Undergraduate research under the microscope – contrasting the focus of academics and students

Paula Myatt, Susan M. Jones

Abstract


Undergraduate research, inquiry and problem solving experiences are increasingly used to stimulate student understanding of the practice of science. We propose that such experiences not only play an important role in student acquisition of skills and understanding of scientific processes, but also encourage broader learning outcomes. However academics may not be fully aware of these more generic gains. In this study within a science department at a large metropolitan research intensive university, we interviewed academics and surveyed students to examine the learning gains from undergraduate research opportunities as perceived by the two groups. Interviews with academics highlighted a strong culture of integrating research and inquiry into teaching, with intended gains being research skills and encouraging students to think like scientists. Students reported learning gains to be problem solving skills, data collecting, and working collaboratively. These later “personal gains” reported by students were not identified by academics. We believe the difference between students and academics could reflect an under-valuing by academics of the broader impacts of research and inquiry on student learning. The findings of this study have implications for the ongoing support of undergraduate research and inquiry, and its growth as a valuable learning experience in the tertiary science curriculum.

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