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Undergraduate research

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

October 25, 2018

Students and faculty in AESDo you get a little extra animated when talking about new discoveries in your discipline? When the latest issue of your favorite journal shows up in your mailbox or inbox, are you excited to read it? When your favorite scholar is recognized for their work, do you feel a sense of pride for them? If you answered yes to any of these questions, congratulations, my friend – you are a research wonk. Would you like to share the exhilaration of being a research nerd with your students but worry that undergraduates might not be up to the task of conducting original research?

Take a SIP of this: Undergraduate Research

Undergraduate Research has been identified as a High Impact Practice by the Carnegie Institute and the Association of American Colleges & Universities. UR is considered high-impact because it provides students with authentic learning, inspires academic and intellectual inquiry, allows students to participate in a discipline as an expert, promotes personal development and encourages the dissemination of findings to a real and invested audience.

Because UR can take so many forms and be integrated into courses in a variety of ways, it can be a powerful tool for providing students with multiple ways to engage with course material and to demonstrate their mastery of course concepts. Building this multiplicity of opportunities into courses is a hallmark of Universal Design for Learning.

While UR can be time-intensive for faculty because students doing independent research will require mentoring, there are ways to integrate UR into courses that do not create an additional time burden for faculty.

Here are some ways you can build UR into your courses:

  1. Help students understand the value of engaging in UR. Some may think it is helpful only for students who plan to go to graduate school, but in fact employers of all stripes value the No. 1 skill built by UR: problem-solving.
  2. Help students understand how research is approached in their specific discipline. Many students think UR is solely associated with STEM and social-science fields. In fact, students in the arts, humanities and business fields can engage in observational research and other ethnographic research, even in introductory courses.
  3. Select articles by undergraduate researchers as some of your class readings. This legitimizes UR and can inspire your students. For a good list of journals that publish UR, click here.
  4. If you assign a traditional research paper, add an empirical-research element to it that engages students in observation, interviews, experiments or other data collection. If the research involves human subjects, students may need to go through the Institutional Review Board process, so for introductory courses it’s best to stick with research that does not require IRB approval.
  5. Present a research question associated with your discipline, and ask students to not only develop a method for the approach but also to design a survey or interview protocol that could be used for data collection. For example, give students the question, “How does digital media vs. print media influence x, y, z?” and then have them work individually or in small groups to think through and sketch out how they would collect data to answer the question.
  6. After presenting a topic, ask students to identify questions they have regarding the topic. Ask them to design a method/methods for answering that question.
  7. Integrate into your lectures information about the type of research done to answer questions in your discipline. For example, in a science or nursing class, you could talk about the research done to investigate whether there are connections among mercury, vaccines and autism. Or discuss how personally informing individuals about the way in which vaccine works can influence the mindset regarding vaccines.
  8. Prepare students for UR by giving them low-stakes practice in class or as homework. This will get them used to thinking like a researcher, as well as provide authentic learning opportunities. For example, you could provide a data set and ask students to formulate a research question. You could provide a hypothesis and ask students to design an experiment that would provide data to support/reject the hypothesis. You could provide a topic/question and ask students to prepare a quantitative writing assignment (here’s a nice example of how that’s used). Any of these activities could then be expanded by a student who wants to pursue the project.
  9. Let students know that if they want to take their research to the next step after the class ends, you are willing to mentor them or will help them find a mentor.
  10. Tell students about MSU Denver’s Undergraduate Research Program and the resources offered through the URP.
  11. Inform students about the new UR journal, the Rowdy Scholar, and MSU Denver’s Undergraduate Research Conference: A Symposium of Scholarly Works and Creative Projects. Communicating UR to the public allows students to share their work and further develop their communication skills.

Still Thirsty? Take Another SIP of Undergraduate Research

Visit the Well for more great ideas and resources for Strong Instructional Practices in your higher-education classroom!

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