Evaluation of Teaching and Research Experiences Undertaken by Botany Majors at N.C. State University1

Article excerpt

Abstract

Many science departments require undergraduate students to complete either a teaching or research experience. We developed a survey instrument to measure outcomes of teaching and research experiences from the student perspective. Results in the Botany Department at North Carolina State University demonstrated that those doing research are involved mainly in data collection and analysis, whereas those who are teaching are mainly involved with hands-on laboratory instruction. Nearly all students rated their experiences as very good overall and would recommend them to other students. Several positive educational outcomes were rated especially high, including a greater appreciation for teaching/research, greater initiative towards pursuing a career, an increase in skills, and greater consideration for attending graduate school. Students found that the experiences were effective at building five "leadership skills" that included team-work, problem-solving, getting along with others, analytical skills, and time-management, and somewhat effective at developing four others which included writing, speaking, work ethic, and integrity. Students rated academic-related outcomes relatively low overall, suggesting that motivation to make better grades or to take different courses changed little as a result of research or teaching experiences.

Introduction

Experiential learning in the forms of teaching and research can be extremely rewarding for undergraduate students. These experiences allow students to put classroom knowledge into practice and explore potential career paths. Teaching and research settings frequently present rich opportunities to build leadership skills such as team-work, problem-solving, getting along with others, analytical skills, time-management, writing, speaking, work ethic, and integrity. Perhaps most importantly, both teaching and research pose significant, open-ended challenges to students that provide opportunities for high achievement and excellence.

An increased emphasis has been placed on experiential learning in recent years, resulting in a greater need for assessment. Funding agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation have expanded student research opportunities (Service, 2002) and consider "integration of research and education" as one of four criteria for reviewing scientific research grants (NSF, 2004). Furthermore, a number of national organizations have recommended expansion and improvement of efforts to include undergraduates in college/university research (NSF, 1996; Boyer Commission, 1998; Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 2002). Similarly, the concept of student-assisted teaching has been strongly advocated (Miller et al., 2001), as most laboratory instruction at U.S. universities is performed by teaching assistants (Sundberg and Marshall, 1993).

Recently, there have been surveys of student researchers in chemistry and biology (Mabrouk and Peters, 2000), medicine (Solomon et al., 2003), and psychology (Landrum and Nelsen, 2002), as well as a national survey of mentors in plant biology (Coker and Davies, 2002) and an institutional survey of liberal arts colleges (Research Corporation, 2001). Also, student research projects in particular courses have been described (Chaplin et al., 1998; McLean, 1999; Henderson and Buising, 2000). We are unaware of any recent survey of undergraduate teaching assistants in the sciences which sought to determine educational outcomes. Nevertheless, the role of graduate teaching assistants in the sciences has been examined (Druger, 1997; Sundberg et al., 2000), and surveys of teaching assistants have been performed in communications (Socha, 1998) and sociology (Fingerson and Culley, 2001).

Many science departments nationwide require that students complete an out-of-classroom experience in order to graduate. Undergraduates majoring in Botany at N.C. State University are required to complete either a teaching or research experience as part of the required departmental curriculum. …