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Faculty Development: Iin Handayani

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Effective strategies for teaching undergraduate research

Effective Strategies for Teaching Undergraduate Research

By Iin Handayani

Spring 2016

Healthy Soil 3. (2012) USDA NRCS South Dakota/Flickr

Over the past 20 years I have had experiences teaching undergraduates in agroecology/environmental soil science research projects. These experiences have involved curriculum-based management, independent study, honors thesis projects and paid and voluntary undergraduate research assistant positions. The best reward from these experiences is facilitating students to face challenges, witnessing them engaging in those challenges, improving their confidence, seeing students grow and sharing the excitement of new findings from their research. It is also rewarding to have help in conducting my research, and some student collaborations have resulted in presentations or publications. Also, students sometimes observe some aspects of the field conditions or actual environmental problems that I may have been unaware of.

Students interested in taking undergraduate research course vary with regards to motivation, their skills and previous knowledge.  In order to be efficient and avoid the frustration and stress, it is necessary to evaluate these aspects carefully and early on before students take the class.  Getting to know students’ course background and prior research experience is an important starting point.  In my case, I ask the student to take at least one of my classes to better understand my expertise and the expectation about the materials related to the research. Asking about students’ motivation is also important to make sure the interest is still on the research, not only seeking course credit or “needing a class."  

A wise way to categorize the students is by having a discussion about critical thinking and then assigning them one or more journal articles with familiar topics to read and find flaws.  The students who can show the specific weaknesses in scientific research articles indicate they are ready to do research and engage with the faculty members. Great enthusiasm and curiosity in finding answers from the research question and presenting the results are also important criteria for choosing the right student. Failing to assign a student to the right type of teaching engagement may create hardship for both student (mentee) and faculty member (mentor).

Most undergraduates who engage in research have limited experience in time management to complete a research project. The faculty member needs to help the student by breaking the research project down into different components. The student has to be able to specify how much time is needed to complete the specific component.  Weekly meeting and planning need to be conducted to make sure the research project is well performed. Progress monitoring is important to give opportunity for students to be accountable toward the research goals.

Teaching undergraduate research does not end exactly at the end of the semester. The ultimate goal is not simply to complete a research project, but a student has to present the results in conferences, symposiums or submit it into a journal. The student will get more academic experience by communicating the results in the forms of a poster and/or an oral presentation or a journal submission as a brief note or in combination with other student work for a full-length manuscript.  The authorship and the order of authorship have to be discussed earlier between the faculty member and the student.

One of the greatest challenges facing undergraduate research is a lack of a specified research question or a project that is too broad in scope. Therefore, the faculty member has to encourage students to read more about the particular articles related to the research project. It is better to do a project with a limited scope in a timely manner, so the results can be presented within the same academic year. Failure to address this aspect will lead to frustration, stress, inefficiency and wasted time and effort.

Mutual trust, respect, openness and companionship are important aspects for better engagement. Conversation outside the research topics, for example about classes and future goals, can have lasting impacts (Johnson, 2007).  Developing rapport in such a way can essentially make engagement between faculty member and student more comfortable.  This will improve the scholarly productivity and the constructive interactions in the research and educational environment.

Teaching undergraduate research helps students discover and construct knowledge for themselves and makes students members of a community of learners.  The goal is to enhance the quality of learning for students (Barr & Tagg, 1995).  Likewise, faculty members can maintain or improve research productivity while achieving the personal and professional benefits of training students more effectively. Most of the time, the investment during teaching and training undergraduate research reaps much greater rewards beyond the expectation for both students and faculty members.

In conclusion, by teaching undergraduate research, the faculty members have the opportunity to create a lifelong impact on their students’ learning process.  Applying these strategies will empower undergraduates to generate meaningful scholarly work and thus inspire the next generation of researchers.


Barr, R., & J. Tagg.  1995.  Change. November.

Johnson, W.B. 2007.  On Being a Mentor: A Guide for Higher Education Faculty.  NY: Laurence Erlbaum Associates.

Powell, K. 2006.  Mentoring mismatch.  Nature 440:964-965.

