2017年12月5日 12 5, 2017 EVENT REPORT Research report

Incorporating Student Research into Teaching, or A Tale of 23,276 Mulinia (Dr. Patricia Kelley, University of North Carolina, Wilmington)

Tuesday, December 05  2017
17:00 - 18:30

KIBER314
Komaba Campus, The University of Tokyo



Incorporating Student Research into Teaching, or A Tale of 23,276 Mulinia

Students learn best by doing: when they apply what they have learned to real-world problems, for instance by conducting research. When we incorporate student research in our teaching, students benefit from improved research skills and life skills (problem solving, critical thinking, communication), as well as enhanced personal development (self-confidence, ability to work independently and in teams). At many institutions, these benefits are reserved for a select group of high-achieving students who work individually with faculty members. However, research-embedded courses can make such benefits available to a wider range of students. This lecture will discuss best practices in experiential learning and the incorporation of research in teaching by focusing on courses with embedded student research. Guidelines will be presented for how to plan and execute a course-embedded research project, along with ways to overcome the challenges involved in adopting this mode of teaching.

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Report by  Isabelle Giraudou (PEAK/Organization for Programs on Environmental Sciences, UTokyo)

The ‘research-teaching nexus’ is a central issue in the international research on higher education. Concentrated on the relationships between staff research and teaching, early studies suggested that the connection is not as explicit and positive as we may presume. As Hattie and Marsh (1996) conclude in their seminal review: “The common belief that teaching and research [are] inextricably intertwined is an enduring myth. At best teaching and research are very loosely coupled”. Focusing on the student experience of university research, other studies have shown that much practice actually keeps students ‘at arm’s length’ from the world of university research (Brew 2006). More recent studies, however, have pointed not only to potentially closer connections between staff research and student learning, but also to the growing importance of constructivist learning that actively engage students through research-based pedagogical frameworks. Drawing on her own teaching experience, Professor Emeritus Patricia Kelley, from the University of North Carolina (Wilmington, US), supported further the view that a key way forward for higher education institutions is to develop and sustain a research-supportive curriculum. Her presentation illustrated to a significant extent the possibility to bring students into the various worlds of research by incorporating research experiences into credit-bearing courses. Interestingly, Professor Kelley’s main focus was at the undergraduate level, which is the area where the ‘research-teaching nexus’ issue is most complex and under debate.
 
Contextualizing the debate, Professor Kelley began by questioning the traditional separation of undergraduate education from inquiry or research process-based teaching. In fact, most U.S. universities evaluate research and teaching separately, with different universities emphasizing one or the other. The 'supercomplexity' of contemporary knowledge societies, however, is increasingly seen as requiring the ‘development of a diverse STEM workforce with cutting-edge capabilities’ (2014-2018 NSF Strategic Plan); hence, the need for a stronger integration of education and research. Professor Kelley then proceeded to explain what ‘research-embedded' teaching is, why it is desirable, and how it can be designed and implemented.
 
There exists different ways to incorporate research in teaching. In order to help individual staff, course teams, and whole institutions consider ways of strengthening students’ learning as participants in research, a framework has been designed that distinguishes between research-led, research-oriented, and research-based curricula (Griffiths 2004). Curricula are research-led when their focus is to ensure that what students learn clearly reflects current and ongoing research in their discipline. Research-oriented curricula aim at developing students’ knowledge of and ability to carry out the research methodologies and methods appropriate to their discipline(s). Finally, research-based curricula seek to ensure that students learn in research; not limited to special undergraduate programmes for selected students, such research and inquiry may also be mainstreamed for all or many students. Drawing on Healey and Jenkins (2009), Professor Kelley underlined that ‘all undergraduate students in all higher education institutions’ should indeed experience learning through research and inquiry.
 
