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Evaluating The Undergraduate Research Experience: A Guide for Program Directors and Principal Investigators

reviewed by Bridget Lepore - December 15, 2014

coverTitle: Evaluating The Undergraduate Research Experience: A Guide for Program Directors and Principal Investigators
Author(s): Gabriel M. Della-Piana, Connie Kubo Della-Piana & Michael K. Gardner
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1623965411, Pages: 238, Year: 2013
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Evaluating the Undergraduate Research Experience, A Guide for Program Directors and Principal Investigators is geared towards a knowledgeable audience—particularly those familiar with working with undergraduate students. The text offers a chance for stakeholders in undergraduate research—including faculty and leadership—to evaluate their undergraduate research programs. The authors, Gabriel M Della-Piana, Connie Kubo-Della-Piana and Michael K Gardner, hail from various fields and have extensive experience in both research and undergraduate education.

This book is targeted towards individuals who are developing and directing undergraduate research programs. Faculty teaching undergraduate research courses—especially those who are in charge of assessing student learning outcomes—will also benefit from this book, in that the focus of the book is how to look at a program holistically as well as on a student-by-student basis. As such, it is not a step-by-step guide on building an undergraduate research program, although elements that may prove helpful to someone building a program appear throughout the book.

The book is organized with the process of evaluating research programs in mind. Broken into five sections, each part begins with an overview that presents the goals and objectives of the section as well as information on the author’s perspectives. The process begins with a chance for the audience to reflect on their program, institution, and attitudes. Moving forward, the book builds from a general discussion of goals, objectives, and the design of research programs to information that is helpful in evaluating a program. The book ends with tips for assessing whether a program is meeting its goals and determining if a university’s infrastructure is designed to assist in this process.

The first section of the book provides an overview, addresses the authors’ perspectives towards undergraduate research, and offers an instrument that the reader can use to determine their own attitude towards evaluation and assessment in education. It then moves on to discuss the key features of undergraduate research, including how to determine what to research, how to decide who is involved, and how to work together, with emphasis on the relationships between student researchers and faculty. These are arguably the most important aspects of an undergraduate research project, where communication between individuals and groups is the key to success.

The second section of the book includes setting the expectations of the program using narrative and graphic forms. A template and process are presented for use, and suggestions for areas to concentrate on for improvement are included. Brief examples of undergraduate research—including concerns that have been identified from faculty—are addressed in multiple disciplines including the humanities, theater, dance, music, arts, and art history. A graphic presentation style for research programs is also discussed, and the author presents templates and logic models with multidisciplinary examples. A variety of methods and examples are presented, allowing the audience to determine what would work best for their own program while simultaneously challenging them to see the research process from a different perspective.

The third section of the book discusses how to determine the appropriate evaluation questions needed for reviewing the program. Asking the correct questions is key to assessing if the program is working as designed, and to understand what faculty, mentors, and students are doing; historical examples of why this is so important are presented. Practical aspects of designing program evaluation questions (e.g., how to improve program performance and student learning, and how to address accountability and compliance issues) are included along with specific examples and strategies.

The fourth section of the book contains information on how individuals involved in the undergraduate research process can use data to address the questions from the previous section. Methods of data collection—e.g., surveys, interviews, focus groups, observation, and historical tracing—are discussed in terms of how each can be used to evaluate undergraduate research. Examples from multiple disciplines are again presented to help the audience understand the method in context.

The fifth and final section of the book focuses on designing the assessment plan for a program. In this section, quantitative methods on collecting data about a program, mentors, and students are presented. Additionally, a checklist is included with the discussion of how to set up an evaluation plan, and manage the data collected.

One of the strengths of this book—and what I found compelling—is the mix of “how to” and theoretical materials. The mix of theory and practice gives a sense of what has been done, why it has been done, and how it could work for my program. This blend enabled me to walk away from the book with a storm of ideas of what we could do for our undergraduate research program—how to work cohesively, as well as how to engage the university in a discussion about our goals for undergraduate research.

In conclusion, this is not a how-to book for those new to research; rather, it is a tool kit to help experienced undergraduate research instructors, mentors, and program directors to think methodologically through their own program. By presenting multiple models, templates, and examples, it gives the individual already working with undergraduates a chance to evaluate not just the individual undergraduate’s work, but the institutional and program mission, support, and objectives for all undergraduates involved in the research process.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: December 15, 2014
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17787, Date Accessed: 10/22/2021 9:27:56 PM

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About the Author
  • Bridget Lepore
    Kean University
    E-mail Author
    BRIDGET LEPORE is a Lecturer in the School of General Studies at Kean University in NJ where she works with first and second year undergraduates regarding communication, writing and research skills.
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