Open Pedagogical Practices to Train Undergraduates in the Research Process: A Case Study in Course Design and Co-Teaching Strategies

Stephanie N. Lewis, Anne M. Brown, and Amanda B. MacDonald

Authors

Project Overview

Institution: Virginia Tech

Institution Type: public, research, land-grant, undergraduate, postgraduate

Project Discipline: Information and Data Literacy

Project Outcome: student-created research proposals and digital poster sessions

Tools Used: Institutional Repository

Resources Included in Chapter:

  • Course Syllabus
  • Grading Rubric

Using an “open” course design to teach research and data literacy

As we look toward the future of course design and integration of best practices, the demands of a global workforce requires training in information, data, research, and digital literacy. Courses, co-curricular experiences, and collaborations across campus are necessary to create these experiences. Innovative routes for students to get hands-on experience in these literacies are also required. Additionally, academic institutions are continually looking for opportunities to authentically engage more students in in order to make them more career-ready and adaptive to changing professions. A recent employer survey suggests that employers and hiring managers want applicants and new employees with a basic set of adaptive skills, such as effective communication, teamwork abilities, and application of university knowledge to real-world settings (Hart Research Associates, 2018). These practices are among a variety of competencies that can be learned through experiential pedagogy.

Quantitative and qualitative research experiences offer pedagogical outlets for students to practice experiential and professionally relevant skill sets. Universities typically have strategic initiatives to enhance undergraduate research and related experiences, but often students are unprepared and unsure of routes to fully engage in the research process (Brew & Mantai, 2017). Different paths to engagement in systematic research are necessary for undergraduates. Individual disciplines have specific requirements for formalized training in research methods, data collection, information literacy, and auxiliary processes like critical thinking and problem-solving. Common and cross-disciplinary practices provide opportunities for collaborative teaching efforts, which fosters development of open content by instructors and allows research mentors to engage more undergraduate students in the research process. Brew (2013) describes undergraduate research as an experience where students are both participants and audience members engaging in one of four process domains: research-led, research-tutored, research-based, and research-oriented. These four domains highlight the experience types and needs of students engaging in this process.

The research-oriented domain requires students to focus on developing important research and inquiry skills that are not a required part of undergraduate research experiences in which learning is reserved for mastery of techniques and methods. The skills involved in research-oriented engagement allow for transdisciplinary course development because the fundamentals of quantitative and qualitative research are generally ubiquitous. Examples of ubiquitous topics include finding, using, and collecting information and data, evaluating sources, and communicating findings. Often these topics are not formally introduced to first- and second-year students, with subject-specific techniques taking precedence in undergraduate research and capstone experiences later in their academic careers. The introduction of literacy practices early in the learning process as a part of research-oriented design affords students the opportunity and time to explore relevant topics in their chosen discipline in a way that fosters their curiosity and creativity as budding professionals. With the addition of exploratory course design to this transdisciplinary learning environment, students can engage in conversations across disciplinary lines, share their ideas and strategies, and see the successes and areas of improvement encountered by their peers. Ideally, the experience translates to students graduating as successful professionals capable of innovative problem-solving.

In this chapter, we discuss the design and pedagogical background of a research-oriented course that engages students from a variety of disciplines in the practice of critical thinking, where information, data, research, and digital literacies are their tools. This course was developed through collaboration between library and university faculty in order to meld pre-existing independent learning experiences into a single course. Framed as a case study, the “openness” of the course design outlined here stems from the open resources used, the autonomy of the enrolled students, and the pedagogical practices that promote diverse perspectives about transdisciplinary topics. Students produced research proposals and digital posters that were made openly accessible through a library-housed online repository. The theme of open pedagogy is embedded in the course design, learning outcomes and final projects, which showcases one application of openness in higher education.

