Transforming Undergraduate Research Opportunities Using Telepresence

Students and scientists at the Inner Space Center at the University of Rhode Island. (Photos courtesy of Zara Mirmalek)

A new article appears in the May issue of the Journal of Geoscience Education, featuring the Transforming Remotely Conducted Research through Ethnography, Education, and Rapidly Evolving Technologies (TREET) project. We describe eight undergraduate students' experiences conducting ocean science research using telepresence, and lessons learned about the promise and challenges of using telepresence to engage undergraduate students in authentic research.

Read the abstract:

The National Science Foundation funded the Transforming Remotely Conducted Research through Ethnography, Education, and Rapidly Evolving Technologies (TREET) project to explore ways to utilize advances in technology and thus to provide opportunities for scientists and undergraduate students to engage in deep sea research. The educational goals were to engage students in research in which they develop a hypothesis and research plan, experience a distant environment, collect data remotely, and interact with the scientific community. Eight undergraduate students from three universities participated, working closely with a professor at their institution with additional mentoring by other scientists. This paper describes the educational portion of TREET, students' experiences conducting ocean science research using telepresence, and lessons learned about the promise and challenges of using telepresence to engage undergraduate students in research. The TREET project consisted of three phases: Phase I, a seminar and the development of a research plan; Phase II, a telepresence-enabled cruise; and Phase III, a postcruise seminar and data analysis. An evaluation of the program shows that students conducted their own research and experienced real-world scientific challenges associated with working at ocean depths from shore. While the experience was valuable for students, there were several lessons learned that have implications for future implementations of telepresence-enabled programs, including the importance of scheduling research experiences for undergraduate students, providing support for data analysis, building community, and developing clear communication strategies from the remote site. The TREET project represents a promising step in imagining the future in which telepresence can open more opportunities for undergraduates.

Read the article by Amy Pallant, Cynthia McIntyre, and Lynn Stephens.

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