issues is a crucial skill that instructors emphasize, yet little research has been done on what reasoning students actually use to make decisions. This research question is especially critical for non-science students as they comprise the majority of the voting population. Our research goal is to characterize student reasoning used to inform decisions on important socio-scientific issues by collecting student written responses from an undergraduate non-majors biology course. Do students use evidence-based reasoning from concepts learned in biology, or perhaps other aspects of their lives such as religious or political ideologies? By determining what information students use when making decisions, we hope to provide targeted instruction that emphasizes the importance of making evidence-based decisions.

After completion of this project, the REU students will be able to:
-Analyze, categorize, and quantify students’ written responses
-Complete basic statistics to determine statistical significance
-Make scientific claims based on the analyzed data
-Synthesize and present a scientific poster
-Develop new scientific questions for further research

(4) “When are we ever going to use this?” Community Engaged Learning and Science
Faculty mentor: Danielle Condry
Graduate Student mentor: Johnny Nguyen

Sometimes what we do or learn in the classroom seems far removed from what happens in the “real world”. This disconnect can make a subject boring or decrease a student’s motivation. One method often used in social science courses is to incorporate “community engaged learning” or “service learning” projects into the classroom. These projects get students out in the community, learning and helping others at the same time. Evidence has shown service learning has impacts on student learning outcomes, personal growth, and career development. But how and when are these types of projects best implemented?

This project focuses on (1) analyzing data collected from students on their perceptions of community engaged learning.  (2) using conclusions from data collection to create effective community engagement modules for science courses. Example research questions: Does community engaged learning impact the satisfaction of major choice in undergraduate students? Does community engaged learning impact student success in the classroom? How is career choice impacted by community engaged learning projects? Does class size or course level alter the impact and success of community engaged learning projects?

Students working on this project will:
-Become familiar with literature related to community engaged learning and its impacts
-Have the opportunity to code and analyze student responses from data collection
-Create new research questions for future study
-Help develop “best practice” for development of community engaged learning modules for science courses
-Communicate progress to other teaching faculty and/or researchers
-Synthesize research findings in the form of a scientific poster presented at the end of the program

(5) Using Geology to Present a Systems Approach in Science Classrooms
Faculty mentors: Stephanie Day, Jenni Momsen

In most places in the United States, high school students take courses in Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Each of these courses is taught separately and with distinct and defining characteristics. As we advance in our education it becomes clear to most scientists how these concepts connect, yet this may not always be true for our students. One discipline that is not often taught, yet inherently builds these connections, is geology. The study of the Earth is certainly unique in its own right, but it also relies on concepts from other more traditionally taught science courses. In this project, we will work to build an activity that raises awareness of geology as a scientific discipline and helps students begin to think through the interconnectedness of scientific concepts.

The researcher on this project will:
-Evaluate a survey examining how students perceive the interconnectedness of geology with other science disciplines
-Design an activity (or series of activities) for a Biology, Chemistry, or Physics high school course that integrates geologic concepts
-Determine the national and state standards being met by the activity
-Communicate progress to our community of researchers
-Synthesize research findings in the form of a scientific poster presented at the end of the program

(6) Unpacking Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium to Create a Better Curriculum for Introductory Biology
Faculty mentor: Jenni Momsen
Graduate student mentor: Kurt Williams

Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium. The name itself makes students shudder as they reach for a calculator. What is it about HWE that strikes fear in the hearts of Introductory Biology students? Is it the underlying math? Math anxiety? Or confusion translating math to biology? This project seeks to understand the factors that make Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium difficult for biology learners to support the development of curriculum to help students move beyond these challenges.

The researcher on this project will:
-Analyze a suite of course artifacts, including pre- and post-tests, classroom activities, and exam items,
-Learn qualitative and quantitative research techniques including: (1) analysis of survey data, (2) categorization of student written responses, and (3) basic statistics to determine significance
-Develop new research questions for further exploration, 
-Contribute to curriculum development, and
-Synthesize research findings in the form of a scientific poster presented at the end of the program

(7) Meta-Analysis of the Performance on Cognitive Reflection Test and Math Skills
Faculty mentors: Mila Kryjevskaia and Alexey Leontyev  

Frequently, while studying physics and chemistry students encounter situations that require them to override intuition to reason productively. The cognitive reflection test (CRT) is a task designed in cognitive psychology to measure a person's tendency to override an incorrect "gut" response and engage in further reflection to arrive at a correct answer. However, some studies suggest that to override first available responses elicited by CRT items a person must be proficient in basic math operations (e.g., distinguish between addition and subtraction, division and multiplication). In other studies, this relationship was not observed. When multiple studies explore the same relationship and produce seemingly contradictory results, a meta-analysis can be conducted to evaluate more precisely the presence, direction, and magnitude of a relationship in question.