Needs addressed by Honors Research Practices

Virginia Tech, like many research universities, strives to encourage student participation in undergraduate research. As one of the eleven high impact practices (HIPs) (Kuh & O’Donnell, 2013), undergraduate research can be an important step toward pursuit of a research career (Lopatto, 2004). As students engage in courses within their selected majors, instruction in research methodology and best practices is sometimes minimal, disconnected from transdisciplinary endeavors, or limited to lab-based classes. Translation of information from the classroom to real-world applications can be difficult for students who are at the early stages of learning. Options for students to participate in the research process can be limited, and the level of training and rigor can vary across academic experiences (Lopatto, 2004). This leaves a conundrum: How can an institution be deliberate in how it trains and engages students in the research process? Is the provision of foundational research literacy training for all students, regardless of major, feasible?

Course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) are growing in popularity as a means to connect with a large number of students and ask them to contribute meaningful work to the greater body of knowledge on a subject (Auchincloss et al., 2014). CUREs are akin to accelerated research experiences in which an instructor mentors students through the research process, using their primary research interests as the focus of the course work. However, these courses tend to be discipline specific (Powell & Harmon, 2016; Corwin et al., 2017) or require students to enter with an established level of disciplinary knowledge (Lopatto et al., 2008). While these experiences are extremely valuable in fostering scientific identity and encouraging students to continue pursuit of research careers (Corwin et al., 2017), there is limited space for exploration of research concepts outside of one’s primary discipline. It is in this intellectual space that the concept of the Honors Research Practices course emerged as a way to provide first- and second-year students with broadly relevant, entry-level research training in a learning environment where transdisciplinary research ideas are encouraged.

The course schedule and content of Honors Research Practices helps students to identify and interpret the need for inquiry, work in groups towards an overarching goal, and experience the freedom (and difficulty) in narrowing topics down to feasible research projects. The autonomy of topic selection presents a new interpretation of open pedagogy, but also complements accessibility with regard to resources used and availability of class deliverables for public consumption.

Pedagogical theory

From the beginning of the semester, we set high, yet attainable, expectations for the students. The most challenging aspect of the course is the creation of a transdisciplinary research question, which student teams subsequently craft into a detailed project proposal and digital research poster. Learning objectives are presented to the class through the syllabus, and explained throughout the semester, in an effort to show the ties between the course assignments and the stepwise process necessary to engage in the research process. This scaffold approach to learning (Belland, 2017) is based heavily on the updated Bloom’s Taxonomy (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001), in which students walk progressively through independent stages of the learning process. Elements of the Entering Research curriculum for training students in research were included (Balster et al., 2010), and many of the assignments and activities mirror best practices from Hanstedt’s book on course design (2018). The research process is taught through an adaption of the canonical structure for writing a scientific paper (Heard, 2016), where the results and discussion sections become a thought exercise in predicting outcomes and strategizing alternatives. In order to experience the research process, each group of students walks through defining a problem, reviewing the literature on the topic, designing a protocol based on published studies, developing a hypothesis, predicting outcomes, identifying pitfalls, strategizing different ways to tackle their research question, and summarizing how the outcomes of the study could impact general knowledge on a topic. In brief, the course structure has weekly lectures focusing on skill introduction, and recurring in-class work sessions reserved for completion of checkpoint items. Students are asked to accomplish micro-goals in a logical order as building blocks for subsequent work, which culminates with the final proposal (see Appendix A).

The course was further constructed with inquiry-based learning (IBL) in mind (Lazonder & Harmsen, 2016). IBL, sometimes referred to as inquiry-guided learning (Lee, 2012), allows the students to explore their own questions rather than depending on the interests and views of the instructor. Instructors provide constructive feedback to reinforce the learning goals. To maintain openness, guidance regarding topic selection was limited to encouragement to identify a novel and valuable knowledge gap from current research literature. This practice is a combination of the open-ended problem exploration in a learner-centered environment associated with problem-based learning (PBL) with the active, question-driven learning of IBL. The benefit of IBL is that the students are intrinsically motivated to find answers to questions that they generate either individually or as a group. They are not limited by questions pre-determined by the instructors (PBL), the content knowledge of the instructors (content-based learning), or specific examples of research (case study-based learning). This technique has proven beneficial for diversity in course topics, diversity in student-developed concepts, integration of ideas across majors into project design, and the demonstration and progression of team-based research. Students’ reflection responses suggest that they perceive contribution of their learning outcomes to success in future job environments. Successes reported by the students are shared later in this chapter.

