Exploring What Makes a Positive Research Experience
“Think of a positive learning experience you had in a research class as a teacher or student. Take a moment and jot down what it was and what made it work.” That’s how IF Fellow Jeff Prudhomme started the Faculty Fellows Undergraduate Research Workshop at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) on September 15. Prudhomme, Vice President of the Interactivity Foundation (IF) and a former philosophy professor at Wesleyan, had been invited to facilitate the workshop along with Wesleyan biology professor Dr. Holly Boettger-Tong and Wesleyan’s Dean of the Faculty Matt Martin by Gareth Jones, the Assistant Director of UAB’s Office of Service Learning and Undergraduate Research.
The three facilitators spent the day with seven UAB faculty members whose fields ranged from biology to criminal justice exploring how to use the IF discussion process in courses that incorporate undergraduate research. The workshop was the first of a series funded by UAB to help these faculty members develop courses that allow undergraduate students to do research. To demonstrate the IF discussion process, Prudhomme facilitated an initial conversation on the value of undergraduates doing research. The group animatedly discussed their own research experiences, the skills they saw their students gaining through research, and strategies they had used in the classroom.
Possibilities for Student-Facilitated Discussion Teams
Martin followed with an account of the successful seven-year partnership between Wesleyan and IF. He recounted how the use of student-facilitated discussion groups to explore issues in an ongoing, open, creative, and inclusive way has permeated Wesleyan’s culture—from the IF Fridays of WISe 101 to the newly launched second round of IF Diversity and Inclusion Discussions. Boettger-Tong then talked about what she has learned through using IF techniques in her biology classes. As a scientist talking to a group mostly composed of scientists, Boettger-Tong’s ideas and strategies, gained from her many years at Wesleyan teaching students how to become researchers, clearly resonated with the audience.
“It was terrific to have the opportunity to discuss how IF facilitation techniques have made an impact in our classes,” said Boettger-Tong. “As a UAB graduate school alum, I was delighted to participate in this workshop and to meet the outstanding faculty engaged in the process of finding novel ways of integrating authentic research experiences into undergraduate curriculum.”
Avoiding Groupthink with Research Teams that Target Divergence
Prudhomme had earlier introduced the group to core IF concepts: “sanctuary”— creating a safe space for discussion; “yes, and” — the idea from improv of building on the ideas of others; “you +” — the idea of bringing yourself fully to a discussion, but also trying to imagine the perspective of others; and “be bold, go deep” — the idea of pushing yourself to think in expansive and divergent ways. Those concepts clearly guided the workshop and will hopefully lead to some exciting new opportunities for UAB students.
“Thanks to Gareth for inviting us,” said Martin. “He was a beloved figure at Wesleyan, and it was great to be able to spend some time with him again. And, of course, it’s always a pleasure for those of us at Wesleyan to partner with Jeff and IF. It was a great day of sharing ideas. The whole thing left me energized.”
–Matt Martin, Dean of the Faculty, Wesleyan College