Co-creating knowledge with students: The application of Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) in the social science discipline – Kara Chan
Course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE), originally developed in the STEM discipline, has been proven to enhance students’ engagement and deep learning according to the previous studies (Ballen, Blum, Brownell, Hebert, Hewlett, Klein et al., 2017; Corwin, Graham, & Dolan, 2015; Harland & Wald, 2018). In the last few years, scholars of the humanities and social science disciplines have begun to adopt this pedagogy. I can claim that I am the first scholar in Hong Kong to apply this pedagogy in the social science discipline, practicing it since 1993.
As a professor in advertising, I can tell you that the materials in textbooks were outdated rapidly. The knowledge developed in the west could be irrelevant to the Hong Kong context. The subjects and concepts I teach often lack existing literature. To address these knowledge gaps, I had therefore designed course-based research projects and engaged students in knowledge co-creation.
My unique implementation of the pedagogical strategy is this: every student, whether in introductory or advanced courses, major or non-major, participates. By doing so, I cultivate a sense of academic curiosity and enlarge every student’s capacity for continuous learning and personal development. This observation is in line with the findings in Siebrasse and Provost’s (2015) study that practicing CURE contributed to the student engagement in knowledge construction.
In this article, I am going to share several examples to illustrate the design of the course-based research assignments and research projects. I shall discuss the impact of implementing course-based research pedagogy on students’ learning and the adoption of this pedagogy by my colleagues. At the end of the article, I shall discuss my initiatives of transferring this pedagogy to benefit secondary school students.
The first course-based research project took place in 1993, in a class on Advertising media planning. This implementation was to address the knowledge gap in measuring the effectiveness of out-of-home (OOH) advertising medium in Hong Kong. At that time, the existing literature were mostly about outdoor highway posters. However, the major OOH advertising platforms in Hong Kong are MTR (mass transit railway) ads and ads inside the buses. I, therefore, designed a class project that took three weeks to complete. A survey questionnaire with a stack of 10 color photos of MTR posters was given to students. They were asked to interview people near Chai Wan about their recognition of certain ads. Students expected that larger posters would attract more attention. They were surprised that the two posters with the highest awareness were smaller posters in the station concourse and along the escalator. The findings also indicated that poster awareness did not correlate with the duration of display (Chan, 1994). Many students were excited about these findings, proving that undergraduate research truly does engage students in the joy of discovery. Sharing the insights in the professional newspaper enables academic research findings to inform industry practices.
In subsequent years, colleagues and I worked with industry partners and designed seven course-based research projects related to outdoor media, including posters at Tsim Sha Tsui shopping areas, celebrities in posters, and advertisements inside TV screens in buses. Last November, students worked in groups to design an online survey to measure the effectiveness of bus advertising, and the outcomes were shared at a community of practice platform (www.coms.hkbu.edu.hk/CoP-pra). Knowledge co-created with students facilitated both students and industry practitioners in designing creative OOH advertising campaigns.
For the advertising and society course, I have designed course-based research projects using drawings, surveys, and discourse analysis, exploring how advertising affects the symbolic meaning of consumption. I am particularly proud of a course-based project on public perception of personal loan ads using qualitative interviews. Findings indicated that young people perceived that personal loan ads encourage irresponsible borrowing. I was interviewed by a major television station in a public affairs programme. Eventually, the government rolled out a new policy asking all personal loan ads to carry a disclaimer of “To borrow or not to borrow? Borrow only if you can repay”. A third example is about children’s understanding of advertising in the digital era. We conducted two studies and found that children aged 10 to 12 did not consider unboxing toys YouTube videos advertisements because they did not carry a sales pitch.
All these projects designed addressed the knowledge gaps identified, relating to significant concepts in the curriculum. They were creative, interesting, and pitched at a challenging but achievable level. Students worked on real-life issues that have marketing or social implications. Student feedback confirms existing literature that undergraduate research enables students to have the “Ah-Ha” experience when they encounter new or unexpected findings (Siebrasse & Provost, 2015). As knowledge co-creation partners, students take ownership of what they discovered and gain confidence. They realize how knowledge of the discipline is built. Some students even gain insight into their career goals. Even though the teaching practice was moved online or in mixed mode due to the interruption of Covid-19, two online course-based research projects were implemented successfully where students conducted one-on-one interviews or focus-group interviews over Zoom. One student commented that it is “a very good new experience to bring the contents practically to us”. Ms. Vicky Ng, Head of Knowledge, GroupM, and an alumnus of HKBU commented that course-based research unlocked her potential and inspired her career goal.
The impact goes beyond the classroom to reach scholars of the discipline. Up-to-date knowledge of the discipline was produced from these course-based research projects I designed. Students’ works under my supervision were of high quality. The co-created knowledge with students results in 27 journal articles and book chapters, 24 scholar-reviewed conference presentations, and two scholarly books.
This pedagogy of using course-based research projects has inspired several communication colleagues to design over 20 class-based projects for different courses. For example, Dr. Vivienne Leung, a senior lecturer, surveyed public responses to celebrities disclosing their mental health issues in her class.
The knowledge co-created has been transferred to the secondary education level. Between 2014 and 2017, I delivered research talks, conducted consultation sessions, and provided training for more than 150 liberal studies teachers. A website and three booklets were developed to scaffold secondary school students to acquire research skills (www.coms.hkbu.edu.hk/ies_support). A teacher commented that his students were able to apply discourse analysis skills to analyze personal loan advertisements.
I continued to enlarge the impacts by fostering an inter-institution community of practice (CoP) for the advertising and public relations discipline in 2020. During our meetings, colleagues shared their experience of implementing research-informed teaching and learning pedagogy and student learning outcomes. Six creative assignment briefs of the course-based research projects were produced on the online platform (http://www.coms.hkbu.edu.hk/cop-pra/index.php).
Co-creating knowledge with undergraduates is an exciting and rewarding journey. Course-based research strategies keep students ahead of the curve and prepare them for life-long learning.
- Ballen, C.J., Blum, J.E., Brownell, S., Hebert, S., Hewlett, J., Klein, J.R. et al. (2017). A call to develop course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) for nonmajors courses. CBE Life Sciences Education, 16(2), mr2. doi: 10.1187/cbe.16-12-0352
- Chan, K. (1994). Size doesn’t always matter when it comes to advertising in HK’s MTR. Media, July 8, p.18.
- Corwin, L.A., Graham, M.J., & Dolan, E.L. (2015). Modeling course-based undergraduate research experiences: An agenda for future research and evaluation, CBE Life Sciences Education, 14(1), 1-13.
- Harland, T., & Wald, N. (2018). Curriculum, teaching and powerful knowledge. Higher Education, 76(4), 615-628.
- Siebrasse, E.A., & Provost, J. (2015). Why CUREs? In. E.A. Siebrasse, & A. Hopp (Eds.), A practical guide to course-based undergraduate research experiences (pp.7-10). San Diego: National Science Foundation.
Figure 1. Students conducting qualitative interviews in the class as a blended learning activity
Figure 2. Students took turn to moderate an online focus group session with participants from four countries at Aarhus Summer University