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What Undergraduate Research Can Tell Us About Research on Learning

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What Undergraduate Research Can Tell Us About Research on Learning
David Lopatto
Grinnell College
Anyone who desires to give his hearers a perfect conviction of the truth of his principles
must, first of all, know from his own experience how conviction is acquired and how not.
He must have known how to acquire conviction where no predecessor had been before
him-that is, he must have worked at the confines of human knowledge, and have
conquered for it new regions.1
The reader who has attended the recent Project Kaleidoscope assembly at the
University of Richmond2 will notice that I have transposed the title of the plenary
session. The published title, supplied by PKAL, was “What research on learning can tell
us about undergraduate research”. A previous plenary had touched on the impact of the
National Research Council’s book, How People Learn3, a useful report on what might be
called the cognitive science of learning. When Dr. Elaine Seymour and I began our
collaborative research on the benefits of undergraduate research experiences we were
aware of the book, and I recall citing the book in our original grant proposal. We wrote a
passage on “learning theory relevant to undergraduate research”. Here is what we wrote:
Just as there is a lack of research on the impact of undergraduate
research, there is a lack of well-grounded theory. Theories of science
education tend to be most appropriate for children. In so far as the needs
of older students are addressed, the theory centers on classroom pedagogy
such as inquiry-based learning. The present research may aid in the
extension of learning theory to the undergraduate research experience. As
a preliminary look at the kind of information that the present proposal
might yield, we summarize the current theory regarding “How People
Learn” (NRC, 1999) and draw the analogy to undergraduate researchers.
Children are active learners whose learning is motivated by a
desire for mastery. How they learn is partially determined by what they
already know, including the schemes and perspectives they bring to new
situations. Children’s current level of learning is not a true measure of
their potential, rather, each child has a “zone of proximal development”, a
potential learning level beyond what they currently know. This zone can
be estimated by giving a child problems to solve that are beyond her
current level of accomplishment. If the child can solve these problems
through imitation, then the child is said to have learning potential.
1 Helmholtz, H. von (1877). On Academic Freedom in German Universities. Reprinted in D. Chahan (Ed)
Science and Culture: Popular and Philosophical Essays. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
2 This presentation was given at the Richmond PKAL assembly, University of Richmond, Oct 30, 2003.
3 NRC (1999). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington, D.C.: National
Academy Press.
Children learn best in a supportive environment, which includes expert
teachers and modern physical facilities. They learn well in groups, “a
community of learners” involving active learners, often with more skilled
partners to learn from. One important outcome of the learning experience
is transfer of training, both to new academic experiences and to everyday
life (NRC, 1999).
What is the analogy to college students involved in undergraduate
research? College students are active learners who are motivated by a
desire for mastery. It may be said that undergraduate researchers are
gaining expertise. A feature of this expertise is professional, that is, the
experts that the student emulates are researchers and teachers in the field.
Career choice is a feature of their motivation. How undergraduates
perform is partially determined by what they already know, however, the
degree to which a curricular experience informs independent research
work remains to be studied. Part of the prior experience of the
undergraduate research is social; in programs in which research is not
required undergraduates are likely to work with a mentor they know and
from whom they have learned in the classroom. As with a child, an
undergraduate’s prior classroom learning may not be the true measure of
their potential. College undergraduates may have a “zone of proximal
development” which mentors intuitively assess when they select research
assistants. This intuitive judgment may influence the selection of
undergraduate researchers at institutions where research is not a required
exercise. It may be that student potential is further tested by exposing
undergraduate researchers to graduate school-like conditions during the
research experience, however, this possible test of potential has not been
systematically studied. College students learn best in a supportive
environment, which includes faculty mentoring, state-of-the-art
instrumentation and modern physical facilities (Rothman & Narum, 1999).
They may form a community of learners, becoming part of a group of
active researchers that includes faculty mentors and more experienced
students. An important outcome of their experience is transfer of training,
both in the specialized sense of continuing in the professional field and in
the more flexible sense of succeeding in unexpected careers (e.g., Bunnett.
