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Using Undergraduate Student-Faculty CollaborativeResearch Projects to Personalize TeachingLisa A. Burke & Monica K. CumminsPublished online: 26 Mar 2010.
To cite this article: Lisa A. Burke & Monica K. Cummins (2002) Using Undergraduate Student-Faculty Collaborative Research Projectsto Personalize Teaching, College Teaching, 50:4, 129-133, DOI: 10.1080/87567550209595893
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Using Undergraduate Student-Faculty Collaborative
Research Projects to Personalize Teaching
Lisa A. Burke and Monica K. Cummins
Abstract. A collaboratibe research project. which was offered as an alternative to traditional undergraduate independent study courses, is discussed. The authors describe the characteristics of traditional independent study courses and how collaborative research efforts differ from them. Such projects provide an in-depth exposure to the topic under study. produce outcomes of a scholarly paper or presentation at a professional meet- ing, and facilitate authentic interactions between student and teacher. Specific guide- lines for establishing a collaborative research project are provided. The authors, a college faculty member and an undergraduate student. outline the benefits of collaborative projects and specific lessons learned from their experi- ences executing a project.
n this article, we present a process for conceptualizing, designing, and imple- menting an undergraduate indepen-
dent study course in the form of a collab- orative research project (CRP). In our work together, as a college faculty mem- ber and undergraduate student, we used a research project in business management as a forum to develop a professional part- nership. The processes used to develop and manage the project as well as the lessons learned are flexible enough to apply to a variety of disciplines. In addi- tion to discussing our work together, we provide suggestions for others wanting to
Lisa A. Burke is an associate professor at Louisiana State Universily. in Shreveport. Louisiana. Monica K. Cummins is a graduate of the University of Dayton.
embark on such efforts to personalize teaching.
Our attempts at student-faculty collab- oration took into account the formalized differences in professional rank and stature that normally exist in institutions of higher education (Witt and Cunning- ham 1984). To work within the latter expectations, we grounded our work on the research project in principles and con- cepts found in the mentoring and interper- sonal goal-setting literature (Clarke 1999). Our goal was to collaboratively design, implement, and write-up a schol- arly project for publication. How we did this and the ways in which our efforts were similar and different from those used in other forms of independent study are outlined in the remainder of this article.
The Traditional Approach to Independent Study
The traditional approach to undergrad- uate student research generally occurs within the format of independent study courses. Such courses are used across a variety of educational levels (e.g., high school, 2- and 4-year colleges, universi- ties) and across different disciplines at the college level (Fontenot 1997). The format for a traditional undergraduate indepen- dent study course allows an upper-level student to pair with a faculty member to explore a research project. The emphasis is typically on the students autonomous investigation of a particular topic. Typi-
cally, the student approaches the instruc- tor, and if both parties agree o n the poten- tial structure and content of the individu- alized course, they formulate a proposed outline for the course. Often, this propos- al is presented to department administra- tors or a undergraduate program commit- tee for approval. In the traditional approach, the student typically takes on a significant self-management role and must possess the capability to work inde- pendently (Fontenot 1997).
Within this format, one-on-one stu- dent-instructor interactions involve exchanging ideas and choosing, planning, and scheduling relevant tasks. The faculty member tends to adopt the role of a con- sultant or resource person when providing specific advice and direction. Meetings with the student may be held regularly or as needed (Grasha 2002). The discussion method is the primary instructional method used in such courses. Outcomes of such activities usually include an in-depth written literature review or other appropriate paper on the topic.
Independent studies can be differenti- ated from other types of formalized stu- dent-professor relationships in academic settings. For example, they differ from student research-assistantships (Ehren- berg and Mavros 1995; Ritchie 1998). In an assistantship, students are assigned to certain faculty members to help with cler- ical-oriented research tasks (e.g., library search, data entry) to earn money while
VOl. 50. 4 129
attending college. Although learning may occur vicariously in a research assistant- ship, it is not directed in an explicit, for- mal manner as happens with an indepen- dent study course. Assistantships also differ from tutorials, in which the goal is to instruct the student in a topic either one-on-one or in small groups. Such activities typically take place outside of the classroom, and the faculty member teaches through asking questions, giving minipresentations to emphasize points, commenting on student papers, and sug- gesting readings to help students learn more about an area.
Collaborative Research: An Alternative to Traditional Independent Study
The collaborative research project (CRP) differs from traditional forms of independent study in how it is conducted and the outcomes expected. Such projects are designed to ( a ) intensify and deepen the students and instructors exposure to the topic under study, (b) produce some form of scholarly research for the instruc- tor-student pair, and (c) facilitate authen- tic interaction between the student and faculty member.
Certain issues should be addressed to ensure that the latter outcomes occur. One is obtaining the best match between the student and the teacher. Compatibility is important if people are going to work together. In addition, a clear plan needs to be developed before the project begins so that execution is orderly and logical. Oth- erwise, the project has an ad hoc quality to it and important parts of it are not com- pleted on time.
