Open inquiry versus broadly relevant short-term research experiences for non-biology majors

Sadie L Hebert, Jessamina E. Blum, Deena Wassenberg, David Marks, Kate Barry, Sehoya H Cotner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Undergraduate student participation in course-based research experiences results in many positive outcomes, but there is a lack of evidence demonstrating which elements of a research experience are necessary, especially for non-biology majors. Broad relevance is one element that can be logistically challenging to incorporate into research experiences in large-enrollment courses. We investigated the impacts of broad relevance in a short-term research experience in an introductory biology course for non-majors. Students either participated in an open-inquiry research experience (OI-RE), where they developed their own research question, or a broadly relevant research experience (BR-RE), where they investigated a question assigned to them that was relevant to an ongoing research project. We found a significant association between the type of research project experienced and students’ preference for an experience, with half of the students in the OI-RE group and nearly all students in the BR-RE group preferring a broadly relevant research experience. However, since science confidence increased over the course for both groups, these findings indicate that while students who participated in a BR-RE valued it, broadly relevant research experiences may not be necessary for positive outcomes for non-majors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Microbiology and Biology Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 30 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Ashley Breiland and Cody Smith for help with laboratory logistics, the laboratory teaching assistants for their work teaching the laboratory sections, and Christine Lian for assistance coding open-ended survey responses. This work was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation awarded to S.C. (NSF 1432414). We have no conflicts of interest to declare.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Author(s). Published by the American Society for Microbiology.


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