Learning is a noble action one does knowingly and unknowingly. Learning happens mainly in three different ways. They are self-learning, external-learning and natural-learning. These classifications are not strictly exhaustive. In self-learning, the primary initiative is from the self whereas in external-learning the role of the other is very important. In natural learning, the roles of the self and the other are not very well articulated.
Learning that is happening in structured institutions such as school, college or university comes under the external-learning. Though the learning is always subjective and is by the individual, in external-learning, the responsibility is apparently with that of the institutions. It is strange to note that, although humans are the only beings with rationality, they are the ones who depend largely on external-learning. The so-called progress in the world is mainly due to this. Human beings change their style of living, keep improving living environment and are always in pursuit of better comfort and improved happiness. In fact, primarily for these reasons human beings are ready to take efforts in learning. The role of institutions for learning hence is very large in the progress of society.
There are many who contributed to the progress of the society substantially without even having earned a graduation from any educational institution. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are the most famous among them. They changed the way human beings live. There are a good number of people who consider Gates and Jobs as models and consider formal education meaningless. However, the number of drop-outs employed by the companies founded by both Gates and Jobs are nearly negligible. The intuition, innovation and inspiration of these legendary men are commendable.
How do we address the question of usefulness of formal learning? Any preliminary analysis will help us to conclude that the influence of formal learning on an individual’s progress in life and eventually to that of the society is very large than that of the influence of non-formal education. How do we maximize the impact of formal learning? For this, educational institutions across the globe design many strategies. One of the strategies is to involve students in research projects and encourage students to involve in research projects.
There are a good number of people who had done their research projects while at University which eventually changed the course of human history. Let us know about some of them.
Martin (1969- ) was from a remote Western Australian desert village. Most of his primary education was through distance learning being a single student of his school. While doing his tertiary studies in Curtin University, Australia, he undertook a host of minor projects which eventually resulted in his PhD dissertation and in the birth of the most famous course management system MOODLE. Martin has postgraduate degrees in both Computer Science and Education. Moodle is used by millions of teachers and students worldwide. Martin Dougiamas made distance-learning more attractive and near-learning more effective. He shortened the mutual distance among student, teacher and course content.
Sergey Brin (1973- ) met Larry Page (1973- ) at Stanford University, while the former was doing his PhD and the latter was just a fresher for PhD there. The two went on to do combined projects making use of the available algorithms and concepts. This lead to the development of one of the most famous search engines in the internet, Google. Google Search Engine was first implemented in their alma mater. Google went on to mint money using their superior technology and democratic approach. They offer tremendous support to educational institutions worldwide in an unimaginable way.
As an intern at Bell Labs, Eric Schmidt (1955- ) did a complete rewrite of Lex, a program to generate lexical analysers for the UNIX computer operating system. Schmidt is a PhD in Computer Science.
What is research?
Research is ‘repeated search.’ Education is a search for knowledge. The result what one gets in the first search may not be always true. Holding the results and accepting them at their face value, a genuine seeker of knowledge continues to search. Every time one reaches the result, one reaffirms the truth in the true result. This process is repeated several times and is known as ‘research.’
Student research projects
In a usual classroom environment, the teacher transfers the knowledge that is already confirmed and accepted by the academic community. In many educational institutions, research-supported learning is promoted. This is with the view that the learner is more self-reliant and independent in the future. One of the research-supported pedagogies is to insist students to take up minor projects which are supervised by the teachers. Research projects are mostly time bound and result oriented. During the undergraduate and postgraduate studies, student research projects are greatly beneficial to the students in many ways.
Major advantages of student research projects
Student research projects are the best modules for an effective career preparation. Students may take up projects of their choice in consultation with the supervisors appointed by the educational institution. There are cases when the supervisors assign the project to the students too. In either case it augments learning with enjoyment. As there is no strict course content to be covered for the sake of grading, students start enjoying learning by doing.
Once when the students begin doing the projects, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving acumen would slowly develop in them. It will also lead to intellectual independence. Methods of doing the research will help the students to be scientifically organized. Educational institutions that promote student research projects are the real promoters of innovation-oriented culture.
A person who is confident in his/her abilities will naturally be a successful person. Hence successful completion of research projects enhances the faith and confidence in own abilities of the participating students. In a supervised research project, the accompaniment of the supervisor builds trust and security among the researcher.
Many research projects are complementary in nature. They help the students to understand the things discussed in the classroom or read from a book. Getting sharpened in the critical and analytical skills, the preparedness of the student is better in taking up challenging tasks after graduation. Those students who continue to do their studies such as MPhil or PhD, involvement in research projects are an added advantage. Great inventions in science are done by people who started research while young.
Involvement in a research project helps the student to relook into one’s own learning methods. The ‘why’ and ‘how’ of learning is better understood for a person who completes couple of minor research projects. While doing the research, the researcher is led to new avenues of knowledge.