Ramirez, J.J. 2012.  The Intentional Mentor: Effective Mentorship of Undergraduate Science Students.  JUNE, 11(1):A55-A63.

A Little Fun in the Classroom

A Little Fun in the Classroom

By Iin Handayani

Fall 2015



“If teachers can teach a student to have a sense of humor about the very serious things in life, 
they are teaching much more than facts and figures.”
(Deborah Hill, 1988)


Laughter is often used to change a boring classroom into a learning classroom.  The laughing classroom helps alter instructors from a “limiting” teaching style into a “creative-fun” style that promotes a better environment for student learning (Shatz & LoSchiavo, 2005).  Laughter beneficially reduces stress and facilitates creativity (Gordon, 2011).  Contrary to popular belief, having laughter in a classroom does not always mean the class is not being taken seriously.  In fact, laughter enhances students’ learning experiences by making them more awake and keeping them engaged in class (Weaver & Cotrell, 2001). Research has shown the laughing classroom engages students and improves students’ performance and attentiveness, especially in “dreaded classes.” Additionally laughter contributes to better instructor comfort and more favorable teaching evaluations (Garner, 2011).  Humor is an important tool to create a fun classroom.

Today, humor has a special place during lectures due to its benefits on the psychological, social and cognitive levels for teaching (Torok et al., 2004).  The psychological benefits include improving the physical and mental health, reducing of negative feelings, and enhanced student self-perception.  Social benefits include better classroom morale, improved interactions between students and instructors, reduced tension, and a more fun atmosphere.  Educational benefits include improved interest, attention, analytical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity (Seidman & Stephen, 2013).The appropriate use of humor can assist instructors in engaging students and reducing stress during exams.  

Humor in the classroom also improves motivation, reduces anxiety, facilitates the collaborative working relationships, improves recall and learning of related information, and provides greater class enjoyment (Friedman et al., 2002; Kher et al., 1999). Humor is a powerful teaching tool to create a positive emotional environment in which students can have a little fun while learning in the classroom (Deiter, 2000).Having fun is among the first characteristics mentioned by college students for identifying the best classroom environment. Most students remember their favorite instructors as being those with a fun class who made them laugh.  Results have shown 84% of the students truly enjoyed instructors who used a frequent amount of humor to give a little fun in the classroom (Check, 1997).  His research also indicated that humorless instructors are less appreciated.  A fun classroom also made students attempt harder because they would like to please the instructors (Pollak and Freda, 1997).  The most favorite humors to make the classroom more fun include puns, jokes, riddles, cartoons, sarcasm, metaphor, funny stories and comments (Torok et al., 2004).  Students mentioned that humor tends to facilitate the understanding of principles, concepts, and relevant examples (Garner, 2011). 

While humor can create a fun learning classroom and provide many beneficial effects, it can also have unitended negative consequences (Wanzer at al., 2006; Kher et al., 1999). After all, an instructor is not an entertainer! Humor for fun is very personal, and sense of humor varies from person to person and from culture to culture.  A story that one person finds funny can completely fall flat with another, or sometimes, be offensive.  Telling jokes are not always valuable for effective teaching (Garner, 2011). Too much humor can undermine the credibility of the instructor, which results in a loss of focus of the instructional objectives (Lei et al., 2010). Disparaging humor may degrade students’ gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, creed, appearance, and area of residence (Wanzer et al., 2006). 

There are three criteria to make humor a tool for effective teaching.  It must be specific and related to the subject of teaching, targeted to improve learning process, and appropriate for the audience (Garner, 2011).  Flowers (2001) suggested some guidelines for the use of humor in teaching to create fun in the classroom.  For example, do not tell offensive jokes or make fun of students.  It is better to use humor to make points about specific course content.  The instructors should be just as willing to laugh at themselves as to joke about other people.  The most important consideration involves whether both students and instructors benefit from the fun environment created by the instructor, which can enhance the enjoyment of the learning process.  

In summary, humor is a powerful teaching tool to create a fun classroom, if it is used in the correct manner. It is necessary for the humor to be appropriate and constructive (Garner, 2011). A fun classroom can encourage an open atmosphere, develop students’ divergent thinking, alleviate stress, tension, depression, as well as elevate self-esteem (Deiter, 2000). The use of appropriate humor improves learning in many types of situations.  Introducing humor, even in small amounts, will generate a positive environment. Students will appreciate the effort, and teaching will be more effective.