1984). Thus, applying current learning theory to the undergraduate
research experience uncovers deficiencies in current knowledge that the
current proposal will begin to address4.
After the first year of a survey on the benefits of undergraduate research experiences, I
revisited the hypotheses from How People Learn. After analyzing the data from our
ROLE survey, I presented some conclusions that students viewed their mentors as having
a variety of positive traits. These traits correlated with student reports of satisfaction with
4 Pilot Study to Establish the Nature and Impact of Effective Undergraduate Research Experiences on
Learning, Attitude, and Career Choice. Funded as NSF/ROLE grant REC0087611.
2
their UR experience and with a group of benefits of the UR experience. Here is what I
wrote about the topics in How People Learn5:
The hypothesis that a democratic and responsive mentor who
spends time with the student is contributing to a satisfying and beneficial
experience is not surprising. It is, however, intriguing when regarded in
the context of literature on “how people learn”. Extrapolating from the
literature, we may hypothesize that (1) college undergraduates enjoy
gaining expertise within their chosen field; (2) that social interaction,
including peer interaction, contributes significantly to learning; and (3)
that students may have a “zone of proximal development”, that is, a
potential to do more challenging work than they have done in the
classroom if they can be shown how by an expert. The current survey
results support these three hypotheses:
(1) The current survey data indicate that students did value
mastering their field of expertise. The students selected expertise-related
benefit items (such as learning a topic in depth and understanding the
research process in their field) as items that were both most important and
on which they made the largest gains.
(2) The data indicate that students benefited most when the mentor
exhibited traits…that are consistent with positive social interactions.
Students also benefited from working in groups or teams…students
frequently characterized group work as either moderately enhancing the
research experience or as the best part of the experience. Further analysis
shows that students working with peers had a higher overall satisfaction
with the undergraduate research experience than students working alone,
and that they reported higher gains in their ability to collaborate and to
show leadership.
(3) The data indicate that students who described their style of
interaction with their mentor as one of learning by example rated their
satisfaction with the experience as slightly higher than students who
described their style of interaction as self-organized (working alone) or as
executive (mentor gave the orders). This tentative finding is obscured
somewhat because of the interactions with two other variables: student’s
year in school and student’s engagement with the project. Some of the
sample sizes in these interactions are too small to analyze reliably, but the
data carry that suggestion that interactional styles suitable to the student’s
“zone of proximal development”, including learning by example, are
better related to satisfaction than styles that leave the student on his or her
own.
5 Lopatto, D. (2002). Short-term impact of the Undergraduate Research Experience: Results of the First
Summer Survey 2001. This text in PDF format may be found at
http://www.web.grinnell.edu/science/ROLE/
3
As far as our research can be aligned with the propositions found in How People
Learn, it appears that the outcomes of undergraduate research experiences are generally
consistent with those propositions. Characteristics of learning, learning environments,
motivation for competency, and transfer of training all exist in the typical undergraduate
research experience. Of the many topics discussed in the book, Dr. Seymour’s research
and my own amplify the topics of competency motivation and the transition from novice
to expert. When we look closely at the benefits of undergraduate research experiences as
reported by the students we find some clues as to how they learn and why they learn.
The benefits of the undergraduate research experience
Seymour et al. (in press) interviewed 76 students who had participated in
undergraduate research experiences in the sciences at one of four liberal arts colleges.
The interviews were transcribed and coded for reports of the benefits of undergraduate
research experiences. Elaine is present at this conference 6 and is much more capable of
elaborating on these results than I am. A summary of her final “parent codes” is
presented in Table 1.
