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Title: Work in Progress: Student Learning Experiences in the Research Lab: Qualitative Analysis of Two Types of Leadership-Mentorship Style
Multiple studies report the benefits of authentic research experiences in STEM education. While most of them focus either on course-based research projects or on undergraduate students’ experiences, few document authentic learning experiences unfolding in real time among and between graduate students in research laboratories. Therefore, we situate our study in the context of authentic research experiences in research laboratories and focus on documenting learning processes as they unfold during daily practices in the laboratories. Specifically, the goal of our study is to observe and document how graduate students, and other lab members, learn from one another within the cultural space of the laboratory, and what aspects of laboratory culture facilitate and what impede learning. To that end, we use cognitive ethnography, an ethnographic approach combined with cognitive science to study cognitive processes through participant-observation of two engineering research laboratories. We identified the following themes pertaining to learning experiences: scaffolding (structured activities or apprenticeship), peer-to-peer learning, self-directed and self-regulated learning, and independence in research activities. While in many respects the two laboratories are similar, the presence and role of a leader-mentor in daily activities is what set them apart. In this report, we analyze the impact of leadership-mentorship on learning and professional formation. We argue that the degree to which a leader-mentor is consistently active in the laboratory’s life presents advantages and disadvantages with respect to different aspects of learning and professional formation. On one hand, professional development of students may be hindered by the absence of direct oversight from an in-laboratory professional mentor, resulting in delayed graduation for example. On another, absence of direct oversight can compel students to independently seek out mentors who have important expertise to help complete projects in a timely manner, an important professional skill. In the first case, students benefit from the expertise of mentors, so having mentors consistently present in the laboratory helps students efficiently conduct their projects. In the second case, students learn that they cannot always rely on only one person to provide direction and will need to seek help from other quarters.  more » « less
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ASEE annual conference exposition proceedings
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National Science Foundation
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