Category Archives: Rebecca Romsdahl

Attention all UND SurveyMonkey Users: Now is the Time to Convert to Qualtrics

Rebecca J. Romsdahl, Earth System Science & Policy

I have been a long-time user of SurveyMonkey. It has been a helpful tool for my research and also for gathering anonymous course feedback from students; I find it more helpful when I can ask course specific questions rather than just what the University collects in the end-of-semester USAT surveys. But, like many, I have found that the subscription cost of SurveyMonkey is now a burden I can no longer afford. Last semester I had heard that the University was considering purchasing a survey software program, but I was skeptical that any other program would be as useful and convenient as SurveyMonkey. But when I received the CILT flyer announcing a workshop titled “Stop Monkeying Around with Surveys and Check Out Qualtrics,” I realized I should at least see what it had to offer because it may soon be my only available option.

I have to admit that half-way through the workshop demonstration, I was converted. You can view the presentation for yourself on the CILT website here: http://und.edu/academics/cilt/qualtrics.cfm. Many UND people have been involved in ‘test-driving’ Qualtrics and they found it professional and so useful that UND was convinced to purchase a University-wide license; so anyone with a UND login/password can now utilize it. From the workshop presentation, the Qualtrics program appears to be user-friendly, especially if you are comfortable with SurveyMonkey. Qualtrics has many of the same features as SurveyMonkey, so don’t worry that you might lose some features. In fact, based on the one hour CILT workshop, I would say Qualtrics probably has more options available for tailoring a survey to meet specific interests; for example, I could embed a video clip (from YouTube or elsewhere) directly into a survey so that respondents watch it and then answer questions on the same page.

I was also impressed that students will be allowed to utilize Qualtrics as well, which could be developed into interesting research assignments; for example, it would allow faculty to help students learn how to design a survey for a class project. Plus, with the University wide license, I have the convenience I value, I will be able to continue gathering anonymous course feedback from students, and will not have to worry about out-of-pocket subscription fees. There is the additional bonus of CILT support and training workshops on campus, which you can sign up for here: http://und.edu/academics/cilt/workshops/workshops.cfm. Or you can just jump straight into exploring Qualtrics for yourself by using your UND login and password here: https://und.qualtrics.com. Despite having been comfortable as a user of SurveyMonkey, I see great potential in making this transition to Qualtrics; I would encourage others to take advantage of this program.

Want to know the best kept secrets to good research, ask a librarian

Rebecca J. Romsdahl, Earth System Science & Policy Department, University of North Dakota

As I finished revising the syllabus for the graduate level core course that I team-teach each fall semester, I found myself wondering about the new cohort of students who would arrive in the next few days. Will they interact well or clash in the classroom? Will they be eager to participate in dialogue with each other and the faculty? What level of writing and research skills will they have as a starting point? This last question seems rhetorical; after all, they are entering a graduate program, they should have proficient research skills, otherwise they would not be coming here, right? No, year after year, we have students enter our first year graduate cohort who do not have proficient research skills; we see these struggles with both international and US educated students. In this age of incredible information access via the Internet, students (and faculty) often assume that they have all the resources they need within, for example, a simple Google search. Our research frustrations have been enlightened by a recent article on Inside Higher Ed. A recent series of studies, titled the ERIAL (Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries) project has found that what many of our students think is a good research strategy, is actually a lack of understanding; for example, many do not even know that Google Scholar exists much less that it returns vitally different results than a simple Google search. The ERIAL project shows that contrary to popular rumor, the research librarian is not extinct, in fact, they are even more important in the Internet age than before.

