Cooperative Learning through Collaborative Faculty-Student Research Teams*
McWey, Lenore M., Henderson, Tammy L., Piercy, Fred P., Family Relations
A structured research team experience can add a great deal to a graduate student's academic and professional training, and it also can support a positive research culture within a department. In this study, we discuss how one department developed and implemented collaborative learning research teams to enhance students' research experiences. We discuss the advantages of cooperative learning and share student and faculty reflections that further support the use of collaborative learning research teams.
Key Words: cooperative learning, graduate education, professional development, research teams, teaching methods.
Future family scholars should be well versed in theory, research, and best practices and have the skills necessary to conduct the research independently (Monroe, 1995). Yet, there are a number of challenges associated with the education of family scholars at all academic levels (i.e., Cianciolo & Henderson, 2003; Cianciolo, Henderson, Kretzer, & Mendes, 2001; Piercy et al., 2005; Sprenkle, 2002). Such challenges include integrating knowledge across multiple fields (Piercy et al.), ensuring that one is using the best pedagogical approaches to teach today's college students (Henderson & McWey, in press), and identifying the necessary skills and knowledge for students in today's information and technologically based economy (e.g., Buono, 1996; U.S. Department of Labor, 2000).
On the one hand, graduate students themselves express ambivalence when it comes to research. For example, in one study, for every positive adjective students used to describe research, such as "rewarding" or "helpful," students also used words like "boring," "confusing," "difficult," and "frustrating" (Piercy et al., 2005). On the other hand, one goal of most family science departments is to increase the number of graduate students who are prepared to teach, conduct research, and provide leadership and professional services.
Traditional approaches to teaching both undergraduate and graduate students include students attending classes, listening to lectures, and reading textbooks and articles. Although these methods may be good at imparting knowledge, students may not see the immediate relevance of the content they are learning (Cianciolo & Henderson, 2003). Thus, many have advocated for more innovative teaching strategies at the undergraduate and graduate levels (Cianciolo & Henderson; Cianciolo et al., 2001; Fontes & Piercy, 2000; McWey et al., 2002; Sprenkle & Piercy, 1984). Specifically, scholars assert that meaningful research training in undergraduate and graduate programs involves more than requiring students to take research methods and statistics classes and to complete a dissertation or thesis, but involves pedagogical approaches that connect course content to research practices (Anderson, 2003; Crane, Wampler, Sprenkle, Sandberg, & Hovestadt, 2002; Henderson & Martin, 2002; Piercy et al., 2005; Sprenkle, 2002).
Cooperative learning (CL) has been identified as an effective pedagogical strategy that promotes a variety of positive cognitive, affective, and social outcomes (Cabrera et al., 2002; Nolinske & Millis, 1999; Slavin, 1995a). Specifically, CL strategies have been shown to improve the retention rates of students (Kluge, 1990; Totten, Sills, & Digby, 1991); provide students with increased opportunities for discussion, shared learning, and self-management (Slavin & Cooper, 1999); and enhance students' academic performance (Cianciolo et al., 2001; Nolinske & Millis, 1999; Walker, 1996). Despite the positive aspects of CL, many assert that more needs to be done in developing and evaluating CL pedagogical practices (i.e., Cabrera et al.; Slavin, 1995a, 1995b).
The purpose of this study is to present a case study (Jarrett, 1992; Yin, 1984), reflecting the various CL processes and how one family studies department formalized CL research teams as an effort to enhance graduate student education. We do so by summarizing the pedagogical rationale for CL research teams, describing how a department instituted the CL research team process, presenting two specific research teams to exemplify the CL processes, providing data solicited from student and faculty CL participants, and discussing possible outcomes achieved by CL teams.
CL Research Teams
Some consider CL strategies superior to traditional classroom approaches because such strategies have been shown to enhance students' academic, social, and cognitive outcomes (Cianciolo et al., 2001; Nolinske & Millis, 1999; Walker, 1996). Using a meta-analysis of 122 CL and academic achievement studies, researchers found that CL methods promoted higher student achievement than competitive or individualistic methods across all age groups and subjects (Johnson, Maruyama, Johnson, Nelson, & Skon, 1981). In another meta-analysis, Slavin (1983) found that 63% of the studies reviewed showed significantly positive academic outcomes for students in CL environments.
