Director's Update: August 2020

Nick Monk: Smiling man with brown hair and tailored blue jacket.
Nick Monk, CTT Director

As Nebraska’s Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experience (UCARE) program celebrates the end of its summer session with a virtual showcase of student projects, and as the new academic year gets underway, it’s an ideal moment to consider the benefits of undergraduate research.

Not only does research provide great one-off opportunities for undergraduates – and the experience of University of Nebraska-Lincoln junior, Andrew Malesker, is a great example of this – it’s also a way to introduce active learning into the curriculum and to engage students from all kinds of backgrounds in meaningful ways. For me, as someone deeply committed to the belief that students should be provided with every opportunity to drive their own learning, it has unlimited potential as a pedagogy.

According to the literature, undergraduate research ‘increases rates of student retention and engagement.’ It results in ‘improvement in students’ knowledge, skills and personal development over time.’ And it promotes ‘intellectual skills such as problem-solving and analysis, improved personal initiative and communication, higher tolerance for ambiguity and obstacles in problem-solving, [and] ethical conduct.’ Research requires undergraduates to integrate theory and practice, develop higher-level writing skills, and increases critical-thinking and communication skills. The research shows that ‘these skills are more likely to be developed from undergraduate research than other activities,’ and that ‘it particularly benefits students that are most at risk of underachieving’ (Parker, 2018).

This is not to mention the benefits for students of collaboration with their peers and with faculty. In addition, including undergraduate research as part of the curriculum is an efficient way to operationalize the university’s strategic objective of the Frequently, also, undergraduate research projects escape their disciplinary boundaries as they focus on problems the solutions to which cannot be found within single subjects. And undergraduate research helps connect students with the world beyond their university, their state, and even their country. To this end the university has six students participating in this year’s International Conference of Undergraduate Research (ICUR).

On September 29 Elizabeth Uwase and Andrew Mason, Ian McCue, Gloria Dukuzeyesu, and Rachelle Johnson will join students from England, Australia, Spain, Slovenia, France, Singapore, South Africa, Belgium, and Canada, to present their research. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is participating for the first time in ICUR, and we heartily congratulate those students on having their work selected in this truly global conference. Further details on ICUR are available here: https://teaching.unl.edu/international-conference-undergraduate-research-icur/ and the sessions are open to faculty, staff, and students at the university.

Undergraduate research in the US has tended to be offered as a non-credit-bearing summer or extracurricular experience (Parker, 2018), and this has great value. But we hope that ICUR, the amazing work of Justina Clark in (UCARE), and the First Year Research Experience (FYRE) program, will help instructors across the university to recognize undergraduate research as not just a terrific opportunity for students to enrich their experience at college, but as an opportunity to embed a proven and practical pedagogy in their curriculum.

 

Jonathan Parker (2018) Undergraduate research, learning gain and equity: the impact of final year research projects, Higher Education Pedagogies, 3:1, 145-157, DOI: 10.1080/23752696.2018.1425097

 

Pedagogy

Site Section