Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, Special Issue, 859-865
Published Online October 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 859
Forging a Template for Undergraduate Collaborative Research:
A Case Study
Debra Graham1, Janet Hempstead2, Ronald Couchman3
1Pauline Jewett Institute of Women’s and Gender Studies, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
2MacOdrum Library, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
3Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton University, Ottawa, C anad a
Email : Debra_Graham@C
Received August 30th, 2012; revised September 2 9th, 2012; accepted Octob e r 12th, 2012
Undergraduate collaborative research is highlighted in many university initiatives; however there is a lack
of exemplars in disciplines that do not employ the scientific method. “Pop Music Reviews” was an at-
tempt to forge a template for Women’s and Gender Studies. This paper presents a description of the pilot
project and provides qualitative assessments by the first- and second-year students, fourth-year teaching
assistant (TA), reference librarian, and professor. Together, the appraisals indicate that there are two dif-
ferent but equally necessary components for a successful collaborative research endeavour: the structural
setting and the social and emotional environment. In both these components, there were weaknesses in the
areas of planning and background training. Yet, the benefits as perceived through the experiences of the
various participants were significant. Reported gains included increased understanding of research proc-
esses and applications, enhanced critical thinking skills, expanded disciplinary knowledge, improved stu-
dent motivation and confidence, greater interest in graduate studies, and the fostering of collegial interact-
tions and mentoring.
Keywords: Collaborative Research; Critical Thinking; Research Skills; Women’s and Gender Studies
“Pop Music Reviews” was a pilot project in undergraduate
collaborative research at the Pauline Jewett Institute of
Women’s and Gender Studies at Carleton University, Ottawa,
Ontario (2011). The key goals were to enhance student research
skills, cultivate departmental integration, and augment the body
of knowledge in the discipline. Additionally, the project was
intended to create a basis for a functional model in under-
graduate collaborative research because one was not in place
within our department, nor was a relevant template readily
available from neighboring universities or related fields. In the
beginning, the endeavor looked to be relatively small and
simple with straight-forward educational concepts and well-
established pathways. Challenges along the way, however,
revealed pitfalls and complications in the current state of
undergraduate collaborative research programs. Ultimately,
“Pop Music Reviews” was de emed a success and now frames a
foundation for future integration of research and learning
activities. This paper presents a description of the project and
provides qualitative assessments by the students, teaching
assistant (TA), professor, and reference librarian in the hopes
that sharing our experiences will be of benefit to others who are
committed to advancing team research activities at the under-
graduate level.
During our initial search for a useful template, the question
arose as to why undergraduate collaborative research is
regularly touted but seems to be rarely practiced in the arts,
humanities, and most social science fields (with the exception
of psychology). The general benefits of such activities have
been verified and established for more than a decade. The
publication of the Boyer Commission’s report on educating
undergraduates in research universities spurred a host of colla-
borative projects and programs (Kenny, 1998). Since that time,
multiple studies have overwhelmingly demonstrated that under-
graduate participation in collaborative research has positive
learning outcomes (Kardash, 2000; Taraban & Blanton, 2008).
As a result, many institutions of higher education, including
Carleton University, have inaugurated comprehensive agendas
for promoting hands-on undergraduate collaborative research
(Research at CU, 2012). Even so, these initiatives typically do
not enjoy equal access, involvement, or rewards across the
various academic disciplines (Craney, McKay, Mazzeo, Morris,
Prigodich, & De Groot, 2011).
Much of the undergraduate collaborative research activities
have been and continue to be carried out in fields of study that
employ the experimental method (biology, chemistry, physics,
psychology, and engineering, among others). In conventional
laboratory-related research, the utilization of undergraduate
student researchers has been shown to be effective in terms of
time, cost, and faculty and departmental recognition. Accord-
ingly, the analyses of science-based undergraduate research
programs tend to reflect the gains in terms of efficient learning
of the scientific method, greater departmental retention, and
higher levels of graduate school entry (Bauer, 2003; Seymour,
Hunter, Laursen, & De Antoni, 2004). In the non-laboratory
social sciences, arts, and humanities where the traditional
experimental method is less common or non-existent, there
remains a lack of participation, exemplars, and outcome
evaluations. Our quest for a relevant model showed that the
absence of a definitive undergraduate collaborative research
program in our Women’s and Gender Studies department was
not unique. A need for prototypes and support appears to be
shared across many areas of study.