CL research teams engage students and faculty in an active and student-directed learning process (Henderson & McWey, in press). CL strategies are different from traditional classroom approaches in that they require students to apply their knowledge. Students' roles are elevated to one of generating, making sense of, and interpreting meaningful real-world data. With CL research experiences, students are active and accountable participants in their own education (Johnson & Johnson, 1994; Olsen & Kagan, 1992; Steiner, Stromwell, Brzuzy, & Gerdes, 1999). In essence, faculty and students coconstruct knowledge (Deering, 1989; Hertz-Lazarowitz & Shachar, 1990). Students are accountable for the outcomes of their learning (Johnson & Johnson; Olsen & Kagan), and teachers develop highly structured tasks, facilitate students' mastery of tasks and learning, give less direct supervision, and provide information to students in order to help them achieve the desired outcomes (Deering; Hertz-Lazarowitz & Shachar).
This pedagogical strategy also complements an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning. Through interdisciplinary research teams, students can experience first hand the connections and strengths of specific specializations such as marriage and family therapy, family law, policy sciences, and other disciplines. Such an interdisciplinary approach is more likely to have familiar content and appeal to a broader range of students (Dinmore, 1997) with different personal or academic experiences.
Despite the positive aspects of CL, this approach also may present challenges to students and instructors. Negative past experiences with teamwork and the "free-rider" phenomenon, where nonperformers depend on their colleague's hard work, may serve as disincentives to CL (Steiner et al., 1999). Students also may resist CL processes because of a lack of experience with CL environments and the socialization of competitiveness and individualism in previous classroom experiences (Shachar & Shmuelevitz, 1997; Sharan & Sharan, 1992; Steiner et al.). Poor implementation and planning of CL may undermine the positive academic and social outcomes (Steiner et al.). Therefore, it becomes important that the instructors adequately invest time in preparing and structuring assignments, tasks, and implementation of student objectives. Some instructors whose personal and professional training has largely focused on traditional teaching practices may require additional training to implement CL effectively.
Through this study, we will present a case study demonstrating how one department developed and implemented CL research teams. We will share specific examples of CL research teams, and student and faculty perceptions of the process also will be revealed.
Development and Implementation of CL Research Teams: A Case Study
Case studies bring understanding to real-life experiences and can provide insight into occurrences at a single setting (Jarrett, 1992). Using data from one graduate program, we present a case study of the application and use of CL research teams. We were interested in understanding (a) how CL research teams could be implemented across a department, (b) how specific CL teams operated on a day-to-day basis, (c) student and faculty perceptions of the use of research teams in graduate student education, and (d) what CL research team outcomes could be achieved. For case studies, it is important to include the context and multiple sources of data (Yin, 1984). Thus, to provide an understanding of the use of CL research teams, we detail the departmental development of the infrastructure for the CL research teams, examine two such CL teams, share perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of this approach, and discuss CL research team outcomes.
In order to understand how CL teams could be implemented in one department, we had to present the context (Yin, 1984) in which CL teams were formed. Although most graduate programs offer research experiences, what we believe to be unique about this research team experience is that it was built into the departmental requirement. This requirement sets a unique context for graduate education (Appendix). To that end, our academic department instituted a research practicum, formalizing the research experiences received by doctoral students. This practicum served as a means for doctoral students to obtain systematic hands-on research experiences before drafting their dissertations, applying for postdoctoral fellowships, or competing in the job market. Some of the overarching goals for the research practicum were to help graduate students establish independent research agendas; to enhance their evaluative, research, and written and oral communication skills; and to create their professional identity. The faculty anticipated that they could benefit as well because, through the practicum, they could gain graduate student help with their research projects and enhance their teaching practices. Generally, the formalized process mandated that doctoral students participate on research teams for four semesters. Master's students also could participate but were not required to do so. Further, at the professor's discretion, undergraduate students could participate on research teams, but again, it was not required.
