Research Collaboration Highlights the Role of Undergraduate Research in Building Career-Related Skills for Humanities and Social Science Majors


New research published in the summer 2021 edition (Volume 4, Number 4) of the journal Scholarship and Practice of Undergraduate Research (SPUR) highlights the important role that participating in undergraduate research plays in helping humanities, arts, and social science students develop important skills desired by today’s employers.

While many studies on undergraduate research outcomes are focused on STEM fields, the widely variable experiences in the humanities, arts, and social sciences are less known and harder to study. The structure and standardization of the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program (URSP) and Undergraduate Research Fellows Program (URFP), both offered through UCLA’s Undergraduate Research Center – Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (URC-HASS), however, provide a unique opportunity to study the outcomes of these students. Compared with a quasi-control group of non-research students, students engaged in research reported statistically significant better outcomes on average in attaining skills related to critical thinking/problem solving, professionalism/work ethic, and oral/written communication, three of the top four competencies desired by hiring employers, as ranked by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

This study and publication are the result of an ongoing collaboration between the URC-HASS and the Center for Educational Assessment (CEA). The authors of the paper are Drs. Kelly Kistner (Assistant Director, URC-HASS), Erin M. Sparck (Postdoctoral Scholar, CEA), Amy Liu (Research Analyst, CEA), Hannah Whang Sayson (Assistant Director of Data Analytics, CEA), Marc Levis-Fitzgerald (Director, CEA), and Whitney Arnold (Director, URC-HASS).

The full article can be accessed on the Council of Undergraduate Research’s website for Scholarship and Practice of Undergraduate Research (SPUR) in Volume 4, Number 4.

Center for Educational Assessment Receives Racial and Social Justice Grant to Increase the Sense of Belonging within the UCLA Community

As the nation grapples with the impact of historical and structural racism, UCLA seeks to create systemic change on campus and within the community. As part of a larger effort, the Center for Educational Assessment (CEA) recently received the Racial and Social Justice Grant, funded by UCLA’s Institute for American Cultures (IAC) and the Office of Research and Creative Activities (ORCA). The project, “All Bruins Belong: Addressing Inequities Through Positive Academic Engagement,” will work with underrepresented minority (URM) students and faculty to explore factors related to inequities and positive engagement in the classroom. In doing so, the project will identify best practices that encourage critical thinking and respectful dialogue to increase the sense of belonging at UCLA.

“All Bruins Belong” will bring together a team of researchers from across campus, including Adrienne Lavine (Associate Vice Provost, the Center for the Advancement of Teaching; Professor, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering), Charles J. Alexander (Associate Vice Provost for Student Diversity; Director, Academic Advancement Program), Paul Barber (Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), Molly S. Jacobs (Coordinator for Curriculum Assessment, CEA), Marc Levis-Fitzgerald (Director, CEA), Victoria Marks (Professor, Department of World Arts and Cultures; Associate Dean, School of Arts and Architecture; Chair, Disability Studies minor), and Vilma Ortiz (Professor, Department of Sociology). For more information on the grant, visit the RSJ program information page here.

Figure A 1st gen vs. non 1st gen and urm vs. non urm students

New Research Shows the Impact of Remote Instruction on URM Students in STEM and the Opportunity to Expand Course-Based Research

A new study published in The Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education’s special edition, “Teaching in the Time of Crisis” looked at the impact of the rapid shift to remote teaching at the start of 2020. Students enrolled in UCLA’s HHMI Health Disparities and Environment Program developed a survey that was administered to students during the Spring 2020 quarter. Survey findings indicated that there were significant disparities in remote learning that disproportionately impacted underrepresented minority (URM) and first-generation students.

Another unique aspect of this paper comes from the research project itself, which was a novel course-based research experience (CURE) for students in the HEDP. Traditionally, CUREs are bound by a need to have lab space. This study showed that it is possible to scale up access to CUREs even in the context of remote instruction. As one student noted, “a lot of us were…upset a little bit…that we weren’t going to be able to go out into the field, but I think that kind of turned into, like, excitement because…we started to do COVID research, especially because that’s…really relevant now” (p. 18). The study and resulting publication were led by Professor Paul Barber with the assistance of researchers at the Center for Educational Assessment (CEA), including Casey Shapiro, Molly Jacobs, and Marc Levis-Fitzgerald. Additionally, 14 undergraduate students and two graduate students were involved throughout the process, further demonstrating the potential for engaging students impactfully in research experiences.

Figure A 1st gen vs. non 1st gen and urm vs. non urm students

Figure C 1st gen vs. non 1st gen and urm vs. non urm students



Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree key

Figure 1. Responses to two of the questions from the remote instruction survey show significant differences between: 1st Generation and non-1st Generation students and URM and non-URM students.

