For the past two years I’ve been using a “research portfolio” project in my upper level plant science courses. One primary goal of the project is to create learning opportunities that help students better align their career goals with class learning outcomes. In this semester-long project, students are asked to use the portfolio to help refine the course to better meet their interests and career goals. They are expected to “dig” for information and become highly conversant on the crop(s) or ornamental plants they chose to investigate.
The first phase of the project asks students to state their career goals and describe how the course aligns with their career goals, and/or personal interests. This seemingly simple task is actually quite painstaking for some students, but providing this opportunity for reflection often reveals some very interesting outcomes for the students. This is particularly true of students who are required to take the course and may not initially see how the course aligns with their career or personal interests. It’s usually fun to read the students’ response to this question, and more often than not, I’m pulled aside to hear at least handful of mini-epiphanies that have occurred from this process. However, sometimes even after reflection students struggle to address this initial question and it’s these students who I think have the potential to benefit the most from the “self-study” aspect of the project. It was difficult for me to determine how this aspect of the project aligns with the RSD framework because it’s not exactly “research” but I think any scholar needs to understand that immersing themselves in a topic, becoming highly conversant in it and having any depth of understanding, requires commitment to eventually allow themselves to be compelled by their natural curiosity to be driven to ask “what, why, how!?!?” For this activity I aligned it to the RSD “Embark and Clarify” self-actuated research level 4. Though this is just a brief activity, I do think it plants the seed for developing curiosity and motivation to persist in a research endeavor.
The second phase of the semester-long activity requires students to define their own learning goals in their particular topic of interest (the topic of their research portfolio). This is followed by a series of self-study activities, including beginning a broad review of the literature, looking for gaps in knowledge, identifying a simple and achievable research question and refining and defining their research question, including specifically what methods they will use to conduct their work. Each aspect of this work is documented within their portfolio. It was much easier to align all of these aspects to the RSD (find and generate & evaluate and reflect at scaffolded research level 3).
Finally, students are asked to conduct their simple research activities, collect data, and disseminate via an oral report. Their research portfolio is also included as part of oral exam material at the end of the semester. These aspects of the project aligned with RSD Analyze, level 3 and Communicate, level 3.
What doing this alignment revealed to me is that I am not requiring or training students carefully in organizing and managing their data in the context of this research activity. In separate classroom and laboratory projects students do various activities that train them in prescribed methods of data management and analysis, but they typically struggle with these activities and struggle further in communicating their confused data analyses. The RSD alignment activity revealed to me that I’ve de-emphasized these aspects of research (organize and manage particularly!) in my students’ self-study based research. In my opinion, this is a very important learning “gap” that I need to address thoughtfully and carefully in future iterations of this project. I’m looking forward to reading about the RSD alignments from other instructors so I can get ideas on how to better prepare my students for the “data organization and management” aspects of the research process, particularly when the projects are all individualized such as in this example.
We were very fortunate to have Dr. Byron Anderson thoughtfully detail his process for employing the RSD framework in his classroom. His video and all his handouts are available through the blog.
We are asking all RSD Cohort participants to view Byron’s example of aligning his classroom project to the RSD framework and come prepared to our next RSD meeting with your own alignment. Any classroom project, research, or service activity will be an appropriate activity to apply the alignment towards.
For example, I will be aligning the “research notebook” component of my botany class to the framework.
Please let Sylvia, Anne or me know if you have any questions about this request! We will discuss your first attempts at aligning your activities at our next meeting.
My RSD project will serve students in my BIO 242/Botany course, these students are primarily freshmen or sophomore students in the Environmental Science and Applied Science Program at UW-Stout, however, about 1/4 to 1/3 of the students are Science Education, Sustainability minors or taking the course as part of their general education requirement. Because of the general education designation of the course, the student population can be rather broad.
In fall 2015 we will be modifying one of our programs by removing an organismal biology course requirement and instead requiring a Botany/Zoology course sequence. In response to this change, I would like to use the RSD framework to revise my course in order to incorporate student research experiences in a manner that can be more easily structured and assessed.
Using the RSD will tie to our program goals in a number of ways. I believe it will help us to better scaffold curriculum and assess our student outcomes, it will also allow us to better prepare our students for their capstone course and internship experiences.
I’m just beginning the process of revising the botany course, the revision will require increasing the course to 5 credits (it’s currently 4), increasing laboratory hours and creating more depth in the current research experience. I will have the first revisions available for departmental level review by late November.
My goal for the last few weeks has been to introduce the RSD framework to my departmental and program level colleagues. I’m fortunate to serve on two different program committees and have been able to introduce the framework to both program directors as well as the curriculum committee for one of the programs.
I think I’ve had some successes in spreading the RSD framework. Two of my departmental colleagues have joined the RSD cohort (one from each program)! I was also pleased to be walking down the hall and spot the RSD framework posted next to the research posters displayed in our hallway next to our student research posters. SUCCESS! The word is getting out!
My challenge continues to be time and learning to be a more effective communicator. I am going to develop some “talking points” to better express my ideas and to work towards developing a shared language of research across the campus community.
My goal for the next meeting is to continue my work at the dept. and program level and also to met with the honors college directors regarding the RSD framework and how it can be utilized for their students. I’m very excited about how quickly my colleagues have seen the applicability of the framework and the opportunities for a more efficient and productive dialogue about research across our entire campus.