Application-Based Service Learning: Combining Undergraduate Research, Service Learning and Collaborative Learning in Upper Level Courses

Dr. Nancy J Trun
Associate Professor of Biological Sciences
Duquesne University, PA
256 Mellon Hall
219 Bluff St
Pittsburgh PA 15219
Phone: 412-396-1853
E-Mail: trun@duq.edu

Dr. Gail E. Rowe
Professor of Biology
La Roche College, PA
E-Mail: Gail.Rowe@LaRoche.edu

Ms. Susan M Seibel
Instructor of Humanities and Social Sciences
Butler County Community College, PA
E-Mail: smseibel@zoominternet.net

SENCER Model Course Logo

The Application Based Service Learning (ABSL) model redefines undergraduate research as a coupling of novel research and service learning within the context of structured undergraduate courses. ABSL was developed as a way to incorporate service learning into biology laboratory courses at a Ph.D.-granting university while also providing a more effective and engaging method for teaching course content and laboratory skills. ABSL has also been used as a way to bring undergraduate research to a non-research college and to provide real-world experience to students in a media-writing English course at a community college. Assessment data indicate that ABSL increases students’ understanding of and interest in novel research, enhances content retention, improves writing skills, and provides experience with the application of research to less abstract problems.

A major goal of ABSL is to teach students what research in their discipline is like by immersing them in novel research related to a little-studied problem while also providing them with direct experience with the problem through community service. While still learning theory and skills related to the course content, students are engaged in all facets of research including research design, trouble-shooting research methods, generation and analysis of data from novel research, formal research writing and oral presentations, all within a cohort of their peers. A second goal of the ABSL model is to foster collaborations, not only among students within the same class, but also by engaging many different courses and institutions. Through service learning, students encounter issues that have social, ethical and economic implications for their community as they gain insight into the practical application of novel research to the problem.

Linking Science and Social Issues

Science and Social Issues –
Our test case, the Feral Cat Research Project

We developed the Feral Cat Project to test ABSL. Feral cats are numerous (50-75 million in the US), an invasive species, yet also a human companion species. Concerns about the transmission of infectious disease from feral cats has been used as a reason to exterminate the animals. Such policy presents ethical and economic issues and, in fact, little is known about what microbes are actually carried by feral cats. One of the research projects to which we applied ABSL uses microbiology and molecular biology techniques to identify the bacteria in feral cats and to conduct an epidemiological study of the cats (Microbiology Superlab and BioSOLVE). We partnered with a local non-profit organization that runs spay/neuter clinics for feral cats. Cat stool samples collected at the clinics provided the source material for our laboratory research. ABSL students performed service as volunteers at these spay/neuter clinics. Other service activities have included volunteering with a feline rescue/adoption organization, informing others about feral cat problems and solutions through campus ministry and community service club events, and development of a website describing the teaching pedagogy, the research project and the community resources available for homeless companion animals. Our future plans include expanding the ABSL model to include more types of academic institutions where opportunities for undergraduate research are often limited, as well as a greater diversity of disciplines within sciences.

The Courses

Microbiology Superlab
Superlab Experimental Flowchart

Download (PDF, 61KB)

BioSOLVE I and II

Download (DOCX, 27KB)

Media Writing Collaboration Across Institutions

Download (DOCX, 116KB)

Evaluating Learning

Evaluation and Assessment information provided in individual course descriptions. See “Courses” section.

Background and Context

See individual course descriptions.

Related Resources

Resulting Projects, Research and Recognition
Funding

The development and testing of the ABSL pedagogy is funded by a CCLI grant from the National Science Foundation entitled “A Model for Incorporating Application-Based Service Learning in the Undergraduate
Science Curriculum (Grant number 0717685).”