Table 1. Summary of the seven benefit categories presented by Seymour et al. (in press)
Personal/professional Increased confidence in ability to do
research and other tasks; feeling like a
scientist; working relationships
Thinking and working like a scientist Application of knowledge and skills;
increased knowledge and understanding of
science and research work
Skills Improved communication, lab/field
techniques, work organization, computer,
reading, working collaboratively,
information retrieval
Clarification, confirmation and refinement
of career/education
Validation of disciplinary interests;
graduate school intentions; increased
interest for the field
Enhanced career/graduate school
preparation
Authentic research experience;
opportunities for collaboration/networking;
resume enhanced
Changes in attitudes toward learning and
working as a researcher
Undertaking greater responsibility for
project; increased independence; intrinsic
interest in learning
Other benefits A good summer job; access to good lab
equipment
6 PKAL assembly at the University of Richmond, October 29-31, 2003.
4
The findings summarized in Table1 illustrate that both the learning and changes in
attitude that are taking place during the undergraduate research experience. Specific
skills are being learned and enhanced, competency is being established, and a
transformation from novice to expert is taking place. These three topics – skill learning,
competency motivation, and expertise – are discussed in How People Learn. But there
seems to be an additional developmental aspect to the experience that is not extensively
treated in the book. Before I focus on that developmental aspect, however, let me present
findings from the quantitative half of our research collaboration that might help validate
these categories of benefits.
By drawing on the literature of purported benefits of undergraduate research and
by receiving early reports of Seymour’s findings, I was able to construct a survey
instrument for students doing undergraduate research at the same four liberal arts colleges
where Elaine had interviewed. In each of two summers students in the sciences filled out
an extensive survey. Some items asked about the topics mentioned earlier in this paper;
more pertinent is the fact that the surveys contained a list of 45 possible benefits of
undergraduate research. Each student respondent was asked to rate his or her gain on the
benefit on a scale of 1 (no or little gain) to 5 (Very large gain). A large data set (N = 384)
yielded a wealth of information on the various questions. A more restricted data set (N =
181), consisting of those respondents who rated every one of the 45 benefits, was
employed to perform an exploratory factor analysis to construct the dimensions that
might organize the 45 benefit variables. Exploratory Factor Analysis is a statistical
procedure for quantitative data and so is a very different methodology from coding
qualitative data, as Seymour, et al., did. Nevertheless, because the two studies drew from
the same kind of experience (summer undergraduate research) at the same four research
sites we hope to see some congruence between the qualitative codes and the quantitative
factors. By finding agreement between two attempts using different methods to measure
the same benefits, I hope to establish the validity of the findings 7.
The results of the factor analysis are presented in Table 2. The ten factors are
selected because they each meet a conventional criterion of accounting for more than one
original variable. The ten factors together account for 66% of the variance in the data.
The factors are named by the analyst, who inspects the variables that correlate with (or
load on) the factors. Table 2 shows my names for the factors together with the variables
with the strongest loadings (only loadings of .4 or better are shown).
Comparing the statistical analysis in Table 2 to the earlier coding analysis in
Table 1, we notice that there are 10 factors versus 7 categories. This difference does not
prove to be a serious difficulty, however, if we notice that Seymour, et al., coded a
“skills” category that was generic. The factor analysis, on the other hand, broke out
several categories of skills, reflecting the underlying pattern of correlations. Allowing for
the difference in number of categories, I proceed to line up the two analyses in Figure 1.
In order to judge the alignment, the reader should look back at Tables 1 and 2, and based
on the similarity of the concepts that go into a code category (or the survey items that
load on a factor) judge the congruence between the two sets of findings. I found a high
degree of linkage between the qualitative and quantitative results, with only a few
7 See Campbell, D.T., & Fiske, D.W. (1959). Convergent and discriminant validation by the multitrait
multimethod matrix. Psychological Bulletin, 56, 81-105.
5
qualifications. First, as I mentioned, the qualitative “skills” category incorporates five of
the factors, all of which are specific sorts of skills. Second, one of the qualitative
Table 2. Summary of the 10 factors resulting from survey data on benefits of
undergraduate research experience.
