- Reinventing Undergraduate Education: Engaging College Students in Research and Creative Activities
One approach to improve undergraduate education is involving more students in research and creative activities. In Reinventing Undergraduate Education: Engaging College Students in Research and Creative Activities, Shouping Hu, Kathryn Scheuch, Robert Schwartz, Joy Gaston Gayles, and Shaoqing Li help us understand why student engagement in these activities is so powerful.
The monograph begins by defining undergraduate research and creative activities, highlighting disciplinary variations, and contextualizing their historical roots. Drawing on the work of the Council of Undergraduate Research, Hu and his co-authors call undergraduate research “an inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline” (p. 6). Next, they summarize the common characteristics and intended outcomes of these experiences, pointing out that the “hard, pure disciplines” (Biglan, 1973) may be more natural hosts for these programs. Even so, the authors describe successful humanities-based initiatives. The chapter ends by situating these activities in the historical archetype of the German research model that embraces teaching through discovery and scientific research.
Next, the authors outline learning theories and exemplary pedagogical approaches that help explain why these educational experiences further student learning and development. Four learning models (experiential, problem-based, inquiry-based, service) demonstrate why research activities promise to enrich and improve undergraduate education. The authors emphasize the importance of two fundamental learning concepts that are incorporated in research and creative activities: (a) learning as a process of constructing understanding, and (b) mentoring learners by scaffolding the mastery of new skills and experiences.
The third chapter focuses on environmental influences and the student benefits of participating in these activities. Drawing on models of environmental influences in the undergraduate experience, the authors construct a conceptual approach that explains how these features encourage and support student engagement in research and creative activities. Their model is a comprehensive explanation for how participating in research and creative activities helps socialize students to academic values and fosters academic and social integration.
The fourth chapter, “Impacts of Student Engagement in Research and Creative Activities,” summarizes the literature that associates participating in these activities with student outcomes, paying special attention to their effects on select populations, such as underrepresented and honors students. The chapter also considers the role of faculty and their experiences and rewards. According to the authors, “The obvious disparity in benefits for professors can make a difficult case for promoting educational reform efforts such as undergraduate research” (p. 41). The authors freely acknowledge that mentoring is time-intensive because it requires training and supervision for students to effectively pursue research projects independently.
In Chapter 5, the authors draw on two national data sets to demonstrate patterns of student engagement in research and creative activities. From the College Student Experiences Questionnaire, they show that undergraduates at research universities are not necessarily more likely to participate in these activities compared to their counterparts at less research-intensive institutions. Furthermore, over the past 10 years, the frequency of student engagement in mentored research has increased across all institutional types and disciplines. The National Survey of Student Engagement findings show that research participants are more likely to be seniors who major in biological and physical sciences and who attend private institutions and baccalaureate-liberal arts colleges.
Hu and his co-authors next offer correlates about research participants, while commenting that studies examining participants’ personal characteristics are noticeably absent. The authors identify some exceptions that describe students’ reasons for participating. They draw on research about faculty as agents of socialization and the impact of their research orientations and departmental climates on undergraduate research. Additionally, they summarize findings about institutional differences, program features, and keys aspects of the research experience that affect student engagement and outcomes.
Also in Chapter 5, the authors offer recommendations about promoting undergraduate involvement in research programs, including working with students prior...