In order to recruit students for specific research teams, faculty members compiled summaries of their research projects. Limiting information to one page, faculty listed the current research team members, the title of the project, a brief abstract of the purpose of the study, the methods that would be employed, the expectations, the anticipated outcomes, and the primary contact person for the project. Thus, in these instances, the main research decisions were made before students were recruited. There was the opportunity, however, for faculty members who wanted to begin a new project to list general areas of interest and recruit students to participate in the development of a study. All doctoral students were given a packet of possible research teams and were instructed to meet with the contact person for the study of interest to discuss more specific details of the project. Then, if the student and faculty member agreed to work together on a project, the student would register for research team hours (the course number varies depending on the level of the student-undergraduate, master's, or doctoral).
It was also important to develop grading criteria. Students were graded on an A to F scale based on predetermined criteria. Faculty members were encouraged to provide feedback to students about their work throughout the research team process. Final grades were assigned based on students' participation in team meetings, accomplishment of tasks, and quality of work. For the most part, the assignment of grades was straightforward. In instances where students could not complete tasks on time, however, an "incomplete" could be assigned. When the student completed his or her tasks, the grade could then be changed.
Developing the CL Teams
In order to implement CL effectively, there has to be a sufficient planning by the instructors (Steiner et al., 1999). Discussing the development of the teams also adds another contextual layer to the current case study (Yin, 1984). For the research teams in which we were involved, we elected to use cooperative groups, in which we worked as partners with students, provided some faculty direction, and gave team members the opportunity to choose project tasks for which they would be responsible (Stodolsky, 1984). We wanted the process to be a shared learning experience, where we would meet collectively but be individually responsible for our own tasks and self-management (Johnson & Johnson, 1994; Olsen & Kagan, 1992; Steiner et al.). Further, we wanted the CL research teams to be active learning endeavors. Under CL, faculty serve as monitors of students' learning (Deering, 1989; Hertz-Lazarowitz & Shachar, 1990); therefore, faculty set aside time for students to make comments, pose questions, and review the coding of data during team or individual meetings.
CL research teams were shaped by shared goals and rewards. In our CL research teams, students analyzed the data, reviewed the literature, and drafted the sections of publishable papers. Our CL research teams capitalized on diversity, heterogeneous learning styles, and individual strengths of each member, enhancing students' capacity and understanding of teamwork and creating a collegial relationship between students and faculty members. Students were engaged in negotiating professional and personal successes within academe while working with individuals from diverse backgrounds (Nolinske & Millis, 1999). Like any CL group, there was an emphasis on shared responsibility rather than on individual competition, reducing the dictatorship of some group dynamics and improving the division of labor among research team members (Goodwin, 1999; Nolinske & Millis). Faculty members monitored students' progress and worked with them to establish professional expectations or to lessen the incidence of any unhealthy competitive behaviors that undermined the success of the team.
To demonstrate how we structured CL research teams, and the diversity of the activities students have engaged in through the projects, our case study focuses on two research teams. We chose to present these specific teams for two reasons. First, they were teams in which we had direct experience and could therefore speak to the group processes and outcomes. Second, the composition and goals of the teams differed from one another, reflecting a variety of CL processes. One research team was called the "Foster Care Cooperative Learning Research Team." This team involved both doctoral and undergraduate students. The goals of this team included learning about family policy course content by conducting a study and then producing a publishable paper. The other team, the "Metaphor Research Team," involved only doctoral students. This team had the goals of learning about the research experience of graduate students across the country, developing recommendations about how to improve graduate student research training, learning how to conduct research, and producing a publishable paper.
The foster care CL research team. The purpose of the foster care CL research team was to explore the legal reasoning used to terminate the rights of parents whose children were in the foster care system. The team comprised four undergraduate students, two doctoral students, and two faculty members. The undergraduate students were seniors majoring in human development, who had an interest in attending graduate school and gaining research experience, and an expressed desire to learn policy through an applied approach. Both the doctoral students were in the same department but had different majors: one was studying family studies and the other marriage and family therapy. Last, two faculty colleagues who were in the same department directed the team. One faculty member's expertise lies in the area of marriage and family therapy and foster care research. The other faculty member teaches in the family studies area and specializes in family policy and law research.
