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Engaging Paleontology Undergraduates in Collaborative Research Experiences

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 July 2017

Michael Savarese
Department of Marine and Ecological Science, College of Arts and Sciences, Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers, Florida 33965 USA
Diane Schmidt
Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Culture, College of Education, Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers, Florida 33965 USA
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Undergraduate research is rightfully viewed as a valuable educational endeavor, yet few students have the time or incentive to avail themselves of the opportunity. Those students who do obtain research experience typically do so during their senior year, at a time too late to best benefit from the experience. Finally, requiring students to conduct independent research can be unsustainable, drawing on limited resources and faculty time. We have developed a collaborative undergraduate research model that unites students as a research team in their standard courses. The method is applicable to all course levels, from introductory science courses to upper-division, discipline-specific courses. At the introductory level, students work on longer-term research problems that require regular monitoring, with each successive class adding to an iterative database. Students in upper-division classes design group projects that are completed in the course of the semester. The benefits of the model are numerous. Students develop a sense of ownership and stewardship; they obtain a thorough experience practicing science while their curriculum is applied to real problems; and students learn to work cooperatively. Results from many of these experiences are of a high enough quality to be presented at scientific meetings and eventually published. Projects often help students focus their discipline-based interests and spawn senior theses, and faculty members have a vehicle to vicariously increase their research productivity. Examples from an upper division paleobiology course are presented. Overall, this model has been highly successful, especially when employed at the upper-division levels.

Research Article
Copyright © 2012 by The Paleontological Society 

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