Strong focus on undergraduate research at inaugural Faculty Research Day
In the spring of 2013, while Dr. David Mandzuk was holding talks with various undergraduate students about issues facing the Faculty of Education as a part of the search process for a new dean, he was amazed that many knew little about the research being conducted by their own professors.
“The recurring themes from the conversations were that many had little knowledge of the scholarly work … their professors were actively engaged in,” says Mandzuk, who eventually became the successful candidate for Dean of Education.
Those conversations led to the first-ever Faculty Research Day on Oct. 6—designed not only to inform students and colleagues about research being undertaken in the faculty, but also to encourage teacher candidates to think about the possibilities of research—both at the undergraduate level and beyond.
“Our hope is that by giving you a window into the work that some of us are doing, you have a better understanding of how we are positioned as educators, you will be able to forge stronger professional relationships with us and you will be reminded that one of your roles as teachers is to be intellectual leaders,” Mandzuk said in an opening address to students taking part in the event.
Mandzuk also pointed out that besides an increased focus on undergraduate research at the University of Manitoba, teacher research is being embraced by school divisions as a form of professional development.
Francine Morin, an education professor and department head who was a key player in developing Research Day, agrees that if students are aware of the type of scholarly work going on in the faculty, they’ll be more encouraged to participate.
“I think our students a have a good sense of who we are as teachers but they don’t have much insight as to what their professors are doing with respect to their research programs.”
During Research Day, which was hugely popular with students—attracting more than 450—undergraduates heard presentations on 24 research topics related toschool leadership; educational foundations; teacher professional learning; diversity & inclusion; curriculum and practicum.
The event also showcased the work of six Undergraduate Research Award winners who received their $6,000 awards last spring. The URA allows undergrads to be mentored by a professor of their choice and develop experience conducting and analyzing research. Three professors—Richard Hechter, Robert Mizzi and Francine Morin—mentored the students during the spring and summer.
Mizzi worked with three students on issues related to the theme of inclusion and opportunity in different contexts. They assisted with Mizzi’s research on teacher candidates doing practicums overseas, immigrant parents and their perception of LGBTQ issues in this country and on work challenges faced by LGBTQ professors in Canada.
Hechter had two teacher candidates working with him. One helped develop teaching and learning sources for Grade 11 physics, focusing on sound and music and the other worked on developing strategies to connect the Faculty of Education with the physics education community in the province.
Morin had one student, Gabrielle Wiebe, working with her on her longitudinal study on the role of music in social justice. Gabrielle conducted intensive research last spring and summer at two school sites that host intense El-Sistema-inspired afterschool orchestra programs for children from disadvantaged communities.
Wiebe says being involved in undergraduate research was an academically stimulating experience.
“Participating in research helped me understand what professors spend so much of their time doing, and how research can inform teaching praxis.”
Morin says a continued focus on research in the Faculty of Education is important because education professors are involved in important and relevant research but it’s not given as high a profile as those working in research-intensive faculties such as science.
“We are more engaged in research and scholarship but it’s not as visible as the type of work done elsewhereon campus. We tend to be more aware of the research being done in the science labs.”
Mizzi agrees, saying that the event will encourage students to keep undergraduate research in mind.
“[They can] learn of new research areas and begin to conceptualize implications for their everyday work.”
Next year’s Faculty Research Day will likely include more participants from the education field, including teachers, representatives from the Manitoba Teacher Society, principals, consultants, undergraduate students from other faculties interested in education, etc.
The deadline for next spring’s Undergraduate Research Award is Feb. 15. For more information on how to apply, visit http://umanitoba.ca/research/experience_research/index.html.