In this project, an REU student will conduct a systematic literature search of studies that used the CRT and extract information from the studies on the relationship of CRT and math skills (as well as other potential moderating variables). The student will learn and apply statistical techniques appropriate for the goals of this meta-analysis project.  The results and the methodology of this project can be foundational for a Ph.D. thesis in the Kryjevskaia or Leontyev groups. 

(8) Rasch Analysis of Students Performance on Core Concepts in Organic Chemistry 
Faculty mentor: Alexey Leontyev  

In this study, we will analyze the assessment quizzes given to students at the start of Organic Chemistry 2. This quiz was designed to test students on core concepts from Organic Chemistry 1 that require the use of symbolic representations, such as drawing of Lewis structures and using curved arrows. 

The Rasch model will be employed for the analysis of Core Concepts Quiz. The Rasch model creates measurements from answers to quiz questions as a function of the trade-off between the respondent’s abilities and the item difficulty. In this analysis, we will examine dimensionality, item fit properties, person and item reliability, and alignment of item difficulties with person abilities. An REU participant will score quizzes, create a database of students’ responses, conduct the analysis, and make inferences from data. 

(9) Creative Exercises in Organic Chemistry
Faculty mentor: Alexey Leontyev  

Creative Exercises (CEs) are open-ended assessment tools that do not have a single set of correct answers. In CEs, students are given a brief prompt, for example, “C2H4 molecule” and are asked to write down correct, distinct, and relevant statements that pertain to the original prompt. CEs were investigated in general chemistry and biochemistry settings. No studies reported the use of creative exercise for organic chemistry, despite the availability of frameworks for analysis using the nature of the evidence or cognitive complexity.

In this project, an REU participant will investigate data from student responses to CEs. Data were collected from CEs administered as extra credit assignments in midterm and final exams in various organic chemistry classes. Potential projects include examining students’ linking of chemistry concepts or evaluating the impact of CE formats on the interconnections made by students. An REU researcher will code student responses, examine and visualize data, and make inferences from data. 

(10) Gameful Learning
Faculty mentor: Jeff Boyer
Graduate student mentor: Wil Falkner 

How do students engage with a “gameful learning” approach to course design? We used a gameful learning approach to design and implement a general education course focused on scientific thinking and quantitative reasoning for non-science majors. Gameful learning has four characteristics: (1) earning up: rather than starting with an A and losing points, students start at 0 and earn experience (XP) to reach higher levels (grades) after successfully completing missions and challenges within the course, (2) increased autonomy: students choose which missions and challenges to attempt from the multiple options available to them, (3) freedom to fail: students can re-attempt missions and challenges if a first attempt does not meet expectations, and (4) tangible progress: students can add up their XP earned to see which level (grade) they’ve reached in the course.

The researcher on this project will:
-Learn and implement quantitative and qualitative research techniques
-Analyze student performance data and survey results
-Develop new questions for further exploration
-Synthesize and present findings in the form of a scientific poster
-Propose improvements to the gameful learning approach for future courses

(11) A Tree is not a Tree?: Investigating Student Interpretation of Complex, Hierarchical Visualizations
Faculty mentors: Ben Balas, Jenni Momsen

Phylogenetic trees are complex visualizations that plague undergraduate biology students. Extensive research documents just how difficult these images are to interpret, yet little research has explored how perceptual limitations imposed by the visual system may contribute to those difficulties. For example, both visual acuity and the phenomenon of visual crowding may make it difficult to accurately perceive the hierarchical connections in tree diagrams that carry information about evolutionary relatedness. These errors may lead to systematic mistakes in how students see and subsequently interpret phylogenetic trees, compromising higher-level understanding of the relevant biological mechanisms. This project will explore that connection, using data from psychophysical experiments, eye tracking data, and introductory biology classrooms. We will also explore potential ways to modify tree diagrams to support better perceptual and educational outcomes, motivated by theories of peripheral visual function.

The research on this project will:
-Gain a deeper understanding of evolution and phylogenetic trees,
-Analyze course artifacts, students’ eye movements while examining artifacts, and psychophysical data,
-Develop new research questions for further exploration, 
-Propose improvements to phylogenetic tree curriculum, and
-Synthesize research findings in the form of a scientific poster presented at the end of the program.


Student Focused. Land Grant. Research University.

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Last Updated: Thursday, November 07, 2019 10:31:40 AM
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