Academic journal article Peer Review

Undergraduate Research as a Catalyst for Liberal Learning

Academic journal article Peer Review

Undergraduate Research as a Catalyst for Liberal Learning

Article excerpt

Undergraduate research experiences-experiences that include doing original research while being mentored by an experienced researcher-have a high status in contemporary higher education. The 2002 report from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning as a Nation Goes to College, advocates more undergraduate research activities. Major sources of research funding, such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), provide support for undergraduate research. National organizations such as the Council on Undergraduate Research, Project Kaleidoscope, and the National Conference on Undergraduate Research provide platforms for faculty discussion of undergraduate research and student presentations of undergraduate research. We may well wonder why undergraduate research is seen as such a promising activity, and if the activity lives up to its promise.

The undergraduate research experience may be the epitome of engaged learning. Undergraduate research is valuable because it sets the occasion for attaining a wide range of educational goals. As a single experience it may facilitate empowered learning (including communication, problem solving, and teamwork), informed learning (allowing the student to study the natural and cultural world), and responsible learning (permitting the study of social problems and the self). It promises benefits that reflect the National Student Survey of Engagement (NSSE) student engagement benchmarks-high academic challenge, active collaborative learning, intense student-faculty interaction, enriching educational experience, and supportive campus environment (Kuh 2003). Moreover, it can be situated as a capstone senior experience or a first-year experience; it can be housed in the sciences, social sciences, or humanities; it can occur as a dispassionate intellectual exercise or a form of social action; and it can be done at the home campus or abroad.

The Benefits of Undergraduate Research

But what precisely are the benefits of the undergraduate research experience? The literature on undergraduate research is filled with anecdotes, endorsements, and assertions that the benefits are self-evident. The lack of solid information about these benefits led my colleague Elaine Seymour and me to propose a study of undergraduate research to "clarify, and estimate the relative importance of, the benefits of 'good' undergraduate research experiences." Performed under the auspices of a National Science Foundation Research on Learning and Education grant, our initial research on the undergraduate research experience involved a mixed qualitative and quantitative methodology aimed at delineating the benefits of the undergraduate research experience in the sciences. We chose as our research vehicle the summer research programs at four liberal arts colleges known for their outstanding undergraduate research. Seymour and her associates employed an interview protocol with student and faculty respondents at the four sites. Transcripts of each interview were carefully coded to yield the reported benefits of the undergraduate research experience (Seymour et al. 2004).

Concurrent with this work was a survey I devised that gathered quantitative information about the benefits of the research experience at the same four research sites over a period of three years. The results of the qualitative and quantitative work were fairly consistent and helped triangulate the benefits of undergraduate research to students. In addition, the survey was used to gather information about features of the experience. The survey results indicated that students reported gains on a variety of skills, including design and hypothesis formation, data collection and interpretation, information literacy, communication, and computer work. These gains were accompanied by dual gains in professionalism: professional advancement and professional development. Professional advancement included opportunities for publications and presentations of work, enhancement of professional credentials (i. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.