The student objectives differed depending on the level of the student but included enhancing research and professional competencies by analyzing and coding data and learning grounded theory methods (GTM; Corbin & Strauss, 1990). The undergraduate students were expected to (a) participate in a research team, (b) code and verify data using GTM, and (c) maintain a personal journal narrating their experiences with the research project as well as their reactions to the cases they were reading. In addition, the undergraduate students had the option of presenting the research at an undergraduate research conference. The doctoral students also were required to participate in the research team meetings, code and verify the data, and maintain a log, but in addition, they were given the option of being a coauthor on at least one manuscript and a national presentation. Thus, they were also a part of the writing process, and authorship agreements were negotiated (Fine & Kurdek, 1993). Collaboratively with the faculty members, the graduate students assisted with gathering and critiquing the literature and writing portions of the literature review and results sections of the manuscript.
The research team met weekly for a minimum of 2 hrs per meeting. It was expected that every team member, including faculty, would attend the meetings. At the beginning of the semester, we had a "research team orientation" where we provided each CL team member with a packet of information, discussed expectations, reviewed legal terms and precedents, and carefully examined the coding schema for the research project. To ensure that everyone understood the material and coding schema, each team member was assigned the same case to review, code, and discuss at the second team meeting based on the coding schema provided in the packet. At the second meeting, the team reassembled to review everyone's individual coding of the first case, leading to a discussion of coding discrepancies and ambiguities.
At subsequent research team meetings, we used GTM to code the cases. It took one semester to complete the open coding process, and the axial and selective coding was completed the subsequent semester. One undergraduate student elected to participate on the research team for only the first semester; therefore, the team had two transition meetings. In these meetings, we discussed procedures, coding strategies, and biases. When we used the student's work after she left the team, we were able to refer back to her research team journal to track her thoughts about her coding.
The metaphor research team. The purpose of this CL research team was to conduct a study exploring a national sample of graduate students' perceptions of research and their beliefs about what would strengthen the research culture in their training programs. The team consisted of four doctoral students and two faculty members. Each of the doctoral students wanted to help collect and analyze data and coauthor a manuscript.
The faculty members led the first several meetings and guided the team through the initial steps of the research process (establishing the research questions and submitting human subjects approval). Although the faculty led discussions, decisions were made as a group. We discussed order of authorship, expectations for participations, and a time line for the project. Collectively, we established that we wanted the research team to be a collaborative endeavor where we each learned from one another's strengths and contributions.
We decided to meet weekly at first, then after the methods were in place, we met biweekly. Meetings typically lasted 1 - 2 hr. At these meetings, we would discuss the status of the project, data analyses, and division of tasks. Between the meetings, we worked independently on our individual assignments and brought our work to the next meeting. As the project continued, the hierarchy between the faculty and the students seemed to flatten, with students taking the lead during research meetings and on methodological tasks.
In order to capture students' perceptions, we solicited somewhat unconventional data-metaphors, poetry, free associations, and critical experiences (e.g., "what metaphor captures best your research training? Finish this poem: Roses are red, violets are blue, research is . . ."). Using Johnson and Johnson's (1991) team structure of "learning together," the entire research team was directly involved in the data analysis that incorporated analytic induction (Patton, 2002) and constant comparative techniques (Corbin & Strauss, 1990) to analyze transcriptions. We met as a team and discussed emergent themes and categories. In instances where researchers coded data differently, the team met to discuss the discrepancies and potential biases. The resultant themes reflected both positive and negative research-training experiences and ways in which programs might improve their research training and culture (for an account of this study, see Piercy et al., 2005).
Student and Faculty Reflections
In addition to discussing the infrastructure and implementation of the CL teams, which sets a context for this case study (Yin, 1984), we also solicited students' and faculty member's feedback. Specifically, we contacted nine doctoral students, who had completed at least one CL research team project, as well as 16 faculty members in the department in which the research practicum was implemented. We asked open-ended questions including (a) what benefits did you experience in being part of a research team, (b) what are the disadvantages of using research teams in graduate student education, and (c) what did you learn through your participation in a research team? Eight students (88.8%) and six (38%) faculty responded, providing written replies to our questions (the average response length for each question was approximately a paragraph-with some responses being longer). Below, we present categories reflecting the perceived benefits, disadvantages, and student learning that reveal the outcomes of this case study.
