Written by Dr. Jennifer Lanter
Earlier this year I learned that I had been elected to serve as a Councilor for the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR). The tagline for this organization is “Learning Through Research,” a statement that is very much in line with the way I view my experiences with students as they serve as undergraduate research assistants in my Language Learning Lab.
For example, the undergraduate students in my lab have typically taken an Infancy and Early Childhood class where they have read about numerous clearly-described studies showing significant results related to child development. Often, when reading about it in a textbook or even reading the primary source article, the whole process can look “easy” and problem-free. However, once they are actively involved in executing studies with two- to six-year old children they learn that the studies do not always go as planned and that being prepared for a three-year-old to launch a toy across the lab or to not want to answer your question becomes essential. In short, the process that may have seemed “easy” now looks “messy” and their realization of what research with children can be like becomes much more realistic.
In addition, now students aren’t just reading about inter-rater reliability but are, themselves, seeing how their coding of a testing session lines up with how another research assistant codes a session. They are not just summarizing the methodology of a student but are, instead, attending to such precision in a student’s design so that they execute the method exactly the same way as two or three other research assistants. They are now no longer learning through reading about research studies but are instead “learning through research.”
I think I get especially excited about my undergraduate researchers around this time of year because this is typically the point in the semester where they have the opportunity to present their work to the local and state-wide community. My research assistants and I have been very busy lately preparing for the local Academic Excellence Symposium, the Posters in the Rotunda event in Madison, and the UW System Symposium for Undergraduate Research & Creative Activity.
These three events take place in mid- to late-April and will allow my students the opportunity to showcase their experiences with undergraduate research and their understanding of the related literature, methodology used, results, and implications of our study on the impact the meaning of the plural form has on children’s ability to produce the plural form. My research assistants have learned through this research assistant experience that our findings could ultimately help a child who has difficulty with the plural forms of words as we seek to find the ideal conditions to foster plural production.
As you can likely tell, I am passionate about these undergraduate research experiences. After all, had it not been for the undergraduate research experience I had at the University of Illinois in the Language Acquisition Lab I doubt I would be directing my own Language Learning Lab today and “learning through research.”