UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH: IMPORTANCE, CHALLENGES AND SUCCESS STORIES
Prince Sultan University - College for Women (SAUDI ARABIA)
In 1998, the Boyer's Commission Report on undergraduate (UG) education presented shocking results to US's universities by stating that, "The research universities have often failed, and continue to fail, their undergraduate populations, thousands of students graduate without seeing the world – famous professors or tasting genuine research." This report was even more shocking to other non-US universities who had been striving to catch up with US research standards. Ever since that report, over a decade ago, various studies and projects have attempted to highlight the importance of UG research, examine the different challenges that hinder its implementation and present relevant successful models.
The significance of UG research is recognized worldwide (Bauer & Bennett, 2003; Lopatto, 2004; Russell, 2005; Seymour et al., 2004). It is true that not all graduates will engage in post-graduate research, but definitely getting a proper UG training can help students make an informed decision about their future. Besides, UG research fits well with current student-centered learning methods, in which the educator is a facilitator of learning, not the sole dispenser of knowledge. UG research opportunities enhance students' learning gains, supports their cognitive and personality development and encourages them to become more self-directed learners.
Challenges hindering the integration of research in UG education are diverse, ranging from low budgets, inadequate facilities, lack of student interest, low emphasis on research in certain departments and research inactive faculty members (Pacheco, 2003). More challenging are some definitions of UG research. The National Science Foundation (2003), for instance, defines UG research as "an inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline." How far is this definition realistic? Can all UG students produce research projects that represent 'original' contribution in their fields? If not, should universities then give up on research and be satisfied with more traditional classes that emphasize lectures and exams?
The present paper aims to highlight the importance of UG research to enhance student engagement and create a rich university learning experience. The first part of the paper presents an overview of key definitions, benefits and challenges of UG research. This is followed by a more practical part that surveys a number of success stories around the world, including integration of research in the curriculum, summer UG research programs, student conferences, student-edited UG journals and community-based research projects.