some studies have indicated that the red coloration of pitcher traps is
important in the attraction process (Schaefer & Ruxton, 2008), while
other studies have concluded that red coloration does not provide
important signals for prey attraction or for camouflage of traps
(Bennett & Ellison, 2009; Foote et al., 2014). Other studies have indicated that visual cues within the UV light range rather than the visible
range are critical in the attraction process (Kurup et al., 2013).
Having access to literature on a topic can dramatically improve
the breadth and depth of questions asked in semester-long authentic
undergraduate research experiences; however, it can be challenging
to find relevant literature that matches student projects. By developing a database of past projects, students have access to a literature
base they can use to develop their own projects and to write their
Research Experience Setup
The Terrestrial Plant Ecology class at Augustana University includes
3 hours of lecture each week as well as 3 hours of laboratory. The
laboratory is almost entirely devoted to conducting independent
research projects. These semester-long research experiences culminate in journal-style manuscripts that are “published” in a class publication, “Journal of Terrestrial Plant Ecology.” In addition, students
present their work in a class symposium, open to the entire campus
community, at the end of the semester.
The learning objectives of the Terrestrial Plant Ecology class include
(2) Students will write like a biologist, persuading readers of a
(3) Students will think critically in written form, summarizing and
interpreting ecological literature.
These objectives align with several of the Science and Engineering
Practices within the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead
States, 2013), including planning and carrying out investigations,
analyzing and interpreting data, engaging in arguments from evidence, and obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.
These objectives also align with the core competencies outlined
within Vision and Change (AAAS, 2011). Specifically, they align with
the abilities to apply the process of science, use quantitative reasoning, and communicate science.
Stages & Timetable of Projects
There were four distinct stages to the research experiences. These
stages were similar to the four-step pedagogical framework for authentic scientific research published by McLaughlin and Coyle (2016), but
differed in that the design of the experiments preceded learning experimental techniques (Table 1). While many inquiry-based experiences
have focused on a particular experimental technique, the focus within
the Terrestrial Plant Ecology class was on the experimental questions.
Students therefore had a great deal of freedom in picking projects of
interest, which increased their sense of ownership. This sense of ownership can be an important component in motivating student interest
in learning (Hidi & Harackiewicz, 2000; Miller, 2008). The time
required for each stage can vary depending on the project and student
group, but Table 1 represents a typical sequence of events.
During the first stage, students formed groups based on shared
interests and met with the instructor weekly to craft the project
(Table 1). Students were introduced to primary literature and to
Table 1. Stages and timeline for semester undergraduate research experiences.
Stage 1: Formation of groups and crafting of project
Stage 2: Learning techniques/data collection
Stage 3: Data analysis
Stage 4: Writing manuscript drafts
Timeline Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3 Stage 4
Week 1 Introduction to independent projects/brainstorm ideas for
Week 2 Project “speed dating” activity/formation of teams/
Week 3 Project proposal due (includes primary literature)/meet
with groups about projects
Week 4 Meet with groups/collecting data X
Week 5 Meet with groups/collecting data X X
Week 6 Collect data/work on introduction and methods X X X
Week 7 Collect data/first draft of introduction/methods due X X X