Achieving the Best Instructor-Student Match
For a collaborative research project to succeed, the composition of the student-instructor team should be consid- ered. The research literature on mentor- ing provides useful guidance in this area because mentoring can play a significant role in developing productive instruc- tor-student relationships (Witt and Cun- ningham 1984). Research suggests that successful mentoring is more likely to occur when students possess characteris- tics indicating that they can commit to the endeavor; have positive attitudes toward
the instructor; and have the necessary maturity, skills, and talent to be success- ful (Green and Bauer 1995; Kram 1983). Such characteristics need to be apparent during the initiation stage of a research project if a productive mentoring rela- tionship is to form. Once a project is underway, those characteristics also help to sustain the relationship (Noe 1988). Because of the importance of compatibil- ity, instructors should be selective with whom they choose to work. Similarly, students should be honest about whether they possess such characteristics or are willing to learn what is needed to com- plete a project.
Compatibility is important but needs a structure in which to flourish. Thus, pro- ject management needs to be high on the list of priorities. A poorly managed pro- ject will only create tension and conflict no matter how well matched the individ- uals involved are. Several stages are involved in managing a project. They include project planning, execution, and postcourse activities. Each must be con- ducted in a competent manner to facilitate the success of a project (Clarke 1999; Settle-Murphy 1999).
Plans must be completed before the for- mal research project begins. Although this seems like an obvious point, it is some- times violated when teachers and students work together. People may possess a gen- eral idea of what needs to happen but the details may not be thought out or allowed to develop as the project progresses. Appendix A shows an example of a proj- ect planning process used in the authors collaborative research project. This docu- ment also was used to obtain approval for the semester-long independent study course. Therefore, it was originally creat- ed before the academic term began.
As depicted in appendix A, our project plan incorporated an overall course objective, specific task objectives, required reading for the project, assess- ment criteria, potential models for the proposed study, a description of the research sample we intended to use, a timetable, and an estimated budget. Hav- ing clear objectives for the CRP was crit- ical for keeping us on track throughout the term, and the assessment criteria
helped guide the student in completing important elements of the project. The teacher and student should jointly create the CRP objectives and criteria. Clear performance objectives must be agreed on at the outset, reasonable timelines should be set, and the means for assessing student performance should be mutually acceptable.
The reader can infer from the project plan how much upfront planning was conducted before the term to set the stage for the research project. For example, by illustrating several examples of previous- ly published articles, the instructor effec- tively educated the student about the task at hand and the ultimate product to be completed. Also, having initial leads on potential sources of data as early as pos- sible allowed us to concentrate on identi- fying our research question once the term began. Last, the timetable displayed in appendix A was the operational heart of the plan and was critical for ensuring timely completion of the project.
There are several distinct yet closely related phases of a collaborative research project. They include in chronological order ( a ) literature review and discussion of the outcomes of work in the area, (b) identification of the research question, (c) training of the student in relevant research skills and the nature of the acad- emic publication process, (d) research design, ( e ) data collection, u> data analy- sis, and (g) writing the research paper. These project phases are grounded in the traditional research process (see Judd, Smith, and Kidder 1991). However, unless the student and instructor have suf- ficiently engaged in project planning and focus on what they want to accomplish before the term begins, project execution may be difficult.
The type of rapport needed to make the CRP flourish is important during the exe- cution phase. Instructors who take on a CRP should establish an open line of communication with the student, provide developmental feedback, and explicitly seek critical feedback. The faculty mem- ber needs to know whether he or she is working in a productive way with the stu- dent and the advantages and disadvan- tages of what is done. Making feedback a
130 COLLEGE TEACHING
two-way street helps to maintain a projects are promising vehicles for modi- independent study (Krohn 1987; Mason healthy and productive relationship. I t fying the nature of undergraduate stu- and Allaway 1985). also maximizes the development of the student and the instructor.
Establishing an informal and energetic working relationship, yet still demanding high professional standards, appears to work well in this type of course (Ritchie 1998). Empirical research supports this assertion. For example, Tjosvold (1984) found that college students responded significantly better to warm, yet directive leaders in terms of their motivation to complete subsequent tasks and their satis- faction with someone in a leadership position. People who managed others in a warm, nondirective; cold, directive; or cold, nondirective manner were not as effective.
One of the CRP goals is presenting the outcomes of the research to the scholarly community. Thus, there may likely exist a postcourse phase. It is unrealistic to assume that an undergraduate student tak- ing a full course load can generate a sub- mission-ready paper by the end of an aca- demic term. Therefore, the team should acknowledge from the outset the need to continue working together after the term ends to finalize a paper for submission for publication. Depending on the project topic, research design, and project goals (e.g., conference presentation, profes- sional j...