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Student Impact: Accelerating Learning

We accelerate Learning Through Student Led Research

March 1, 2021

Publishing research is an important part of building a scientific career. Publishing as an undergraduate student puts you miles ahead of the competition. For students in Dr. Erika Martin’s General Biology 141, conducting research with the goal of publishing findings is just a regular day in class.

Her research integrated lab course is a prime example of what high-impact learning can be and exemplifies the benefits students experience.

Starting in 2018, Dr. Martin shifted the General Biology 141 lab class from traditional curriculum experiments into a course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE).

The aim was to create a real-world experience. “Science, most of the time, doesn’t have a step-by-step protocol with a known outcome that someone else has already done,” says Martin.

In Martin’s course, students design and lead their own experiment. “I break the project down into steps and then they do the science. By the end, they are expected, as a class, to produce a scientific manuscript in the style of something that would be publishable in a science magazine or journal.”

“I want my students to experience a collegiate leap in knowledge. And I want them to leave the university not only knowing things but knowing what to do with the things they’ve learned. Those are not necessarily the same thing. They are two different skill sets,” says Martin.

It has been a very successful course for students. The class of 2018 succeeded in seeing their research on microplastics accepted for publication, an extremely uncommon event for freshmen biology students.

The class also serves as a way to study the value of these high-impact courses. Graduate student and teaching assistant Joseph LaForge has been studying the student outcomes in this course. His research is analyzing student knowledge, comfort, self-efficacy and enjoyment of the sciences. Through his analysis, he has found that students take more ownership in the integrated lab course. “They are more comfortable conveying their findings and they identify more as scientists, even as freshmen,” says LaForge.

According to his observations, this high-impact model intensifies the learning experience and has long-term benefits. “Active investigation is a unique learning method. It does improve retention, scientific literacy and the ability to relate to other topics. Because once students can think critically and think with an investigative eye, they apply that to other areas as well, like chemistry or physics. One semester of having a true high-impact learning environment will change every semester to come.”

It makes students lifelong learners and prepares them for careers, he says. “Because when your boss asks you a question, it’s because they don’t know the answer, and they want you to figure it out. With high-impact projects like this, students realize that they don’t need someone to tell them what the answer will be. They can figure it out for themselves.”

To learn more about the fall 2018 class’s research on microplastics, check out the articles below.

Microplastics may be a macro problem for the U.S. Great Plains, too, study finds (

Assessment of Microplastics in the Great Plains: Comparing Densities in Water and Benthic Sediment Across Kansas (