The purpose of this paper is to
provide a foundation and perspective for the new initiative, Undergraduate
Research Community (URC) for the Human Sciences. It is the perception of this
author that the integration of research and education represents a true
frontier in post-secondary education. Four important resources give credibility
to the reasoning: The Boyer Commission report, "Reinventing Undergraduate
Education: A Blueprint for America's Research Universities" (1998); The
Kellogg Commission Report, "Renewing the Commitment: Learning, Discovery,
and Engagement in a New Age and Different World" (2000); James
Duderstadt's, A University for the 21st Century (2000); and the
Proceedings of the 1999 Jerome B. Wiesner Policy Symposium (University of
Michigan, Ann Arbor, March 29-30, 1999), New Integrations of Research,
Scholarship, and Undergraduate Education (2000).
The mission of the URC is a dynamic
and pervasive culture of the human sciences for developing the next generation
of scholars. Assumed in this mission, but not stated, is the notion that these
scholars will be scholar leaders. Through undergraduate student development,
these scholar leaders will be prepared for graduate education, the workplace,
and responsible citizenship. By developing lifelong inquiry methods, they will
prepare for taking their place in leadership of the human sciences.
Traditional education sometimes
implies that learning is a dispassionate memorization of facts; one of the
benefits of active learning, inquiry-based education, and research projects is
that a passion for self-directed learning is engendered in the process. The
Kellogg Commission's (2000) focus on "learning, discovery, and
engagement" recommends that passive modes of instruction be replaced with
"a more active process in which students and faculty take responsibility
for their own intellectual growth, drawing from the richness and diversity
available on any major university campus. And by 'students,' we mean learners
throughout their lifetimes. . . . We understand discovery to be research,
scholarship, and creative activity that reveal new knowledge, integrate it into
existing bodies of disciplinary work, cross-pollinate disciplines, and possibly
create something entirely new" (p. 21). Discovery reorders thought and
sustains curiosity to follow where inquiry leads. Hands-on learning provides
the grounding for lifelong inquiry; it provides opportunity for comprehending
systems, patterns, and interconnections. Research involvement helps students
deal with how to explore open-ended questions and deal with uncertainty, how to
formulate questions, and how to find explanations or answers.
Barriers to student involvement in
active learning and research often have to do with faculty perception of their
own roles as educators and scholars. Educator skills for active learning and
mentoring skills for undergraduate research, then, are critical issues. A
limited study of "Undergraduate Research Offerings in the Participating
Institutions of the URC" (2001) indicated that selected students have had
opportunities for undergraduate research but a pervasive philosophy has yet to
be developed; the extent of active learning or inquiry-based education methods
was not determined.
The Boyer Commission states that
The ecology of the
university depends on a deep and abiding understanding that inquiry,
investigation, and discovery are the heart of the enterprise, whether in funded
research projects or in undergraduate classrooms or graduate apprenticeships.
Everyone at a university should be a discoverer, a learner. (1998, p. 7)
The perspective of the Boyer
Commission Report holds that the university mission should foster a campus
environment that nurtures exploration and creativity among all students. If URC
is to develop a "dynamic and pervasive culture," this author believes
that the URC project will need to determine the extent of active learning so
that the mission can be truly accomplished through basic changes in teaching
The undergraduate curriculum and the
faculty reward structures are in most part products of the traditional view
education (Killeen & Katterman, 2000). Thus, the "powers" that
determine the curriculum and the reward structures will need to be engaged in
change. Although it would be easier to accomplish with selected faculty and
courses, the danger of providing inequitable educational opportunities must be
considered. It is likely that one-size does not fit all. Therefore,
consideration needs to be given to matching student needs and inclinations to
the approach to student involvement in their own learning that is most
effective in individual cases. Equality of opportunity, not a standard model,
is the operative notion. Boyer, and Dewey before him, have beaten the drums for
inquiry-based education, but the academy has resisted. Duderstadt (2000)
reviewed the various options and concluded that the "goal of liberal
learning remains the best approach to prepare students for a lifetime of
learning and a world of change" (p. 78). He believes that the
"digital generation" requires a change from the traditional
undergraduate education model.
They [the digital
generation] learn by experimentation and participation, not by listening or
reading passively. They take no one's word for anything. Rather they embrace
interactivity, the right to shape and participate in their learning. They are
comfortable with the uncertainty that characterizes their change-driven world.
He goes on to say that they desire a
learning community that fosters interactive, collaborative learning. This way
of learning is more attuned to creating knowledge instead of absorbing it. The
new technologies, although not yet satisfying to all, will gain in quality and
ease of access and offer more flexible roles for students and faculty and
opportunities for collaboration across disciplines and distances.
The new knowledge media needs to be
utilized to create "communities of practice" that are formed through
individual interests in community (broadly defined) and/or professional issues.
Research projects and "service learning" are but two means of forming
communities of practice. To facilitate these approaches, new ways must be
devised for selecting, designing, and controlling the learning environment on
the part of learners. It seems clear that universities will need to shift away
from being faculty-centered to learner-centered institutions.
