Teaching and Learning Through Student/Faculty Research Collaboration
Roger Clark, Tara Gurka and Lisa Middleton
Two students (Tara and Lisa) and one faculty member (Roger)
discuss their apprehensions about, motivations for, frustrations and satisfactions
with doing research together. They suggest that, on balance, the teaching and
learning opportunities of such collaborations can outweigh the problems.
Tara: One of the more daunting aspects of working with a professor is the feeling
that there are expectations being placed upon you, even when there aren’t
any. I was not sure if I would be able to do an adequate job or what the project
required of me. I felt that working with an intelligent group of students and
a well-respected professor as well as an experienced publisher that I had a lot
of pressure to do well. Mind you that none of this pressure was from the professor,
but all my own. I wanted to do the job correctly and perform at my best, yet not
make it look as if I was trying too hard.
The only other apprehension I felt prior to the start of the project was the
time requirement. I held a summer job and also had other responsibilities at home
and was not sure how many hours and how many days a week would be necessary. I
was relieved when time turned out to be a non-factor throughout the completion
of the project, meeting only a couple of hours a day maybe once a week, if that.
Lisa: Overall, I was very excited by the prospect of working on a professor-student
research project. It afforded me and the other students a number of opportunities,
but also created some anxieties. Previously, I had only read about research approaches
and strategies, but had never really applied them in a setting outside of the
classroom. At the time, I was in my second year of college. I was also nervous
about working with an experienced professor on something I wasn’t very familiar
with. Dr. Clark had completed two studies on our topic and we were going to contribute
updated research. I was concerned that our research would not yield significant
results. These anxieties, however, paled in comparison when presented with the
prospect of having to do the research during the coveted college “summer
break.” Luckily, the other students and I overcame this and other concerns
and were able to participate.
Roger: We’d like to tell a story about faculty/student collaboration on
a research project. It is a story of apprehension, opportunity, frustration and
satisfaction. Lisa and Tara have already told you a little of their apprehensions
about doing joint research with a faculty member and other students. I’d
like to share with you some of my anxieties. I should, perhaps, confess that working
with Tara, Lisa and another student, Monica Almeida (who is away this summer and
so can’t join us in our conversation) was probably the least anxiety-provoking
project I’ve engaged in with students. I’d already co-authored 12 papers
with nine students in the previous 13 years or so and “knew,” if I ever
knew, that this project would work out. The three main sources of anxiety in the
faculty/student collaborations I’d worked on before—the nature of the
faculty-student relationship, the feasibility of the project, and the likelihood
of finding a venue for the finished work—had all been pretty much optimized
going into this one. Lisa and Tara (and Monica) had been students in an honors
section of my Core 4 course, “Where in the World is Gender Inequality,” in the spring of 2001. And, while I’d asked the whole class for volunteers
on my summer project, I was very pleased when the three of them volunteered. Each
had proven to be a fine writer and researcher in her own right already. I’d
talked with each about individual projects they’d done for the course and
found them all pleasant, smart and responsive. Consequently, I shared none of
Tara’s apprehensions that she might not be up to the task. I knew she (and
Lisa and Monica) would be.
The project was a ten-year follow-up of a study (Clark, Lennon and Morris,
1993) I’d done earlier with two other students, and involved a content analysis
of recent children’s picture books, all of which I knew were available at
local libraries. Because I intended to use essentially the same approach I’d
employed in the earlier study (with each of us, in this case, reading the same
20 children’s books and comparing our findings, based on an instrument I’d
help create 10 years earlier), I was pretty sure the project was doable. So I
didn’t share Lisa’s concern about working on something basically unfamiliar,
as I usually do at the beginning of such projects.
Moreover, I’d been asked by my own editors to do the follow-up as part
of the revision of a textbook (Adler and Clark, 1999) that Emily Stier Adler and
I would be working on that summer. The text, a research methods book, has, as
one of its distinguishing features, “focal research” articles around
which Emily and I build our discussion of various methods used in the social sciences.
We’d used the earlier piece (Clark, Lennon and Morris, 1993) as the basis
for a focal research piece for the chapter on content analysis in the first edition,
but had been told that an update was in order for the new edition. Since Emily
and I were to be the main arbiters of what got into our book, I thought the chances
of finding a venue for the new piece were pretty good. Under the circumstances,
I was less concerned than Lisa was that we might not achieve significant research
findings. I was pretty sure that whether or not our update told us that there
was nothing really different about the current generation of children’s books,
we’d get this piece past the “gatekeepers,” as long as the next
edition of the book passed muster with our editors.
