Fostering Institutional and Multi-Institutional Research
by Jessie L. Moore
When the Center for Engaged Learning releases calls for applications for our research seminars, we often field questions about how many people can apply from an institution and how the multi-institutional research seminars support institutional research. Many applicants are the only potential participant from their home institutions, but at other institutions, teams of educators may have existing research groups focused on the seminar topic.
The Center’s research seminars are designed to encourage all interested to apply and become part of a larger research collaborative. And in those cases when research interests are connected to a team within one’s own institution, the Center encourages that institutional team to identify one or two members who will apply for the seminar and represent their institutional research goals at the research seminar’ summer meetings.
Ideally, research seminar participants who are representing larger institutional teams have both comprehensive knowledge of the institutional team’s research goals and authority to share, add to, and/or adapt the institutional research plans in order to facilitate related, multi-institutional research collaborations. Additionally, the seminar participants become integral members of the seminar community, so the same person should be able to commit to representing the institutional team at each of the seminar’s three summer meetings.
Based on participants’ applications, the seminar leaders suggest initial multi-institutional collaborations around shared inquiry questions related to the seminar theme. During the first few days of the seminar’s first summer meeting, seminar participants finalize research cohorts for these multi-institutional collaborations. They then develop two-year, multi-institutional research plans within those research cohorts.
These multi-institutional research cohort plans can foster institutional research, even as the multi-institutional team works to investigate a shared research question. In some cohorts, each institution that’s represented shares a research method (e.g., a survey instrument, a set of focus group questions, a text-analysis scheme, etc.) that cohort members commit to implementing at each of their home institutions. Cohort members then are able to compare results and examine similarities and differences across institutional contexts.
In other cohorts, each institution implements a unique research plan for addressing a shared research question during year one. During the second summer meeting, cohort members report back on their institution-based results and the groups collectively develop shared research methods to implement in year two to test the generalizability of the year-one, institution-based results.
In both of these participatory structures, the research cohorts also are contributing to seminar-wide discussions about the seminar topic. Seminar leaders help connect research cohorts using similar research methods or exploring complementary questions, and they draw attention to working principles surfacing across groups. The multi-institutional collaborations within research cohorts, therefore, lead to cohort presentations and publications of multi-institutional findings, but they also inform broader seminar outcomes.
Throughout the seminar experience, institutional representatives serve as a link between the multi-institutional research activities facilitated by the seminar and the local research conducted with their institution-based research teams.
They represent their institutional team’s research goals while they are participating in the seminar’s summer meetings. The also bring multi-institutional research plans back to their home institutions to implement as an integrated component of the local research.
Our research on multi-institutional collaboration structures for engaged learning research suggests that this approach to research promotes more participatory structures (e.g., shared resources, whole-team communication strategies, common goals for going public with results, etc.) that foster the entire team’s research plans. Ultimately, this multi-institution collaboration structure allows researchers to scale-up what they are learning about the seminar topics, to compare results across institutional contexts, and to inform future curricular design of high impact educational practices in higher education – in specific institutional contexts and more broadly.
Jessie L. Moore (@jessielmoore) is the Associate Director of the Center for Engaged Learning at Elon University and associate professor of Professional Writing & Rhetoric in the Department of English.