Duderstadt (2000) projects a future
for the higher education enterprise in forming loosely federated systems of
colleges and universities serving multiple roles: the traditional one,
distributed/open learning environments, and a global knowledge and learning
industry. He also predicts that it is uncertain who or what will drive change
and is skeptical that it will happen from within. This author notes that the
URC is an example of such a vision, and it is noteworthy that this enterprise
has begun from within. To accomplish a transformation, the URC faces several
- The habits of thought and
organization that limit response to change
- Faculty culture
- External groups with similar
- The university's traditional lack
of motivation to change
- The question of leadership
- Financial structure
Steps in the transformation process,
adapted from Duderstadt's (2000) notion of the process of transforming an
organization, have implications for the URC planning and development:
- Secure commitment at the top - seek
support from senior leadership.
- Seek community involvement -
recruit all groups within the community.
- Ignite the sparks of
transformation - recruit individuals who understand transformation and have
- Control and focus the
transformation agenda - initiate decisive action to streamline the processes,
procedures, and organizational structures.
- Stay the course - celebrate small
successes and continue to discuss the issues compelling change to build
confidence in long-term support.
Evaluation is Crucial
Although the anecdotal evidence
supports increased research opportunities for undergraduates, there is lack of
supporting data to show the benefit/cost ratio (Killeen& Katterman, 2000).
Research into ways of incorporating research into the undergraduate curriculum
must be considered an important intellectual activity. Evaluation, construed as
learning and improving policies and procedures rather than judging, is critical
to successful change and credibility of the URC. Ascertaining the baselines of
research opportunities for undergraduates in the human sciences will help to
develop the marker against which future progress can be charted. Both formative
and summative evaluation processes will provide supporting data for determining
benefits and direction for continued planning and development of the
We have embarked on a significant
journey to create the Undergraduate Research Community; the timing must have
been right because it has been only a year since this was a brainchild of Dean
Julia Miller of Michigan State University. It must have been timely, too,
because it was supported by an enthusiastic group of administrators and their
units. The challenges are daunting, but the forces moving us to the next
frontier seem to have a momentum unprecedented in academia. Two commission
reports, a policy symposium, a thoughtful book--all focused on the topics of
undergraduate education and research--have provided momentum for change. Other
factors creating incentive for change are technology, the digital generation,
the presence of for-profit educational enterprises, the new-found acceptability
of partnerships, the popularity of the word "integration" (even if
there is no agreement on what it means), the search for more effective ways to
implement reflection and strategic thinking, the credibility of the body of
work and the thinking of Ernest Boyer, among others.
By far the most troublesome
challenges, in this author's view, are the issues of changing the culture of
undergraduate education and faculty role. Because these issues belong to
university philosophy and governance, the URC will have to determine how to
create an environment sufficient for a meaningful impact on undergraduate
research in the human sciences. Although the Kellogg Commission provides strong
recommendations for change (2000, p. 22), it takes campus-wide and
inter-institutional collaboration to implement them. The URC is an
inter-institutional collaboration but the rest of change rests properly with
each unit and the larger campus.
The notion of "sticky
communities" (ASAEF, 2000) has relevance for the URC. The business of
community is the building of networks that bring together and support their
members. Community is strategy; it is the manner of creating the social glue.
Communities that command engagement perform five valuable functions:
- The linking business - the
engine is exchange; the strength is utilization of weak ties as well as strong
ones; and the energy of the edge is a source of change.
- The identity business -
symbols create a unity under its umbrella; history and theory behave like
stories to create a culture for organizing and transforming it; and a sense of
"place" for sharing and reinforcing the culture.
- The learning business - the
process for recruiting and socializing members, training and retraining, and
providing news and information.
- The voice business - the
amplification of like-minded voices in policy, advocacy, and public
- The seal of approval
business - the warrants or clues about what to expect and what to pay attention
to and the social machinery to place and validate outsiders and utilize them as
sources of excitement and innovation.
Initial engagement has been
achieved; now the question arises whether a sticky community can arise
and be maintained. Perhaps the most important question is "Can the URC
infuse education with the joy of discovery and an awareness of its connections
to exploration through directed inquiry, careful observation, and analytic
thinking for undergraduate students at all levels?"
ASAEF (2000). Community
is strategy: Creating the "stickiness" of community. Washington,
DC: American Society of Association Executives Foundation.
Boyer Commission on Educating
Undergraduates in the Research University. (1998). Reinventing undergraduate
education: A blueprint for America's research universities. http://notes.cc.sunysb.edu/Pres/boyer.nsf/webform/images/$File/boyer.txt.
Duderstadt, J. J. (2000). A
university for the 21st century. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan
Kellogg Commission on the Future of
State and Land-Grant Institutions. (2000). Renewing the covenant: Learning,
discovery, and engagement in a new age and different world. Washington, DC:
Killeen, T. L., & Katterman, L. C.
(Eds.). (2000). New integrations of research, scholarship, and undergraduate
education, Proceedings of the 1999 Jerome B. Wiesner Policy Symposium. Ann
Arbor, MI: Office of the Vice President of Research, University of
Undergraduate Research Community of
the Human Sciences. (2001). Undergraduate research offerings in the
participating institutions of the URC. East Lansing, MI Kappa Omicron
About the author: Dr. Mitstifer
is Executive director of Kappa Omicron Nu, East Lansing, MI.