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Entering Research Online: Developing a Virtual Course to Support Experiential Education for Undergraduate Research Assistants

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Cooperative and Experiential Education Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Cooperative and Experiential Education

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Paper Authors


Candyce Hill Michigan State University

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Candyce is an academic advisor in the College of Engineering at Michigan State University (MSU). She holds a Master of Arts in Student Affairs Administration from MSU and a Bachelor's degree in History and Judaic Studies from the University of Michigan (U of M). Before coming to MSU, Candyce worked as a teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma and then as a career adviser at U of M.

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Katy Luchini-Colbry Michigan State University

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Katy Luchini-Colbry is the Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Services at the College of Engineering at Michigan State University, where she completed degrees in political theory and computer science. A recipient of a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, she earned Ph.D. and M.S.E. in computer science and engineering from the University of Michigan. She has published more than two dozen peer-reviewed works related to her interests in educational technology and enhancing undergraduate education through hands-on learning. Luchini-Colbry is also the Director of the Engineering Futures Program of Tau Beta Pi, the Engineering Honor Society, which provides interactive seminars on interpersonal communications and problem solving skills for engineering students across the U.S.

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This evidence-based paper describes the development and implementation of a fully online, entirely asynchronous course designed to introduce undergraduates to engineering research. In its first offering, this course enrolled 32 first-year, first-semester undergraduates who were paired with faculty mentors in part-time, paid research experiences at a large university in the Midwest. The course structure was designed to reinforce two of the key learning goals for the class: (1) developing students’ independence and problem-solving skills, and (2) developing students’ time management and organizational skills. All of the course materials for the entire semester were available to students on the first day of class, and there was a recommended schedule of activities that allowed students to comfortably complete the course well in advance of finals. These learning goals and course activities were informed by decades of research into best practices for supporting research trainees, in particular the “Entering Research” curriculum developed with support from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Students in the course were paired with faculty research mentors from various engineering disciplines, and the context of their research varied considerably. Some students were part of large, established experimental laboratories while other students worked individually or in small groups on computational or theoretical projects. As this course was launched in Fall 2020, students in this class experienced the additional challenge of starting college (and undergraduate research) remotely during a global pandemic. The design and content of this course were evaluated using anonymous feedback and a review of reflective discussion posts in order to determine whether the course supported the stated learning goals. This evaluation indicates that students found the course material helpful in understanding their role as undergraduate research assistants and in learning the professional skills (communications, teamwork, organization, etc.) necessary for success. While most students opted to follow the suggested schedule, about 15% of students instead chose to delay course participation until later in the semester. This varying pace of participation had an unexpected impact on some of the most dedicated students, who found it difficult to engage in productive discussions online when not all of their classmates were working as quickly through the materials.

Hill, C., & Luchini-Colbry, K. (2021, July), Entering Research Online: Developing a Virtual Course to Support Experiential Education for Undergraduate Research Assistants Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37089

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