The SoTL Advocate

Supporting efforts to make public the reflection and study of teaching and learning at Illinois State University and beyond…

Students Learning Research Skills Outside of Class: Benefits of Working on Research Teams

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Written by: Phyllis McCluskey-Titus and Anne McDowell, Illinois State University (Department of Educational Administration and Foundations)

Dr. McCluskey-Titus and her student, Anne McDowell describe a SoTL study to track student learning as a result of out-of-class research experiences:

Introduction to the research study

This SoTL grant-funded study was undertaken to understand what type of learning occurs when graduate students participate with classmates in faculty-led research or assessment projects outside their structured curriculum. According to Jiang and Roberts (2011), graduate students who engaged in research opportunities outside of class reported learning more about conducting research and research methods, increased content knowledge about the topics being studied, and that learning research by actually doing it was active and engaging. This study involved ten master’s program alumni from two previous research teams and four current students as a part of the third research team, all directed by the same faculty member, who reflected on their experiences in writing and in one-on-one interviews about what they learned from conducting and presenting research with a team of their classmates. Some of the early findings about what students reported learning from their research experiences with teams are presented here.

Structure of the research team process

Students volunteered to be a part of an out-of-class SoTL research project that would allow them to write and edit a grant proposal and be trained on writing an IRB and completing CITI training. Students also learned how to:

  • develop appropriate research methodologies (including interview protocols and survey instruments)
  • conduct interviews
  • analyze quantitative and qualitative data
  • write proposals
  • present programs for conferences
  • write articles to be submitted for publication.

The teams met regularly (weekly or bi-weekly) over a year’s time for training and to complete work associated with the research projects. In between the meetings, everyone had assignments to be completed including literature searches, data collection, data analysis, writing and sharing drafts of the grant/IRB/surveys/interview questions/program proposal/article.

Learning outcomes reported by students working on research teams

For graduate students engaged in SoTL, there is compelling evidence that exposure to research experiences can enhance learning and other beneficial outcomes when the content is specifically designed to educate learners about scholarship or research. According to Schram and Allendoerfer (2012), SoTL “has the potential to train graduate students to be reflective teachers, gain research experiences, and integrate their teaching and research skills” (p.8). Many of the participants involved expressed that their learning expectations were met or exceeded as a result of participation in the research project teams.

“I hadn’t had any grant writing experience, but I knew that grants are important to education” (Adam, pg. 1). He goes on to state, “My expectations for learning were high to be totally honest, but those high expectations were met and exceeded as I got farther and farther into the project and I was able to articulate better what I had learned, what I was researching, the process that we were doing and the methodology that we used” (Adam, pg. 5).

Another student reflected,

“I’m really glad I participated in the project and had the opportunity to work with a professor and my cohort members on something that wasn’t required for a class assignment, but just for the sake of learning and experience” (Kaitlin, pg. 4).

Insights such as these support other research related to the relevance of engaging students in SoTL projects as part of a research team. According to McKinney, Jarvis, Creasy and Herrmann (2010), “When students seize such opportunities, they tend to find these experiences highly motivating and often demonstrate improvements in basic research and scholarly skills (p. 83).

Benefits reported by students working on research teams

In addition to the practical learning outcomes gained by the participants in this study, every participant in all three projects discussed the perceived benefits from participating in the out-of-class research opportunities. These included understanding the process of conducting assessment and research, having an opportunity to work closely with and redefine relationships with faculty and peers outside of the classroom, and the opportunity to give back or contribute to the profession.

For many, the experience also transformed their views about research as a valuable skill set.

“This project has definitely changed my view on research as a whole…Being part of this team has sparked an interest in research for me that I plan to continue” (Sean, p. 4).

Another member of the team stated,

“I never saw myself as one who would engage in research opportunities because I thought it was something only clinicians and professors pursued. After this experience I know this is not the case” (Anne, p. 3).

One of the unexpected discoveries realized by participants was the impact of research on the student affairs profession and their role in influencing work in the field. Using research in their day-to-day work was mentioned by members of the research team.

“I learned that, when done correctly, research data could be used to greatly improve parts of my job, said (Jeff, p. 4), and “I have gained such a large appreciation for research and assessment and hope to continue to give back to the field in these ways” (Janelle, p. 5).

The value of these findings solidifies the importance of exploring and engaging students in research for the betterment of themselves now, as well as their future work in their chosen profession.


Blog References

Jiang, F. & Roberts, P. J. (2011). An investigation of the impact of research-led education on student learning and understandings of research. Journal of University Teaching & Learning

Practice, 8(2). Available at:

McKinney, K., Jarvis, P., Creasy, G., Herrmann, D. (2010). A range of student voices in the scholarship of teaching and learning. In C. Werder & M. Otis (Eds.), Engaging student voices in the study of teaching and learning. (pp. 82-95). Sterling (VA): Stylus.

Schram, L.N.& Allendoerfer, M.G. (2012). Graduate student development through the scholarship of teaching and learning. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 12(1), 8-22.




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