The combination of PBL and IBL approaches has been shown to foster creativity and promote the development of complex skill sets (Rodriguez et al., 2019). However, the open design in the IBL aspect of the course is not met without challenges. Students have had difficulties narrowing down research concepts and forming questions, which demonstrates one challenge within open pedagogy. We have recently modified the course to include a lecture on determining a research question, narrowing project scope, and searching subject-specific databases to address this challenge.

Creating a honed research question is an essential, yet often overlooked, concept in classroom instruction and lab courses. Linked directly to information literacy instruction, students were challenged to consider their individual interests and questions. By searching news outlets and databases, students explored potential topics and sources using metrics and altmetrics to better understand the scholarly conversation surrounding their ideas and to identify novel research questions. While it is not close to the depth of a literature review, it is a great entry-point for teaching first- and second-year students about the process of research and developing original research questions using the IBL framework outlined above. This design aspect focuses on our first open element, which is the open pedagogical design. Students have autonomy in selecting research topics and areas of focus, which then lead to greater engagement and buy-in in the research process. Further, students use and interact with open sources of dissemination as they explore the significance of digital literacy to the problem-solving and decision-making processes.

The course openness translates to benefits for the instructor. First, enrollment of students from a variety of majors in the course promotes exploration of transdisciplinary and multidisciplinary problem framing. Students bring new perspectives to and from disciplines like business, history, architecture, medicine, environmental conservation, biology, engineering, horticulture, and communications. The lack of restriction on majors has led to the development of interesting research concepts outside of our disciplines. Second, we were able to focus on mentoring the groups because we did not have to spend extra time developing and testing project ideas. The shift of this work from the instructor to the student challenges them to think critically about the research process. Because we, as instructors, often did not have the disciplinary expertise necessary to understand the research areas selected by the students, we were able to model good research practices as we guide them through finding the information that they needed and development of their research questions. The students were expected and allowed to develop a sense of authority regarding their topics (Hanstedt, 2018) because they were required to be content experts for their developed research question. The students were also encouraged to seek out other campus faculty, who are established authorities pursuing research goals in the same or similar areas. The ownership of the research concept, and breadth of student exposure to transdisciplinary topics promotes and supports open pedagogy design. The design provides the basic structure necessary to impart research and data literacy skills, while leaving enough open-endedness to allow independent inquiry.

Ethical considerations

HIPs have been described as experiences in which all students should participate in order to be academically successful while in college (Kuh, 2008). The experiences serve as a means for students to practice and reflect on transferable skill sets, and encompass opportunities like collaborative assignments, internships, and study abroad. These academic endeavors ultimately translate to professional capabilities after graduation. However, prevalent conversations about access and availability of opportunities suggest a perception that a limited number of students are introduced to and engaging in these practices. Resource limitations for the research mentor, and knowledge limitations for the student seeking to participate also exist, which limits the number of students who can participate in undergraduate research. Our introductory course strives to meet many of these ethical concerns: open access for a large number of students from all disciplines to engage in transdisciplinary research training using minimal resources. No prior knowledge beyond general K-12 education is required, and students do not pay for textbooks or need to purchase additional materials. This course is designed for first- and second-year students new to research, but there is no restriction on course enrollment. Other faculty have commented on the earliness of introduction of these techniques and the depth of engagement in the proposal-writing process of students. While the research practice topics we cover are typically introduced in junior and senior level courses, introducing them early and often strengthens the mastery and utilization of these skills throughout a student’s undergraduate career.