Project Background and Overview
United by the broad premise that collaborative inquiry,
investigation, and discovery are at the heart of the academic
enterprise in Women’s and Gender studies, “Pop Music Re-
views” was initiated by professor Debra Graham, institute
director Katharine Kelly, and reference librarian Janet Hemp-
stead. Graham implemented the project in two of her courses on
gender and popular culture: a small first-year seminar class
(“Sex and the City”) and a second-year class (“Gender and Pop
Culture”) that utilized two fourth-year TAs (Ronald Couchman
and Virginia Carney). Kelly acted as internal advisor, external
liaison, and general support. Hempstead directed all activities
related to secondary research. A series of discussions amongst
the three led to the fundamentals for the research premises and
“Pop Music Reviews” was developed as the collaborative
research instrument for three critical reasons. First, popular
music and its criticism in specialty magazines and fanzines
(print and online publications) constitute one of the key sources
of gendered associations, assumptions, and definitions for
contemporary youth culture. In other words, the research topic
of music reviews had appeal and relevance for the under-
graduate students. Secondly, while musical genres and lyrics
have been the subject of many gender related studies, main-
stream music journalism has received little systematic scholarly
attention in Canada. Thus, the popular content not only had the
potential to be motivating for the individual students but also
could be meaningful for the larger discipline. Finally, the struc-
ture of the project entailed a linking of activities and asso-
ciations that promised to be beneficial for integrating and
promoting departmental academic accomplishment. In short,
the content and framework of the project were developed to
serve our students, department, a nd discip line.
The general division of duties and responsibilities in “Pop
Music Reviews” provided for all invested parties to make major
contributions. Professor Graham orchestrated the overall draft-
ing and delivery of the plan, established the deadlines, and
supervised the performance-based components. The work of 72
first- and second-year undergraduate students furnished the
primary research data and some basic analyses. Librarian
Hempstead developed and guided the secondary research
program. TAs Carney and Couchman assisted students with a
variety of challenges, and acted as liaisons between the
professor and class members. Carney and Couchman were also
offered the chance to evaluate the data and write up the study
under the guidance of Graham as a directed independent study
course during the subsequent semester. Couchman continued
the project using this option. Kelly provided methodological
advice throughout the process to all participants and handled
everything beyond the classroom that arose within and outside
of the institute of Women’s and Gender Studies.
Research was conducted during the curriculum-based
semester; however much work was required beforehand and
afterwards. Prior to introducing the project into the classrooms,
Graham produced the basic research documents: objectives and
background, research question and methodology, directions,
consent forms, data report sheet, and questionnaire. Hempstead
developed the library assignment, created online help sites, and
helped produce a working bibliography. Kelly provided in-
formation on how to move the plans through the University
ethics committee and approval systems in a timely manner. She
also formed the venues for explaining the project goals and
progress with the other professors in the department as well as
sharing the information with administrators, including the Dean,
Provost, and President. Moreover, Kelly created the project
evaluation tool that was completed by the students at the close
of the term. At this point, the project was ready for delivery in
the classroom setting.
During the first few weeks of the semester, the students
received a general introduction to research by Graham and the
TAs, whom emphasized the importance of integrity for
obtaining accurate results. Through lecture, discussion, and in
written format on the course websites, the students were given
the list of the project’s objectives, a detailed set of directions,
summary of background case studies, the research question and
methodology, and explanation of project limitations. All
students were supplied with consent forms, a data report sheet,
and questionnaires; first-year students also were provided with
a starter bibliography.
