An Analysis of Virtual Research Experiences for Undergraduates Programs in Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Atmosphere, Social Science, Education

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With the continued social distancing requirements of the novel COVID-19 pandemic, many in-person educational programs were halted in 2020, including specialty education and research experiences for undergraduates. However, some Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs) progressed in summer 2020 in a fully virtual format. The importance of understanding how these practical STEM skills translated in a virtual REU format, in addition to areas of improvement going forward, are critical to the development of effective online STEM learning through REUs. Two survey instruments were designed to capture data from both the REU mentors (including the PIs) and the students in the programs. Questions included information on the REU they participated in, their perceptions of the best and worst aspects, their overall satisfaction with the experience, and their likelihood to seek out virtual REUs in the future. Overall, both students and faculty involved in virtual REUs were glad to have had the experience and were satisfied with it. The benefits of flexibility, the ease of communication and scheduling, and the increased access to online resources were echoed as the strengths of the virtual format. However, many believe that an in-person REU had benefits that could not be replicated in a virtual environment, including community building and hands-on experiences. Several were bogged down by technical difficulties. With more effort made to include community building to a greater extent, as well as considerations and planning for technical demands, the future of widely accessible online REU experiences is a bright one.

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Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, v. 103, issue 3, p. E954-E972