Teaching Undergraduates Research and Inquiry Skills

https://medium.com/@UT_Flags/the-necessity-and-challenges-of-teaching-undergraduates-research-and-inquiry-skills-89ca9d01cf3e

The Necessity and Challenges of Teaching Undergraduates Research and Inquiry Skills

As a tier one research university, the University of Texas at Austin supports and encourages innovative research work from tenured faculty and undergraduate students alike. UT has specific programs and funds dedicated to helping undergraduates get involved in faculty research and develop their own independent research projects. The Independent Inquiry Flag (II Flag) at UT Austin works with professors to engage all students in the process of inquiry through an independent project that meaningfully contributes to their discipline.

Each discipline can integrate the II Flag in the way that best gives students in the field the inquiry skills they need for their futures. The courses’ culmination projects take many forms, from art exhibits or performances, to research papers or business plans. In every discipline, though, students engage in the full inquiry process, from developing a research question or topic to communicating their results to others. For the faculty leading II Flag courses, the experience of teaching these courses can be rewarding, even as it presents unique challenges as compared with their other teaching.

Last spring, Government faculty members Patricia Maclachlan and Xiaobo Lu piloted an upper-level course on Institutions and Comparative Political-Economic Development with an II Flag. Professor Maclachlan explained that they started the course because they “wanted to have a class that gives ambitious students an opportunity to put their best foot forward.” The Government department is looking to strengthen its majors’ research skills, and they saw this as an opportunity to offer a research experience to advanced students. Teaching the course with the II Flag helped them challenge those students and give them practical skills for their futures. Although only some of the students in the class were interested in graduate school, the instructors also saw this class as a stepping stone for research in the students’ future professional careers. For some students, this course allowed them to deepen their inquiry skills; for other students, this was their first opportunity to engage in independent inquiry.

In the course, Professors Maclachlan and Lu adapted the II Flag’s steps of inquiry to their discipline to help guide students’ research. They placed special attention on the first step, identifying the research topic, to help the students build the foundation of their research on solid arguments. Professors Maclachlan and Lu used at three-part approach to help the students develop argumentation for their research projects. First, they grounded the students in key theories from political-economic development. Then, they used in-class exercises to show the students how to use these theories as a framework for their arguments and research questions. Lastly, they set up one-on-one meetings with the students to help them further narrow their arguments and questions. Throughout this process, they were careful to give their students the freedom to branch out and explore their own research interests in the topic.

Throughout the inquiry and research process, Professors Maclachlan and Lu also challenged the students to engage with their peers’ work. In this step, the students had to critique a peer’s work as well as be reflective on the limitations of their own work. After reading their peer’s work, each student wrote up their feedback and prepared to discuss it in class with their peer partners. Similar to presenting at an academic conference, the students presented their research-in-progress to the class and received feedback from the group. Instead of a one-way written critique, this assignment required the students to discuss each other’s work and exchange ideas together. This peer review process gave the students experience giving and receiving feedback on their work so that they could strengthen their final paper, as well as practice presenting their work in a realistic, professional setting.

However, similar to most research projects, the teaching process was not as straightforward as Professors Maclachlan and Lu originally thought it would be. Early on in the semester, they realized that their students were at different places in their levels of research skills. Some of the students in the class had taken research methods classes before, but this was the first time many of the students had ever been exposed to the research process. This meant that many of the students were not prepared for the level of research or writing that the instructors had expected in the course. In a course with a large independent research project, teaching students with different levels of research skills and self-motivation proved to be one of the biggest challenges.

To address this, they focused on introducing and deepening the students’ understanding of key aspects of research: creating research questions and hypotheses, developing bibliographies, crafting a research design, and writing proposals. Although it was not an introductory class to research methods, they set aside time in each class to bridge gaps in the students’ research skills. They also gave them an introduction to key methodological skills, such as data analysis. Professor Maclachlan pointed out that, in spite of the students’ different starting places, “every student had room to expand skills in developing arguments and supporting them with evidence.” Learning and honing those skills was fundamental for the course and for their future careers.