Benefits of CL research teams. Students and faculty listed a number of benefits of participating on research teams that were consistent with CL approaches (Sharan, 1994; Slavin, 1995a, 1995b; Stevens & Slavin, 1995). Overall, these benefits included academic and professional outcomes, as students saw research teams as a way of building their vitae and enhancing their marketability. One benefit that was universally noted was, in one student's words, "publications and presentation opportunities!! These are so difficult-especially initially-alone, and come naturally when research teams are developed."
In addition, students described the CL research teams as a tool to augment their learning and autonomy as researchers, improving their self-esteem and confidence and enhancing their comprehension of pertinent concepts (Johnson, Johnson, Holubec, & Roy, 1994; Sharan, 1994; Slavin, 1995a, 1995b; Slavin & Cooper, 1999; Stevens & Slavin, 1995; Totten et al., 1991). One student stated, [I now] have the "confidence that I can contribute." Another student shared that she experienced "concrete gains in research skills-actually learning new skills I didn't have before." One more student described how she was able to apply her new skills: "The next semester I was able to conduct my own research with a team of students only and I used everything that I learned in order to conduct another study." Others mentioned that research teams afforded them greater insight into the process of research, enhancing their comprehension and depth of understanding (Johnson et al., 1994). For instance, one graduate student acknowledged that she now had "more respect for the amount of thinking, planning, and work that goes into research." As stated by a different student:
I benefited from being a part of the research team by seeing how to conduct research from the ground up. Exploring ideas and seeing those ideas form into research questions, brainstorming, and collaborating with seasoned researchers allowed for a mentoring experience. This kind of experience and professional bond is hard to come by outside of the classroom and being privy to the mental organization of the researchers was priceless for me.
Another benefit listed by a number of students was the opportunity to learn research while working in groups, promoting stronger interpersonal and social skills and improving student achievement, learning, and critical thinking (Johnson et al., 1994; Slavin & Cooper, 1999; Totten et al., 1991). For example, one student found it meaningful "to network with faculty and other students." Another student considered it a "wonderful experience to work in a diverse group-age, experience, student-professor, interests, and talents." One other student noted, "also the work load is shared and you get experience working with a group."
The faculty also noted benefits of CL research teams. Similar to students, faculty noted improvements in students' abilities as researchers. One faculty member shared: "I have noticed students initiating their own research projects after being involved in research teams." Another faculty member stated, "Students are able to apply their research team experiences to the classroom, which may allow them to understand more in their research classes."
Faculty also stated that they enjoyed being able to conduct collaborative investigations related to their areas of interest. One faculty member said, "I thought it [research teams] was a great vehicle for students to get practical experience with different research projects and methods, and for me to get assistance with some of my projects." Faculty also enjoyed sharing their enthusiasm for a specific research topic with students as seen in the following statement: "I felt it was a good way to organize my research interests and include students in my research."
Additionally, faculty said that they were able to fine-tune approaches to implementing CL research teams and were able to transfer these lessons into more traditional classes. Specifically, one faculty member, who teaches family law and policy, has recommitted herself to teaching students how to brief court cases. Another faculty member, who teaches marriage and family therapy, has integrated the study of policy into clinical courses.
Disadvantages. Students and faculty were asked to list any disadvantages with the use of CL research teams for graduate student education. The disadvantage listed most often by both students and faculty was "time." Specifically, the students stated, "They (research teams) are pretty demanding. But, I think they are well worth the time and effort required!!" Another student stated, "One of the disadvantages of using a research team in graduate student education is that the distribution of work and the time spent involved in the research varies from person to person." Statements related to inequities may reflect ineffective planning, management, or monitoring by the faculty members or by the group (Steiner et al., 1999).
Similar to the students, faculty agreed that research teams can be time consuming. For example, working through data analysis and coauthoring papers with students are activities that can require a great deal of faculty mentorship. One faculty member stated, "Sometimes it seemed like it would have been easier for me to just do the research myself rather than have to mentor students through the process." In addition, student turnover could be potentially problematic. Currently, in our program, students can switch research teams after the completion of just one semester. If the composition of the research team changes, it may require a large amount of time to train new research team members. Faculty led these teams in addition to their regular course load; thus, it became increasingly important for the faculty member to be able to benefit from research teams.