Interaction and communication skills Skill at oral, visual, and written
communication; leadership; becoming part
of a learning community; working
independently; ability to collaborate with
other researchers
Data collection and interpretation skills Ability to collect data according to a plan;
ability to analyze data; skill in
interpretation of results; lab techniques;
ability to solve technical or procedural
problems
Professional development Understanding professional behavior in
your discipline; understanding personal
demands of a career in your discipline;
understanding the research process in your
field; understanding how professionals
work on real problems
Personal development Sense of accomplishment; tolerance for
obstacles; self-confidence; interest in a
discipline
Design and hypothesis skills Ability to employ appropriate design
methods; ability to integrate theory and
practice; critical evaluation of hypotheses
and methods in the literature
Professional advancement Opportunities for publication; sense of
contributing to a body of knowledge;
opportunities for networking; enhancement
of your professional or academic
credentials; developing a continuing
relationship with a faculty member
Information literacy skills Ability to read and understand primary
literature; ability to locate and identify the
relevant literature; ability to see
connections to your college course work
Responsibility Learning safety techniques; learning the
ethical standards in your field
Knowledge synthesis Learning a topic in depth; understanding
how current research ideas build upon
previous studies
Computer skills Computer skills (either user or
programmer)
6
Personal
develop
m
ent
Personal/Professional
Knowledge
synthesis
Thinking and
Working like a
Scientist
Skills
Professional
development
Professional
advancement
Responsibility
Interaction/communication skills
Data collection and interpretation skills
Information literacy skills
Design and hypothesis skills
Computer skills
Changes in attitudes
toward learning and
working as a
researcher
Enhanced
career/graduate
school
p
re
p
aration
Clarification,
confirmation and
refinement of
career/education
paths
Other benefits
Figure 1. An attempt to align the seven parent categories of student benefits found by
Seymour et al. (left) with a factor analysis of survey data on student benefits (right).
7
categories, a small category called “other benefits”, has no corresponding items in the
survey. Finally, one of the factors, called “interaction/communication skills”, overlaps
with two of the qualitative categories. While some of the items that make up the factor
are clearly skills, at least one item, “learning to work independently”, also coheres with
the qualitative category “changes in attitudes toward learning and working as a
researcher”. All in all, it is my belief that the results of the two methods map onto each
other well 8.
Both the qualitative and quantitative analyses suggest a developmental dimension
of learning for which undergraduate research experiences may set the occasion. Students
report a rich mixture of personal and professional development that may help us
understand the concept of expertise. How People Learn treats expertise as cognitive;
experts exceed novices in chunking relevant information and contextualizing knowledge.
But expertise may also include the acquisition of independent thought and the motivation
to pursue new regions of knowledge based on a belief about the value of that knowledge.
This belief, perhaps no more than a hunch, becomes a strong source of motivation to
continue working in the face of obstacles, skepticism, and opposition. In other words,
experts learn commitment.
Intellectual development in undergraduate research
William Rauckhorst9 presented a paper at a 2001 PKAL conference based on the
work of Marcia Baxter Magolda. Baxter Magolda had assessed summer research
students with an instrument she devised called the MER (Measure of Epistemological
Reflection). This measure permits the researcher to categorize the student’s
epistemological level. According to Baxter Magolda, student intellectual development
follows a series of stages. These stages are summarized in Table 310. The table is a mere
Table 3. Stages of college student intellectual development (Baxter Magolda.)
Absolute knowing Knowledge viewed as certain; authorities
have the answers
Transitional knowing Some knowledge is uncertain; find
processes to search for truth
Independent knowing Thinking rather than accepting views is
important; individuals may have their own
beliefs
Contextual knowing The legitimacy of knowledge is contextual;
perspectives require supporting evidence
8 The two research efforts discussed here were simultaneously exploratory. Sophisticated methods for
linking data, e.g., confirmatory factor analysis, are not appropriate. For an attempt to link the two studies
through multiple linear regression of survey items, please see Lopatto, D. (2002) Dropping the other shoe:
correspondence between the qualitative and quantitative analyses of student reported benefits of
undergraduate research experiences, web address http://web.grinnell.edu/science/ROLE/
9 Rauckhorst, W.H., Czaja, J.A., & Baxter Magolda, M. (2001) Measuring the impact of the undergraduate
research experience on student intellectual development. PKAL conference, Snowbird, Utah.
10 For a summary of Baxter Magolda’s theory and contemporary theories of intellectual development, see
Evans, N.J., Forney, D.S., & Guido-DiBrito, F. (1998). Student development in college. NY: John Wiley
and Sons.
