Aligning Learning Objectives and Content Coverage Toward Creating a Sustainable Geoscience CUREs: Two Examples Using Remotely Operable Microbeam Instruments

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Central to the successful incorporation of course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) or research-training activities into undergraduate STEM courses is recognizing and addressing the necessary tradeoffs between time spent on research in class and time spent on content coverage and other traditional course activities. At USF I transitioned a Junior-level mineralogy/petrology course to include a half-semester CURE, making use of the remotely operable electron probe microanalyzer (EPMA) system at the Florida Center for Analytical Electron Microscopy (FCAEM); and I incorporated an investigative research-training activity into a general-audience topical natural science course for our Honors College, making use of the FCAEM scanning electron microscope (SEM).

In both courses, learning goals were re-aligned to focus on developing key intellectual and technical skills. Key skills included data/observation collection and QA/QC, and the integration and synthesis of observations of different kinds and at different scales. Traditional laboratory activities were tailored to the needs of course projects, and activities focused on development and practice of research skills replaced lectures and other activities focused exclusively on transmitting information. Content delivery in both courses largely occurs in the context of the course project (in one recent example, phase equilibria and 2 and 3 component phase diagrams were presented as a means for explaining the mineral assemblages in the IODP Exp. 352 basalts and boninites that students were examining). Exposure to additional conceptual information becomes a student task in conducting background research on the course project, and as sidebar information in labs (e.g., discussion of ophiolites and layered mafic intrusions in labs on oceanic and subduction-related igneous rocks).

Outcomes from 10+ years of CURE-focused courses at USF indicate greater student interest in course topics and a greater willingness to pursue geoscience investigations using analytical tools. A relatively modest annual financial investment, through course lab fees, in instrument time and sample preparation is sufficient to afford these benefits provided students get sufficient classroom time to engage with course projects.

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Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 49, issue 6, no. 364-1