Related to time and workload, students also shared that if there is no guidance, the result could be embarrassing to students. One student stated:
At the beginning of my Ph.D. training, I had a limited amount to contribute, especially in the findings section, because my background in research was so weak. That could possibly pull the team down or be embarrassing depending on how it is handled.
Similarly, another student said, "Working on a team could highlight differences in students' levels of ability, increasing the competition aspect of graduate school. But, I do not think by any means that this has to happen." Some students who are more comfortable with traditional classrooms and fearful of new types of learning environments may resist CL strategies and try to redefine the nature of the group interaction (Steiner et al., 1999), attempting to shift the less structured, faculty-directed learning approach to something more familiar.
Given the potential for resistance, we were not surprised by students who could foresee problems with making research teams a requirement. One student said, "requiring it can be a problem-research teams, in my experience, are more 'intimate' than classes: there is more personal commitment, less structure, and more ambiguity-I think research teams require a higher level of trust than classes." "Sometimes pieces of the process are missed because work is being done outside of the group," which was a problem noted by another student. But the resistance to active student engagement and influence on the learning process is not the final perspective, as demonstrated in one statement made by a student: "I do not see disadvantages of using research teams because whatever is the end result students always learn how to or how not to be a part of a team."
Faculty agreed that management is important to the success of the research team. As one faculty member asserted:
Potentially, faculty might not provide a good experience for their student team . . . students should not be used as mere 'gophers'-carrying out menial tasks without much understanding of how their part contributes to the project as a whole. Faculty need to educate the student team members along the way, to understand how each task fits into the bigger picture, such as how a lit review is organized, ethical considerations in using human subjects, matching methods to research questions, why certain analyses are used, and so on. I have heard some students comment that they were not getting this, and that they had difficulty making sense of their research team experience.
Remembering that, optimally, CL research teams should be beneficial to all team participants, it is important to ensure that this experience generates the desired learning outcomes for students.
What students learned. Students were asked to reflect on what they learned from the CL research team experience. Every student described concrete gains in their abilities. One student said that she has a "better understanding of the process of research in contrast to classes, which primarily focus on the methods." Another stated, "More real-world understanding of the messiness of research, from the literature review to the conclusions-including the methods that seem so clear-cut in classes." One student expressed that she has a "deeper understanding of data analysis, and broader awareness of the options available." Yet, another team member shared: "I learned the process of coding in qualitative research as well as how and why certain themes emerge from the data. I also learned to look closely at researcher bias and how to acknowledge these biases in the research being conducted."
Students discussed learning about group processes: "I learned to make personal choices about how much I wanted to do, and what I wanted to do. I learned that a group process can be a very creative process, with a result that is synergistic (more than the sum of the parts)." Another discussed the importance of leadership: "I learned how important it is to be passionate about a topic. Moreover, I learned that at least one of the team leaders should be motivated to bring the project to closure with a finished product of a paper."
Students' additional thoughts. We asked students if there were other thoughts that they wanted to share about the use of CL research teams in graduate student education. There were no negative aspects of research teams noted by students in response to this question. In fact, students shared unanimous praise for the research team experience. As illustrated by one:
I think working on research teams has been one of the most rewarding aspects of graduate school for me. If I had not had those team experiences, I would leave here, despite several research and statistics courses, very unsure of myself as a researcher and terrified of choosing a starting place for empirical work.
Another student shared, "Research teams in graduate education are a wonderful concept as long as the graduate student is learning how to conduct effective research. Guidance is key in these teams and as long as the members are aware of that, educational and professional growth is inevitable." In sum, faculty members' guidance must include adequately monitoring group activities and processes (Sharan & Sharan, 1992; Steiner et al., 1999).
Although we only solicited the feedback of doctoral students, the undergraduate students completed evaluations of the research team class. As an assessment of the CL research team as a course, students completed a final evaluation and reflective commentaries. All the undergraduate students (n = 4) rated the process as 4.0 on a scale of 1.0 - 4.0. The most compelling indicator of students' learning occurred in their reflective commentaries about their growth and development. For instance, one students' anonymous written feedback illuminates the unexpected outcomes of CL:
I feel this was far more useful than other courses I might have opted for in its place and I loved getting involved with this great experience . . . you have helped me figure out directions that I can go in the future and opened my eyes to a world I had no experience in.
