Written by: Julie Schumacher (Associate Professor, Family & Consumer Sciences), Jackie Lanier (Associate Professor, Health Sciences), and Rachel Vollmer (formerly Associate Professor, Family & Consumer Sciences) of Illinois State University
Note: Work on this project was supported by a 2016 SoTL Mini-Award from the Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL at ISU to collect and report pilot data.
In-class writing assignments have the potential to be an active form of learning for students to critically analyze research and apply course content. Unfortunately, some writing assignments are not structured as an active learning experience. Instead, a final paper may be due at the end of semester without any chance for the students to revise and improve their writing skills (Darnall, 2011). Scaffolding the assignment into its various parts can increase student application and analysis of information (Massengill, 2011).
The current research study focused on two undergraduate courses at Illinois State University in different disciplines (Health Sciences and Family & Consumer Sciences) but these courses require a similar research and writing project. The goal of this research study was to assess undergraduate allied health students’ perceptions of their confidence and interest in conducting research over the course of a semester. A scaffolded approach for feedback and mentoring was used to introduce each phase of the research process, including writing the literature review, developing the methodology, collecting and analyzing data, and disseminating the results and implications of the study via a paper. By breaking up the assignment into the various sections of the research project and providing feedback for each section, the researchers hoped to increase student application of information as well as student confidence and interest in the research process.
The research questions that guided this study included:
- Will using the scaffolding approach to writing assignments increase students’ perceptions of their interest in research and their confidence in conducting research?
- What teaching methods most impact the learning process for students completing a research project?
- How do instructors’ perceptions of student engagement compare to students’ interest and confidence in doing research?
To study these questions, a survey instrument was developed to assess change across the semester. The researchers conducted a pilot study of thid survey instruments during the spring 2016 semester with the two courses of interest for this study. During June 2016, researchers:
- Reviewed feedback and suggestions from the pilot study participants.
- Reviewed responses in the free-writing section of the pilot study to assess the richness of responses and ponder how to elicit more information from the respondents, if necessary.
- Edited surveys where appropriate.
- Developed methods of assessing Research Question #3 (above) relating to instructors’ perceptions.
- Finalized research plan for implementation dates of pre-, midpoint, and final surveys for fall 2016 and spring 2017 semesters.
- Reviewed literature and begin writing manuscript for submission to peer-reviewed journal.
The main finding from review of the pilot study data revealed that open-ended responses lacked the richness and depth the researchers were looking for. Those questions were updated and researchers planned to present information to students about the study in class to increase their understanding of study goals. It was thought that this interaction would increase students’ understanding of study goals, and they would be more likely to provide in-depth answers to the open-ended questions. After review of the pilot study results and updating the instruments, the study was implemented in fall 2016. Surveys which included open-ended responses were provided to students at the beginning and middle of semester, and will also be provided at the end of the semester to assess student learning and confidence throughout their research experience. This research study has received IRB approval and is currently in progress.
By using questionnaires, learning reflection essays, and instructor feedback, we hope that this research will fill the gap of assessing a method of active learning in research projects and its effect on students’ confidence and interest in the research process while including instructor feedback of the process.