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ASU study shows lab courses benefit faculty, as well as students

Lab courses with real research keep faculty intellectually involved, too.
February 22, 2016

Labs offering real research create hands-on experience for students and produce actual data professors can use

The benefits of letting students conduct real research in the classroom have been examined multiple times during the past decade, but a new study involving researchers at Arizona State University is the first to show what faculty have to gain from the new teaching method.

The study, published in BioScience, is built around the idea that faculty members have three options when designing a lab course — “cookbook” labs, inquiry-based labs and course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs).

Sara Brownell, an assistant professor in the School of Life Sciences, said that while the pre-designed, right-or-wrong nature of cookbook labs has long been proven to be an inadequate teaching method, researchers are still exploring whether inquiry-based labs or CUREs should replace them. Brownell describes the difference between them as one of function. Whereas both task students with exploring a specific question using personally designed experimentation, only CUREs create data that faculty members can actually use for their own research.

“An example I like to give for inquiry-based courses is, if you tried to figure out what bacteria is on your shoe right now, you swab it, grow it and try to identify it — and it’s new to you,” Brownell said. “That could be really cool to you as a student, but no one outside the classroom really cares about that.”

CUREs, alternatively, are designed by the faculty member teaching the lab to focus on their personal research projects. According to Brownell, this method offers students a chance to learn about the scientific process through hands-on experiences, but also provides faculty with data they can use.

“Between teaching, research and service, there are just not enough hours in the day for most faculty,” Brownell said. “So, they have to make decisions about where to put more or less time — and you’re always kind of letting someone down.”

By giving professors dozens of extra hands to help gather or analyze valuable data, Brownell said they aren’t forced to choose between focusing on teaching or research.

Other benefits of CUREs include increased grant funding and improved relationships between teachers and students — who behave more like the peers they would be in a real-world setting. CUREs also contribute positively to promotions and tenure-track positions by demonstrating innovative teaching skills.

In addition to this, Brownell said faculty admit to enjoying CUREs better from a teaching method because it keeps them intellectually involved. Though it isn’t measurable, Brownell said that study participants claimed their jobs felt better when teaching CUREs.

However, Brownell said there are a few challenges to a CURE lab.

First and foremost, logistics can be complex. If the lab requires students to leave campus, faculty must have a way to get them to the field site. Also, since students work at different paces and may conduct different experiments, faculty members must adjust to varied needs in terms of guidance.

Time and cost are also factors, according to Brownell, as CURE labs require more effort and money to create. Sometimes the financial needs necessitate outside grant funding or institutional buy-in, neither of which are guaranteed.

Brownell does plan to address these obstacles in the next step of her research by collecting data on CURE courses already taught at institutions around the country. Then, after her team analyzes what makes them successful, professors interested in creating their own CURE labs will have guidelines to follow.

Top photo: Freshman Natalia Thompson works in ASU assistant professor Arianne Cease’s locust lab, which focuses on understanding how human-plant-insect interactions affect the sustainability of agricultural systems around the world. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Jason Krell

Communication and events coordinator , Center for Evolution and Medicine


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Sojourn Theatre founder Michael Rohd to join ASU faculty

Sojourn Theatre founder Michael Rohd to join ASU.
February 22, 2016

Rohd, founding director of the Center for Performance and Civic Practice, to co-lead Ensemble Lab

Michael Rohd, founding director of the Center for Performance and Civic Practice (CPCP) and the Sojourn Theatre company, will join Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts as Institute Professor, starting in fall 2016.

Rohd has worked around the nation to design and lead theatre-based community engaged, participatory projects and processes focused on social practice, civic practice and local capacity-building. He is a former faculty member at Northwestern University and held the Doris Duke artist residency at Chicago’s Lookingglass Theater Company.

Michael Rohd

Rohd, pictured at left, is the Herberger Institute’s second Institute Professor, and joins Liz Lerman whose was appointed to ASU’s faculty in spring 2016.  As Institute Professor, Rohd will teach and work with Lerman and others as part of the “ensemble lab” — a think tank and platform for experimenting and collaborating with artists, scholars and community leaders from around the world to creatively address issues within and beyond the arts and the academy.

“I am delighted that Michael is coming to ASU as he brings deep insight into the way we understand community and social practice in the arts,” said Lerman. “He is a wonderful teacher and collaborator. I look forward to being challenged by his ideas and to work alongside him as joins the visionary work of the Herberger Institute faculty, staff and students who are forging such a new and dedicated path for the arts in civic life.”

In addition to his time on campus and developing ASU initiatives in the Phoenix area, Rohd will continue his work through the independent, nationally-focused, non-profit CPCP, which houses the award-winning Sojourn Theatre, pictured above. Both programs will be based at — and in frequent partnership with — ASU and the Herberger Institute. Under Rohd’s direction, the center and university will explore opportunities to continue their ongoing work to create arts-based, cross-sector civic practice programs.

“I am thrilled for the opportunity to be a part of the expansive vision ASU President Michael Crow and Herberger Institute Dean Steven Tepper are articulating in Arizona,” said Rohd. “It is a vision aligned with CPCP’s core values and existing programs.”

Top photo: Sojourn Theatre's "On the Table" presentation, which took place in Portland, Oregon. Photo courtesy Sojourn Theatre

Beth Giudicessi