Observed CL Research Team Outcomes
Both the foster care and the metaphor research teams enjoyed a number of other outcomes, which lend support to the use of CL research teams. Specifically, the undergraduate students in the foster research team presented the results of the study at a local research conference. In addition, the faculty and graduate students have presented the findings nationally. Collaboratively with the faculty and graduate students, one manuscript is in press in a top-tier journal in the field (McWey, Henderson, & Tice, in press) and another manuscript is forthcoming. The metaphor CL team also enjoyed the benefits of our collective work. We were able to accomplish the data collection and analysis in one semester. After data analysis was complete, we collectively wrote a manuscript, which has already been published (Piercy et al., 2005). In addition, we submitted our work for consideration in a national presentation.
Using a case study approach, we presented the use of CL research teams in a graduate program. We discussed the development and implementation of the CL research teams, shared student and faculty reflections of the experience, and presented observed outcomes of the teams. Case studies help add to existing knowledge by providing information about applications in natural settings (Jarrett, 1992; Yin, 1984). Although the case study approach allowed us to demonstrate CL research teams in context, there are a number of limitations to this approach. We, as educators and researchers, were eager about CL research teams; thus, our case study may be more reflective of our opinion than on the consensus of the department in which we conducted this endeavor. This limitation is further compounded by the lack of responses generated specifically from faculty members. It is possible that only faculty who were more supportive of research teams responded to our questions. There is no basis for establishing the reliability and validity of case studies; rather, one can merely present multiple sources of data as an effort to strengthen the findings (Yin). These limitations should be strongly considered when making generalizations about the findings. Future research could evaluate the effectiveness of specific graduate training approaches in a manner that would allow for the results to be more generalizable.
In developing the CL research teams, we were reminded that any group research experience that includes faculty and graduate students, either formal or informal, can have its challenging moments, particularly when the participants do not develop a clear contract at the outset. Issues such as authorship (Fine & Kurdek, 1993) and expectations for performance should be discussed early on. One of the positive expectations for many students is coauthorship on publications, which may be a year or two in the distance, if at all. Faculty may have different expectations for graduate students than the students have for themselves. For example, students may join a research team thinking that they will be equal colleagues on an exciting project or that they will shape the development of a project, whereas faculty members may have already developed the research project. In order for CL teams to be successful, both faculty and students need to negotiate the processes and outcomes that will be mutually beneficial.
Managing the research team, as cited by both the faculty and the students, is important. Yet, there are a number of possible situations that could complicate the research team. Team membership is one such issue. For example, suppose one graduate student has a research assistantship with the faculty member leading the project and the other graduate students do not, it may be difficult to make distinctions between expectations associated with the RA's work and the student's participation on the research team. Additionally, what if the faculty member becomes busy with another project and does not provide sufficient leadership for the research team on the project that they signed up for? Should accountability for the research teams rest with the department, with the faculty, or with the team?
For CL research teams to be successful, there are a number of things to keep in mind. It seems that linking participation on a research team to credit hours helps ensure continued participation. Creating a protocol for all students to follow when choosing and registering for research teams may help reduce ambiguity. Further, it is important for all involved parties to recognize that CL research teams require a great deal of effort and time. Specific details including what will happen if the work is not completed at the end of one semester, how to handle students who decide to join another research team, and distribution of the workload are all important considerations that need to be discussed overtly and early on in the process. Further, although sometimes awkward, it is important to openly consider the consequences of not contributing to the team. These are only some of the challenges of undertaking a planned research team experience and questions we ourselves have posed throughout the CL experience. They are not insurmountable. The point is, the faculty and the team should plan for (and hopefully prevent) possible problems at the outset through open communication and through some sort of contract that outlines the expectations and ways disagreements will be handled.
Further, not all training programs are alike. Some programs may only have undergraduate students; others may attract part-time graduate students. Although our experience is in a department where most students are enrolled full time, CL research teams still may be useful in other contexts. Perhaps, in cases where direct contact between faculty and students is not easy (i.e., commuter students, distance learning courses), the use of the Internet and e-mail could be ways to continue contact. Research teams could also be built into courses. For example, at the onset of a semester, the professor could establish teams that students could join and facilitate the process throughout the semester, allowing class time for discussions about the projects.
