Transforming Remotely-conducted Research through Ethnography, Education & Rapidly Evolving Technologies

Educational Research Overview

The educational component of the TREET project will immerse a small group of undergraduate students in research activities related to the project over two academic years. Three early-career research scientists from the University of Idaho, Michigan State University, and Harvard University will each mentor students to conduct their own research.

All participants were enrolled in a semester-long, for-credit online seminar series between January and May 2014. The seminar was designed to introduce the project and provide students with background they needed to participate in the Year 2 oceanographic research cruise. The seminars, led by participating scientists, introduced the TREET project provide students with background needed to undertake their research. It covered Earth and life sciences research pertinent to the sites to be studied (Kick’Em Jenny and Barbados Mud Volcanoes in the Southeast Caribbean), more detailed case studies of the unique features of the research sites, the advanced robotic vehicles and the analysis tools to be employed.

Students, mentored by the early-career scientists, developed tractable research plans that were presented to the group. The seminar culminated in a moderated cruise planning discussion.

The cruise is being undertaken from September to October of 2014. While the cruise is underway, students will join the research program at the Inner Space Center (ISC) and at a satellite command center at WHOI, where they will participate in daily operational decision-making, data collection and interrogation, and mission planning. During and after the cruise, students will have access to all data collected on the cruise and will participate in post-cruise data analysis. Regularly scheduled post-cruise teleconferences will be planned for all participants post-cruise to ensure that data are accessible, questions about data analysis can be addressed, research can be discussed, and papers are reviewed.

The educational research goals are to focus our investigation on whether remote participation for students appears to be a good design for engaging undergraduates in research. The following research questions guide our work:

  • What did the students learn about science and scientific research?
    ○ To what extent do students gain in understanding research methodology?
  • Did students experience authentic research?
    ○ When student involvement in scientific research is made possible by remote access, what are key factors that appear to support the educational objectives of the students and their professors?
    ○ Did students’ participation help advance the research goals of the cruise?
    ○ Were students able to make important observations or significant findings?
  • How can our TREET approach be improved further?

The educational research methods employed during the course of the project will include surveys, interviews, and observations, analysis of online interactions during the seminar, and of student final presentations.

During the cruise, a trained observer will be present at both research sites. An observational protocol that focuses on the nature of the scientific activities of the students, the quality of the engagement of researchers with the students, and the topics that the students studied will be used. To provide additional narrative data all project participants (project PIs, expert mentors, and early career scientists) will be interviewed at the beginning and end of the project.


Russell, S.H., Hancock, M.P. & McCullough, J. (2007). The pipeline: Benefits of undergraduate research experiences. Science 316, 548–549. doi: 10.1126/science.1140384