For the primary research element, each class member
selected two music review articles based on her or his own
preferences from current issues of CHARTattack, a popular
Canadian online music magazine.1 The only choice requirement
was that one review had to feature a male performer(s) and one
had to highlight a female performer(s). The student-researcher
then presented the consent form and the two articles in
one-on-one, face-to-face interviews with four university-aged
peers of his/her choosing who were not enrolled in the par-
ticipating courses. After the interviewees consented to the
project and read the materials, they were given the written
questionnaire. Student-researchers had the opportunity to add
their own set of questions and a discussion component to the
end of the standardized interview session. Likewise, a space
was devoted for additional comments by the interviewees. In
order to compile the data, student researchers completed a
report form that registered basic information such as titles of
the articles, interview dates, age, race, and sex of interviewees,
and so on.
The secondary research portion was launched early in the
term. For the first-year students, Hempstead conducted a
session and activity in the library’s instruction room. These
students received a few points towards their final project grade
by successfully completing the research activity assignment.
For the second-year students, Hempstead delivered an in-class
lecture in which she reviewed basic search skills and further
explained more detailed tools relevant to this project. For both
classes, she c reated web-based libra ry course page s. These sites
highlighted important resources for research, interviewing, and
writing, and contained contact information for Hempstead as
well as the library help desk.
TAs Carney and Couchman, who led tutorial sessions for the
second-year students, were integral connectors in the research
process. In weekly meetings with Graham, they reported on
class members’ emotional responses (excitement and fears),
1CHARTattack is a Toronto-
ased site that launched in 1996 as the online
component of Chart Magazine(which ran from 1991 to 2009). Prior to
October 2011, CHARTattack claimed it was a leading Canadian source for
op music information and reviews. In October 2011, the owners sold
CHARTattack to a small media company called andPOP, whom have since
rebranded the site as an indie and alternative music space.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
areas of confusion, and problems in implementation, which
could be addressed in lecture and/or by slight modifications to
the plan. Carney and Couchman also gave direct support for
student needs on a wide range of issues. During their sessions,
they answered a multitude of research questions with particular
emphasis on when and how to cite sources of information, as
introduced in the library session. They also played an important
role in boosting students’ confidence for the interviews and
written portions of the project.
Towards the end of the semester, after completing the
primary and secondary research, each student was required to
produce an “Assessments and Results” paper, which was
submitted electronically to the course website. This written
assignment compelled students to formulate their own critiques
of the articles’ content as well as present analyses of their
interview findings. The paper format included the data report
(cover sheet), text, end notes, bibliography, and appendices A
(copies of the articles) and B (copies of the completed ques-
tionnaires). Consent forms were turned in under separate cover
as stipulated by the ethics guidelines. Following the “Assess-
ments and Results” paper deadline, the project evaluation
(produced by Kelly) was carried out by the TAs.
After the semester ended, Couchman commenced with
analyzing the 287 interviews and 72 “Assessments and Results”
papers as part of his independent study option. The collection
and assembly of the interview forms were problematic on two
fronts. Students were supposed to attach scanned copies of their
interview sheets as appendices to their papers in a single format.
Unfortunately, technical difficulties with the University scan-
ners in combination with the firm deadline caused the interview
sheets to be reproduced in an array of media and delivered in a
multitude of ways to several different destinations. Moreover,
the hand-written data on each form had to be individually input
into a computer program, which took more time than we had
estimated. In hindsight, these problems could have been easily
solved if the questionnaire had been produced and executed
using current online survey software, such as FluidSurveys or
Survey Monkey.
Despite the challenges in data gathering, Couchman and
Graham carried the project to conclusion with assistance from
others on the team. Kelly helped Couchman set up a statistical
analysis program and Taylor Grant (one of the participating
second-year students) aided with data input.2 Through the
process of considering the qualitative observations and running
the statistical analysis, Couchman was able to clearly identify
and map sets of patterns. The results of “Pop Music Reviews”
strongly suggest that in the contemporary Canadian music press,
women are underrepresented and a gender bias is placed on the
value of a performer/performance. Couchman and Graham
shared the findings of “Pop Music Reviews” through several
venues: they delivered a joint conference presentation (Couch-
man & Graham, 2011) and co-authored a paper intended for
publication.3 As a final step, all participating students and
CHARTattack representatives will receive notification of any
and all future publications.