Even still, I did not enter this project anxiety-free. For one thing, while
I am sometimes uncertain, going in, about whether the amounts of student energy
and time will admit of successful collaboration, this time I was more than usually
unsure about my own energy and time. Emily and I weren’t sure whether we’d
be able to make the deadline for the book even without my working on a project
with the students. Could I really do both during the summer? So much for my security
about the faculty/student relationship: whatever my confidence in Lisa, Tara and
Monica, I wasn’t so sure about me. I find it interesting to find that both
Lisa and Tara had time concerns of their own about the project.
For another thing, I knew I was capable of misjudging the feasibility of a
project. My record for completing projects with students, either through publication
or presentation at a professional conference, had been pretty good, but it hadn’t
been perfect. Just three years earlier, for instance, I’d involved one of
the best students I’d ever had in a project that I’d thought was quite
feasible—the replication of a colleague/friend’s study of dual-career
families. The project had failed, largely because I’d underestimated how
much more difficult it was to survey couples than it is to survey individuals.
Such a “failure” should, I admit, be as educational as collaborative
“successes” with students, but somehow they feel worse than similar
failures with faculty colleagues. I feel so much more as if I’ve led someone
down a flowerless garden path.
Finally, I wondered whether the students might find this particular research
too pat, too formulaic, to be of interest. I realized, not for the first time
but perhaps more acutely than before, that I was in jeopardy of merely exploiting
the students’ time and energy, without an adequate payback in educational
value or interest. There’d been a time (and there may be again) when I’d
ask for and received from the Faculty Research Committee funds to pay (usually
at minimum wage) students to work on such collaborations. But I hadn’t done
so this time. (I hadn’t even thought of the project until it was too late
to do so.)
Tara: One of my primary motivations in deciding whether or not I wanted to
be a part of this project was whom I would be working with. I was happy to work
with Dr. Clark, whom I had had the previous semester in an Honors class, entitled
“Where In the World is Gender Inequality?” I found that I liked and
respected his style of teaching and found him approachable and easygoing with
an appreciation of hard work and student participation. This was, then, the perfect
opportunity to take part in such a project. I would also be working alongside
a student who had been in previous classes (Monica) and a co-worker who also happened
to be my best friend (Lisa). This, therefore, made it a fairly easy decision to
take part in the project.
The idea of being published and, being a lover of children, reading children’s
books was also a motivational factor. Not many students can say they have published
a piece or writing prior to graduation from college and I felt that this was an
extremely appealing idea. Jointly authoring a project alongside people I liked
and respected was a great idea.
Lisa: As a Women’s Studies and Psychology major, this project provided
me with a tremendous opportunity to advance my research experience and participate
in a feminist project. As someone who is interested in partaking in more feminist
research during my educational career and (hopefully) my career as a college professor,
this research was a great experience to have. I am also a feminist and was thrilled
to see more female-friendly studies being completed. Another motivation was the
prospect of getting the research published in a scholarly journal or textbook.
Getting published is a tremendous privilege and opportunity, especially for someone
who is still an undergraduate student.
Despite my reservations about my lack of experience in research, I did look
forward to learning from a skilled professor and gaining a great deal of knowledge
about the research process. I knew that I could apply what I learned to aspects
of my future academic career. As part of the research, we were all required to
read about 20 children’s books. Being required to read children’s books
is a benefit in itself, especially after completing a semester’s worth of
college-level reading and writing.
Roger: Why was I attracted to collaborative work with Tara and Lisa (and Monica)?
Why, in fact, with any student? To answer these questions I’m tempted to
suggest that there are both selfish and altruistic reasons, just as there are
in any teaching endeavor, but that I tend, perhaps out of personality defect,
to focus mainly on the selfish ones. I’ve never worked collaboratively with
a student I didn’t like. Tara and Lisa (and Monica) had all proven, in class,
to be very likable: friendly, courteous and funny. They were also eager learners.
Just the kind of students I like to have in class. So part of my motivation for
working with Tara and Lisa was the faculty counterpart of their interest in working
with an “experienced” researcher: I expected to be “juiced” by energetic research partners.