Modeling multidisciplinary collaboration

Course narrative

The Honors Research Practices course was developed from previous experiences of all the instructors involved. The teaching faculty taught previous versions of the course for science majors and students actively involved in undergraduate research, while library staff ran a recurring workshop series to prepare students for engagement in research. Although these two efforts were originally developed and run as isolated learning experiences, the decision was made to combine the courses as a means to reach a broader audience of students while building upon the successful hallmarks of the individual efforts. Previous versions of the research-oriented course provided activities and agenda items to drive course progression. Elements imported from the research course include the development process for the final proposals, and discussions about topics like research integrity and collaborative research. The established Advanced Research Skills (ARS) training program, housed within University Libraries, provided elements of literacy processes, like organizing scholarly literature or designing effective posters. At the same time, the Honors College at Virginia Tech strove to make updates that included curriculum and course development to increase the competitiveness of students for engagement in experiential learning opportunities.

The ARS program was developed as a co-curricular workshop series to introduce students to the concept of undergraduate research and provide a chance for students to practice high-level research skills needed for formal undergraduate research experiences. While the curated curriculum for the workshop series is not yet openly available, the individual learning objects were created to be openly accessible and adaptable with Creative Commons licensing. The librarian requested that an Undergraduate Research Collection be added to the Libraries’ digital object learning repository, Odyssey, and uploaded associated scholarship on the program in VTechWorks, the university’s repository.

Combining elements of these opportunities made addressing the learning needs of students from diverse disciplines obtainable, and allowed us to foster IBL and motivation to engage in the research process. The level to which students felt inclined to continue in research was evaluated using a pre- and post-course assessment. Students were asked to rate their interest in pursuing research careers in college and after graduation, and were asked if they met and interacted with researchers during their course experience. The outcomes of this assessment were used to inform adjustments to the course and understand any value placed on the course by the students.

Students were asked to generate their own research path. The assignments for this process included identification of potential professional associations/consortiums for their selected research area, cataloging of top research sources related to their questions, establishing questions through scholarly conversations and identifying gaps in the literature, and formulating the first draft of their research question. The remainder of the class sessions proceeded as a “how-to” guide for developing a research proposal. The students used their research question as the driving force to creating a hypothesis, searching the literature, and vetting resources. Their goal for the semester was to develop a project proposal for addressing their research questions. Assignments served as checkpoints through which assignments like the annotated bibliography require students to learn about citations for relevant literature, critique of selected works, assessment of author authority, and assessment of content relevance (Bauder & Rod, 2016). We strove to provide feedback and critiques, which included conversations about adjustments to project ideas, and strategies for answering the various elements of their often complex research questions. At the end of the semester, students submitted a written research proposal and presented their work at a digital poster symposium. Throughout the semester, students practiced elements of iterative design while tapping into their intrinsic motivation to produce quality work. Example rubrics from some of the final assignments are included in Appendix B, as well as reflection questions from the end of the course evaluation of students’ perceptions of learning.

Collaborator roles and contributions to success

The instructors possessed distinct educational backgrounds and experiences:

  • A faculty member from University Libraries holding a doctoral degree in biochemistry, who manages a large undergraduate research lab.
  • A teaching faculty member for the Honors College holding a doctoral degree in genetics, bioinformatics, and computational biology with pedagogical theory and curriculum development training.
  • A librarian from University Libraries holding two master’s degrees in English Studies and Library Science.

The academic experiences of the instructors provided a well-rounded introduction to qualitative and quantitative research. All instructors were viewed as equally valuable in the course development process. This collaborative approach to instruction also served as a model of successful teamwork and group diversity.

Collaborative teaching, or co-teaching, is a beneficial, yet challenging endeavor. This approach to instruction involves a team of instructors working together to prepare and deliver content within a course, and can take many forms. A collaborative teaching agreement was composed before the course was delivered. The agreement aided in addressing minor issues such as distribution of work, accountability, and addressing student concerns about coursework. All three instructors collaboratively developed content, taught classes, and grading course work. The instructors’ individual contributions to class sessions and content creation were based on their expertise. All three instructors reviewed and agreed upon course content. However, some assignments required an individual instructor with the greatest practiced knowledge on a topic to grade assignments individually. All instructors reviewed grades and feedback before providing this information to students.

