Research Based Learning Approach: Students Perspective of Skills Obtained

Article excerpt

This study describes undergraduate students' evaluation of skills gained from two different research experiences (observation vs. interview) while enrolled in a child development course (N=83). At the end of the semester students were asked to complete a skills questionnaire. Factor analysis revealed three themes that were used to create the following variables: data collection skills, writing and presentation skills, and professional development skills. MANOVA analysis produced an overall mean difference between these two groups, with significant univariate effects for the data collection skills F(1,63)=4.95, p < .05, writing and presentation skills F(1,63) = 33.72, p<.01, and professional development skills F(1,63)=4.23, p< .05. Students' comments regarding their research experiences were also analyzed. Students enjoyed making the connections between course content and children's behavior in a natural setting. They recommended that future students would enjoy conducting research and advised them to utilize time-management skills to promote success in the course.

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During the past decade there has been an increased interest in using research as a teaching method with undergraduate students. Educators agree that research experience is beneficial for undergraduate students' academic development; however, there is a lack of data regarding the specific skills that students obtain via these experiences (Landrum and Nelson 2002). In addition, there is little to no research comparing student outcomes to various types of research experiences. The difficulties in comparing one research experience to another are the variability in disciplines, students, and their faculty mentors. Undergraduate students enter programs with different strengths. Faculty members have different skill-sets and different goals for their students, and faculty conduct research using techniques that vary in levels of difficulty and expertise (Kardash 2000). Therefore, much of the focus regarding benefits to students has been on student retention and graduate school placement (Koch and Johnson 2000).

Those studies that have examined specific skill development have suggested a number of benefits for undergraduate students who engage in research. These benefits fall into three categories: general skills, research/discipline knowledge, and relationship building. General skills include problem-solving, critical thinking, writing, speaking, and reading skills (Elgren and Hensel 2006; Wolfe et al. 2002). Students who gain research/discipline knowledge increase their knowledge of literature in their field, methodology, and ethics for human subjects (Perlman and McCann 2005). Relationship building results from student contact with faculty members outside of the classroom, mentoring, meeting other students, and teamwork skills (Landrum and Nelson 2002).

A limitation in this body of literature is that skill outcomes has been examined largely from the perspective of the educator. For example, Landrum and Nelson (2002) created a measure to examine undergraduate skill obtainment resulting from research experience and collected data from a national sample of undergraduate psychology educators. Their findings revealed two factors, the first regarding interpersonal skill development and the second one consisting of technical skill development. Landrum and Nelson's (2002) contribution to the field is the comprehensive list of possible skills that educators report as being important for undergraduate education; however, students' perspectives were not included.

The purpose of this study was to assess students' perspective regarding the benefits they achieve when given the opportunity to collaborate on a research project. In order to examine students' skill development a research based learning approach was adopted for a previously lecture-only child development course. The research based learning approach (RBL) engages students in research relating to course objectives. …