Interestingly, the ERIAL project has found that we all share some blame for the lack of research skills we are seeing in our university students, at all levels. The ERIAL project found that librarians and faculty (and students, themselves) often overestimate the ability of students to conduct research. In addition, despite finding themselves as frustrated by the research process as their instructors are by the poor work that is handed-in, the ERIAL project also found that students do not ask librarians for help. Sadly, many students, and faculty, do not become acquainted with these knowledgeable people early in their academic career. I was one of those students who overestimated my research skills; I did not realize this until half-way through my PhD degree work when I was working for a research organization and had my first Internet research tutorial with a librarian. Oh, the hours and hours of futile Internet searching I could have saved prior, but happily, it eased some of the toil of my dissertation work. The Inside Higher Ed summary of the ERIAL project reminded me that this problem in research is still prevalent and the solution strategy is worth repeating. I speak from experience as a student and now as an instructor. At the beginning of each semester, instructors and advisors should encourage students to go to the library and talk to a librarian. This seems overly simplistic, but if we encourage students to meet a librarian (and remind them to take their research assignment guidelines with them- apparently students often don’t realize this may be helpful), we may help students improve their research skills and alleviate some of our frustrations. Simple encouragement, in some cases, may not be enough; sometimes students need an incentive or a straightforward requirement.

Three years ago, the lack of research proficiency in our graduate student cohorts prompted my colleagues and me to seek out the assistance of our specifically assigned research librarian. (You may not know this, but at most universities, there is a research librarian specifically assigned to your department or discipline.) Now, our new fall cohort completes a two-hour research training session that includes a brief tour of the main library and a tutorial on Internet databases, search logic, and how to get started with RefWorks (when I sat-in on the session two-weeks ago, I realized that with the pace of Internet change, I was long overdue for a refresher). Each year, we have students comment about how helpful the training session was for them. We recognize that this “quick and dirty” type of research training does not transform our new students into outstanding researchers, but it does introduce them to a research librarian, one of the most important resources they can utilize during their degree work.

Bridging the Gap in Graduate Education

Rebecca J. Romsdahl, Earth System Science & Policy Department, University of North Dakota

For more on this, be sure to check out the On Teaching Lunch Seminar directed by Rebecca Romsdahl and Patti Alleva on Wednesday April 28, 2010.  Here’s the flier.

In graduate education, there is often a great divide between classroom learning and research endeavors. Many graduate degree programs emphasize the research enterprise above the classroom education resulting in a devaluing of the classroom experience for both instructors and students, e.g. graduate coursework is just a checklist to be completed in the shortest amount of time possible. In an effort to bridge this divide, a colleague and I have adapted strategies and values from the undergraduate learning community (LC) model, to develop a collaborative research project which links our two core courses, “Biosphere & Biodiversity,” and “Environment & Society.” Our primary goal is to build stronger and more meaningful ties between classroom learning and research so that our graduate students see them as complimentary learning rather than separate, unevenly valued components.

Our department, Earth System Science & Policy (ESSP) at the University of North Dakota, is a relatively new integrated graduate program, with a first cohort of graduate students in 2004. To facilitate a baseline understanding of ESSP concepts, students are required to take six sequential core courses during their first year (10 credits per semester); this structure is very similar to the coordinated studies programs within the LC model (Smith et al 2004).

The LC model, as described by Smith, et al. (2004), emphasizes five core-practices: community, diversity, integration, active learning, and reflective assessment. Each fall, the new cohort of students in the ESSP department develops a strong sense of community as they progress through the required core courses. The students and faculty bring with them a diverse mix of expertise, experience, previous degrees, nationalities, interests, and goals. The integration of these greatly contributes to the exchange of active learning between students, and between faculty and students; our collaborative research project is only one example of efforts to move beyond the lecture mode of “learning as a spectator sport.” At the graduate level of education, reflective assessment is often set aside until the student prepares to defend their thesis. Then they are frequently asked to consider questions such as ‘how would your current knowledge of variable x have potentially changed your analysis?’ or ‘what would you have done differently if you could redo the project now?’ The undergraduate LC model emphasizes that this reflective assessment should take place throughout the learning process.