The ARS training program continues as a co-curricular workshop series offered by the University Libraries in support of the Office of Undergraduate Research. It serves as an avenue for students across the university interested in or currently conducting undergraduate research to practice research skills, while providing academic flexibility. For librarians, the process of embedding a co-curricular workshop series into a credit-bearing course is an ideal illustration of how library instruction programs move into the curricular sphere. The decision to offer ARS curricularly and co-curricularly was to provide an avenue for students to obtain an introduction to basic skills without adding a full course to their academic schedule. For some students, adding a research methods course can be a course credit overload. The ARS program is run as a short-course, workshop series with less demanding coursework and reduced topic coverage (when compared to the Honors Research Practices course). On the other hand, the Honors Research Practices course is geared toward students with room in their schedule to delve deeper into the practice of research methods. A second section of the course is currently offered in order to extend the learning opportunity to non-Honors students.

Importance of library-faculty partnership

Having a librarian liaise with the Honors College was new to the university, and this collaboration provided an avenue for the librarian to conduct outreach and develop partnerships with faculty and students. As shown by Mery, Newby, and Peng (2012), one-shot instruction sessions are helpful for teaching skills, but full course instruction is more effective. Such involvement increases the likelihood of future email transactions and face-to-face reference appointments with students (Hayman 2017). From this collaboration, the librarian was named affiliate faculty for the college, listed as the instructor of record, and was able to connect with students during their first year. This library-faculty partnership added value to the library through creating an avenue piloting deliberate and lasting partnerships.

Within the Honors College, the library provided resources, such as an online textbook, tailored information and resources, data and digital literacy instruction, two faculty members with differing areas of expertise, and access to a smart classroom. Additionally, University Libraries oversees the university’s repository, VTechWorks, which provides an open access publishing space for students. This partnership serves as an example of how the library employs a variety of discipline-specific experts to integrate and partner with university departments.

Student success through open outcomes

Part of our assessment of the class included a questionnaire, in which students provided their thoughts about research before and after participation in the class. There is a long-term goal to publish the outcomes for other educators to consider. The students’ final reflections outlining what they learned also provided takeaways for course development. Anecdotally, students perceived successful research skill development for each offering of the course. First and foremost is the interest that students express in research and the research process. The population of the classes included a variety of motivations to enroll: uncertainty about research, desire to learn what research is, future planning for engagement in undergraduate research, and pure curiosity. By the end of the semester, students often displayed solidified perspectives regarding what they want their role in research to be.

Although seemingly daunting for students, especially first- and second-year students, the micro-deliverables were viewed as useful by the students, who commented that “the instructors did this on purpose!” A small group of students also saw the course as a way to engage with faculty and “audition” for research positions in their labs. Students demonstrated confidence in their ability to engage in and discuss research while showcasing what accomplished in a single semester. For the students, the most valuable aspect of the course was the research projects that they develop. For example, students were not just broadly studying a concept, such as conservation. Instead, they strove to understand specific ideas, like the role of microplastics pollution on mussel filtration in the Chesapeake Bay. Additional examples of student projects and deliverables can be accessed through the VTechWorks repository. This second part of “openness” of the course has been beneficial for the students in terms of being able to electronically link to a completed research proposal and/or poster for discussion at internship and job interviews.

Moving forward from lessons learned

Challenges

Each semester of the Honors Research Practices course began with a conversation about the definition of research. We repeatedly saw differences in perceptions of research and misunderstandings about what it is. The diversity in perspectives was expected, but we did not anticipate the resistance we observed to updating the definition of research by some students. Students reported that research falls into the science-only or STEM-only category of academia. In the course, we strove to show students that research can take many forms and is present in many, if not all, disciplines. Despite these efforts, the semester typically ended with reflections indicating that what we did in class was not research. The reason for this perspective was not fully clear and would be an interesting topic for further research.