The framework of “Pop Music Reviews” for an under-
graduate research project was sound, the spirit of collaboration
remained true and upbeat, the findings were significant, and the
participants were generally pleased with the process and
outcomes. Yet, there is much room for improvement. What
follows are specific insights into the difficulties and attainments
of the project from the points of views of students, TA, lib-
rarian, and professor.
Student Evaluations
To evaluate “Pop Music Reviews” from student perspectives,
we used two sets of documents: voluntary written comments by
interviewees and the student researchers’ post-project evalua-
tions (n = 51), which were comprised of open-ended questions.
Both sets indicate an overall positive response to the project.
Nevertheless, the complaints and recommendations are an
important place to start because they have the most promise for
improving our template and future endeavors. While no parti-
cular patterns of negativity could be discerned in the inter-
viewees’ commentaries, the student researchers’ answers re-
vealed four areas of weakness—technology, student expec-
tations regarding performing primary research, dealing with the
lack of predictability, and time management.
The most common suggestion by the student researchers was
to employ a user-friendly computer program for data input and
collection. Typical of the remarks, one student wrote “Paper
surveys are more difficult to administer. Online surveys would
reach more people, would eliminate scanning and save trees
.” Clearly, the recommendation for using up-to-date techno-
logy, even while retaining the face-to-face format, is well-
founded and should be instituted with proper training for
faculty and staff.
Many students noted that they did not anticipate doing
primary research in Women’s and Gender Studies coursework
and further stated that the prospect of primary research was
daunting for them, as demonstrated in the following excerpts
from the evaluation forms.
Before the course, research to me was just finding
journals online and books in the library. I just expected to
do what I normally did.
Overwhelmed but I felt supported by the structure and
extra information provided.
It was intimidating because I had never done it before;
however, it was exciting to be doing something different.
Performing primary research individually and in groups
should be foreseen by undergraduates in all disciplines because
it is one of the core fundamentals of academia. The disclosures
by the student researchers indicate a compelling need for more
participation by faculty and staff in creating comprehensive
research curricula in the areas outside of laboratory-based
studies. Increased collaborative participation depends on more
models and targeted support for work in the underdeveloped
fields; otherwise, these subjects of academic research will
continue to be carried out in traditional individualistic modes.
The evaluation comments further reveal that students who
participate in projects such as “Pop Music Review” will likely
require considerable emotional support as they encounter
“something different”. Bolstering student confidence by Carney
and Couchman demanded a good deal of time and comprised a
crucial element in retaining student motivation and success. In
our ongoing efforts, we will integrate more structured and
directed ways to assist both participating students and TAs with
the psychological demands of the research process itself and as
2Heather Montgomery, a fourth-year undergraduate student in psychology,
also helped with the statistical data analysis program.
er has not
et been acce
ted for
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 861
a “new” type of student activity.
One of the most unsettling aspects of the study for the
student researchers was the wide-range of perspectives and
interpretations given by their peer interviewees. Many regis-
tered discomfort with this situation in their written observations,
such as the researcher who pointed to her greatest challenge as
“Trying to not act surprised when I heard answers!” Another
astutely recorded, “Their [interviewees] views were all so
varied. People take different elements into account and focus
more on some things than others mey [sic]. Lots of different
interpretations of the same product!” Experienced researchers
expect the unexpected; emerging scholars, as revealed in the
evaluations, are sometimes thrown off-balance by the lack of
predictability. More background training in interviewing skills,
including role-playing, and further explanations about the un-
anticipated aspects of research would have been useful for
student learning. Future project plans will better prepare stu-
dents researchers to cope with the surprising elements inherent
in the research process.