Research-based learning and teaching is generally preferred for its pedagogical value : it is now well established that students learn best by doing and that they are both more motivated and more engaged in learning; learning in research also contributes to improved understanding of course content and success in knowledge economy. Professor Kelley shed further light on the expected benefits of such research-based courses to both society and students. As underlined by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF): ‘When students participate in cutting-edge research activities under the guidance of the Nation’s most creative scientists and engineers, the students can gain the up-to-date knowledge and practical, hands-on experience needed to develop into creative contributors who can engage in innovative activities throughout all sectors of society’. Significantly, learning in research also enhances students’ research skills (reading literature, developing and testing hypotheses, analyzing data), life skills (problem solving, critical thinking, communication), and personal development (self-confidence, ability to work independently and in teams).
 
Going a step further, Professor Kelley introduced the characteristics of research-embedded courses before providing us with one main illustration. Involving students in research activities (hypothesis development, study design, data collection and analysis, interpretation, dissemination), research-embedded courses result in discovery of new knowledge relevant to discipline; they are iterative (in that they build on previous knowledge, including findings of previous students in course) and they imply collaboration. Practically, Professor Kelley’s research-embedded course in paleontology is designed for students with little (or no) previous research experience, and with little (or no) experience in writing a scientific paper. It is a 4-credit-hour elective course and consists of 3 hours lecture and 3 hours laboratory, including a team research project (20% of entire course grade). With a great deal of gentle humor, Professor Kelley then focused on this team research project and engaged in the Tale of 23,276 Mulinia. Through an impressive number of slides and photos of her students immersed in this research adventure, we were able to follow, step by step, the process of a research-embedded course and to grasp both its challenging aspects (from sieving and identifying samples to testing hypothesis) and most rewarding features (writing a team-authored paper and presenting at professional meeting).
 
Professor Kelley then reflected on this pedagogical experiment from the perspective of the 8 Principles of Best Practice in Experiential Education identified by the National Society for Experiential Education (NSEE, 1998). As the Mulinia Tale illustrates, most effective course-embedded research has intentionality, planning, authenticity, reflection, training, monitoring, assessment, and acknowledgment. For example, intentionality––defined by the NSEE as ‘purposefulness that enables experience to become knowledge’––refers to both instructors and students’ expectations; in this case: content knowledge, research process understanding, collaboration, and career preparation. Authentic research in course, which was new to most of the students involved, offered them a precious opportunity to become part of the scientific community by contributing to peer-reviewed abstracts and presenting at national meetings. Through on the job training for each task of their research project, students got a better appreciation of the related skills requirements. Finally, reflection helped students transform simple experience into a learning experience, allowing for both academic enhancement and personal growth.
 
Was it worth it? Students reflected positively on their learning in research experience. Among many other reflections recorded by Professor Kelley, the following comment tells us a lot about the merits of a course-embedded research project: “From the very first day of sieving to the last count of Mulinia, it was important to do things right. In this way, we learned a lot about the scientific method and its applications to our project (…). We (…) now have a better understanding of the ‘real feel’ of research”. Research-embedded courses allow students to understand research process and develop research skills; they contribute to improve students’ abilities to think critically and solve problems; they help students learn to work in teams and independently, and become more self-confident. But alternatives should not be neglected: in fact, shorter-term projects (from one class session to few weeks) may also give students feel for research. Finally, Professor Kelley underlined the fact that, from 2003 to 2015, 50 of 99 students remained engaged in paleontology by presenting project at professional meeting or campus research showcase, continuing research as directed individual study, taking additional paleontology courses, and pursuing graduate study in the field.
 
Well attended, with participants ranging from full professors to under- and postgraduate students, this seminar on research-based teaching and learning raised a range of very timely and rather provocative questions : Why it is important that institutions around the world, i.e. including in Japan, move forward with an agenda to integrate research into the undergraduate learning environment? How could we promote further, at the undergraduate level, both teacher-focused research-based course content and a student-focused research-based process of learning? How does the teaching-research nexus relate to the overall quality of engagement of learners with their institutions? No doubt : for people teaching and learning at the University of Tokyo, Komaba, the question is indeed how to realize on a larger scale a genuinely student centered undergraduate education.

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