EXP: Agile Research Studios: Scaling Cognitive Apprenticeship to Advance Undergraduate and Graduate Research Training in STEM


PIs: Haoqi Zhang, Elizabeth Gerber, Matthew Easterday
Northwestern University
Award Details

This project will advance undergraduate and graduate research training in STEM by designing organizational processes and cyberlearning technologies that support self-directed learning within a community of researchers. Faculty mentoring, research experience, and authentic problem solving increase undergraduate performance and retention in STEM, especially among women and underrepresented minority students. Faculty mentoring is effective but labor intensive and often reserved for more productive graduate students; undergraduate research positions can provide authentic practice but are limited in number. This research posits that undergraduates and graduates in STEM can better develop in collaborative cyberlearning research communities. These communities use collaborative cyberlearning technologies to: (a) teach research and collaboration, (b) supportively engage students in independent research, and (c) train graduate students to become effective mentors and future research leaders. Taking a community-based approach to training self-directed learners should significantly increase the number of undergraduate students doing authentic research, provide graduate students with authentic practice in mentoring and leadership, and increase the efficacy and scale of research training amid scarce resources.

This project seeks to fill an urgent need to mobilize the nation’s diverse student talent pool and broaden participation in science and engineering research, one of the National Science Foundation’s core missions. In support of this goal, this research will lay a theoretical foundation for understanding the broader ecosystem of integrated online/offline, social, project-based learning environments through development and testing of empirically-validated principles for designing cyberlearning research communities. The research develops socio-technical cyberlearning systems that train increased numbers of novice researchers without greatly increasing the orchestration burden on research mentors. The proposed solution is a general, theoretical model, `Agile Research Studios,’ for helping faculty better train student researchers through social structures, practices, and cyberlearning tools that: support planning research inquiry, seeking help, practicing reflection, collaboration, and sharing. Agile Research Studios will be supported by Virtual Studio, an online platform that orchestrate socially-shared regulation learning outside of the classroom by supporting 3 interrelated feedback loops: (a) a sprint planning and replanning loop in which students and mentors receive feedback on project plans and progress, (b) a help and collaboration loop that helps students scope and prioritize help requests and connects them to helpers, and (c) a reflection and sharing loop that promotes growing over time and promoting collaborations and awareness across a studio. The project will develop and evaluate the Agile Research Studios model using a design-based research process, in the context of Design, Technology, and Research (DTR), a research community that applies Agile Research Studios to support 20+ learners working on more than 15 research projects at Northwestern University (NU).

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