Time management is often a difficult issue for first- and
second-year university students. The pressures for them are
compounded when working within a collaborative research
project because the responsibility for the success of others also
depends on their ability to organize tasks and assignments. A
number of the student researchers voiced concerns, some subtle
and others blatant, along these lines, including “I learned that
you need lots of patience to be engaged in a research project. It
is a long process”; and “Challenges for me included pro-
crastination at first and then I became overwhelmed with the
workload.” In our project, the “Assessments and Results” paper
due date was clear and firm but completion of the other com-
ponents was left open. A stepped set of deadlines that required
students to first complete an annotated bibliography, then
submit interview forms and data sheets, and finally to produce
the paper would have constituted a more effective learning
approach at this undergraduate level. Forthcoming projects at
the first- and second-year will entail a multi-staged structure of
graded tasks rather than one final mark for the work at the close
of the project.
Despite the chinks in planning and judgement, the majority
of interviewees and student researchers valued “Pop Music
Reviews” as a positive learning experience. The three principle
achievements from the students’ perspectives were: 1) en-
hanced critical thinking abilities; 2) increased appreciation of
research as a process for knowledge building; and 3) a greater
sense of self empowerment.
For the interviewees, attention to critical thinking skills was
voiced in terms of the music review context. Of the 287
interviewees, 66% noted that they would not have reflected on
the circumstances of gender, race, and/or class if they had not
been asked to consider these issues in the “Pop Music
Reviews” questionnaire. Almost 50% of those who made such
remarks went on to claim that they will continue to reflect on
the representation of identity politics in music journalism. As
our student researchers interacted with their peers through the
research process and discussion, thinking critically became a
valued shared experience. The educational benefits of collabo-
rative research projects can expand, as they did in this case, to
beyond the limits of the classroom.
Likewise, the evaluation documents showed that most of the
student researchers found “Pop Music Reviews” worthwhile
because they became better at critical thinking, as evidenced in
the following quotes:
I became more aware of gender, sex, and race in music. I
can’t not see it now.
For myself, I learned how I don’t prepare enough and how
I was oblivious and accepting of gender bias before this
I have a choice to be a critical thinker and I do not need to
be a passive consumer [and] just receive these messages.
It is important/crucial to question/ interpret/engage in how
media relays certain messages.
The tasks of undergraduate collaborative research demand
observation, interpretation, analysis, and communication—all
of which serve to develop critical thinking skills. This outcome
is significant because it is central to the university’s core
mission and is one of the key objectives emphasized in the very
fields that currently lack sufficient undergraduate collaborative
research programs.
Perhaps the most significant effect of “Pop Music Reviews”
was student researchers’ greater understanding of research as a
means that could help them create knowledge and meet the
challenges of their world. Their reflections are infused with a
sense of commitment to the greater good and self-assurance in
their newly-found capabilities.
I like doing research for something that contributes to
meaningful work.
Thought it was cool, being in charge and finding out new
info that you did not know before.
I actively negotiate meaning from culture and have the
ability to produce it.
I love doing research. It contributes in some shape or form
to changing situations or pushing further research.
I can do primary research and make it count as a scholar
and academic.
According to the student researchers and their interviewee
peers, involvement with the project of “Pop Music Reviews”
allowed them to expand the boundaries of their thinking and
gave them new insights into themselves, others, and the
purpose of research activities.
Teaching Assistant’s Review
This project served several important objectives that justified
the extra hours and workload required for the “Pop Music
Reviews” project beyond the regular TA assignments: im-
proved student interaction and interest, and sound preparation
for graduate studies. The increased connections and interactions
with students resulted in greater discussion and debates in all
tutorial sessions, even those on topics not related to the research
project. Students commented on several occasions that they felt
“part of a team” and were more comfortable contributing to
class discussion as a result of being involved in a larger project
As well, the research model used in “Pop Music Reviews”
engages interest and insight into graduate studies. It was not
uncommon to answer questions from second-year students
about graduate school, something that did not happen in
tutorials from other classes. Even while authorization from the
University ethics committee and approval systems were com-
pleted by Graham and Kelly, both the TAs and participating
students got experience with consent forms and ethics approval
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
regulations as undergraduates, something that can often seem
daunting to graduate students when attempting to begin their
own research. This suggests that collaborative primary research
gets students comfortable with and ready for the possibility of
graduate school.