Just as important, though, is that the project fell into one of the three categories
of projects I find work best with students: projects initiated by the student
but for which the faculty member has a useful skill or knowledge set; projects
in which a teaching technique or approach is evaluated; and projects in which
an extra set of eyes is important. It also had that most important of qualities
for a student/faculty collaboration: a projected duration that was short. (Students,
unlike some colleagues, don’t last forever.)
I’ve worked on four projects (Hanna and Clark, 1988; Clark and Hanna,
1989; Clifford and Clark, 1995; Clark and Clifford, 1996) that were initiated
by students, two each with two students. The students had been graduate students
in the MSW program. Both students had taken my data analysis course for MSW students,
had collected data from their “home” institutions, and had, perhaps
fortunately for me, not been so well instructed in my data analysis course as
to feel they could do their own data analyses, alone, after the course. They both
asked if I’d help and then both asked if I’d be willing to share authorship.
I’ve heard of such collaborations developing in humanities courses, where
students have done some original analysis, but needed a faculty member to provide
a theoretical framework to make the work work.
I’d never really thought of the second genre of student/faculty collaboration
(projects in which a teaching and learning technique is evaluated by both a faculty
member and a student) until a couple of years ago, but it’s clearly the one
that’s most generalizable across disciplines at the College (or any college).
I’d just come off a difficult spring semester and sat down to grade some
term papers that students had turned in for a data analysis course. And, lo! They
were all much better than I expected them to be. In any case, I got to thinking
about differences in the way I’d taught the section of the course that was
“tested” by the papers and I realized I might have chanced upon a sensible
strategy for dealing with what had been a difficult topic for me to teach (qualitative
data analysis). I talked about this with one of the students in the course and
realized she’d found it unusually effective too. (She’d taken other
of my courses before, and so knew my “usual” standard pretty well.)
And, so, Angela Lang and I jointly wrote a paper (Clark and Lang, 2002) about
the teaching and learning effects of this new strategy. I suppose the current
paper is also an example of this genre.
The third genre is one that I’ve self-consciously ripped off from natural
scientists and bears passing resemblance to the apprenticeship model they frequently
employ. In any case, this is the kind of thing I wanted to do with Tara, Lisa
and Monica when I wanted them to provide reliability checks on my reading of various
texts (in this case, children’s books). I’ve done this sort of thing
in eight papers (Clark, Almeida, Gurka, and Middleton, 2003; Clark and Fink, 2002;
Clark, Kulkin and Clancy, 1999, Clark, Lennon and Morris, 1999; Clark and Carvalho,
1996; Clark and Kulkin, 1996, Clark and Morris, 1995; Clark, Lennon and Morris,
1993; Guilman, Clark, Saucier, Tavares, 2002), with only the texts, the research
questions and the methodologies differing by paper. One of these studies (Clark,
Kulkin and Clancy, 1999) was a content analysis of what feminist social scientists
had done with children’s books and I think provided a pretty nice literature
review, something (a literature review, that is) that many of us could do with
students in virtually any discipline.
Finally, I have to admit that I shared Tara and Lisa’s pleasure at the
prospect of reading children’s books on the pretext that it counted as work.
Tara: The project required deciding precisely whether book characters had (or
did not have certain characteristics (e.g., were they aggressive, emotional, nurturant,
etc.?). I found that I sometimes became frustrated with the constraints of this
approach. It didn’t allow for variations in interpretation. There were times
when I felt I was forced, because of the methodology, to place characters into
boxes that I didn’t feel adequately described them.
The definitions of the characteristics led to my other frustration with the
project. These were my own personal beliefs about gender and the role that gender
plays within society. Realizing that my own personal beliefs had to be put aside
so that I could provide the most honest, yet fair answers, I tried to do the best
I could to be non-judgmental about the characters and what I perceived them to
Lisa: At the early stages of our research, I quickly discovered that I had
a lot to learn about research techniques. It was very helpful to practically apply
what I had learned in class, however, and what I had learned did aid in a rapid
assimilation of information. Towards the end of our research, I felt very comfortable
with the methods Dr. Clark had employed. It was also frustrating to reach a deadlock
between the researchers and nullify certain research findings. With a total of
four researchers required to rate characteristics of protagonists in each of the
books, we would occasionally be split during the rating process. Despite each
rater’s attempts to change the dissenters’ opinion, we would sometimes
come to a 2-2 decision and have to disregard that particular result. Luckily,
this happened infrequently.