The full article can be accessed here:

PEERS grad school figure

New Research from CEA Highlights Impact of PEERS Program in PhD and MD Enrollment for Underrepresented Students in Science Majors

A new study published in the Spring 2021 issue of CBE – Life Sciences Education features the UCLA Program for Excellence in Education and Research in the Sciences (PEERS), an academic support program that serves first- and second-year science majors from underrepresented and underserved backgrounds. Study findings show that students in PEERS enroll in Ph.D. and M.D. programs at significantly higher rates than similar peers in a matched comparison group, and are also more likely to participate in undergraduate research. Taken together, the results indicate that the PEERS program has not only been able to support students during their first two years as science majors at UCLA, but that these students have been successful throughout their undergraduate years and beyond as they pursue careers in high-skill STEM fields. This study is the product of a long-term partnership between researchers at the Center for Educational Assessment (CEA), including Marc Levis-Fitzgerald and Brit Toven-Lindsey, and the PEERS leadership team, including Professor Paul Barber and Tama Hasson, Assistant Vice Provost for Undergraduate Research.

PEERS grad school figureThe full article can be accessed here:

Students Are Positive About Learning Experience in Remote Instruction

Though both faculty and students found the sudden shift to remote instruction last Winter very challenging, a survey conducted by CAT yielded encouraging news about student opinions of remote instruction at UCLA.

At the end of spring quarter, CAT, in collaboration with the College FEC, surveyed students about their experience with remote instruction. Students were remarkably positive about the learning experience and the responsiveness of their instructors. Unfortunately, the response rate was not very high (less than 10%). We wondered if the respondents skewed to students who tended to be “happier” or if perhaps students were especially forgiving in spring given the tumultuous circumstances. So, this fall we conducted a similar survey of all students in each of their courses, but changed the way we administered the survey and got an astounding response rate of around 46%!

Similar to spring, students remain very positive about their learning experience in remote instruction. To be sure, they hunger for a greater sense of community, which is only to be expected.

Here are the summary results aggregated over the entire population of respondents, which includes undergraduate and graduate students from every corner of campus.

  Sum of Agree and Strongly Agree
The instructor(s) incorporated activities and practices that helped me to learn effectively (consider, for example, the use of synchronous and/or asynchronous lectures, discussion boards, breakout rooms, videos, etc.). 89%
The instructor(s) incorporated assessments and deadlines that enabled me to demonstrate my learning effectively (consider, for example, the format and weighting of assignments or exams, the timing provided to complete them, etc.). 89%
The instructors(s) made sufficient accommodations given my personal circumstances (consider, for example, the response to issues with technology, time zone differences, inadequate space for learning, etc.). 91%
The instructors created opportunities for me to connect with others in the course (consider, for example, the use of activities or practices for getting to know classmates and the instructor(s), platforms that encourage students to engage with one another outside of class, etc.). 77%
Please select the statement that best reflects your opinion of remote learning in this course, recognizing that none may perfectly reflect your views: % selecting each option
I missed the social aspect of the classroom, but still learned the course material. 45%
I found it difficult to learn without being in a classroom with the instructor and other students. 18%
The flexibility of remote learning made it easier to succeed in this class. 23%
Remote instruction can never be as effective as regular classroom instruction for this course no matter how hard the instructor tries. 10%

We are putting together a dashboard to share the results. In the coming weeks we will be analyzing the data for different demographic groups (self-reported) and course types as well as extracting themes from some of the open-ended comments.

Research Collaboration Involving CAT Demonstrated Value of Education on Food Choices and their Carbon Footprint

A multi-disciplinary study of the role of education on food choices and climate impact included our very own Marc Levis-Fitzgerald. He was among a group of UCLA researchers led by Professor Jennifer Ayla Jay, UCLA Civil and Environmental Engineering, who evaluated the impact of education on the reported dietary choices of UCLA freshmen students due to a two-quarter Cluster course. The calculated impact of those choices on the carbon footprint was significant. This research is a testament to the power of collaboration across UCLA, to the students who generously participated, and the role of education in reaching climate change targets. The full publication may be accessed by this link:


The goal of this study was to evaluate the impact of a two-quarter freshman course series entitled “Food: A Lens for Environment and Sustainability” (Food cluster) on the carbon footprint of food choices by college freshmen attending a large public university in California. Students enrolled in the course completed a baseline questionnaire about their diets in early fall quarter and then again at follow-up, about 6 months later at the end of the winter quarter. The control group consisted of freshmen enrolled in a different course series entitled “Evolution of the Cosmos and Life” (Cosmos cluster). The instruction in the Food cluster included lecture material on general environmental science and life cycle analyses of food, an analysis of a reading comparing the environmental footprint of various types of meats, and classroom exercises to calculate the environmental footprint of typical foods. The Cosmos cluster instruction included climate change, but no information about food. While the two groups were statistically indistinguishable at baseline, throughout the period of the study, Food cluster students decreased (a) their overall dietary carbon footprint for a 2000-kcal normalized diet by 7%(p=0.062), (b) the beef component of their dietary carbon footprint by 19% (p=0.024), and (c) their reported ruminant consumption by 28% (p<0.001). At follow-up, the overall dietary footprints for Food cluster students were 4153 and 5726 g CO2-eq/day for female and male students, respectively, compared to 4943 and 6958 g CO2-eq/day for female and male Cosmos students. In the Food cluster, both genders decreased their reported ruminant meat consumption by about a serving per week, while reported ruminant meat consumption increased for males in the control group. Modest, voluntary dietary changes such as those observed in this study could play an important role in mitigating climate change. Extrapolated across the entire US population, the difference in dietary carbon footprint observed between the Food cluster and control group would amount to 33% of the reduction required for the 2013 President’s Climate Action Plan (2013).