8
outline; it does not do justice to the richness of the theory. But it can be seen that each
stage represents a more sophisticated level of understanding than the previous one.
Rauckhorst reported that, based on MER scores, students who had a summer
undergraduate research experience showed more frequent transitions up the stages than
students in a control group. For example, fourteen of 35 initial transitional knowers
among research students shifted up to independent knowers at the end of the summer. In
the control group, none of the 31 initial transitional knowers showed any shifting up the
developmental ladder.
The possibility that the benefits of undergraduate research may be measured by
the intellectual development of the student is intriguing, but being something more than
absolute knowers ourselves, some undergraduate researchers and I explored this area of
research in the summer of 200311. Using information from Baxter Magolda
supplemented by the work of King and Kitchener (1994) on reflective judgment, we
prepared an interview protocol that provided respondents an opportunity to tell us
something about their thinking on controversial issues. Forty-two students working on
summer research projects for a 10-week period were interviewed early and late in the
summer. We discovered that coding the student responses into categories of
development is hard work; students often make a series of responses that cross categories.
Nevertheless, we were able to form a consensus about placing each student respondent
into a pretest category and a posttest category that roughly conformed to the Baxter
Magolda levels. We placed 16 students into the absolute/transitional range, 20 students
into the transitional/independent range, and 6 students into the independent/contextual
range. Posttest classifications showed that 12 of the 16 students in the lower range on the
pretest moved up the scale on the posttest; 9 of the 20 mid-range students moved up;
while none of the 6 students in the top range moved up. Twelve of the students were not
in the sciences; they showed the same patterns as the science students.
I freely admit that my students and I are amateurs when it comes to coding
interview data into stages of intellectual development. I also admit that, unlike
Rauckhorst, et al., we had no control group. We were attempting to “acquire conviction”
about this sort of research before accepting it. I am convinced that, despite the
methodological difficulties, it is a line of research worth pursuing.
It seems that the undergraduate research experience ignited “a bright period of
maturation” 12. According to Baxter Magolda (2001) the goal of this maturation is “self-
authorship”, which includes reflection on epistemology, but also the discovery of self and
the choosing of beliefs. Within the context of developmental theories like this one,
expertise is not defined solely by cognitive capacity, as it seems to be in How People
Learn, but includes self-knowledge and beliefs to which one becomes committed. Thus
developmental theories attempt to describe not just how people learn but why people
learn.
11 I am indebted to Sarah Clark, Martha Bibb, Becca Schmidt, and Zach Dewitt for their help with this
research. Sarah Clark and Becca Schmidt prepared a paper on this research.
12 Lopatto, D. (2002). Report from the hallways of CUR 2002. Council on Undergraduate Research
Quarterly, 23 (Sept), 4-5.
9
Of course, the quest for self-development is not limited to undergraduate students
in the sciences. The same theme is echoed by Sharon Daloz Parks (2000), whose interest
is in the development of faith, an ostensibly unscientific concept. Parks draws on the
seminal work of William Perry (1999) concerning the development of commitment.
Parks suggests that young adults attempt a “probing commitment”, a tentative attempt to
discover truths that may be held in a contextual world. If successful, the young adult may
grow to have a “confident inner-dependence”; meaning that one is able to “include the
self within the arena of authority”. Confident inner-dependence resembles the stage of
“independent knowing”, and both concepts suggest the development of a person who is
actively engaged in searching for truth.
From my reading of these developmental theories I conclude that the upper levels
of intellectual development are stages in which beliefs and hypotheses about the world,
whether concerned about religious faith or about science, become “live” (James, 1896).
In contrast to the cold cognitive description of the expert found in How People Learn, the
image of experts that emerges from intellectual development theories is that mature
people have the motivation to commit to a point of view and defend it by using the rules
of evidence of the relevant domain. Furthermore, the young adult who continues to
mature into an expert committed to a point of view may wish to mentor others along the
same path. The upper stages of development provide a feedback loop: Parks suggests
that a mature individual is ready to become a mentor.