As an undergraduate TA, the independent study course that
resulted from “Pop Music Review” allowed for learning
opportunities and primary research contributions that are often
inaccessible to undergraduate students. The constant coaching
and mentoring received from Kelly and Graham helped with
early preparation for subsequent entry into a Master’s program.
Analyzing data, co-authoring a journal article, collaborating on
this educational article, presenting at an academic conference,
and contributing to an undergraduate research model provided a
smooth transition and extension from undergraduate to graduate
studies. This pre-graduate training and research support led to
accepting an offer to a graduate program at Carleton University
rather than study at other contending post-secondary insti-
In an increasingly competitive market, the “Pop Music
Reviews” cooperative undergraduate research framework yields
a particularly significant advantage for students aspiring to
become professors or research professionals. In addition to the
learning benefits, the focus on collaboration throughout the
project’s framework builds professional relationships and
networking opportunities that continue to prove valuable to the
TA(s) long after the project is complete. As such, this research
model needs to be more widely applied to programs, parti-
cularly in the arts and social sciences.
The areas suggested for improvement echo in part those
highlighted by Graham. Online survey data collection would
greatly reduce the time commitment needed from the TA(s).
Also, having students record their data on hard copies and
entering them into the online system would provide a means to
set up a peer editing exercise where students can validate the
data input by others. This would further stress the importance
of recording accuracy to first- and second-year students.
The independent study option is integral for the TA ex-
perience. If it is not available, a research assistantship could
also be used to fulfill the learning objectives. Finally, two TAs
working on the project instead of one would greatly increase
the collaborative experience by allowing the TAs to work
within their own peer group. This would provide an equalizing
relationship that could help balance the power dynamic offered
through collaboration with professors, research librarians and
directors. Aside from these minor adjustments, the “Pop Music
Reviews” collaborative research model offered unique training
and experiences that should be implemented where possible in
other departments and become commonplace at the under-
graduate level.
Reference Librarian’s Analysis
Teaching and learning are asynchronous processes. Particu-
larly when acquiring library research skills, learning rarely
happens at the time of teaching. A key innovation of this
research project was in moving beyond the “one shot in-
struction session” framework to provide continuing support to
the student researchers (Deemer, 2007; Veldof, 2006).
Through library instruction, students are encouraged to think
critically about their sources. Because they are writing aca-
demic papers, key sources are scholarly journal articles or
books from academic presses. However, other sources may be
used in concert with critical theory to illustrate the issue that is
being discussed. Students are taught how to recognize the
various sources, and where best to locate them.
Many student researchers begin with Google Scholar;
however, they may encounter problems when attempting to
access the text to a document. Strategies are demonstrated that
help people to locate these sources. As well, background re-
ference resources such as diction aries and encyclopedias provide
disciplinary vocabulary for search queries and conceptual know-
ledge for evaluating search results. Passing the print versions
around in class and introducing the electronic versions helps
student to understand how they can be used in the information-
gathering phase of conducting research. The range of topics and
sources covered often surprises them.
The ability to navigate the Library’s website is an essential
self-scaffolding measure because it provides access to most of
the self-help resources, including a self-guided tour podcast. By
demonstrating how to construct search queries in the library
catalogue, two objectives are realized: students learn the wide
array of research resources that are available to them, and they
are encouraged and empowered through their newly-acquired
ability to transfer searching skills to the databases.
Library instruction sessions can be customized to the re-
quirements of the research assignment. Some of the com-
ponents are: tour, lecture, demonstration, pop-quiz, question-
and-answer, lab time, and show-and-tell. The class size of the
first-year seminar permitted the planning of a library session
including all of the elements mentioned except the library tour.
A “starter” bibliography was developed collaboratively with
Graham and provided to the first-year class. The first-year
students were offered an optional library assignment that
probed their understanding of the above-mentioned topics as
well as practical information about using library search tools.
