by Maria Rainier, First In Education
It can be difficult to obtain the resources to fund serious undergraduate research, but proposals are great practice and can help students get excited about conducting their own research projects. To encourage the spirit of inquiry, the understanding of how much work goes into research, and the appreciation of international subjects, you can assign international research proposals as a project throughout your students’ study abroad experience. Depending on the length of time you’ll be able to spend outside of the country, you can make this assignment more or less elaborate. This is a project that might be overwhelming to some students, so dividing it into manageable sections on your syllabus can be a helpful strategy.
The Basic Project
To begin the process of developing a research proposal, it’s important to be asking the right questions. Because you’re making this an international project, you can have students frame five or ten different questions they might have about the culture, history, development, or society of the country they’re visiting for the study abroad class. Have a workshop in class to analyze each student’s questions, choose the best ones, and have students edit these until they’re precise, significant, original questions with room for inquiry. Once your students have their questions ready, you can assign the rest of the project as you see fit. However, each proposal should include the following:
- Introduction with theoretical framework – this should demonstrate a clear understanding of the question’s context.
- Statement of the problem – a concise restatement of the question.
- Purpose of the study – an opportunity to explain why the question is significant, what kinds of issues it addresses, and how research could affect it.
- Literature review – here’s where your students can take advantage of the fact that they’re studying abroad. There may be valuable literature available to them that they wouldn’t be able to access back home. The lit review should reflect a clear understanding of which resources could best address the question and how they could be used in meaningful research.
- Hypotheses – a set of well-informed suppositions regarding the processes and outcomes of the research. For example, students might identify potential problems and develop strategies to deal with them in advance.
- Methods and procedures – how the research will be conducted.
- Budget – a precise estimate of how much it would cost to conduct the research.
- Timeline – an approximation of milestones, including the proposed end date of the research. It helps to be as specific as possible, so an actual calendar can be inserted into the proposal for ease of explanation.
- References – any materials cited in the proposal should be recorded here in the format used by the student’s discipline.
If your class is abroad for an entire semester or longer, you might consider moving beyond the basic proposal assignment. In order for the project to hold students’ interest, it should be challenging – and that depends on the amount of time available to spend on it. If your time constraints are relatively relaxed, you can incorporate some of the following elements into the assignment:
- Limitations and delimitations – potential weaknesses of the study and how they might be countered by narrowing the focus.
- Significance of the study – what might be accomplished as a result of the research? What does the research have the potential to change?
- Appendices – any original materials pertaining to the proposal can be appended here, such as survey and interview questions, instructions to participants in the study, informed consent form samples, and more. This requires your students to move a little deeper into the mindset of a researcher and do some more extensive preliminary work.
Upping the Ante
At the end of your study abroad trip, you can require students to actually submit their proposals for grants – they might earn the funding to return to the country they’ve just left and conduct the research they’ve been working so hard to delineate. Given the resources, some students might be interested in seeing their projects completed, so having them submit professional proposals could be well worth the extra time and effort.
Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education performing research surrounding online universities and their various program offerings. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.