Another common issue in the class was the abstract nature of developing a proposal for a project that may never be realized by the students. Because students were given the opportunity to consider topics that genuinely interest them, the restriction on the ability to realize the proposed project presented as unauthentic. Students often asked if they were expected to complete the proposed projects and if they would have enough time in a semester to do so. We viewed the course as an opportunity to teach students through a semester-long thought experiment that learning how to write a proposal is an important aspect of research. Not all research proposals become active projects, and not all research ideas are fundable or feasible. The concept of planning without doing may not be a practiced skill for some, and was therefore confusing; or their motivation to invest in the effort surpassed the expectations for the course. Differences in experiences before students matriculate into college may be the impetus for the differences in expectations that we saw. It stands to reason that the inclusion of critical thinking and problem-solving in the course was beneficial, but may not be fully translated by some.

The disconnection between developing a proposal and completing a project contributed to one last challenge: the limitation of completing the proposed projects after the conclusion of the class. As teaching faculty with other responsibilities, we do not have the resources or bandwidth to mentor a student throughout a research project constructed in the class. Additionally, the projects often fell in a discipline for which we are not experts. We encouraged students to reach out to faculty with similar research agendas for that reason. However, the open nature of the project development process meant that we can, and have, seen projects proposed that do not have ties to ongoing research at our institution.

Adjustments

One overarching approach to potentially address all of the challenges is to increase the information literacy instruction and framing of the research process within the course. This adjustment reinforces the significance and relevance of including library faculty in the teaching process. An online course option is also under development, which will allow the instructors to curate information and publications to supplement and support the learning objectives. This online component creates potential for asynchronous learning to supplement this and other courses at the university. Future iterations of the course could also benefit from the involvement of additional faculty, who can mentor and guide the students throughout the semester, and potentially after the completion of the course.

Adoptions

Institutions or groups wishing to adopt this course or build a similar course should do so with a significant amount of lead-in time to establish the instruction team and outline the learning objectives for their specific group of students. A collaborative teaching plan should be developed where roles and responsibilities are clearly delineated. There are a variety of co-teaching options, and instructors should evaluate which configuration will work best for their course goals. We recommend consulting the updated Entering Research curriculum (Branchaw et al., 2020) as starting points for developing a course agenda, and perusing the online elements of our course linked within this chapter. Syllabus elements and sample rubrics are provided in the appendices relevant to this chapter for convenience. We also recommend maintaining the flexibility to adapt, in real-time, as the students participate in the course so that their learning needs are appropriately addressed.

Conclusion

The Honors Research Practices course highlights a few pedagogical practices that foster an open learning environment, encouraging students to think outside of their disciplinary boxes and share their ideas for the progression of research. The implementation of this course as a research-oriented learning experience contributed to transdisciplinary learning access for a variety of students. The inclusion of students from any major, the undefined research topic exploration and selection by the students, the utilization of open digital media and online resources, and the open sharing of student artifacts with the university at large and interested individuals outside of the university are all benefits that translate to a course that exemplifies access as a hallmark of student success. While the benefits to students and instructors are numerous, the most significant seem to be student engagement in an ever-evolving classroom space that adapts to their learning needs over the semester, and for instructors, an increased understanding of how to communicate with and engage students from a variety of academic and social backgrounds. The decision to embed open elements in the course structure successfully translated to developing exploratory spaces for students in a variety of majors.

This course has been a successful example of open pedagogy. Conversations continue to emphasize the importance of open access and open educational resources, and instructors for this style of course can continue to expand on its openness. Examples of this re-envisioning could include the selection of an open textbook, continued focus on the creation of digital learning objects to aid in teaching students research skills, and increased discussions about open publishing. Additionally, the information and digital literacy instruction students receive in this class could include locating and gathering open-access peer-reviewed, scholarly information. Potential exists for the open nature of the course and collaboration between an academic college and the university library to serve the greater academic needs and mission of the university.

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Contact Information

Author Stephanie N. Lewis may be contacted at lewissn@vt.edu. Author Anne M. Brown may be contacted at ambrown7@vt.edu. Author Amanda B. MacDonald may be contacted at abmacdon@vt.edu.

Feedback, suggestions, or conversation about this chapter may be shared via our Rebus Community Discussion Page.

