Friday, May 8, 2015

Honors Collegium 101i - Research Today

Specific Context of the Teaching/Learning Situation 

How many students are in the class? Is the course lower division, upper division, or graduate level? How long and frequent are the class meetings? How will the course be delivered: live, online, or in a classroom or lab? What physical elements of the learning environment will affect the class? 
  • Honors 101i (current syllabus)
  • Seminar - Up to 20 students
  • Undergraduate Course - Upper Division
  • Currently class meets for 3 hours once a week for 10 weeks.
  • Course delivery - Outside of class students develop a digital research notebook in which they explore and develop their topics and reflect on the research process through guided weekly assignments. Class sessions are highly interactive, and include a number of collaborative activities in which students share their research notebook progress, provide peer feedback and review, generate and share ideas.
Note - For this instructional design course, I am contemplating a number of possible curricular redesigns - including a self-directed course, a completely online version of the course, a more hybrid version of the current course, and a restructuring of the course from a single 3 hour session to two 1 hour sessions / week. I am also considering a new course text.

General Context of the Learning Situation 

What learning expectations are placed on this course or curriculum by: the university, college and/or department? the profession? society? 

The course is Credit/no-credit and is a requirement for participation and completion of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program. It also provides 2 of the 12 upper division honors units required for graduating from the College of L&S with Honors. It seems particularly popular among transfer students seeking to graduate with honors.

Nature of the Subject 

Is this subject primarily theoretical, practical, or a combination? Is the subject primarily convergent or divergent? Are there important changes or controversies occurring within the field? 

The course has a very practical and applied approach in that the majority of the course is devoted to the research process, and the development of a research proposal. There are also several reflective elements built into the course.

Characteristics of the Learners 

What is the life situation of the learners (e.g., working, family, professional goals)? What prior knowledge, experiences, and initial feelings do students usually have about this subject? What are their learning goals, expectations, and preferred learning styles? 

Usually about half of the students are Mellon Mays Fellows, and the other half are students seeking honors credit with the goal of graduating with College Honors. Many of the honors students are transfer students. In my first two years teaching the course I have found each diverse group of students to be very motivated and excited to dive into the research process. Many have a mix of excitement and nervousness about embarking on such a big project, and we devote time in our early sessions to building a community of supportive engagement among our students.

Characteristics of the Teacher(s) 

What beliefs and values does the teacher have about teaching and learning? What is his/her attitude toward: the subject? students? What level of knowledge or familiarity does s/he have with this subject? What are his/her strengths in teaching? 

The class is currently co-taught by two librarians who each have a background in language instruction as well as the research and writing process. Because the students are researching topics across a broad range of subject areas, we often bring in subject experts to assist with aspects of the course and meet with students individually and in small groups. We also arrange a visit to Library Special Collections to foster an exploratory engagement with primary sources and rare and unique materials.

My personal instructional approach is guided by a focus on inquiry-based, active learning and a desire to help foster knowledge building communities. As a librarian, I believe our instructional work is most effective when we partner with students, staff, and faculty to facilitate diverse opportunities for learners to explore, create, and share knowledge in a variety of forms.  I actively embrace reflective instruction and assessment to better understand how, what, and why people learn. I am a firm believer that academic learning occurs within the context of the health and wellness of the whole individual, and view the library and our instructional practice as relevant and impactful across the full spectrum of the learning experience.


Questions for Formulating Significant Learning Goals 

"A year (or more) after this course is over, I want and hope that students will .” 

Course learning goals from current course description:

Through active engagement in this course, learners:

  • create and refine a research topic that is meaningful to you and compelling to others
  • develop strategies for finding and incorporating a rich variety of sources into your research projects, including rare and unique materials, images, sound, film, etc. 
  • document sources through citation and annotation 
  • experiment with digital tools to develop a personal approach to organizing your research process
  • understand your rights as a creator, and choose how you would like your work to be shared 
  • communicate your finished and unfinished ideas to others in a variety of ways
  • build a supportive community within our class, in which each person’s abilities to grow and learn are respected and encouraged

Foundational Knowledge

What key information (e.g., facts, terms, formulae, concepts, principles, relationships, etc.) is/are important for students to understand and remember in the future? 
What key ideas (or perspectives) are important for students to understand in this course? 

This is an interesting question to reflect on, and it makes me realize that there isn't a tremendous amount of "content" in the course. Instead, the course is largely built upon an exploration of process with a variety of activities designed to help students both diversify their personal toolbox for engaging in research and further explore, develop, and refine their personal research process. Key concepts might include an understanding of the fundamentally social and interactive nature of research, the importance of uncovering ongoing research conversations and seeking opportunities to contribute, and the development of a personal identity as a researcher and knowledge creator engaging in ever-evolving communities of knowledge and creative practice.

Application Goals

What kinds of thinking are important for students to learn?

  • Critical thinking, in which students analyze and evaluate - Yes!!
  • Creative thinking, in which students imagine and create - Yes!!
  • Practical thinking, in which students solve problems and make decisions  - Yes!!
  • What important skills do students need to gain?
    • Iteratively revising and developing sets of research questions and areas of inquiry
    • Identifying and engaging with guides and helpers in the research and creative process
    • Critically evaluating creative work in the genre(s) in which they hope to create (usually written scholarship)
    • Providing constructive peer feedback
    • and more!!

Do students need to learn how to manage complex projects? 

Yes! Much of the course is devoted to the development of a digital research notebook, which is intended to be a preparotory / planning document for an undergraduate capstone research project.

Integration Goals

What connections (similarities and interactions) should students recognize and make...: 
Among ideas within this course?
Among the information, ideas, and perspectives in this course and those in other courses or areas?
Among material in this course and the students' own personal, social, and/or work life? 

Hopefully everything we do in this course is directly applicable to other courses in which students are doing research-based creative work (ok, that's a rather optimistic way of saying "writing papers").  We also hope that students will be able to take these skills and apply them later in life, whether in graduate school, on the job, or in personal life.

Human Dimensions Goals 

What could or should students learn about themselves?
What could or should students learn about understanding others and/or interacting with them? 

Through the course we strive for students to build on and and strengthen their identities as researchers and knowledge creators that actively engage and contribute to ever-evolving communities of knowledge and creative practice.

We also hope they continue to build on their skills as supportive contributors to the work of others, and constructive critics as they assist each other in the research process.

Caring Goals 

What changes/values do you hope students will adopt? 
Feelings? Interests? Ideas? 

For each of the past two quarters we have taught the course, a very empathetic and engaged learning community has emerged. Students truly support each other in their research endeavors, and become inquisitive about and invested in each others research ideas. We always hope to foster this community approach to knowledge creation, and the curious-minded interest in cross-disciplinary discussions. Not to mention that talking about your work with a group of helpful and encouraging peers can be fun!

"Learning-How-to-Learn" Goals 

What would you like for students to learn about:
how to be good students in a course like this?
how to learn about this particular subject?
how to become a self-directed learner of this subject, i.e., having a learning agenda of what they need/want to learn, and a plan for learning it? 

Yes - all of the above! This is really a central part of what the whole course is all about!


  1. Wow, what a great community of students! You've obviously thought a lot about this class, and I like that you're open to trying new strategies and delivery methods. Interested to see where this goes!

  2. Thanks!! It is a super fun class and it is always an inspiring group of students to work with!!