Transforming Undergraduate Education in the Geosciences Using Remotely-Operated Electron Probe Microanalyzer and Scanning Electron Microscope: CUREs

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Geoscience faculty at Florida International University, University of South Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University and Valencia College have been collaborating to expand undergraduate in-class use of a remotely operable electron probe microanalyzer and SEM housed at the Florida Center for Analytical Electron Microscopy (FCAEM; https://fcaem.fiu.edu). Use of remotely operated research instrumentation as a pedagogical tool in Geoscience CUREs is an effective strategy for promoting student achievement, fostering self-directed research, and encouraging the transition from passive learning to independent inquiry. In-class use of analytical instruments has commonly served small numbers of students because of costs, access limitations, and training.

For faculty, changes to classroom practices are time consuming and carry a risk of failure, which can impede the spread of promising educational strategies. To overcome these barriers, our NSF/TUES funded project developed implementable CUREs, and specimen sets available for undergraduate Geoscience courses. A facilitator has been available to train and assist faculty in tandem with step-by-step written and video guidelines. Interactive exhibits demonstrating the remote capabilities of the instruments were presented at CUR, GSA, AGU, EER, MSA and NSF meetings. To date, the user base has expanded to eight different domestic and one international academic institution. Data gathered in our assessments indicate improved undergraduate understanding of key course concepts and better class performance including a deeper understanding of course subject matter. Most importantly, post-course benefits assessment suggests increased student enthusiasm towards science, greater willingness to undertake independent research and to enroll in additional STEM courses because of their CURE experiences. Anecdotal evidence suggests undergraduates are more inclined to apply to graduate school given their exposure to research practices. As the project moves forward, we are addressing new challenges in understanding what influences and promotes faculty motivation to adopt these interventions, and how best to support a growing and active instructional user base.

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Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 49, issue 6, no. 334-8