I will pursue the questions we are asked to address in Assignment #3 in the context of my involvement in a 4th-year research seminar course in Human Nutritional Sciences undergraduate program at the University where I work.
Background: I have been collaborating with one of the instructors who teach this course over the last three years. The course is a three-credit course, meaning it lasts three months and three hours a week of class time. There are no contents to cover in the class. Students are asked to develop a research question of their choice to investigate the literature and communicate what they have found by writing a paper and giving an oral presentation. The paper is due just before they are completing the course. This course is rather jam-packed with things to do for students. In addition to writing a paper and an oral presentation, students are also asked to do a group project in which they select a consumer health topic and prepare an oral presentation targeting some consumer group in mind as their audience. I will just focus on the research paper/oral presentation.
The overall direction of the course won’t be able to change, but I would like to try something new at the beginning of the course when students have to start thinking about their research question or the focus of their communications. Although our intention has been to facilitate student learning, as they start and work on the project, I realized during this course that we have been focusing too much on the research aspect of the assignment and scaffolding research processes. But we are finding out that not all students are keen on research. In fact, not all of them are keen on research, and in every class, only a handful of students are interested in it.
Students are motivated quite differently. I am not 100% sure what their career aspirations are. Some of them follow more competitive program streams to get professional credentials around the graduation. I know at least that many of the students in the program are interested in pursuing health care or health science fields. I also know that not everyone does fit into this model. I recently ran into one of the graduates of the program who was selling chocolate bars of her own at a local farmer’s market. She successfully manufactured, at her kitchen, her unique chocolate bars that are very smooth and magically melt in one’s mouth. She is packaging them and doing retailing by herself.
Different Approach to Experiment: I would like students to think about what they want or plan to do after their graduation. It can be an imaginary situation, but I want students to think about their potential options very creatively. I want students to find someone or a group of people that they want to communicate their interest or passion in any aspects of Human Nutritional Sciences fields that would embody their professional attitude and outlook. They have to define and what they are going to present to their chosen audience. It can be something that they cultivated while going through the program or something that is emerging and they may not know how to articulate it yet. How do they find the audience for their presentation? Students might want to think about possible organizations that they want to work or volunteer. Can they identify someone to whom they want to give a presentation or submit the report? A potential supervisor or boss or a potential business partner? They may want to think about different types of organizations, such as academic, research, not-for-profit, government organizations, or private corporations. Or if they want to work independently, they can think about the kind of business they want to pursue. The purpose of the assignment is to present and report what they have investigated in the literature and their findings to their chosen audience. At the beginning of the project, I want students to explore how their project would look like.
I want to initiate a conversation on what students are planning to do after the graduation or what might be their career aspirations. I might pair them up to discuss and share individual plan. They can write a blog post to explore and define how they want to use the experience of working on research paper writing/reporting and an oral presentation exercise. They can identify who is their audience of their project, what they want to investigate, and what would be the most likely findings. They will be using recent research sources to shape the project.
Instead of simply saying to students, “you are expected to do research and write a paper,” I want to make all the activities in the course more personable to them. They can define to whom they want to present the results, why and what.
In conclusion, although I don’t have much control over the course and won’t be able to change much if I can make the assignment more meaningful and personable to the students, that would be a good effort.