Thursday, May 14, 2009

Student Research

I just came back from a rather annoying "special faculty meeting to discuss collaborative research with students."

Excuse me while I use this space to vent. What I am about to say may not be entirely fair. I don't care.

In the humanities we have not just been teaching students what may be considered the results of our research and instead have taught them how to DO RESEARCH for a very long time. Some of us have taken that very seriously, requiring students to turn in topics, bibliographies and abstracts. I am not alone, I believe, in organizing one week around the model of an academic conference. Each student must respond to one other paper. All students read all the papers and each student must defend his or her thesis to their peers.

This is not new, folks. Not new at all. It's how the humanities are taught. People in the fine arts have also always taught students to do what those in the field do: senior art shows, recitals, student directors.

However, people in the natural and social sciences apparently have figured this out recently. They are all excited about it. Let's not just teach students the information, let's teach them to be researchers!!! It's great! They do collaborative research with the students. So today I got to learn all about it. It would be best if my tweeked my research interests so that I am doing something that the students can work on too. Their projects should be self-contained, important and interesting to them, and I will need to work closely with them. This will then count as scholarly work for me too, and the students get so much more excited. They really learn.

Now we have meetings where we are given models for teaching research, told it is an exciting new(ish) approach to teaching. We should all do collaborative research.

I'm feeling a little peeved.

Let me say this again: I have, for my entire career, been guiding students in DOING the same sort of scholarship that scholars in the field do. Please stop pretending that you have invented a whole new pedagogy and that I am only teaching research if I can figure out how to make it collaborative and look as much as possible like what YOU do.


Okay, rant over.

It's the end of the semester. I'm tired. I'm stressed about my body. I just didn't need to lose an hour to that.

"We need to start teaching our students to do research, not just teach them about it."

solipsistic poopy heads.


  1. My partner teaches in a discipline that's more about preparing students with practical job skills in a commercial field, so she always has them do a project on a real product, for a real person, just like they'd do if working in the field. Apparently this is blowing the minds of others in the division and administrators, because it's so cutting edge. She and I are more disappointed in them than impressed with her. But at least she doesn't have to sit through meetings about it, because that would get ugly.

  2. Actually I think this thing about "collaborative" work generally has become very big lately. It may be because of the tech boom and all those tech people having to work together.

    When I was in law school, I did one collaborative project. Now, I'm told they do them all the time.

    My daughter had to do them in middle school. Which always kind of peeved me because there was always one kid who didn't do squat but got the same grade as everyone else.

    And a friend of mine who just got her B.S. degree said they did a lot of collaborative assignments which was hard for her because she had a full time job and kids and the other people in her class didn't have those same demands on their time.

    Or I may have just totally missed your point.

  3. that is related, but the meeting was about teacher/student collaboration.

    So maybe a biologist has an on-going project related to a local stream. Some majors would be selected to work on it. They might do a population study, or something (I really have no idea). The student would have something specific that the accomplished, with the professor acting as a mentor and (ideally) the students work would be part of the professor's on-going work.

    Full credit would be given, of course, but it is supposed to allow us to be scholars while teaching our students. Professors get scholarship "credit" in tenure and promotion even if ALL the scholarship they do is in collaboration with students.

    It works less well in the humanities...or at least it doesn't work as The Model for us.

    I am wondering if I now put in many hours helping a student get a paper accepted to an undergraduate conference if I can list that as "scholarship." Before the sciences got excited about this it would clear be considered "just" teaching.

  4. I wish I remembered to proof read comments before published...or that blogger had an edit button.

  5. I am amused at the idea "what if Nietsche had taken a collaborative approach to philosophy? What about Hobbes? Would there still be an Ubermensch? Would life still be nasty, brutish and short?"

    Dickens could have taken a collaborative approach to novels, I suppose. It certainly couldn't have hurt (or made them any longer).

    What if the essays on literary theory in War and Peace had been written by a student committee?

    Here's another question: how do editors of journals on theoretical physics enforce temporal deadlines? If your submission includes a calculation that shows that your paper would have been on time if the mails traveled at the speed of light, does it matter that the cover page was spattered with Diet Coke just before the printer died?

    So much to know.

  6. Now that is the best name I have heard in a long time. Everyone wants to think their way is the newest and best. How very annoying to those of you who have already been doing it!

  7. Yeah, I'm also tired of hearing, "we have to stop teaching and start doing [insert definition of standard teaching here]." Where do people think we teach? The 19th century?


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