I seem to have wandered away from the topic, that is, what undergraduate
research can tell us about research on learning, so let me ask Herman von Helmholtz to
put me back on track. Over a century ago Helmholtz made the statement that leads this
article. He was defending the superiority of scientist-teachers over professional teachers
who were good performers but had no direct experience with their subject matter.
Helmholtz asserted that a good teacher teaches with conviction based on direct
experience. It is necessary, in his view, for a person to be both a scientist and a teacher,
in order to know “how conviction is acquired”. This is exactly the sort of experience that
undergraduate research provides. The undergraduate researcher makes strong and
measurable gains in “how conviction is acquired” - how his or her own view matters in
the commitment to beliefs. The work of Seymour, et al., reveals the strong professional
and personal development that accrues to the student who performs undergraduate
research; the work of Baxter Magolda gives us a rubric by which we can articulate the
changes. My own research convinces me that these conclusions are valid. The
undergraduate research experience enables us as scientists to cultivate the next generation
of scientists, and as mentors to cultivate the next generation of mentors.
10
11
References
Baxter Magolda, M.B. (2001). Making their own way: Narratives for transforming
higher education to promote self-development. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.
Bunnett, J. (1984). The education of butchers and bakers and policy makers. Journal of
Chemical Education, 61, 509-510.
James, W. (1896). The will to believe. In J.J. McDermott (Ed.), The writings of William
James (published 1967). NY: Random House, Inc.
King, P.M., & Kitchener, K.S. (1994). Developing reflective judgment: Understanding
and promoting intellectual growth and critical thinking in adolescents and adults. San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Parks, S.D. (2000). Big questions worthy dreams: Mentoring young adults in their search
for meaning, purpose, and faith. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Perry, W.G. (1999, originally published 1968). Forms of intellectual and ethical
development in the college years: A scheme. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Rothman, F.G., & Narum, J.L. (1999). Then, now, and in the next decade: A commentary
on strengthening undergraduate science, mathematics, engineering and technology
education. Washington, D.C.: Project Kaleidoscope.
Seymour, E., Hunter, A-B., Laursen, S.L., & DeAntoni, T. (in press). Establishing the
benefits of research experiences for undergraduates in the sciences: First findings from a
three-year study. Science Education.
... Undertaking research at the undergraduate level is considered beneficial. Students who undertake research during their undergraduate years not only learn how to carry out scientific research hands on (Behar-Horenstein, Roberts & Dix, 2010;Lopatto, 2004), but also enjoy many benefits such as learning to think independently (Kardash, 2000), developing a professional identity (Thiry, Laursen & Hunter, 2011), and greater learning compared to ordinary courses (Ward, Bennett & Bauer, 2002). These students tend to have stronger faculty relationships and greater motivation (Hartmann, Winder & Carrick, 2013). ...
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Greater access to college education, owed in part to technology and globalization, increases opportunities for students to prepare and thrive professionally. Undergraduate education must offer pedagogies of engagement to meet needs of the competitive global workforce and post-baccalaureate programs requiring advanced research and analytical skills. Many universities and colleges recognize the critical need for undergraduate engagement in research and participation in professional world experiences to cultivate aptitudes required in the 21st century. Using a triangulation inquiry methodology, this empirical study contributes to the research on undergraduate research mentorship pedagogy by assessing its merits operationalized across multiple disciplines at a public liberal arts university. Findings support the added value of the pedagogy in its capacity to optimize marketable aptitudes. The study presents participants’ unique voices, as their perceptions are significant in identifying the value-added by this pedagogy.
... We can accomplish these goals through innovative curriculum and research experiences that are designed to expand recruitment and retention of a diverse student body. Studies have demonstrated that an innovative, authentic curriculum improves recruitment and retention of students from diverse ethnic and gender groups (23,24,25,26,27,28,29). ...
... However, in working with undergraduates outside of their primary field, faculty members have an exceptional opportunity to explore new research areas and expand their scholarly horizons. Furthermore, the benefits of undergraduate scholarship to students' personal and professional development are clear and robustly supported in the literature (Lopatto, 2004a(Lopatto, , 2010. Engagement in interdisciplinary scholarship may further support students' competence within and across disciplines and have positive implications for 21st century work environments and beyond. ...
