The transition of Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) to distance teaching can be challenging. Below, we highlight eight Brown University Sheridan-HHMI instructors’ experiences to identify key strategies for making the pivot in Spring 2020.
Re-focus the CURE on data analysis
Toni-Marie Achilli (BIOL 0940G: Antibiotic Drug Discovery: Identifying Novel Soil Microbes to Combat Antibiotic Resistance)
Toni-Marie’s original objective was to use the Tiny Earth curriculum to engage students in proposing, designing, and conducting their own research projects to discover new antibiotics in soil bacteria that can be used to treat infectious disease. Before the university moved to remote instruction, students had developed hypotheses and were at the point of sending out samples for sequencing -- but not quite ready. Fortunately, Toni-Marie did a pilot this past summer and has sample data that can be sent to students. The focus will now shift to data analysis, with students now asking, “What would you predict your isolates may/may not be?”, based on the in-class characterizations that were performed. Each group has been researching and proposing protocols for future experiments, and while these will no longer be conducted, students will run thought experiments and will create hypothetical data to analyze.
Eric Victor (Chem 0500: Inorganic Chemistry)
Eric’s original plan (for his class of 55) was to have students synthesize compounds and study their reactivity. Fortunately, he already planned ahead for this type of contingency on a small scale because, in the past, a few sick students have had to participate remotely. Eric will instead pivot the objective of the lab to computational modelling of the already synthesized compounds and the proposed final compounds. Next year’s students can use the computational data collected to revisit the various compounds with a more directed focus to achieve the final synthetic goals outlined in the project.
Engage students with the primary literature
Kristina Cohen (BIOL 0285: Inquiry in Biochemistry: From Gene to Protein Function)
Kristina’s CURE is focused on having students work in teams to formulate and test a hypothesis about how a change in genetic sequence affects enzyme function. Unfortunately, the university moved to remote instruction before the students’ samples were fully ready to yield all of the data that Kristina had originally hoped they would analyze. Students will have some data (from sequencing), so Kristina will ask them to write about the result (is there a mutation?) and what they would predict. She will also pivot the course to focus more on skills for reading primary literature. Using the CREATE framework to structure their reading, students will analyze a suite of three papers from the same lab, which show the development of scientific inquiry.
Sarah Taylor and Yang Zhou (BIOL 0190S: Phage Hunters)
Part of the HHMI SEA-PHAGES program, Phage Hunters is a year-long course that asks first-year students to isolate and characterize a bacteriophage virus found in the soil. The wet lab had been completed in the fall term, and the phage was sequenced over winter break, so students are well-positioned to engage with data analysis, accomplished by Google Docs. To complement this activity, students also will be participating in a journal club, where they will read and present papers from the primary literature, in preparation for their final research paper.
Ask students to design a research proposal
Fulvio Domini (CLPS 1591: Experimental Analysis of Vision for Action and Vision for Perception: Are There Separate Mechanisms?)
Fulvio’s course on perception and action originally proposed to ask students to develop hypotheses, design tests, build an apparatus to track motor movements within a VR environment, and collect and report on behavioral data. Transitioning this course to remote instruction is particularly challenging because much of the remaining work would need to be completed in the lab. In consultation with Stacey Lawrence (Sheridan), students will now create a research proposal, writing in the style of a NSF/NIH grant application. Other students will critique, in the style of a review panel.
Dan Harris (ENGN 1860: Advanced Fluid Mechanics)
In his CURE, Dan asked students to use the Brown Design Workshop to utilize rapid prototyping techniques and stress the importance of iteration in the research and design process. At the time of the university’s move to remote instruction, students had completed their first prototype and had demoed it. In consultation with Christina Smith (Sheridan), Dan will now ask students to develop a proposal in the style of design engineering (e.g., a bid for consulting, proof of concept). The course will now also stress the computational aspects of the project instead, with some scaling down of parameters, with the support of the Center for Computation and Visualization. Because several students are committed to seeing their design through, Dan is also envisioning that he could teach a senior capstone or independent study course that would pick up the process.
Distance teaching may be your “sweet spot”
Neil Sarkar and Liz Chen (BIOL 1555 / PHP 2561: Methods in Informatics and Data Science for Health)
Neil and Liz actually find themselves in a “sweet spot,” as this moment affords them the opportunity to spotlight this 30-student course’s ability to move online. The objective of their course is to develop a solution that uses data science and informatics approaches to address a biomedical or health challenge. Many parts of the course already were remote. For example, the course has a Slack channel and students were already collaborating on reports together via Google Docs. They will continue interactions by meeting in Zoom by small groups, with TAs who will be circulating between rooms. At the end of the course, students will present their work to each other via a “lightning talk.”