JMU setting the bar for providing research in large introductory courses

jmuOn a warm fall morning made for enjoying the outdoors, 25 first-year James Madison University students taking a “Foundations of Biology” course are fortunate to have a class requiring them to explore the Edith J. Carrier arboretum.

The students combing the arboretum on this morning make up one of 25 lab sections of Bio 140 this semester. With each lab section consisting of 24-25 students, there are about 625 students in Bio 140 — who hail from across Virginia as well as 13 other states — and every one of them is getting an authentic research experience, something often difficult to provide to so many students. Once they return to the lab, they will use PCR, gel electrophoresis, sanger sequencing, and research software to prepare and analyze the specimens they collected using DNA barcoding, a technique that allows them to accurately identify what they’ve collected.

JMU professors have been successfully providing this experience through a course-based undergraduate research experience since 2016. It’s an approach that is meeting national calls across higher education for large-scale engagement of early-career undergraduate students in authentic STEM research experiences, and an approach that JMU and the Cold Spring Harbor DNA Learning Center are sharing through workshops with faculty at other institutions.

“To our knowledge, this is among the largest-enrollment CUREs being offered to first-year undergraduates in the United States, and we hope that it can be useful to other institutions interested in documenting biodiversity and engaging introductory biology students in authentic research,” the teaching team wrote in an article for CourseSource.

JMU takes great pride in making unique research experiences available to its undergraduates. In just four years, the “Foundations of Biology” course has provided this experience to more than 2,000 students.


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