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Ed School Course Turns Students into Researchers

Students don't instantly feel like researchers once they set foot on Appian Way.

"It is a challenge to identify yourself as a researcher -- at least in the beginning -- and make the connection that through being an academic you are going to become a better practitioner," says doctoral student Mariam Chughtai, Ed.M.'07.

In an effort to help students to truly become researchers, Lecturer Eileen McGowan, Ed.M.'98, Ed.D.'04, and Lecturer and Director of Research Services Deborah Garson designed the course "Researching and Writing a Critical Literature Review" to provide students the experience of developing research skills and reading and evaluating research with an analytical eye. The course offers strategies for creating a critical literature review, which Garson explains is a significant part of the doctoral review process.

With an enrollment of only 10 students, McGowan says they purposely keep the number small so students can focus intensely on their own research and receive in-depth feedback from classmates. Additionally, a unique aspect of the course requires all students to present at the Ed School's Student Research Conference (SRC). The SRC is an annual student-run and -focused event at which graduate students present completed research or works-in-progress on topics related to education. The 15th annual SRC attracted 188 participants, including the 10 students in the Critical Literature course, all of whom received feedback from people both within and outside of the Ed School, and forged new reflections on research methods and presentation style.

"Part of becoming a member of academe is getting feedback from an entire community," Garson says of the reason she and McGowan require their students to participate in the SRC. "You have to think about how you are presenting your research and the feedback. The SRC is just a golden opportunity for students to take this critical step."

Throughout the year, as students develop their research skills, the course provides time in class to think and work on their presentations. In what Garson describes as a "leap of faith," the SRC forces students to put themselves out there publicly as researchers.

Doctoral student Karin Liiv, Ed.M.'94, who presented her research on school discipline and hidden curriculum at the SRC, credits the course for moving her research forward. "I can't imagine how I would move from [being a first year doctoral student to a third year doctoral student] to writing a qualifying paper without this class," Liiv says, admitting that without the course she would be far less willing to take risks. "The course enabled me to stand up at SRC, which frankly was terrifying."

Following the SRC presentations, many students in the course view their research with new eyes. Although it was Chughtai's second time participating in SRC (she initially presented as a master's student), she has struggled to identify research topics as a doctoral student. Chughtai saw the course and the SRC as the perfect forum at which to talk about her ideas. "The SRC helps people make their own space," she says. "Then, you can go where you need to go."

Chughtai has now settled on a topic for her dissertation research, which she credits to the SRC and the course. "It helped get my hands dirty and see the feasibility of a topic or not," she says. "If I hadn't done the SRC, I'd probably still be sitting with this idea as something I'm interested in."

Beyond taking their research forward, the course and SRC also has the added benefit of boosting students' confidence as researchers and presenters. "It's almost like they are my children graduating from elementary school and I'm so proud of them because they do so well," Garson says. "They know their colleagues are watching but they do an astounding job. And, it helps to think of themselves as researchers."


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