Friday, 10 April 2015

The student as researcher

Last week, myself and my colleague, Margaret Forde, had the pleasure to help out in chairing at the 12th Annual Conference of IT in the Humanities- a conference is the product of module CT327: Humanities Applications in which the final year BA Information Technology class present on independently research topics of their own choosing.

The conference was an uplifting and fascinating insight into the curiosity and rigorous research activity of undergraduate students at NUI Galway. Forty one diverse topics relating to Facebook, social media, Sci Fi  fiction, the perils of working conditions and electronic waste, innovations in IT applications for health, forensics, construction, natural disasters, online dating, activism, and digital identity were among some of the themes addressed. 
Photo: Pat Byrne (Lecturer) with her class of Final year BA Information Technology Class, 2015

Several aspects struck me as interesting and innovative about the design of the module.

Firstly, it took place over an entire academic year, giving students ample time to get engrossed in their chosen topic. Students came up with their own theme, and developed a paper outline by November last year. They repeatedly met one-on-one with their lecturer, Pat Byrne, to discuss and get feedback. By February, a full paper was due. This was graded and students received additional feedback both from peers, and from the lecturer. A corrected version for the printed conference proceedings was submitted, and a final presentation at the end of March (consisting of 20% of the marks) emulated in the event I attended last week. These published proceedings were a source of great pride for students.

Photo: A copy of the conference proceedings

More attractive curricular design features included the module facilitated cross-curricular interactions with masters students in conference translations who paired up with the undergraduate students. These masters students were looking to benefit from the opportunity of undertaking live conference translations, and they served as peer mentors in a way, encouraging students to meet deadlines and targets (e.g have their peucha keucha presentation fully prepared a week in advance of the end conference). I can't recall ever having a presentation that prepared as an undergraduate! And this preparation was evident in the confident delivery of students on the day.

Furthermore, the undergraduates benefited from one-on-one conversations and guidance with an academic multiple times in the year. Their work was read and peer-reviewed by classmates at various stages, enabling them to also see into each other's written worlds. Throughout the entire process, they learned how to independently research and to adopt all the research practices that researching, writing and presenting an academic paper entails. Active participants, active researchers. 

Congratulations to them all, and particular thanks to Pat Byrne for the invitation!

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