Good Teaching Comes in Many FormsBob McMath, Dean of the Honors College and Professor of History
When I think about what our faculty members are doing to support undergraduate research at the University of Arkansas I am reminded of a line from Parker Palmer’s book, The Courage to Teach. “Good teaching,” Palmer says, “is an act of hospitality toward the young.” This definition fits perfectly the act of inviting undergraduate students into the professor’s own professional world of creativity and discovery. This can occur in the laboratory, a fine arts or design studio, or any other community where learners called “students” join a learner called “teacher” gathered around some great issue or subject of study. Gatherings like this take place every day on our campus and in virtually all fields of study. Here are three examples:
Professor Cindy Sagers in biological sciences recruits teams of undergraduate students to participate as a group in her laboratory alongside her Ph.D. students. While learning essential techniques for lab preparation and data collection, students develop valuable skills in teamwork which stand them in good stead as they move to higher levels in research and graduate studies. Sagers reports that students who have gone from her laboratory to do research at field stations of the Organization for Tropical Studies in Central America and South Africa typically outperform students from other leading universities.
Craig Thompson is one of many professors holding endowed chairs funded by the Walton gift, which created the Honors College, who recruit undergraduates for research. In this case, the laboratory community is both real and virtual. Thompson, in computer science and computer engineering, has plugged into the power of 3D social networking sites like SecondLife and OpenSim to construct hospitals, schools, and other virtual environments. Students who accept the invitation jump in right away to create their own 3D avatars which interact with other “people” in complex virtual environments.
A different kind of 3D modeling brought history major Carly Squyres together with classics professor David Fredrick and his Digital Pompeii Project. Working with a revolving group of students, Frederick is digitally recreating that ancient Roman city, complete with frescoes and paintings which were removed from Pompeii’s buildings long ago and are now accessible only in museums and in photographs. Carly is creating an interactive 3D model of one insula (city block) and will conduct a cultural analysis of the buildings and artwork in situ. For this project, Carly won a prestigious Student Undergraduate Research Fellowship, one of 108 SURF grants awarded to University of Arkansas
students this year.
Students involved in these and other projects present their work to their peers, the campus community, and wider professional and scholarly audiences through departmental research symposia and poster sessions, and our campus’s undergraduate research journal, Inquiry, ably edited by professor Barbara Shadden. And of course every issue of Research Frontiers includes stories about the research being produced by undergraduate students.
Good teaching comes in many forms at the University of Arkansas. One which makes me particularly proud begins with the hospitality of faculty mentors who invite undergraduate students to join them in the joy of discovery and creativity. The results are truly amazing.