Pam HarveyBy Pamela A. Harvey, PhD

In the Discovery Labs, research-based laboratory courses in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, students participate in authentic research projects and present their findings at a poster symposium at the end of the semester. In this portfolio, I highlight issues associated with assessing achievement in research among introductory biology students and strategies used in these courses to align course goals with assessment of research presentations.


Course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) incorporate scientific discovery, the experience of failure, opportunity for iteration, and development of troubleshooting skills (Corwin, et al., 2015). Discovery-based Laboratory I and II Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (MCDB) 1171 and 2171] are introductory-level CUREs that are one of the core requirements for MCDB majors at University of Colorado Boulder. Students take one research-based laboratory course in the first year of the MCDB curriculum; the Discovery Labs are two of the three options available to students. 


The Discovery Labs aim to provide students with an authentic research experience that incorporates design, presentation, and defense of experiments and resulting data. The initial goals of the course were ambitious for first-year students, and after scaling up the course, I decided that focusing on experimental design, data analysis, and scientific communication would best serve the diverse cohort of students enrolling in The Discovery Labs. Significant challenges associated with assessing the research gains of students led to refocusing the curriculum to better align with the course goals.

Student Work

Overall, the assessments were positive, with peer evaluations across all posters averaging 92.3%. Prior to implementation using the same evaluation in spring 2018, the average of the peer review was 90.5%. Each of the categories assessed in spring 2019 scored on average above 89% with no one category significantly lower than the others. 


Implementation of more structure with regard to developing and presenting research resulted in modest gains in peer assessment and overall grades at the CURE Symposium. Student feedback was overwhelmingly positive about the experience, but time continues to be an issue. It was useful to see this feedback and we are going to address the major concerns in the coming semester.

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