 

Appendix A

Sample syllabus for Honors Research Practices. Segments of the syllabus used in the spring (January to May) 2018 iteration of the course are included below. University-specific content, such as a statement about the Honors Code and university grading policies were removed.

Course description

This course is a means of creating a community of practice where University Honors students learn the process of exploring aspects of a research problem in order to better understand the approach and process to successfully execute a research project. This course is centered on the completion of a final group project, which will aid in developing both your research and collaboration skills for future endeavors.

Learning objectives

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Assess and work through multiple issues to consider when working on research projects or community-based service projects
  • Present knowledge learned using resources and information collected throughout the course in both written and oral formats
  • Use critical thinking skills to assess a problem and determine potential solutions and workflows
  • Explore interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, transdisciplinary, and collaborative research projects, and assess good collaborator skills

Communication

Your success in this course is important. We encourage you to see us before/after class or at another scheduled time if you have any questions or need clarification concerning the projects or material discussed in class. Discussion of deliverables and assessment will be done in class, as well as class time given for group work (please see schedule). The goal is for you to explore and learn about the landscape and process of beginning research, start your own literature search on areas of interest to you, and define questions to ask relevant to your research area of interest. If you find yourself spending too much time working on the project or are confused on how to proceed, please ask questions through email or by scheduling a meeting. Please do so in a timely fashion so you can appropriately complete assignments and projects for the class.

Please note: The agenda and information provided is the initial plan for this course. This syllabus is a dynamic document that can be updated as needed based on the progress of the course and needs of the enrolled students. Any updates made to this document will appear on the course site as they are made by the instructors to this document. Announcements will be made in class regarding updates as well.

Target audience

This course is designed to provide honors students with an introduction to conducting a successful research career within a university environment. Students that are interested in pursuing any type of undergraduate research project are encouraged to enroll. Foundations in literature searching, presentation skills, writing skills, and being an transdisciplinary, collaborative researcher will be discussed.

Textbook

“How to be a Researcher: A Strategic Guide for Academic Success” (ISBN: 978-1138917309) will be used for this class and readings will be discussed in-class as well as in your final reflection. You can access a copy of this textbook through the course site. Documents containing information about useful writing and presenting tips and rubrics for grading will be provided via the course site. Journal articles are available online, through the University Libraries system. If you have any questions or are unable to access journal articles, ask one of the instructors for help. You are encouraged to dive into the background literature of your project and that will require reading many scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles.

Concepts that will be explored in this course include:

  1. What are the current questions posed in your research field of interest?
  2. What are common approaches to solving questions in your field of interest? What resources does VT provide for assistance?
  3. What are the small, medium, and large implications of your research topic?
  4. What are the ethical concerns for the research topic? How will you address these concerns?
  5. What does the current body of literature say about your topic? How will you handle the literature and synthesize it into a concise, clear presentation?
  6. How do you envision your approach to solving your research question? Consider grant funding, data management, and ethics of working in communities/with individuals among your topics.
  7. What are some potential pitfalls of working on this project and how will you manage them?

Assignment

Percentage of total grade

Final Paper

Poster Presentation

35%

Course participation and engagement

(Participation, weekly assignments, and peer evaluations included in this portion of the grade)

50%

Reflection and Future Directions

15%

Agenda

Week

Agenda item

Assigned task

Due assignments

1

Introduction to course

Literature review, proposal, poster presentation (final semester deliverables)

Read chapters 1 & 2

N/A

2

Defining areas of research interest and working on transdisciplinary teams

Define research topics and form research groups

N/A

2

Becoming a Researcher

N/A

Chapters 1 & 2

3

Roundtable discussion of research topics

N/A

Research project topics and question

3

Finding scholarly literature

Citation list

N/A

4

Managing and organizing information, citation managers

Read chapter 5

Finding Scholarly literature assignment

4

Predatory reading, discussion of research article

Group summary of paper reviewed in class

N/A

5

Annotated bibliography

Annotated bibliography (2 sources per group member)

