Integrated undergraduate research experience for the study of brain injury

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We developed a series of hands-on laboratory exercises on "Brain Injury" designed around several pedagogical goals that included the development of: 1) knowledge of the scientific method, 2) student problem solving skills by testing cause and effect relationships, 3) student analytical and critical thinking skills by evaluating and interpreting data, identifying alternative explanations for data, and identifying confounding variables, and 4) student writing skills by reporting their findings in manuscript form. Students, facilitated by the instructor, developed a testable hypothesis on short-term effects of brain injury by analyzing lesion size and astrocytic activity. Four sequential laboratory exercises were used to present and practice ablation techniques, histological processing, microscopic visualization and image-capture, and computer aided image analysis. This exercise culminated in a laboratory report that mimicked a research article. The effectiveness of the laboratory sequence was assessed by measuring the acquisition of 1) content on anatomical, physiological, and cellular responses of the brain to traumatic brain injury, and 2) laboratory skills and methods of data-collection and analysis using surgical procedures, histology, microscopy, and image analysis. Post-course test scores, significantly greater than pre-course test scores and greater than scores from a similar but unstructured laboratory class, indicated that this hands-on approach to teaching an undergraduate research laboratory was successful. Potential variations in the integrated laboratory exercise, including multidisciplinary collaborations, are also noted.

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