The three-year pilot phase (2010-2013) of LARC demonstrated the pedagogical, creative, and scholarly value of undergraduate students and faculty working together in interdisciplinary research communities during the summer. LARC 2.0 extends research experiences throughout the curriculum so that Willamette students regularly find research opportunities with faculty in their classrooms and are well prepared to do research in their senior year. LARC 2.0 has two major components: Summer Research Communities and Curricular Innovation.
Summer Research Communities
The objectives of the Mellon-funded Liberal Arts Research Collaborative (LARC) Summer Research Communities are:
- to provide selected undergraduate students a collaborative research experience during the summer
- to support faculty scholarship by facilitating student-faculty collaboration
- to foster intellectual conversation across disciplinary and generational boundaries
- to generate best practices for collaborative faculty-student research in the arts, humanities, and social sciences
The program runs nine weeks. Faculty members and students receive stipends to support their work. Currently there is funding to provide support for approximately six faculty members and twelve students for each of the next three summers (beginning in the summer of 2015).
The centerpiece of the student experience is a stand-alone research project resulting in a substantial final product that reflects the student’s original work. Students will develop these projects in close consultation with a faculty mentor who will also devote the summer to research and reflection in an area topically, thematically, or methodologically related to the student project. Various concerns shared by the two projects will provide a context for discussion and greatly increase the opportunities for meaningful collaboration. While it is expected that each student’s work will contribute to his or her faculty mentor’s ongoing research project, student projects must also exhibit their own expressive, interpretive, and analytical independence. Thus, while the work of a LARC 2.0 student will be closely connected to the research project of his or her mentor, the student’s role will far exceed that of a traditional research assistant. LARC 2.0 students are expected to produce a substantial final project that satisfies the expectations of their chosen field of inquiry (i.e. a body of artistic work, a performance, a research paper, a web-based project, etc.) and deliver an oral presentation at an on-campus symposium in September.
One distinctive feature of LARC 2.0 is that it expands the traditional boundaries of student-faculty research by requiring every project to be conducted within the confines of a research community comprised of at least two faculty members and at least four students. These communities are required to meet at least six times during the summer in order to explore the interconnections between projects and to discuss the “big questions” around which the research community is built. By providing an abstracted and enlarged context for individual research projects, these communities will help faculty and students comprehend and articulate the broader issues and larger stakes of their more narrowly-focused, individual inquiries. At the end of the summer, these communities will be asked to reflect upon how their work together helped shape each project individually.
LARC 2.0 sponsors a series of curricular innovations. Each of the program elements is designed to contribute to Willamette’s goal of increasing the number, breadth, and depth of research-rich academic experiences that arts, humanities, and human science students encounter as undergraduates and as lifelong learners in a rigorous liberal arts environment. Faculty may apply for curriculum innovation grants independently, as members of interdisciplinary teams, or as departments; in addition, faculty members of summer research communities may make curriculum innovation the outcome of their summer research.
Inquiry-based modules: Inquiry-based modules enrich existing course offerings at the gateway and intermediate levels within the major program. LARC 2.0 faculty will be funded to create modules for 12 courses each year, some of them arising from summer collaborative experiences, some of them from independent proposals. Each module will follow a prescribed format, beginning with articulated student learning outcomes, guided by an inquiry-based learning intervention, then tracked through a meaningful instrument designed to assess gains to student learning. A module might be defined as a unit within a course including one or more assignments. In lower-level courses, a module might introduce the notion of what constitutes research in a field and learning to use published scholarship to answer one’s own questions; at the intermediate level the same aspect of learning to be a researcher might focus on how new scholarship modifies earlier scholarship. Similarly, a module might prepare students to ask appropriate research questions, or to develop research methodologies.
Redesigned Courses Across the Major:
1) Priority funding status will be given to proposals for thematic capstone courses for fourth-year students, some of which may derive from summer research communities. LARC 2.0 will also support faculty members whose project in a summer research collaborative is focused on course development that extends the work begun in the summer with two students to a seminar of eight or more students. LARC 2.0 will also fund proposals for redesign of senior capstone courses that engage in student-faculty research independent of summer research collaborations.
2) Successful proposals for redesigned courses may also be directed to the beginning of the Willamette curriculum, the College Colloquium. All sections of College Colloquium meet at one of two scheduled hours, making collaborations between sections logistically simple.
3) Clusters at the intermediate level merge the concepts of research communities and learning communities (in which students are enrolled together in two or more courses). The Willamette faculty has long sought opportunities and sustainable models for interdisciplinary teaching. LARC 2.0 offers several opportunities and models all pursuing the same outcome: to provide student-faculty research communities the opportunity for meaningful and lasting penetration and impact on the Willamette curriculum.
Program Revision: Finally, LARC 2.0 will support program revision aimed at scaffolding instruction and experiences in research. Program faculty will be supported to spend significant time on studying best practices, consulting with experts in undergraduate research, and thoroughly examining their own program outcomes and assessments. Examples of curriculum revision at the program level include infusion of more strategically-placed (i.e., earlier in program curriculum) research-relevant course offerings; rearrangement and subsequent testing of existing program curricula to engage students in research more frequently, thereby better preparing them for available summer research opportunities; and repositioning of capstone experiences relative to methodology coursework so as to better prepare students for their respective senior experience(s). Program revision could result in subsequent proposals for course enrichment through inquiry-based modules. Regardless of the route taken, the goal of improving curriculum at the program level will serve as the driving force behind funding decisions made in support of this form of curricular innovation.