Roger: This collaboration involved very few frustrations, so I’m tempted
to jump right over this topic and get right to the satisfactions. Yes, we all
had to get ourselves onto campus for meetings at odd times during the summer.
But, from my point of view, the meetings themselves were adequate compensation
for the trouble. Yes, we all occasionally experienced the disappointment of finding
out that we hadn’t read a particular book or character the same way the others
had. That was something we knew would happen going in, but I think it has something
to do with Tara and Lisa’s frustration with a methodology that sometimes
compelled us to disagree with one another and sometimes, indeed, to make decisions
that no one was particularly satisfied with. And, yes, we all had to expose ourselves
by writing up a section of the paper. But, since we were merely updating a previous
paper, the writing was relatively formulaic. (Co-writing papers is never truly
formulaic, is it? Finding a common voice, as well as a common point of view, always
takes more time, even with colleagues, than one expects. With students, who are
less familiar than colleagues with the specialized genre that each of our disciplinary
literatures is, even more time can be needed.)
There were none of the problems that had plagued those “failures” I’d had with student collaboration before. No discoveries, as I’d made
on that project involving dual-career couples, that it’s much, much harder
than twice as hard to get a couple to agree to interviews than it is to get individuals
to agree. No finding, as I had for one paper, that collecting and computer-preparing
“available” data would take so much longer than I’d expected that
the student would have graduated and moved to another state before we got to analyze
them (the data, that is). (Frustration is probably the wrong word for describing
my feelings about these projects, even years afterwards. Mortification may be
closer to the truth.)
Tara: The outcome of the project was the ultimate satisfaction. To see that
hard work really does pay off gave me a source of pride, especially when I told
other people about the project and what it was about. To see that my effort contributed
to a product that professors and students alike would read and respect gave me
a source of satisfaction as well. To be able to tell people that I am a published
author is enjoyable, to say the least, and I have found that I like doing this
type of research and would in fact be eager to do it again.
Also, in line with my desire to work with people I liked, I enjoyed the process
of working on the project. I happily met with the group and benefited from their
input and suggestions of others. I would gladly work with those particular people
again, knowing that the work is fun, in and of itself.
Lisa: Almost all of the motivating factors I had for working on this project
manifested themselves in satisfactions once the project was completed. It is a
great privilege to have the article published, and I gained a tremendous amount
of knowledge of research methods and techniques. We were also able to establish
a good relationship with an experienced and respected professor, and met other
professors in the Sociology department as well. It was rewarding to find significant
differences between past and present research. The most satisfying aspect of this
project for me, however, was the fact that we were able to contribute feminist
research to the textbook. It was a tremendous experience and opportunity, and
I had a great time!
Roger: I definitely was energized by Tara and Lisa (and Monica). I never would
have done research, in addition to textbook writing, that summer if it hadn’t
been for them. More than being inspirational, though, the team effort was a source
of genuine pleasure and even recreation for me. The project unfolded remarkably
well. The key research question, whether female characters were more or less visible
in late-90s award-winning picture books than they’d been in late-80s and
late-60s models and whether there was more or less gender stereotyping, was pretty
clearly answered. (Females are more visible in the more recent books and there
is less stereotyping.) But I don’t think any of us saw this answer coming
in the months of reasonably intense, if sometimes hilarious, weekly meetings we
spent coming to it. So there was suspense. The meetings were unusually pleasant.
Tara frequently adopted a particularly funny persona—what was it? perhaps
of the indignant school teacher (“Well, I NEVER!”)--when her interpretations
differed from the rest, though she was equally capable of adopting the one I tended
to employ on such occasions—that of the moping, unappreciated sibling. Lisa
was something more like the cool, poker-faced college professor, amusedly admitting
that the view of a particularly vocal student might have some validity. (I am
delighted to hear that she’d actually like to become a college professor.)
Rarely had Craig-Lee 460 (the Sociology Department’s meeting room that we
used for our meetings) held such pleasures for me.
I’m glad to hear that Tara and Lisa feel they learned something from working
on the project. I guess what I’d hope to teach was a sense of the care that
should go into even the “quickest and dirtiest” of research projects,
as well as the fun and drama. So I’m pleased to hear Lisa say she learned
something about research techniques and Tara say that she’s proud of a job
well done. I’m pretty sure, based on what they say, that both have been pleased
to see their paper go through the production process: they seemed to be eager
to see the proofs that came out last month and I’m hoping they will get as
much pleasure from seeing it in print next month (two months ago, for you) as
I will. I’m delighted to see Lisa write that the research was “female-friendly” and “feminist.”