Educators have identified a need for change in the culture of research training in graduate education (Anderson, 2003; Crane et al., 2002; Henderson & McWey, in press; Piercy et al., 2005; Sprenkle, 2002). It has been stated that in too many graduate programs, research training occurs in another department where the research or statistics professors are not familiar with specific aspects of our field and rarely use context-specific research examples in their teaching (Crane et al.; Piercy et al). Many students consequently see their research training as disjointed and unrelated (Piercy et al.). As educators, we believe that it is important for us to help demystify the research enterprise and we should work to create more research-friendly cultures that include better research mentoring to doctoral students. Involving students in CL research teams may be one way to improve graduate students' research skills and begin to change the culture of research in graduate student education.
CL research teams are shared learning experiences. Group work is accomplished, but individuals also have independent responsibility for their own tasks and self-management (Johnson & Johnson, 1994; Olsen & Kagan, 1992; Steiner et al., 1999). Further, CL research teams are active learning endeavors, where faculty and students alike coconstruct knowledge (Deering, 1989; Hertz-Lazarowitz & Shachar, 1990). They learn research by doing research, and the cooperative, participatory, experiential nature of the experience makes it enjoyable as well. As one participant in a research team said, "Hey, this is fun. Are you sure this is research?" (Piercy et al., 2005). Through CL research teams, faculty can support students in becoming their own scholars, with their own passions for and ideas about research.
In sum, we suggest that educators build into their graduate programs some formalized system to encourage team research projects that support a collaborative, participatory research experience. It is clear to us that students become excited about research when they work with faculty who themselves are excited about research and research mentoring. Evaluating the effectiveness of such an approach in enhancing specific skills and knowledge of graduate student researchers would be a beginning step to improving the quality of education we provide.
* The research team experience described in this study occurred in the Department of Human Development at Virginia Tech.
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Lenore M. McWey Tammy L. Henderson Fred P. Piercy**
** Lenore M. McWey is an Assistant Professor in the Marriage and Family Therapy Doctoral Program, Department of Family and Child Sciences at Florida State University, 210 Sandels Building, Tallahassee, FL 32306-1491 (email@example.com). Tammy L. Henderson is an Associate Professor in the Department of Human Development, Virginia Tech, 401B Wallace Hall, Blacksburg, VA 24061-0416 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Fred P. Piercy is a Professor and Department Head of the Department of Human Development, Virginia Tech, 366 Wallace Hall, Blacksburg, VA 24061-0416 (email@example.com).
Appendix. Summary of Research Team Policies and Procedures (Required for Doctoral Students-Optional for Master's Students), 2004 - 2005
At a minimum, all doctoral students will complete four enrollments of a Research Team Practicum during the first four semesters of doctoral study. Doctoral students will sign up for a special section of HD 7994 (Research and Dissertation) specifically related to faculty-student research team participation. The CRN for this special section in Fall 2004 is _______. You should register for one or more credits each of your first four semesters.
In the September prosem (HD 6004), faculty will share information about available research teams that students may request to join. Then, it is up to the students to contact faculty research team leaders, either at that meeting or during the next week, to express interest in being a member of that research team. To keep track of who is on that team, each student should fill out a short form related to the team he or she will be on. This will also help us know who to come to for the grade at the end of the semester. Turn this form in to the office by September 20. A copy of the form is included at the end of this document.
There are several reasons the HD faculty believe that the research team requirement is valuable. First, there is value in graduate students working closely with faculty on collaborative research, and not all graduate students have received that opportunity in the past. Faculty also see the research team experience as a way for doctoral students to get to know them better (and visa versa), to receive a great collaborative research experience, and to put into practice the research training students receive here. Most believe that this kind of experience is at the heart of what great doctoral students should be. Also, the experience should increase your worth in the job market and, if a project gets funded, could lead to an assistantship for one or more students.
Note. The application form is available upon request from the first author.…
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Publication information: Article title: Cooperative Learning through Collaborative Faculty-Student Research Teams*. Contributors: McWey, Lenore M. - Author, Henderson, Tammy L. - Author, Piercy, Fred P. - Author. Journal title: Family Relations. Volume: 55. Issue: 2 Publication date: April 2006. Page number: 252+. © 2002 Family Relations. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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