To help bridge the gap, we strive to provide our graduate students with an opportunity to be teachers, learners, and researchers by studying a regional environmental topic in-depth and exploring it from different perspectives (Brower et al. 2007; Umbach and Wawrzynski 2005). A second objective is to help students build essential skills for their post-graduate school success, e.g team-work and research skills. To accomplish these goals, we utilize the following strategies and values, adapted from the undergraduate LC model (Bielaczyc and Collins 1999):

  • cohort identity– students develop group cohesion through the required sequential courses and we emphasize team efforts and a supportive learning community;
  • discourse learning– faculty and students take turns leading seminar discussions;
  • in-depth understanding and complex problem solving– the collaboration needed for the research project provides a forum to help students build competency in these skills;
  • individual and group work– we encourage students to improve in both these skills;
  • collective knowledge– a collaborative project builds this by necessity;
  • collaborative learning– everyone is a teacher, learner, and researcher in the project;
  • public presentations of results– helps students build self-confidence in public speaking; and
  • tangible products– help promote active learning and students realize the value of their work beyond a final grade.

The project progresses in three phases. In phase one, the team (student cohort plus the two faculty) develops the research question, writes a conference abstract, and determines who will research each component of the regional science of biodiversity conservation. In phase two, the team determines who will research each component of the policy/socioeconomic section of the project. In phase three, the team aggregates the collective background information and any relevant data to organize the conference poster or presentation. In each phase, the faculty provide guidance as the students conduct individual research papers and collaborate to form a consensus report and final public presentation on their findings (Hansen 2006). Whenever possible, assignments in both courses are oriented toward building collective knowledge for the project.

The students receive feedback throughout the process and are assessed at draft stages and final products for class credit. To help ensure accountability, students also assess each other’s individual efforts in the teamwork by an anonymous survey, which accounts for a small percentage of class credit. At the end of the semester, students provide feedback on their learning and on the benefits and challenges involved in the collaborative project through an anonymous survey. To finalize the tangible products, representative students present the project at a national conference and the team writes and submits a paper to a peer-review journal.

In summary, transferring strategies and values from the undergraduate LC model helps us provide our graduate students with opportunities to be teachers, learners, and researchers. Student feedback after two semesters includes praise, critique, and suggestions for improving the project, for example:

· “Preparing [the] poster at national level from the combined research of those two classes was the most rewarding outcome.”

· “When we developed the first set of topics for the biodiversity class, we were given the choice among 5 different topics. Some of those topics were difficult to tie to a policy topic, so when we developed policy topics, some people did something totally different and thus the group’s conclusions weren’t as cohesive.”

What we are finding through this collaborative research project is that coordinated, collaborative teaching, learning, and research can help bridge the great divide in graduate education. Our goal in this collaborative project is to continue to build stronger and more meaningful ties between graduate research and classroom learning so that students see these as complimentary learning rather than separate components of their graduate education. Although the LC model is tailored toward undergraduate liberal arts education, we believe our effort to adapt and transfer many of the values and strategies into the graduate classroom is proving successful and we will continue to refine our progress in future semesters.

References:

Bielaczyc, K., and A. Collins. 1999. Learning Communities in Classrooms: A Reconceptualization of Educational Practice. In Instructional-Design Theories and Models, Volume II: A New Paradigm of Instructional Theory, edited by C. M. Reigeluth. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Brower, Aaron M., Christopher G. Carlson-Dakes, and Shihmei Shu Barger. 2007. A Learning Community Model of Graduate Student Professional Development for Teaching Excellence in Higher Education. In WISCAPE Working Paper Series: University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Hansen, R.S. 2006. Benefits and Problems with Student Teams: Suggestions for Improving Team Projects. Journal of Education for Business Sept/Oct.

Smith, Barbara L., Jean MacGregor, Roberta Matthews, and Faith Gabelnick. 2004. Learning Communities: Reforming Undergraduate Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Umbach, P.D. , and M.R. Wawrzynski. 2005. Faculty Do Matter: The Role of College Faculty in Student Learning and Engagement. Research in Higher Education 46 (2).