I’d hope that they’d come away with a sense of confidence in their
ability to discover things that others might have an interest in, as well as a
desire to do more of the same in the future. So I was encouraged when they told
me of their intention to take a course with Sandra Enos this summer (last summer,
to you), a course that promises to focus on original research of documents from
a public orphanage that was once situated where RIC is today. (I even fantasize
that they may be tempted to apply the content analytic skills they learned while
working with me while working on this project.) And I suppose their willingness
to work on the current paper indicates that, in any case, they haven’t been
completely put off projects that might end up with something in print.
Adler, Emily Stier and Roger Clark. How It’s Done: An Invitation to Social
Research. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. 1999.
Clark, Roger, Monica Almeida, Tara Gurka and Lisa Middleton. “Engendering
Tots with Caldecotts: An Updated Update.” How It’s Done: An Invitation
to Social Research.
2nd edition. Emily Stier Adler and Roger Clark. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. 2003,
Clark, Roger and Jeffrey Carvalho. “Female Revolt Revisited.” International
Review of Modern of Sociology. 26. 1996. 27-42.
Clark, Roger and Terry Clifford. “Toward a Resources and Stressors Model:
The Psychological Adjustment of Adult Children of Divorce.” Journal of Divorce
and Remarriage. 25, 1996. 106-136.
Clark, Roger and Heather Fink. “Picture This: A Multicultural Feminist
Analysis Of Picture Books for Children.” Paper presented at the Eastern Sociological
Society Meetings. Boston. 2002.
Clark, Roger and Heidi Kulkin. “Toward a Multicultural Feminist Perspective
on Fiction for Young Adults.” Youth & Society 27 (1996): 291-312.
Clark, Roger, Heidi Kulkin and Liam Clancy. “The Liberal Feminist Bias
in Feminist Social Science Research on Children’s Books.” Girls, Boys,
Books, Toys: Gender in Children’s Literature and Culture. Ed. Beverly Lyon
Clark and Margaret R. Higonnet. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1999. 71-82.
Clark, Roger and Angela Lang. “Balancing Yin and Yang: Teaching and Learning
Qualitative Data Analysis in an Undergraduate Quantitative Data Analysis Course.” Teaching Sociology, forthcoming, July, 2002.
Clark, Roger and Mary-Ellen Hanna. “Effective Short-Term Treatment Modalities
For Primary Users and Significant Others in Outpatient Treatment.” Alcoholism
Treatment Quarterly. 6. 1989.
Clark, Roger, Rachel Lennon and Leanna Morris. “Engendering Junior: Changing
Images in Children’s Books.” How It’s Done. An Invitation to Social
Research. Emily Stier Adler and Roger Clark. 1999. 335-341.
Clark, Roger, Rachel Lennon and Leanna Morris. “Of Caldecotts and Kings:
Gendered Images in Recent American Children’s Books by Black and Non-Black
Illustrators.” Gender & Society 5(1993). 227-245.
Clark, Roger and Leanna Morris. “Themes of Knowing and Learning in Recent
Novels for Young Adults.” The International Review of Modern Sociology. 25.
Clifford, Terry and Roger Clark. “Family Climate, Family Structure and Self-Esteem
In College Females.” Journal of Divorce and Remarriage. 23. 1995. 97-111.
Guilman, Jessica, Roger Clark, Paul Kahlil Saucier, and Jocelyn Tavares. “The
Halting Portrayal of Gender in Award-Winning Picture Books Between the 1930s and
the 1960s.” Poster presentation at the annual Psychology Department Student
Conference, Rhode Island College. April, 2002.
Hanna, Mary-Ellen and Roger Clark. “The Differing Requirements of Collateral
Clients And Primary Users in Outpatient Treatment.” The International Journal
of Addictions. 23. 1988. 509-516.
Copyright © 2002 Roger Clark, Tara Gurka and Lisa Middleton
Teaching and Learning Through Student/Faculty Research Collaboration, Issues
in Teaching and Learning, 1:1, 2002.
Content may not be reproduced without permission. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org,
Rhode Island College, Craig Lee #464.
Back to top.