Confessions of a Faculty Convert: The Adventures of Data-Centered Research with Undergraduate Students

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Tuesday, 4 February 2014: 11:30 AM
Room C109 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Craig Clark, Valparaiso Univ., Valparaiso, IN

For institutions with a primary focus on undergraduate education, opportunities for collaborative research with undergraduate students may be fostered by faculty and student interest, scheduling opportunities, and university initiatives. After some years of curmudgeonly scoffing at the value of disciplinary and interdisciplinary undergraduate research within curricula, I naturally kept thinking of projects that might work. Rather than the more technical projects that enrich graduate-level education and also REU programs, aren't there some assessable data-centered projects which are valuable and approachable for a wider swath of undergraduate students? Critically for educators, will they learn enough to counter-balance the traditional course they would otherwise be completing?

During the 2011-12 school year and fall 2013 semester, I worked with groups of eight to ten students on projects related to the snowfall climatology of the Lake Michigan region. The projects were organized into a class, to allow appropriate schedule time for all involved. In the first iteration, projects included building data sets of wintertime climatology in the Lake Michigan region, as well as GIS mapping of a previously-developed archive of lake-effect snow cases in Indiana and southwestern Michigan. In the fall of 2013, the next projects will build upon these, with a focus on November climatology; specifically, groups will focus on the synoptic classification of significant November snow days for the Lake Michigan region, as well as GIS mapping and additional exploration of the November data.

This talk will summarize the advantages and disadvantages of undertaking projects with undergraduate students, the effectiveness of approaches with the students, and also learning outcomes from the perspective of the students.