One Innovation in Our Program:

Systematic induction into research prior to starting a dissertation

in Mathematics Education at Michigan State University

What is the issue we are trying to address?

Our existing degrees are not preparing students to be as strong researchers as we would like. Students do not have significant opportunities to engage in the practices of research early in their graduate school careers. Opportunities to learn about and conduct research are often contingent on the particular assistantships that students have and are not a systematic part of their early experiences in our programs.

How do we know that this is an issue?

Our students have very varied experiences with research when they reach the practica or dissertation stage. The "leap" from methods courses to designing, conducting, and reporting on a study is quite large and it is one that students find challenging. We are also not graduating students who go on to research-intensive university positions.

What is the change or innovation that is intended to address this issue?

All of the mathematics education courses offered as part of the new program have required "course projects." These relatively small projects provide students with opportunities to design, conduct, and report on reserach from their very first semester in the program. These projects can form the basis for larger "practica" requirements and pilot studies for dissertations. We have also incorporated a masters degree stage into our doctoral program. This means that students will need to complete a masters-level research thesis along the way to their Ph.D. The format of the dissertation may be the traditional monograph or it may be comprised of several related, publishable articles. In addition, students may elect to produce research projects together with student or faculty colleagues, reflecting the collaborative nature of work in the broader educational field.

Why did we select that approach?

The ideas came from discussions among the Mathematics Education Faculty. We began to implement course projects a few years ago because that was one aspect of our students' experiences that we could modify within the existing program stuctures. We also felt it was important for students to have experiences of increasing size as they move towards the dissertation and the jump between coursework and the reserach practia (typically completed in the 3rd or 4th year) seemed especially difficult for students. We also wanted to explore alternative formats for the dissertation so that students could emerge from the program with several publishable articles already completed instead of needing to transform a monograph-format dissertation into separate articles.

What is the intended effect of the innovation?

The intent behind this innovation is to provide students with opportunities, early on, to experience many aspects of the process of conducting research. This will generate learning opportunities that are not possible when research is delayed until later in a program and will enable students to become active members of the local research community from the start of their programs.

What data or evidence will demonstrate the effect of our innovation?

We will be able to gauge the impact of our innovation by the quality of the course projects that students project, as well as their research practia and dissertations. We expect that these changes will also help students become active in the broader mathematics education community while they are still in graduate school since they are encouraged to submit their course projects and practica for presentation at national conferences. We have some evidence to suggest that the innovation is already working to some extent: many of our students presented their projects at a recent mathematics education reserach conference.

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