Presentations on the ABSL Pedagogy

  1. CCLI Conference Washington D.C. August 13-15, 2008. “Application-Based Service Learning as a Novel Pedagogy for Teaching Lab Classes at the Undergraduate Level. Nancy Trun
  2. American Association for the Advancement of Science Conference, Transforming Undergraduate Biology Education: Mobilizing the Community for Change, Washington, D.C. July 2009. “Bringing Student Research to a Non-research Program via Courses, Collaboration and Application-Based Service Learning.” Gail E. Rowe
  3. American Association for the Advancement of Science Conference, Transforming Undergraduate Biology Education: Mobilizing the Community for Change, Washington, D.C. July 2009. “Application Based Service Learning and the Feral Cat Research Project.” Nancy Trun
  4. Allegheny Branch of the American Society for Microbiology, Juniata, PA. November 2009. “Bringing Student Research to a Non-research Program via Courses, Collaboration and Application-Based Service Learning.” Gail E. Rowe
  5. American Society for Microbiology General Meeting, May, 2010. Div. W (Microbiology Education) symposium on microbial literacy (invited talk). “Taking it to the Streets: Novel Research and Service Learning.” Gail Rowe and Nancy Trun.
  6. 2010 SENCER Washington DC Poster Session. “Application Based Service Learning and the Feral Cat Research Project” Nancy Trun
  7. Akron University Seminar. 2010. “Application Based Service Learning: Using novel research on feral cat microbiomes to teach experimental concepts to undergraduates.” Nancy Trun
  8. Mt. Aloysis College. 2010. “Application Based Service Learning: Using novel research on feral cat microbiomes to teach experimental concepts to undergraduates.” Nancy Trun
  9. La Roche College Faculty In-Service, invited for August, 2010. “Application-Based Service Learning: The Pedagogy Behind BioSOLVE.” Gail Rowe.
  10. American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) Conference, Creativity, Inquiry, and Discovery: Undergraduate Research In and Across the Disciplines, accepted for November, 2010. “Application-Based Service Learning Redefines Undergraduate Research and Fosters Broad Collaborations.” Nancy Trun, Gail Rowe and Susan Seibel.
  11. 2011 NSF CCLI Conference in Washington DC. “Application-Based Service Learning Redefines Undergraduate Research and Fosters Broad Collaborations.” Nancy Trun

Presentation on the Research Data
Allegheny Branch of the American Society for Microbiology, LaRoche College, Pittsburgh, PA. Nov 16-17, 2007. Jessica Staab, Courtney Shelestak and Nancy Trun. Title: “Development of Species-Specific Primers for Infectious Organisms Hosted in Feline Populations.” Awarded third prize for best undergraduate poster at the meeting. J. Staab and C. Shelestak were both undergraduates.

Pittsburgh Undergraduate Research Symposium. Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA. July 25, 2008. Kelly Knickelbein and Nancy Trun. Title: “Creating Total Bacterial Profiles for Feral and Domestic Cats to Determine Species Present and Prevalence of Species.” K. Knickelbein is an undergraduate.

Pittsburgh Undergraduate Research Symposium. Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA. July 25, 2008. Alyssa Wilson and Nancy Trun. Title: “Feline Genotyping by use of STRs to Assert Relationships within a Colony.” A. Wilson is an undergraduate.

Allegheny Branch of the American Society for Microbiology, Juniata, PA. November 2009. “Analyzing DNA Isolated from Feral Cat Fecal Samples for the Presence of Selected Bacteria.” Edgar Asiimwe (presenter), Kara Dragone, Stephanie Duncan (BioSOLVE students).

La Roche College Honors Convocation, “The Influence of Genetics and Environmental Factors on the Distribution of Intestinal Bacteria in a Selected Group of Cats”. April, 2010. Edgar Asiimwe. Winner of the award for best La Roche College Honors Research presentation.

Other Results and Recognition

Students who have completed the two-semester BioSOLVE series have had a high acceptance rate into biology graduate programs, competitive research internships, and employment with research or animal rescue organizations.

Interest and Support from College Faculty and Administration:

  • La Roche College Vice President for Academic Affairs, being quite impressed with BioSOLVE, has offered his services and resources to help it grow. He initiated a brain-storming session with me (Gail Rowe) and our Biology Dept. Chair and Sciences Division Chair, authorized purchase of additional lab equipment and considerable conference travel expenses, allowed the course to run (so far) with relatively low enrollment, has supported marketing of the BioSOLVE program through Institutional Relations and Admissions offices
  • Associate VP for Academic Affairs invited me to give an hour-long presentation about ABSL and BioSOLVE at the college’s Faculty In-Service for the fall 2010 semester.
  • Acting on the Biology Dept. Chair’s suggestion, the La Roche College Biology Dept. faculty is considering ways to interface our Biology Senior Seminar course with BioSOLVE. The two courses will be taught in a modified format in Fall 2010 with that possibility in mind.

We are working on two manuscripts, one on the ABSL pedagogy and a second on the research we have completed on the Feral Cat Research Project. We are currently expanding the ABSL projects to include several new research projects, a mixture of community colleges, colleges and universities and several disciplines in addition to biology.