Feb. 22, 2007

Best Practices in Undergrad Research

A new book <> , Developing & Sustaining a
Research-Supportive Curriculum: A Compendium of Successful Practices,
analyzes strategies to support the role of research within the undergraduate
curriculum (not just solely within the sciences), and offers case studies
detailing innovative research strategies that are gaining momentum as the
interest in fostering undergraduate research continues to grow. 

The book, released Wednesday by the Council on Undergraduate Research and
available for $35 for members and $45 for non-members on the group
<> 's Web site, sheds light not only oncollege-by-college
initiatives, but also bigger trends that are happening across higher
education, including - said Kerry R. Karukstis, a professor of chemistry at
Harvey Mudd College who edited the volume along with a Hamilton College
chemistry professor, Timothy E. Elgren - inquiry-based labs in which
students generate the questions, a focus on interdisciplinary approaches and
an embrace of teamwork that truly challenges "the lonely scientist model."
Among the effective practices highlighted in the book's executive summary,
available free online <> :

*         The creation of year-long learning communities in which students
and faculty address one complex global problem. For example, a chapter in
the book by four Massachusetts Institute of Technology faculty members
highlights the university's Terrascope <>
program, a relatively new, optional program for freshmen that entails a
year-long emphasis on a single problem in two required courses, two optional
courses and an optional spring break field trip. Students in the learning
community address the problem comprehensively and collectively with an
interdisciplinary lens (previous problems include determining the least
environmentally harmful way to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
and completing a cost-benefit analysis of the proposition), and
"Terrascopers," as they're called, have their own space on campus that's
occupied, the authors write, "nearly 24 hours a day."

*         The use of geographic information system technology as a tool to
cultivate spatial thinking. More than 525 college and university programs
are listed in ESRI's Searchable Database of GIS Programs
<> , writes Ann B.
Johnson, a higher education solutions manager at ESRI, a company that
designs the technology.

*         The use of local natural resources, such as a river watershed,
field station, park or arboretum, as locations for teaching and research.
The establishment of Cullowhee
<>  Creek Environmental
Field Station in 1999, for instance, allowed for integrative and
interdisciplinary opportunities at Western Carolina University, and was
central to the reform of the geology and physics programs there, write
Virginia L. Peterson, Mark L. Lord and Kurt Vandervoort, science faculty at
Grand Valley State University, Western Carolina and California State
Polytechnic University at Pomona, respectably. A focus on place more
generally can also be useful, as Vincent F. A. Golphin and Danielle T.
Smith, English and sociology faculty members at Rochester Institute of
Technology, suggest in their section about an interdisciplinary course,
"Livin' for the City,' in which students conduct research on urban issues
such as drugs and poverty, collect literature about the urban experience and
design research surveys.

*         The use of institutional resources, such as writing centers, to
facilitate research. By teaching, for instance, oral communication skills in
writing courses, stressing analysis and providing training in logic,
argument and persuasion, writing programs can "enhance the research culture
and the research experience for undergraduates," writes Joyce Kinkead, a
professor of English and associate vice president for research at Utah State

*         The design of interdisciplinary laboratories designed to teach
common investigative and laboratory methods in across the sciences, such as
the  <> "ID"
first-year lab at Harvey Mudd that integrates chemistry, physics and

The compendium highlights practices that address questions of teaching and
learning, skill development and curricular reform from a faculty point of
view, while concluding by analyzing various institutional contributions to
undergraduate research. For example, at Hamilton College, Elgren writes that
the institution made a commitment in 1998 to support summer faculty and
student research in areas where funding is hard to come by, "read," Elgren
writes, "outside the sciences." Recent initiatives include a studio art
project on the oppression of women in Iraq and the United States, a
government project examining the "axis of evil" and a philosophy project on
forgery in the arts. "To date," Elgren writes, "we have received proposals
from almost every department and program on our campus."

- Elizabeth Redden <mailto:[log in to unmask]> 



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