Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience: CURE (Remote)

SDO captures an image of an M5.6-class solar flare occurring on Jan. 12, 2015. This is one of many solar flares analyzed by the students in the CU Boulder remote physics CURE.

Image Credit

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 in this very unique situation--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 to 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) improved 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 to 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 power of solar flares and their frequency. 


The flare frequency as a function of power found by the CU Boulder Phys 1140 Fall 2020 class compared to previous studies. 

CU Boulder's Physics 1140 students engaged in a 16-week-long course which 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 power of the flare. The students then pulled all the individual flare data together to determine the relationship between flare power and frequency (see the figure at left).

Research on the impact of this course is currently ongoing. Initial findings suggest that students reported making gains in comfort working collaboratively with others and understanding what everyday research is like. We plan to further analyze the data to look at the impact this course had on student identity, sense of community, teamwork, and learning. 

For more information about the course and course materials visit the page on the course transformation.