Undergraduate Research as Teaching Strategy: Transcript

Undergraduate Research at the University of Saskatchewan presented by Sheryl Mills

One of the initiatives at the University of Saskatchewan is to include undergraduate research, in, get this, in the first year of the students’ educational experience on our campus. This is a pilot project right now, and we’re working towards that, so that as many students in their first or second year, and we’re hoping for the first, really, as an introduction to university life, to have a situation where you begin to think like a researcher, and you understand the positioning of research and knowledge and how those two are together. That knowledge doesn’t just appear, that somebody has found that, has researched that.

Every discipline has a unique, fingerprint almost, as to how they view research and the epistemology of the discipline.  When we work with undergraduate research as a teaching strategy, this is integrated right into course content. Students are encouraged to come up with a curious question, something they’d really like to know about in relation to the course content. They are also working towards finding the best ways to collect data that might answer that question, and then, how might they share the results of that question with their colleagues and peers. As you can see that’s the essence of research, isn’t it? Curious question, data collection with methods that work appropriately to answer the question, and then the sharing of the results in a public forum. That’s the kind of thing we are going for right now, at the first year in the University of Saskatchewan in our pilot project.

There’s been some great initial first steps in this. And, one of the situations, that I’d just like to tell you a little bit about, is in a class of about 200 in one section and 200 in another, give or take 10 or 15. We’ve set up a pilot project and these students have come up with, in their groups, cooperative learning groups, I might add, a question that they want to answer. And then they’re going to set out survey questions, they will operationalize that initial question. And get results back on a survey from their classmates. They will get all that data and they will answer their question. You can see how efficient, effective, and efficacious that particular model is. The engagement of the students in this particular pre-pilot has been just great. There is no doubt that this it is an engaging situation. The faculty, and the research coaches, and the teaching assistant also have been finding just how engaging this particular model is. Here at the university, we really want to, as you know, this is just part of it, I don’t have to tell you, really. But, there’s teaching and there’s research and whenever they can come together in the same place, the synergy of that is absolutely amazing.

So, thinking about undergraduate research as not something done as an aside, but woven into your class. Are there ways in which students could be encouraged to think of a question, that they’re curious about? Are there ways in which that you can reveal the methodology that is used to gather information and share knowledge in your discipline? Are there ways in which students in your class, might be able to find the answer to a question they’re curious about, and share the results with their peers? Either in written form, posted on Blackboard; have poster sessions. What a blast, just wandering around and seeing what people have come up with to the answers for their curious questions. What a great way to share information and build a sense of community around information generation and knowledge building and capacity.

So, you know, it doesn’t have to be a big thing either, it can be a small project, it can be something that’s done quickly. Even within the scope of one class, or it can run over a term. Or, perhaps you want to intensely look at this for a week or two in your class. But whatever ways we can have students thinking like researchers from their very first year on our campus, what an exciting academic career they will have in front of them.

For more information on undergraduate as a teaching strategy please give us a call at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness. We’ll be happy to work with you on setting that up.