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Interdisciplinary research is a valuable approach to addressing complex real-world problems. However, undergraduate research mentoring is discussed as an activity that happens in disciplinary silos where the mentor and student scholar share a disciplinary background. By transcending traditional academic divisions, we argue that mentors can train a new generation of scholars who think innovatively and create integrative research questions. We examined a sample of undergraduate students and their faculty mentors to determine the extent to which interdisciplinary research teams exist at George Mason University. Results indicated that interdisciplinary research teams are rare and faculty rank was their main predictor. University administrations can make specific choices regarding recognition and support for interdisciplinary undergraduate research mentoring that also advance institutional mission and values.
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Mentoring undergraduate research students is an important role for many faculty, however it is challenging to evaluate student progress. In order to understand more about how faculty assess their students, I surveyed a group of peer faculty from diverse institutions. The responses show a consistent set of expectations, but no uniform method of evaluation. I developed two rubrics to assess the process and products of an undergraduate research experience to offer useful tools for faculty mentors. These rubrics are described here, as well as examples of implementation and potential benefits to both faculty and students.
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Although the importance of undergraduate research experiences in preparing students for graduate study and research careers is well documented, specific examination of program components is needed to assess the impact of these programs on underrepresented (UR) students. The Leadership Alliance, a consortium of leading PhD-granting and minority-serving institutions (MSIs), has leveraged its diverse partnership to place UR students from MSI and non-MSI institutions in competitive research environments through its national Summer Research Early Identification Program. Using longitudinal pre/post data collected from student surveys, we applied social cognitive career theory as a conceptual framework to examine how research engagement, skill development, and mentorship aspects of a summer research program affect students’ commitment to pursue research careers. Self-reported knowledge of research skills, time engaged in research activity, and students’ understanding of and attitudes toward pursuing graduate study were measured in relation to the classification of students’ home undergraduate institution, level of students’ pre-existing research experience, and demographic factors. Our results provide evidence of specific programmatic components that are beneficial for UR students from varying academic and cultural backgrounds. This study describes important aspects of summer research programs that will contribute to students’ ability to persist in science careers.
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In contrast to the growing body of evidence suggesting students engaged in undergraduate research (UR) achieve better outcomes, we have observed declining interest among our students in UR opportunities, despite increases in the number of matriculating majors. A preliminary survey indicated that the decline in interest was anchored in two important perceptions held by the students: UR is time-consuming and will detract from their academic success and a lack of prestige associated with UR. Interestingly, students overwhelming indicated that the experience would be valuable to their future goals. We addressed these concerns by initiating a comprehensive study of students and faculty, and report herein on how results were used to develop a roadmap for a sustainable and robust UR program. From this analysis, we conclude that a successful program requires intentional recruitment mindful of millennial characteristics and a reward structure that supports faculty involvement. This approach will prove useful to faculty and administrators seeking value-added interventions to educating millennial students.
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Descriptions of student-identified benefits of undergraduate research experiences are drawn from analysis of 76 first-round student interviews gathered at the end of summer 2000 at four participating liberal arts colleges (Grinnell, Harvey Mudd, Hope, and Wellesley). As part of the interview protocol, students commented on a checklist of possible benefits derived from the literature. They also added gains that were not on this list. Students were overwhelmingly positive: 91% of all statements referenced gains from their experiences. Few negative, ambivalent, or qualified assessments of their research experiences were offered. The benefits described were of seven different kinds. Expressed as percentages of all reported gains, they were personal/professional gains (28%); “thinking and working like a scientist” (28%); gains in various skills (19%); clarification/confirmation of career plans (including graduate school) (12%); enhanced career/graduate school preparation (9%); shifts in attitudes to learning and working as a researcher (4%); and other benefits (1%). © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed88:493–534, 2004
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Important conditions for a good undergraduate research program and research as an experience in the acquisition of knowledge. From the symposium "Undergraduate Research as Chemical Education". Keywords (Audience): Second-Year Undergraduate
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Baxter Magolda, M.B. (2001). Making their own way: Narratives for transforming higher education to promote self-development. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.
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