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Return to: ETAP 623 Fall 2014 | Anne Deutsch's Personal Page | Undergraduate Research Projects Mini-Course

Undergraduate Research Projects

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The purpose of this mini-course is to help instructors build a conceptual framework and learn about tools to enhance research projects for undergraduates. The research paper has long been used as the standard for undergraduate research projects and this format should be reconsidered. This course will explore various ways to foster critical inquiry through thoughtfully designed and presented research projects.

Needs Assessment


Ideally, undergraduate research assignments are designed and presented to guide students as they learn, apply and master research skills that are essential for their professional, civic, and personal lives. However, many college level research projects are formulaic and may even present barriers to the cultivation of information literacy.

In a study of over 10,000 students from 60 campuses Head and Eisenberg (2010b) discovered that “over three-fourths of the students (76%) reported that it was … important to find answers to insert in their paper to prove to the instructor the research part of the assignment had been done…Many students see course-related research as being answer driven” (p. 33). This is far from the ideal of research as critical inquiry.

The research assignments themselves are often part of the problem. Head and Eisenberg (2010a) reported that 84% of the 191 research assignments reviewed from 28 colleges were research papers, and only slightly over 10% required findings to be presented in an alternate format. Further, the assignment handouts tended to present research as a set of defined steps and requirements rather than a process of uncovering, analyzing and synthesizing information in order to answer a question or solve a problem.

What is to be Learned

Participants will explore how students experience the research process. In light of this information they will explore how they frame research in the classroom in preparation for research assignments. Alternative models to the standard research paper will be considered along with some of the common pitfalls of research assignment presentation and handouts. This will all come together as participants create their own research assignment that includes student learning outcomes, a mechanism for making the research process visible, a strategy for assessing the research component of the project and an assignment handout.

The Learners

Participants will be instructors who work with undergraduates, ranging from graduate students to adjunct instructors to full professors. Participants will be required to have at least two semesters of experience assigning and assessing undergraduate research. This will be an elective course for instructors who are interested in enhancing their students’ research and critical thinking skills. Because this is a voluntary course participants will be intrinsically motivated learners.

Instructional Context

This will be a cohort based online course and participants will work together with a shared timeframe so that group work is possible. Participants will be expected to read assigned open access articles and studies and explore various open access resources and to share what they are learning using an asynchronous discussion forum. There will be both formative and summative assessments as participants create their research project.

Exploring the Problem and Solution

Participants will learn about how undergraduates research and how assignments can both foster and inhibit critical inquiry in several ways. They will discuss what they are learning with their peers and relate it to their own experiences. At the same time they will be creating their own solutions as they develop their research assignments. Participants will support and challenge their colleagues through peer review.


Participants will create a research project for undergraduate students that supports critical inquiry. At the end of the mini-course each participant will have at least a draft version of a project, including handout(s) and assessment tool(s), that they can use with students in a specific course. In a sense this can be considered a “pilot” to be fine-tuned and “brought to scale” through adaptation for other courses.

Performance Objectives

By the end of this mini-course participants will be able to:

· Identify common hurdles experienced by undergraduates in the research process. (Bloom's Understanding/Gagne's Verbal)

· Create a research assignment that reflects how research is conducted in a specific discipline and makes the research process visible (Bloom's Creating/Gagne's Intellectual)

· Identify how assignment handouts can create barriers or bridges to understanding. (Bloom's Understanding/Gagne's Verbal)

· Create an assignment handout that creates bridges to understanding for students. (Bloom's Creating/Gagne's Intellectual)

· Create an assignment rubric that directly assesses the research process (Bloom's Creating/Gagne's Intellectual)

Task Analysis


- Experience creating research assignments

- Ability to reflect on past practice

- Ability to read actively for understanding

- Ability to apply new information

- Ability to clearly express ideas in writing

Unit One - Research on undergraduates and research

- Participants will Identify common hurdles experienced by undergraduates in the research process.

- Participants will reflect on previous research assignments.

Unit Two - Reconsidering research projects

- Participants will create a research project plan that reflects how research is conducted in a specific discipline and makes the research process visible.

Unit Three - Presenting the research project

- Participants will identify how assignment handouts can create barriers or bridges to understanding.

- Participants will create a project handout that develops bridges to understanding for students.

Unit Four - Assessing the research project

- Participants will create a project rubric that facilitates assessment of the research process and product.

Curriculum Map

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References and Resources

Badke, W.B. (2012). Teaching research processes: The faculty role in the development of skilled student researchers. Oxford, England: Chandos.

Bean, J.C. (2011). Engaging ideas: The professor's guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Head, A.J., & Eisenberg, M.B. (2010a). Assigning Inquiry: How Handouts for Research Assignments Guide Today’s College Students. Retrieved from

Head, A.J., & Eisenberg, M.B. (2010b). Truth be told: How college students evaluate and use information in the digital age. Retrieved from

Head, A. J., & Wihby, J. (2014, July 7). At sea in a deluge of data. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

McClure, R., & Purdy, J.P. (2013). The new digital scholar: Exploring and enriching the research and writing practices of nextgen students. Medford, NJ: Information Today.

Moore Howard, R., Serviss, T., & Rodrigue, T.K. (2010). Writing from sources, writing from sentences. Writing & Pedagogy 2(2) pp. 177–92 Retrieved from .