Lab time was set aside for this activity. The class was brought
together after the hands-on session for a discussion of their
experiences and a wrap-up.
Given the size of the second-year class, a lecture/demon-
stration session was prepared that reviewed database and
catalogue searching to the entire class. Since the students were
to construct their own bibliographies, RefWorks, a citation
manager that is integrated with the catalogue and most article
databases, was introduced. Among other capabilities, RefWorks
allows students to produce bibliographies easily from a selection
of references.
Students may enroll in the second-year class without having
completed a first-year course in women’s studies. Unfor-
tunately, this was not accounted for when planning the second-
year library session, and foundational knowledge was assumed.
In this class, the students were provided with contact infor-
mation for the librarian but no effort was made to reconnect
with the students. Although there was further communication
with Graham, because there was no formal communication
channel with the TAs, this gap went unrecognized and the TAs
incurred an extra teaching burden.
The following semester, a different teaching program was
arranged for second-year classes. The librarian liaised with the
TAs directly. The library session was taught in each of the four
tutorials; the smaller class size encouraged discussion and
clarification. As well, a month after the instruction session the
librarian met with each tutorial section again for a hands-on
research question-and-answer session. These sessions were tuned
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 863
through conversations with the TAs who were familiar with the
issues that students were facing. The students indicated that
they felt much better prepared to complete the research tasks.
A second issue with the second-year class is that although the
students were given interview tips, they required more practical
information. A list of books that they could consult was
provided within the course guide, but this class would have
benefited from a workshop on interviewing skills. Our partner
in the Library Learning Commons, Learning Support Services,
could have developed such a session. Learning Support already
offers workshops such as study skills and critical thinking
Participating in original research conducted in the under-
graduate classroom is exciting, but it takes a carefully con-
structed team to manage the process. Partnering with faculty
and teaching TAs, not only for teaching but also for research,
“embeds” the librarian (Drewes, 2010; Bowler & Street, 2008).
As a result, one can observe that a librarian’s teaching makes a
difference. The librarian’s practice is energized through
increased levels of collaboration.
Professor’s Appraisal
The merits of “Pop Music Reviews” far outweighed the pro-
blems and inconveniences. Three achievements were prominent,
even though each area could have used fine-tuning: conside-
rable student gains in logical analysis and self reliance through
active learning; the engagements of professional modeling and
integration at every level; and a positive shift in the culture
surrounding undergraduate collaborative research.
First- and second-year students were able to concentrate on
primary and secondary data collection, input, analyses, and
reporting because the other research tasks in “Pop Music
Reviews” were provided and modeled for them (such as
developing a research question, planning a method, and so on).
They understood that the success of the larger project rested
directly on their foundational input, which in turn depended on
strong critical thinking, sound logic, and efficient communi-
cation skills. Most students were able to achieve these specific
learning expectations within the semester. In tandem with
understanding their vital role in “Pop Music Reviews”, students
realized that the outcome of their labors went beyond a personal
grade for the course. Motivation was enhanced because their
work promised to be influential and recognized within the
wider context of gender studies and music journalism. This
condition invigorated the students with a sense of self-em-
powerment in their studies and in their world. The goals for
enhanced student research capabilities and confidence were met
quickly and with enthusiasm, which made the project worth-
Yet, all did not go smoothly. Some students misunderstood
the directions, others misinterpreted survey questions, and
many mismanaged their time. These shortcomings can be
ameliorated with better planning. In the future, student focus
groups will be conducted beforehand to test the draft docu-
ments for clarity and ease of execution. As pointed out, a
stepped series of deadlines will be instituted. As well, more
time will need to be allotted for the professor’s supervision of
research components. Undergraduate collaborative research
programs offer rich rewards in terms of student learning but
they also come with high demands for preliminary preparation
and performance management.
