AUTHENTIC UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH AND THE NEED TO KNOW
THOMAS, Robert C., Environmental Sciences Department, University of Montana Western, 710 S. Atlantic St., Box 83, Dillon, MT 59725, Rob.firstname.lastname@example.org
Most educators understand that undergraduate research is important, but they may not know that there is extensive educational research that shows why this is the case. Those data show that the need to know information is one of the most important factors in the learning process, especially if it is related to an authentic research experience. Authentic research is simply that which has an outcome that advances knowledge or makes a community contribution. Students tend to increase their interest level and the quality of their work if they know that someone other than the professor will review their work, so developing authentic research experiences is one way to foster a need to know. Research on learning shows that knowledge obtained in this manner lasts longer and has broader application than information learned for the purpose of answering questions on an exam.
Authentic research experiences for undergraduates can be difficult to provide. The 50-minute class schedule is set up for lecturing and undergraduate research tends to be less of a priority in departments with robust graduate programs. Even in capstone courses like field methods and field camp, students rarely use the data they have gathered to solve authentic research problems. So, if we are to increase authentic research opportunities for undergraduate students, it must become a priority. Existing solutions include moving away from lecture-based scheduling, making field camp an authentic research experience and pursuing financial incentives for including undergraduates in our research. Students benefit from portfolios that include examples of the research they can do.