Citation list

Group summary of paper

5

Understanding data

Summary paragraph for annotation

N/A

6

Using data and information ethically

Ethical issues to consider (writing prompt)

N/A

6

Ethical research practices, conflict of interest, and intellectual property

Mid-semester peer evaluations

Read chapter 6

N/A

7

Research collaboration and inter/multi/transdisciplinary research

Read chapter 4

Ethical issues to consider

7

Research funding; roadblocks and how to address problems

Outline of paper

Read chapter 3

N/A

8

Project management and protocol design

Introduce abstracts

Abstract

Annotated bibliography

Mid-semester peer evaluations

8

Work session: outlines and questions for instructors

N/A

Outline of paper (due at end of class)

9

Writing appropriately for your field

N/A

N/A

9

Work session: abstracts and question for instructors

N/A

Abstract (due at end of class)

10

Writing successful conference proposals

Critique of abstracts

N/A

N/A

10

Creating effective research posters

N/A

N/A

11

Creating research figures

Critique example research posters and figures

N/A

11

Work session

N/A

N/A

12

Work session

N/A

Critique example research posters and figures

12

Data visualization

N/A

N/A

13

Work session: group work, critique, question for instructors

N/A

Poster and paper rough drafts (optional)

13

Work session: group work, critique, question for instructors

N/A

N/A

14

Presentation skills and formatting

End of semester peer evaluations

N/A

14

Critique of posters

N/A

Rough draft of poster

Final paper

15

Work session

N/A

N/A

15

Honors Research Practices Poster Symposium

N/A

Peer evaluations

Poster

Appendix B

Sample rubrics used in the course for some of the final assignments are included below. This appendix also includes the writing prompts used at the end of the course as a final reflection of the learning experience. The prompts were evaluated based on completeness of answer and if the question was addressed in the response. Scoring accounted for variations in interpretation of prompt questions.

Annotated bibliography (100 points total)

Criteria

Points

Did the document include a title that effectively describes the research topic?

5

Did the group appropriately synthesize all of their articles in the summary paragraph?

20

Did the group use the appropriate in-text citation format in the summary paragraph?

5

Did the group use appropriate grammar, spelling, and syntax in the summary paragraph?

5

Did the group use scholarly, peer reviewed primary source journal articles?

15

Did the group use articles published within the last 10 years? If older articles were required, did the group explain the necessity of the older text?

5

Did each cited source include a properly formatted reference listing preceding each citation annotation?

15

Did each annotation include enough information to establish the authority of at least the primary author and validity of the source material?

20

Does each annotation include a statement of why this source informs the research topic, and an assessment of how it complements the other cited works?

10

Final poster rubric (100 points total)

Criteria

Points

Coverage of topic – Poster sufficiently covers the elements of the research proposal (background, methods, expected outcomes, pitfalls and alternatives, potential conclusions)

20

Use of graphics – Poster includes illustrations to show key elements of the project instead of words (where appropriate)

15

Organization – Elements of the poster are well organized and clearly show thought progression and logic

15

Layout and design – The layout and formatting make the contents of the poster easy to view, read, and understand

20

Sources – Includes subset of cited literature for key background information included on the poster

5

Grammar and spelling

10

Presentation and answering of questions (symposium)

15

Final reflection prompts

  1. Did you find any aspects, activities, or assignments in the course challenging? What was the challenging aspect and how did you handle that challenge?
  2. Did you find any aspects, activities, or assignments in the course overly easy? What was the easy aspect and why was that activity easy for you?
  3. Have you been able to apply any skills or knowledge gained in this course in your in-major course work? Which skills/knowledge and how did you use that information?
  4. Think about what made you successful in this course and the challenges, both big and small, that you may have had to overcome. What advice would you give to the next cohort of students about this course and how to be successful in it?
  5. How might you use some of the skills, information, or experiences from the course in your future career? Please describe what you envision your future job to be and how you would apply something from the course.

License

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Open Pedagogy Approaches by Stephanie N. Lewis, Anne M. Brown, and Amanda B. MacDonald is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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