Armed with the experience of teaching the course last spring, Profs. Machlachlan and Lu plan on teaching the course again in Spring 2019. However, they plan to make a few adjustments. Prior to starting the course, both professors have been intentional about communicating their expectations with the enrolled students and encouraging them to challenge themselves in the course.

They are also reaching out to the students to establish their level of experience with research skills and independent inquiry. The most important take-away they learned from teaching this class the first time was the importance of knowing their students’ research backgrounds. “Don’t assume any prior [research] knowledge, and survey the class at the beginning of the semester,” says Professor Maclachlan. She advises asking the students what research skill set they have and how familiar they are with the library’s resources. Then, instructors can tailor the course to the meet those gaps and further the students’ individual research.

Across the disciplines, the inquiry process necessarily varies and presents its own set of challenges. Likewise, courses with an II Flag will present different challenges and opportunities for each discipline. Professors Maclachlan and Lu’s course gave students the opportunity to take on an independent research project and deepen their understandings of the research process. No matter the student’s starting point or level of research skills, each student gained a deeper understanding of the inquiry process that they can apply to their work in the future.


If you would like to know more about the Flags program at UT Austin, you can find this information here.

If you are a professor at UT, you can find resources to help teach the Independent Inquiry flag here. We also provide resources and ideas to help you teach each of the other Flags here

By Abby Attia, Graduate Assistant for CSEF

HW Perry: Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship

H.W. Perry Surprised in Classroom with Friar Award

WATCH: Dozens of faculty and students gathered outside UT-Austin Department of Government associate professor H.W. Perry’s "Constitutional Interpretations" classroom earlier this month, ready to barge in and surprise him with news that he had been selected by students for this year’s Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship at The University of Texas at Austin.

Posted by College of Liberal Arts – University of Texas at Austin on Monday, April 30, 2018

Dozens of faculty and students gathered outside professor H.W. Perry’s Constitutional Interpretations classroom in April, ready to barge in and surprise him with news that he had been selected for this year’s Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship at The University of Texas at Austin.

The annual award, established in 1983 by the Friar Society, goes to a full-time, tenured or tenure-track undergraduate professor, and is the largest award for undergraduate teaching excellence at the university. Perry was chosen from more than 65 nominations. He received $25,000 and will be honored at an awards reception later this month.

“I’m truly overwhelmed,” Perry said to the group gathered in his classroom. “What I understand about the Friar’s teaching award is that it is mostly nominated by students and mostly selected by students, and that makes the award even more deeply meaningful to me.”

Prior to coming to UT Austin in 1994, Perry taught at Harvard University and Washington University, receiving teaching awards at both institutions. At UT Austin, Perry is the field chair in Public Law and teaches both in the Department of Government and the Law School. He specializes in the U.S. Supreme Court, constitutional interpretation and the intersection of law and politics.

“My way of teaching is interactive, Socratic discussion, but it takes two to tango,” said Perry. “I’ve had the good fortune to have a lot of students who care a lot about what they’re learning and make the kind of teaching that I do work. I’m really deeply touched.”

HW Perry: Academy of Distinguished Teachers

Honoring excellence in teaching at the undergraduate level, The University of Texas at Austin announced the 2018 inductees into its prestigious Academy of Distinguished Teachers.

H.W. Perry was one of four inductees nominated by the dean and selected through a rigorous evaluation process. The selection process is led by a committee comprised of current members of the Academy, other faculty peers, students and administrators.

Members are awarded the title Distinguished Teaching Professor and serve for the duration of their tenure at UT Austin.

Established in 1995, the Academy of Distinguished Teachers is emblematic of the university’s commitment to excellence in teaching. Comprising of approximately five percent of tenured faculty, the Academy provides leadership to improve the quality and depth of the undergraduate experience.

“It is an honor to recognize these four outstanding members of our faculty,” said Maurie McInnis, executive vice president and provost. “Their commitment to teaching and improving the student experience in the classroom is exceptional and inspiring.”

Members of the Academy advise the president and provost on matters related to the university’s instructional mission, participate in seminars, colloquia, lead workshops on teaching effectiveness and serve as mentors to new faculty.