The modeling of research and related skills produced high
quality interactions between students, TAs, librarian, professor,
and administration. The first- and second-year students had the
opportunity to call upon a wider range of exemplars and
advisors than in traditionally-formulated research projects. This
advantage affected the positive learning outcomes and class
retention, although our assessment did not specifically address
this factor. Likewise, TA Couchman became fully assimilated
into the intellectual profession of research through his analyses
and productions, as mentored by Graham and Kelly. In turn, the
professor and librarian were more fully integrated into the
fabric of university administration through Kelly’s leadership.
Bringing together a mixture of ranks and roles in a concerted
research effort resulted in greater insight and understanding of
academic life at all stages.
The expectations of the TA duty to students and professor
were substantial; however, their initiation to the project and
early support were inadequate for the amount of responsibility
they were given. Carney and Couchman, fortunately, are
extremely intelligent and motivated; and they fulfilled their
obligations with excellence. In the future, potential TAs should
be fully informed by the professor about the scope of their
responsibilities before accepting the post, and they should
attend a workshop developed by departmental faculty for
specialized training in research. Furthermore, there should be
options for either assessing the research data and/or writing up
the results with the professor. The TA role in undergraduate
collaborative projects such as “Pop Music Reviews” abounds
with advanced learning opportunities and connections; as such
it is most beneficial for students who are planning to continue
their studies at the graduate level.
“Pop Music Reviews” created a buzz around research and
innovation in Carleton’s Women’s and Gender Studies. Depart-
mental colleagues were encouraging and looked forward to
further engagement. Scholars from related disciplines at the
University, such as Sociology, asked to be “let in on the action”.
Incoming undergraduates also voiced interest in the courses that
had participated. Curiosity and confirmative outreach spread to
neighboring Women’s and Gender Studies departments during
conference presentations. In brief, the culture surrounding
undergraduate collaborative research shifted in an optimistic
direction because it was shown to be a practical and constructive
undertaking. Future projects hold the promise of expanding the
practice to include more academics and levels of integration. In
so doing, adjustments will need to be made for recognizing and
accommodating the extra faculty and staff workloads.
“Pop Music Reviews” was inspiring because in working
through the problems and research together, students invigo-
rated the process with their questions and enthusiasm, TAs
developed leadership and advanced research abilities, the
librarian came to be seen as an important “insider” for the job,
and colleagues and administrators provided welcome support.
And we, as a group, contributed to the understanding of each
other and our society.
The basic template of “Pop Music Reviews” for collaborative
undergraduate research in Women’s and Gender Studies proved
to be well-designed: professor(s), librarian(s), and adminis-
trator(s) work together to establish the resea rch question, metho-
dology, processes, evaluation, and outreach; undergraduate
students contribute the primary research data and narrow-scope
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 865
analysis; undergraduate TAs act as liaisons between students
and faculty and staff; and undergraduate TAs have the
opportunity to analyze the full data under faculty supervision as
well as communicate findings jointly with professor(s) through
conference presentations and publications. Taken together, the
qualitative assessments of “Pop Music Reviews” by students,
TA, professor and librarian reveal shortcomings and successes.
The deficiencies were due to insufficient allocations of time and
resources for proper planning and background training, suggest-
ing that workload commitments should be carefully considered
in developing such projects. The accomplishments of “Pop
Music Reviews” propose that participation in undergraduate
collaborative research is conducive to academic and personal
learning, knowledge production, and the fostering of collegiality
among students, faculty, and partnering staff and administration.
The first- and second-year students and fourth-year TAs per-
ceived that the fusion of research and education increased their
development across a broad range of cognitive skills and per-
sonal abilities: experience in research processes and applica-
tions, critical thinking skills, disciplinary knowledge, engage-
ment and self-reliance, interest in graduate studies, and social
integration. The positive outcome s to the professor and reference
librarian included new research partnerships and opportunities,
recognition and encouragement by peers and administration,
and classroom productivity. Overall, the experiences of the
participants in the “Pop Music Reviews” project confirm that
undergraduate collaborative research-base d education is valuable
and it should become a standard practice with a wide array of
exemplars and models across th e various disciplinary fields.
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