How to begin a research project?
Before the actual commencement of the research, it is advisable that a student should consider his/her goals, interests, and time commitments. It is better to ask oneself questions such as
▪ What do I know about research in the field?
▪ What are my interests?
▪ What do I hope to gain through my research project?
▪ What is my contribution to the world through the research?
▪ How much time can I realistically commit to working on a research project?
There should be a greater level of clarity towards the modes and methods of research. Whether one is ready for research depends on one’s willingness to take intellectual risks. One must raise the interest level, and improved persistence, in addition to broadening one’s background knowledge. If one is intellectually curious about a topic and is willing to work hard to learn, and master knowledge and new skills, then one can be assured that one is ready for a fantastic research experience. Although a direct contribution to the world may not be immediately visible, one should stand away from a research project that harms the wellbeing of living beings in the world.
Some tips for a budding researcher
A beginner in research project should venture into the work with absolute humility. As a beginner, however intelligent one is, one should accept the fact that one is a beginner. With few skills, the type of project one can undertake will be limited and the inter-dependence will be at a higher level. Hence, choose only projects fitting to one’s capabilities with utmost prudence and care. There is no shortage for such projects in any discipline. Extreme care must be taken to avoid ambitious or unreasonable projects during a short research period.
More than the topic or the area of research, the method in which the research is carried out matters in research. The genuinity in the research supported with absolute honesty and integrity will assure a promising career for the young student researcher.
Role of a supervisor
In student research projects, supervisors are like parents and elders who take children around for walk. Children see things but understand it by the timely and right input from the parents or elders. Hence building up a healthy and professional rapport with the supervisor is always advisable. Students must be open enough to discuss with the supervisor the scholarly interests and career goals.
It looks always fitting to explore the research interests of faculty supervisor well in advance. This will help the student to choose the topic of research.
The researcher should have a reasonable estimate of what he/she expects from the research project. Moreover, this should in some way reflect on what one expects from the supervisor too. It is worth noticing that the actual researcher is the student not the supervisor. As everybody is endowed with his or her distinct personality traits, student should learn to enjoy working with the supervisor with a professional approach. Research project in most cases is an academic requirement and hence if the things are not going in a smooth manner, student should take initiative in getting back to the right track.
Scheduled briefing with the supervisor is unavoidable. The collaborations with a good supervisor not only speed up the learning process of the student but also explore fresh avenues of knowledge.
In most of the cases supervising does not attract any kind of financial gains for the supervisors. On the contrary, they are set to shed their personal time and other related comforts. The motivation for supervising is derived from the commitment to scholarly development and the passion for engaging in collaborative inquiry. The experience and skill sets of the supervisors, however little they are, will be an asset for the researcher.
In a healthy mentoring by the supervisor, there will develop a positive environment such that it encourages questions and fosters curiosity needed for the research project. It would also lead to consider new or alternative approaches. In addition to this, a constructive and reciprocal feedback will mould the right research mentality in the researcher.
When selecting a topic, a researcher can always wait for the green signal from the supervisor. Many supervisors have completed small or big research projects, or supervised at different levels. Hence, an extension of the work of the supervisor or that of a work supervised by the same supervisor will have many advantages. Primarily, the comfort level of the supervisor will be very high. Then, such works can fill the gaps in the existing systems and improvise them.
Present or Perish
One of the major goals in any research project is to augment the progress of the society. Research results contribute to the knowledge in a field when they are shared with other practitioners in the discipline. Considering the research project as a mere academic requirement cannot be treated as a positive sign. Every researcher should work towards a presentable research project.
Presentability is double-pronged. On the one hand, the research project is to be carried out with prevalent norms of the discipline. On the other hand, the researcher should have the humility and openness to display it in the public space. A substandard project work or a ‘closed’ project will perish in no time.
Presentation of a research project means either the public presentation in front of a peer group or the publishing in an appropriate space. Discipline-specific professional meetings and conferences have no shortage at all during any season of the year. The work may be shared at least in a comfortable atmosphere with fellow students, faculty, and community members.
Publishing is a superior form of presenting the research outcome. Publishing in a peer-reviewed journal is not a small achievement. But it will not only build up the profile of the researcher but also bring laurels to the supervisor and to the alma mater. Blogs, websites, newsletters, magazines, forums etc. will comparatively be easier spaces for publishing.
Students actively participating in the research projects, teachers proactively supporting and institutions positively promoting them can always contribute substantially to form a balanced society.
Talk to the postgraduate students of Computer Science and Computer Applications on November 7, 2014.
 Young Bill Gates <http://blogs-images.forbes.com/davidewalt/files/2011/05/bill-gates-1984.jpg>
 Larry Page and Sergey Brin <http://img.timeinc.net/time/2004//time100/pics/100brin.jpg>
 "Management team – Company – Google." 2012. 8 Nov. 2014 <https://www.google.com/about/company/facts/management/>