Full Abstract Details

Promoting learning through authentic and relevant research experiences in environmental monitoring and remediation across ten ch

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Project TypePhase 1/Type 1 - Exploratory
Target DisciplineChemistry
Project FocusCreating Learning Materials and Teaching Strategies
NameCessna, Stephen
InstitutionEastern Mennonite University
DepartmentBiology and Chemistry Departments
Phone Number540-432-4403
E-mail Addresscessnas@emu.edu
Goals & Intended Outcome

To introduce several multi-week integrated research projects on topics of environmental remediation to 10 undergraduate biology and chemistry courses. Through these experiences we expect increased learning of the nature of science, critical thinking skills, and skills in scientific communication.

Methods & Strategies

We are developing new teaching materials for several new open-ended research projects for traditional laboratory courses. Student develop research products (papers, posters, and oral presentations) in several courses. These products are assessed by a comprehensive rubric bank.

Evaluation Methods & Results

We are assessing learning with the SUSSI, a tested instrument for gauging student understanding of the nature of science and scientific inquiry. We are also measuring student learning through repeated use of similar rubrics, and student surveys and interviews. Student understanding of the nature of science improves, even after one semester, and continues to improve with reiterations (taking more courses that use these types of projects, or performing more than one project in one course.) Students and their teachers perceive an improvement in the scientific communication skills.


We have a paper in press in Chemistry Education Research and Practice, and two more papers in preparation for other biology and chemistry education journals. We will present our findings at three conferences in the coming year (including BCCE and ACS meetings). We have a webpage.


There has been an enhancement of learning, particularly of the nature of science understanding, and also in communication skills. Also, student generally report an appreciation for the project-based laboratories. The participating faculty have gained confidence in assigning longer term open-ended laboratory projects, and assessing the work from those projects in a manner that enhances learning. This CCLI project has also helped to enhance a ‘community of interdisciplinary and collaborative research’ within and between STEM departments.


At first we were quite naive and assumed that making these changes to our curriculum would lead to increases in learning of the content matter (e.g. thermodynamic principles), analytical skills (e.g. instrumental skills, such as care and use of a spectrometer, and analyzing and using data appropriately for inference formation), laboratory safety and care, critical thinking skills, communication skills (e.g. writing research papers), and nature of science understanding. They might actually learn all of this, but we have learned that we really cannot assess all of that. We had to scale back…

Expected Outcomes

Enhanced learning of the nature of science and critical thinking and communication skills.

Data Impact

The SUSSI instrument for measuring changes in student understanding of the nature of science and scientific inquiry. We are also gauging learning with tested rubrics and surveys and interview protocols that we are developing.

Collection Methods

We are using the SUSSI and student surveys pre- and post- first year chemistry, after the second year of courses work, and then again during the senior year of the biology, chemistry, environmental science, or biochemistry majors. Seniors are also interviewed.

Key Findings

Increased learning of the nature of science. Improvement of scientific communication skills.