STEM Educational Innovation and CAT’s CEA

Three members of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching recently published research relevant to the science of teaching and learning that advances our understanding of effective teaching in STEM fields. These outstanding researchers are Roshini Ramachandran, formerly in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCLA and now at CAT’s Center for Educational Assessment, Erin M. Sparck, a Postdoc in CEA, and Marc Levis-Fitzgerald, Director of CEA. Their work focused on increasing student engagement and learning in a large general chemistry course. They found that the use of application-based science videos as homework assignments enhanced students’ understanding of key concepts. Their research on effective STEM teaching innovations was published in The Journal of Chemical Education, February 22, 2019, and can be accessed here:

The abstract:

“Numerous online resources provide a variety of content for a wide range of STEM topics; however, they tend to function as isolated tidbits that provide content-specific knowledge. Application-based science education videos address the overlooked issue of concept to application by implementing experimental components in their videos and fostering connections with everyday applications. We utilized the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE) peer-reviewed science education videos as homework assignments to supplement lectures on the topics of enthalpy, entropy, rate laws, and Le Châtelier’s principle in a second-term general chemistry course. Student learning was assessed through the analysis of pre- and post-video conceptual quizzes, and value surveys were also conducted to gather student feedback about the videos. Our investigation shows that using these videos in the course significantly improved student learning and reinforced conceptual understanding for important foundational concepts, and these results hold even for students who did not feel positively toward the videos.”

Anatomy of STEM teaching in North American universities

OID Contributes to Assessment of STEM Teaching Published in “Science”

OID’s Center for Educational Assessment researchers Casey Shapiro, Michael Soh, and Brit Toven-Lindsey, guided by CEA Director Marc Levis-Fitzgerald, collaborated with CEILS Director Erin Sanders and UCLA faculty on a large, national research study of STEM teaching methods that was published in the journal Science in March 2018.

This seminal study used classroom observations to reliably characterize teaching styles that use traditional lecture vs. various combinations of student-centered teaching practices in STEM courses. Teaching practices were systematically characterized into three types, Didactic, Interactive Lecture, and Student-Centered, and these practices were observed in over 2000 classes taught by over 500 STEM instructors across 25 universities. These classes ranged from lower to upper level and were conducted in learning spaces ranging from smaller rooms, some with flexible seating arrangements, to large lecture halls. It was discovered that teaching practices were not dictated by learning spaces or course level and that simply creating flexible spaces does not automatically lead to student-centered teaching.

Link to full paper

Texas A&M University Logo

UCLA Presents on URM Student Success at Texas A&M

Marc Levis-Fitzgerald, Director of the Center for Educational Assessment at OID, and Kelly Wahl, Director of Statistical Analysis & Assessment Coordinator in the College of Letters & Science, were invited to present at the Engaging National Leaders in Undergraduate Student Success Conference held at Texas A&M University on February 20, 2018.

Marc and Kelly presented on programs and initiatives at UCLA that support underrepresented, minority (URM) students and described the use of data to determine the impact of these programs. UCLA is among the top universities in the country for success among URM students, and UCLA presenters were honored for the opportunity to share their work with other institutions. This letter to UCLA’s EVC Scott Waugh from the Assistant Provost of Texas A&M, Timothy Scott, expresses his appreciation for UCLA’s participation and impressive work in this area.

As Marc notes, “OID provides assessment support to faculty across campus, and we lean towards embedded assessment, rather than top-down assessment. This approach invites faculty into the process and allows us to work collaboratively to understand findings.”

Office of Instructional Development Booth at Bruin Day

OID’s Evaluation of Instruction Program Showcases Resources for Admitted Students at Bruin Day

The Evaluation of Instruction Program is proud to annually represent OID at both the freshman and Transfer Bruin Days. These all-day events help admitted students and their families decide if UCLA is the right choice for them.

Welcomed visitors at the EIP booth learn key takeaways about the course evaluation process by playing a fun quiz game, and can win an OID mug. This face-to-face interaction is excellent for communicating our values of student feedback and improvement of teaching at UCLA.