The Academy supports the teaching mission by:

  • Honoring and rewarding excellence in teaching
  • Enhancing teaching effectiveness, particularly at the undergraduate level
  • Creating a central core of teachers who can serve as a resource and an inspiration for other teachers
  • Selecting a body of faculty who can promote a sense of community among teachers, foster research on effective college teaching and learning, and advise the institution on teaching policies and practices

The inductees will be honored at the annual Academy of Distinguished Teachers dinner in October.

Dan Brinks: NSF and Ford Foundation Grants

Dan Brinks, together with Rachel Cichowski of Washington University, and Jeff Staton of Emory University, has secured a grant by the National Science Foundation, for approximately $300,000 over two years. The grant will fund a project seeking to develop a new model for collaborative and convergent research communities in law and social sciences, to produce innovation and understanding around a single deep scientific question or pressing societal need in the field of comparative and international law.

Brinks also secured a grant of $600,000 over three years from the Ford Foundation for core support of the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, which he co-directs.

Tom Pangle: Siemens Lecture, Chinese Translations

Tom Pangle, on July 12, delivered a public lecture before an overflow audience of about 250 at the Siemens Foundation in Munich, in the Foundation’s lecture series “The Future of Democracy.” Pangle’s was the final and wrap up lecture, entitled “What Makes the United States So Different?” Written essays based on the lectures will be published in 2018 in a volume (IN GERMAN) edited by the Director of the Siemens Foundation, Heinrich Meier; the volume will also be entitled The Future of Democracy.

Pangle’s Montesquieu’s Philosophy of Liberalism and Aristotle’s Teaching in the “Politics” have just been published in Chinese. Pangle’s next is forthcoming from University of Chicago Press … stay tuned.

In January of 2018 the University of Chicago Press will publish my book, The Socratic Way of Life: Xenophon’s MEMORABILIA. This will be the first-ever book length study and interpretation of the political theory elaborated in Xenophon’s masterwork.

Cheers,

Tom

Thomas L. Pangle
Joe R. Long Endowed Chair in Democratic Studies
Department of Government

Politics of Information: Brownlow Award

Bryan Jones’ book, The Politics of Information: Problem Definition and the Course of Public Policy in America (with Frank Baumgartner), received the National Academy of Public Administration’s 2016 Brownlow Award for Best Book in Public Administration in 2015.

Recap of Department Faculty and Alumni 2016 APSA Awards

Bethany Albertson – Robert E. Lane Award

Janet Box-Steffensmeier – Excellence in Mentoring Award and the Jewell-Loewenberg Award

Jasmine Farrier – Founder’s Best Paper Award

John Gerring – Lijphart/Przeworski/Verba Data Set Award

Marc Hetherington – Philip E. Converse Book Award

Kathleen Sullivan – Urban Politics Best Paper Award

Sultan Tepe – Religion and Politics Best Paper Award

Bethany Albertson: Book Award

APSA’s political psychology section has named Bethany Albertson’s Anxious Politics: Democratic Citizenship in a Threatening World as co-winner of the 2015 Robert E. Lane Award for the best book in political psychology.

Wlezien: Best MPSA Paper

Chris Wlezien will be honored at the Midwest Political Science Association’s annual conference for winning the Pi Sigma Alpha award for the best paper presented at the 2015 meeting: “The Company You Keep: How Citizens infer Parties’ Postions on Europe from Governing Coalition Arrangements” (with James Adams and Lawrence Ezrow), will be published in AJPS.

Albertson, Anxious Politics Featured by Slate

Bethany Albertson’s research, and her book, Anxious Politics, were featured by Slate Magazine, in the article, “Scary Politics.” In analyzing the contest for the Republican presidential nomination, the article draws on Albertson’s research pointing out voters’ susceptibility to “fear, uncertainty, and doubt.”

Read the article: http://slate.me/1Mwz5qC

Rapoport Center: Ford Foundation Grant

The Rapoport Center has launched a major five-year initiative.

“The Rapoport Center is uniquely positioned to work with and analyze the global human rights movement,” according to Texas government professor and Rapoport Center co-director Daniel Brinks. “We have established relationships with activists and academics from around the world, and with area studies centers and faculty from across the University, giving us access to every region of the world, as well as a wealth of disciplinary approaches,” says Brinks. “And we have spent the last ten years critically examining human rights work, its accomplishments and shortcomings. This work lays the foundation for the more comprehensive project that lies ahead.”

