Students Into Scholars:
An Undergraduate Research Experience
E. Gorman, Division of Humanities, School of Engineering and Applied Science
W. Bernard Carlson and I have worked for the past three years with a group
of undergraduates who collaborate with us on our research. Bernie is a
historian of technology; I am a psychologist. In cooperation with students,
we are developing a systematic method for mapping the invention process.
we are focusing on the invention of the telephone. The students scan sketches
done by three competing inventors--Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison
and Elisha Gray--into a Macintosh. The task is technically demanding:
students have to master computer software and also understand the working
of the devices portrayed in each sketch. Then the fun really begins: the
students begin constructing multi-level branching tree diagrams that reflect
their best sense of the inventor's thinking process at that particular
stage. In weekly meetings, we compare different sections of each inventor's
tree diagrams and have freewheeling debates about anything from how to
interpret a particular sketch to how to improve our methodology.
The team includes
students from several fields of engineering as well as students from psychology,
biology and the Commerce School. This experience teaches students the
value of stretching beyond disciplinary values. It also transforms the
student-teacher relationship into a colleague-colleague relationship,
especially among those students who stay with us for several years. These
"veterans" also become co-authors on articles, and are given
opportunities to present their work at professional meetings.
Most of the
students work for independent-study credit of various sorts, though I
offer one course--H313, Scientific and Technological Thinking--that most
team members take at one time or another. We have been able to employ
over the summer to continue the work, and we hope to obtain outside funding
to offer more experiences of this sort.
think this experience demonstrates that students can be creators as well
as consumers of knowledge, and that they can learn the value of scholarship
by working in close collaboration with faculty on their research. This
is one way of transcending the false dichotomy between teaching and research.