During the Fall 2020 term, when faced with the challenge of instructing a large (400+ student), introductory physics lab virtually, we redesigned the entire course to create a unique experience for the students --a CURE. Course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) involve students in authentic research by engaging students in inquiries where neither the students nor the instructor know the answer. CUREs have been shown to have a multitude of benefits including (1) the potential to make research opportunities available to students who do not typically access research, including those with lower GPAs and students from backgrounds historically underserved in STEM (Bangera & Brownell, 2014), (2) allowing students experience novel research in a supportive setting and the opportunity to develop a sense of ownership of their lab course work (Corwin et al., 2018), and (3) the incorporation of CUREs has been shown to help graduation rates (Rodenbusch et al., 2016) and persistence in STEM (Hanauer et al., 2016).
During the virtual lab, where it was not feasible for students tinker with instruments nor engage in-person with classmates, we sought to provide them with an opportunity to engage in an authentic research experience. We partnered with Dr. James Mason at Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) to study the relationship between the energy of solar flares and how frequently they occur.
CU Boulder's Physics 1140 students engaged in a 15-week-long course that allowed them to work and contribute to this research project. Students worked in teams of 3-4 students over Zoom to choose a flare from the Space Weather Data Portal, do a background correction, and report the total energy of the flare. The students then pulled all the individual flare data together to determine the relationship between flare energy and frequency.
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