Ben Gregg Fulbright

Ben Gregg will be the Fulbright–Johannes Kepler University of Linz Visiting Professor, Spring 2016, for research on his fifth book, Second Nature: The Political, Legal, and Moral Consequences of the Human Species Taking Control of its Genome (Cambridge University Press).

ISQ Publishes Replication Symposium

Scott Wolford’s article, “Oil Discoveries, Shifting Power, and Civil Conflict,” is the subject of a recent ISQ replication symposium:

Oil Discoveries, Shifting Power, and Civil Conflict: A formal and quantitative replication

“Oil Discoveries, Shifting Power, and Civil Conflict”

From the LBJ’s Strauss Center:

Expanding on Initial Work, Scholars Make Contribution Says Wolford

In a upcoming post for International Studies Quarterly, Strauss Center Distinguished Scholar and UT Professor Scott Wolford and co-author Curtis Bell respond to recent replication of their theoretical and empirical work. In the post, Wolford responds to what he calls “rigorous” and “thoughtful” follow up work on the link between oil resources and civil conflict. In pointing to these contributions, Wolford concludes that replication can lead to “new, creative, and unanticipated insights.”

In their 2014 article, “Oil Discoveries, Shifting Power, and Civil Conflict”, Wolford and Bell explored the impact of oil discoveries on the strategic environment. In particular, they examine the relationship between oil discoveries and bargaining between governments and rebel groups and the impact of resource wealth on civil conflict. They concluded that the discovery of oil has the potential to change the expectations of either group, which can reduce willingness to bargain and increase the likelihood of civil conflict.

Wolford explains that attempts by authors Ritter and Florea to replicate this initial work have yielded substantial and significant contributions. In particular, Wolford says the authors explore the possibility that regimes might pursue preemptive repression following oil discoveries, warranting further examination of regimes’ coercive capacity. They also consider the impact of prospective oil wealth on government motivation to engage in conflict or negotiate a peace deal, pointing out that the desire to actually realize resource wealth might make regimes more likely to bargain to achieve stability.

Liu wins Fulbright

Amy Liu has won a 2015-16 William Fulbright U.S. Scholar award to study Chinese migration to Romania, and the Chinese migrant community in Romania. In Fall 2015, Liu will teach at the University of Bucharest.

Wellhausen to Receive MPSA Best Paper Award

Rachel Wellhausen’s paper (with Leslie Johns), “Modern Day Merchant Guilds: Supply Chains and Informal Property Rights Enforcement” has been selected to receive the 2014 MPSA Best Paper in International Relations.

The award will be presented on the evening of Saturday, April 18, 2015 at the MPSA Business Meeting at the Palmer House Hilton, Chicago.

June Workshop to focus on work of Thomas Pangle

A workshop at the 2015 Canadian Political Science Association Annual Conference will focus on the work of Thomas Pangle. The workshop, “Political Philosophy and the Works of Thomas L. Pangle,” will feature three panels, a roundtable, and a keynote address by Pangle. Panels to be held inlude “Ennobling Modernity,” “Ancients and Moderns,” and “Reason and Revelation.” The roundtable will feature Pangle, Catherine Zuckert, Michael Zuckert, Tim Burns, Ann Ward, and Lee Ward. Pangle’s recent books include Aristotle’s Teaching in the Politics and The Theological Basis of Liberal Modernity in Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws. The workshop will be held June 3-4 at the University of Ottawa.

Tulis Featured in New York Magazine Piece Looking to Obama’s Legacy

The current issue of New York Magazine published 53 perspectives on Barack Obama’s legacy. Two of those perspective feature Jeffrey Tulis. One, written by Tulis himself, suggests that however Obama is remembered, his presidency has not been transformative; however historians look back on Obama, he did not build a new and lasting political coalition or constitutional vision. A second, by Jill Lepore, states her early prediction was that Obama’s presidency would be rhetorical, referencing Tulis’ The Rhetorical Presidency, one of the most widely-cited books on the presidency. But, Lepore argues, in office, Obama has been much like his predecessor, and presided over a secretive presidency.