Assessment tool to measure mentorship role in undergraduate research

January is National Mentor Month and UW-Madison has reason to celebrate. For over two decades, the university has been a nationally recognized leader in evidence-based research mentor and mentee training, and has led the way in providing high-quality undergraduate research experiences. Thanks to the dedicated work of a group of units from across campus, yet another exciting, new advancement is underway.

“Undergraduate research is an integrated, high-impact learning experience that can transform the way students think and learn, and the careers they aspire to pursue, and it’s one of many ways students engage in the Wisconsin Experience,” explains Mo Bischof, associate vice provost and director of assessment, Office of the Provost. “But how do we measure the impact of these complex learning experiences, which can vary considerably from one student to the next? This is what we’re aiming to do.”

Bischof is referring to a new, collaborative effort that aims to develop a common framework and assessment tool that departments, schools and colleges will be able to use to measure undergraduate researchers’ learning experiences. The project builds on the research of Janet Branchaw, assistant professor of kinesiology and director of WISCIENCE, and will provide useful information for improving the research experiences for both undergraduate mentees and their mentors.

Members of the Collaborative for Advancing Learning and Teaching (The Collaborative) – Student Learning Assessment and WISCIENCE – are working in partnership with the Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER) at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) and the College of Letters & Science Undergraduate Research Scholars (URS) program on the project.

Madison faculty members have long been committed to including undergraduate students on their research teams and to providing high-quality mentoring. Many have participated in research mentor training offered by WISCIENCE in collaboration with the Delta Program, originally developed by UW-Madison Professor Jo Handelsman and Associate Scientist Christine Pfund.

“Given UW-Madison’s notable experience and leadership in undergraduate research and research mentor and mentee training, we believe it is an ideal environment in which to develop an institutional framework and assessment tool,” says Branchaw.

Development of the framework began last spring, when drafts were reviewed and input was gathered from faculty and staff at the annual Teaching and Learning Symposium. A first iteration of the assessment tool, which includes paired surveys of student self-assessment and mentor assessment of the student, was also tested last spring with students and mentors participating in the Undergraduate Symposium.

The paired survey platform is hosted at CIMER and was originally developed as part of a NSF funded project led by Branchaw to assess learning in the NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site programs across the nation. The platform has the capacity to compile data from across UW-Madison’s schools, colleges and departments to produce an aggregated university wide report.

Dr. Christine Pfund, director of CIMER, notes, “I see this as an exciting opportunity. It will advance our understanding of the mentored undergraduate research experience from the perspective of both the mentor and mentee at UW-Madison, as well as align us with assessment approaches being used nationally to advance the science of mentorship.”

The UW-Madison framework and common assessment tool are expected to be available for use by departments, schools and colleges in fall 2018.

For questions or to provide input on the framework and assessment tool, please contact Dr. Amber Smith, WISCIENCE director of research mentor and mentee training. Feedback will be used to ensure that the framework and assessment tool accurately represent and capture undergraduate research learning outcomes from all units.

Join campus as it celebrates its undergraduate research and hear from students about their unique experiences at this year’s Undergraduate Symposium on April 13, 2018.