The University Record, April 5, 1999

Funding, leadership, innovation key to expanding research programs

By Joel Seguine
News and Information Services

Support for faculty innovation and the importance of policy leadership by funders providing resources for innovation were among the calls sounded repeatedly during the first panel of the Wiesner Symposium.

"Research-Based Learning at the Research University: What Our Experiments are Teaching Us" was moderated by Provost Nancy Cantor.

She set the tone for discussion by asking, "What are we doing to scale up our efforts in faculty development, to provide incentives for innovation and other measures to make sure we continue the improvements already made in research-based learning at our institutions?"

Members of the panel, who each made a brief presentation, included: Shirley Strum Kenny, president, State University of New York at Stony Brook; Jeanne Narum, director, Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL); Linda Slakey, dean, College of Sciences and Mathematics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Daryl Chubin, senior policy associate, National Science Foundation (NSF).

Kenny, who chaired the Boyer Commission that last year released a report on the state of undergraduate education at research universities, said the report has been a key to change in developing new or expanded programs in undergraduate research since its release. She said, however, that pervasive change will require leadership from federal policy makers and other funding organizations such as large foundations and commitment from major disciplinary associations. Very important to faculty is preparation for a new way of teaching and continued improvement in instructional technologies.

Narum, who directs PKAL, an informal national alliance of individuals, institutions and organizations committed to strengthening undergraduate science, mathematics, engineering and technology education, said that her program has documented evidence from experiments at liberal arts colleges "that undergraduate research works."

Narum also attacked four myths relating to undergraduate research:

  • "We know what we mean when we talk about the integration of research and education and how to do it." As programs such as the U-M's Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program have shown, research-based learning can work very well, but there remains a need for changes of attitude towards research-based learning by both faculty who teach and administrators who allocate resources.

  • "Integrating research and education can only be done in certain settings." PKAL data from liberal arts colleges show that students can play a substantive role in a wide range of research.

  • "We have all the hard data we need to support the integration of research and education." There is a strong continuing need for data on research-based learning experiments before, during and after a project.

  • "You can do integrated teaching in any kind of physical space." Dated facilities are an obstacle, and continued investment in infrastructure is critical.

    Slakey, who received her Ph.D. from the U-M, stated that the integration of research and teaching is "the whole point of a university in the 21st century." When she became a dean, Slakey said she found pockets of activity and innovation, mainly of dedicated individuals who were unaware of each other. This led to a strategic plan to capture that energy by making her college a leader in the reform of science and math education. Among the challenges to the furthering inquiry-based learning Slakey sees are time constraint on faculty, achieving equal respect for pedagogy and content, finding resources for assessing outcomes, and securing more federal support for what she called the "academic cultural shift."

    Chubin concluded the formal presentations by suggesting ways that relatively scarce federal funds could be leveraged to "narrow the gap between words and deeds" towards the integration of research and learning. He said the National Science Foundation and other funders are looking continually for new ways to encourage experimentation that create models of development and evaluation for use by other institutions.

    Federal funders also want to support improved future teacher preparation as well as existing K-12 education. "Researchable questions that view K-16 would be welcome," Chubin said.