Undergraduate research in classroom

Posted August 13, 2016 By Prof Alex James, Nazarbayev University

I have very often come across a group of undergraduate students in the class who are keen to explore beyond what is called the grades. At the same time, I find many students to less care about the inquest of knowledge and more of eating up every dot and comma in the textbook. The contrast that I see these days between the two extreme is significant that cannot be ignored. 

Things have changed. The way knowledge is acquired in modern world is very different and fast paced that how it used to be. Today, there is no issue with access to information, and click of button and its all in front of you. The problem however is that sorting out the right sort of information is not that trivial. This is where research has already becomes an integral part of education. 

I take the view that while conventional classroom lecturing has several merits, it alone is not sufficient to keep upto date with the accurate and in-depth understanding and application of acquiring that knowledge. This is ofcourse a point of debate, as of how much of spoon feeding is essential and what should be roles of professor in the process. What is that professor in a lecture would provide that is not in the textbook - many student say that they can provide a good summary - saves time, help focus on what to study - and what not too (a strategist learner point of views), while those who want to go beyond the norms, often feel deprived.

I end up asking very often to myself, what are we preparing our students for?, to be robots or to be leaders or thinkers?. I am always mandated by the university visionaries to create the next generation of leaders. And the only answer, I could section out is the need to integrate research and inquiry in teaching and learning. 

In the past 3 years of drilling out various courses that had a varied levels of integrating research into courses, the journey has never been that easy for the students or me as a professor. It always resulted in twice more work in preparation, assessments and giving an objective and critical feedback. On the other hand, students struggle to keep up with quality requirements - writing a term paper is not that easy nor its easy to accept results of critical external peer-review, and presentations of papers in internal student conferences. They are all challenging, however, once I reflect back, it has only done good to the students. They gain a lot more of life skills to be successful in doing projects, writing reports and being able to critically evaluating their own skills. 

Some of student works done during the courses can be accessed here:

http://biomicrosystems.info/icp2015
http://biomicrosystems.info/casev2015