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Students' perceptions of research explored

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 5 - September 22, 1994

Undergraduates' understanding of the importance and breadth of research at the university and how it impacts their education will be addressed by the Commission on Research this year.

Last year, the commission provided John Muffo with questions to be included in student surveys, including exit surveys, as part of Muffo's outcomes-assessment activity. The commission reviewed the results at last Wednesday's meeting.

Asked whether they understood the value of research in their major field of study, 35 percent said `very much,' 31 percent said `quite a bit,' 23 percent said `some' and 10 percent said `very little.'

Asked whether they see the importance of research to improve the well-being of society, 25 percent said `very much,' 35 percent said `quite a bit,' 32 percent said `some' and 7 percent said `very little.'

Asked whether they are becoming aware of the role of the university in contributing to the development of knowledge, 28 percent said `very much,' 42 percent said `quite a bit,' 26 percent said `some' and 4 percent said `very little.'

On whether they are developing a habit of reading for fun and general knowledge, 16 percent said `very much,' 22 percent said `quite a bit,' 36 percent said `some,' 24 percent said `very little,' and 2 percent did not answer.

Asked, "All things being equal, would you prefer to have a course from a faculty member involved in research over one who is not," 41 percent said yes "I would prefer a course taught by faculty members involved in research," 20 percent said no "I would prefer to have a course taught by faculty members not involved in research," and 39 percent had no preference.

Responses were received from 423 students on all but the last questions, to which 415 students responded.

Jim Wightman said that many Virginia leaders do not understand the benefits of research to the commonwealth, and he quoted former President McComas' admonition to the faculty to take the opportunity in class to tell undergraduates about our research because the students are tomorrow's leaders.

Ann McNabb agreed that there is an opportunity being lost. "I hear from seniors that they hear almost no information regarding what research is being done." She added, "We need to share with the faculty strategies for including research in lectures." She suggested that a group might be formed to develop materials that could then be shared through the Academy of Teaching Excellence.

Bob Bates endorsed that suggestion. "Faculty members who are doing original research may know how to share their research, but not how to share broader aspects of the impact of research."

Joe Cowles said, "We don't have to talk about exactly what we're doing, but about the role of research in bringing about what we're teaching."

McNabb said, "We could also mention that so-and-so is doing research on.... It can add an additional dimension." For example, if you are teaching about evolution, you could let the students know that someone at the university is doing related research, she said.

Len Peters said, "We need to broaden students understanding of the breadth of research--that it doesn't just happen in biology and chemistry, but also in history...."

A task force will pursue the effort.

Other agenda items suggested for the 1994-95 agenda include updates from computing services on distributed computing initiatives, an update from the provost on capital center account activities, a report on results of the new graduate student tuition scholarships, consideration of the need of a Professional Practices Institute, and consideration of the inconsistent policy regarding maintenance of research facilities on and `off' campus.

In other business, the commission was updated on the provost search. Bates reported there have been 130 applications and nominations. These have been narrowed to 24, but nominations are still being followed up, and can still be made. He said quite a few women have been nominated and follow-ups are being made to encourage them to apply. Racial diversity is not clear. "It looks pretty good. Applications look interesting and include people with provost experience," he said.

Harry Kriz said the search for a library director has been narrowed to one candidate who is to return for a second interview.