Literature Cited

Check, J. 1997.  Humor in education.  Physical educator, 54(3):165-167.

Deiter, R. 2000.  The use of humor as a teaching tool in the College Classroom.  NACTA: 20-28.  

Flowers. J. 2001.  The value of humor in technology education.  Technology Teacher 60:11.

Friedman, H. H., L.W. Friedman, and T. Amoo. 2002.  Using humor in the introductory statistics course.  Journal of Statistics Education, 10(3).

Garner, R.L. 2011.  Humor in pedagogy: How Haha can lead to Aha!. College Teaching 54(1):177-180.

Gordon, M. 2011.  Learning to laugh at ourselves: Humor, self-transcendence, and the cultivation of moral virtues.  Educational Theory. 

Hill, D.  1988.  Humor in the classroom: A Handbook for teachings (and other entertainers!).  Springfield.IL. 

Kher, N., S. Molstad, and R. Donahue. 1999.  Using humor in the college classroom to enhance teaching effectiveness in “dread courses.” College Student Journal 33:400-406.

Lei, S.A., J.L. Cohen, and K.M. Russller.  2010. Humor on learning in the college classroom: Evaluating benefits and drawbacks from instructor’s perspectives.  Journal of Instructional Psychology. 37:326-331.

Seidman, A., and B. Stephen. 2013.  College classroom humor: Even the pundits can benefit.  Education, 133(3):393-395.

Shatz, M., and F. LoSchiavo, 2005.  Learning through laughter: Using humor in online courses boosts participation.  Industrial Engineer :IE, 

Pollak. J.,  and P. Freda, 1997.  Humor, learning, and socialization in middle level classrooms.  Clearing House. 70(4):176-179. 

Torok, S., R. McMorris, and W.Lin. 2004.  Is humor an appreciated teaching tool? College Teaching. 52(1):14-20. 

Wanzer, M., and A. Frymier, A. Wojtaszczyk, and T. Smith.  2006.  Appropriate and inappropriate uses humor by teachers.  Communication. 

Weaver, R.L., and H.W. Cotrell, 2001.  Ten specific techniques for developing humor in the classroom.  Education 108(2):167-169.

Simple Hands-On Learning for Better Teaching

Simple Hands-On Learning for Better Teaching

Iin Handayani

Murray State University, Hutson School of Agriculture
Spring 2015

“Tell me, and I forget.

Teach me, and I may remember.

Involve me, and I learn.”

--Benjamin Franklin

The main principle for designing teaching methods for youth is to involve the philosophy of active learning, such as hands-on experiences based on scientific facts from research.  Hands-on learning can help and engage learners to build mental models allowing for “higher-order” performance such as problem solving and changing information, knowledge and skills (Churchill, 2003).  Therefore, lesson plans should be focused on “creating, producing, practicing and observing” exercises rather than instructor directed lecture (Yerigan, 2008; Cooperstein and Kocevar-Weidinger, 2004).  Basically, there are four approaches that the instructor can do.

  1.  Group Work

Enabling students to participate in group work is considered important collaborative learning.  This will allow students to explore a significant question or make a meaningful project together as a small group. There are two advantages when facilitating collaborative learnings.  First, collaborative environments allow students to share their knowledge, skills, and experiences that can be translated into teaching materials for others. Secondly, students begin to enhance the skills of group work eventually.  Group communication, team work, listening, discussing and compromising will get better eventually.

  1. Independent Group Exploration

The use of internet and multi-media tools and getting fast information is considered easy in today’s world.  Self-directed investigation and research cause students to rely on the facts instead of upon authority from text, teacher or parent (Haury & Rillero, 1994).  Most of the students still have limited opportunity to practice independent investigation.  Independent exploration allows students to increase their competencies and make them more confident about their ability to do research. 

  1. Sharing

An important part of successful active learning is giving students an opportunity to share their experiences and do their own evaluation on the performance in a group (Schroeder, 1993) . After knowing their performance, the students will think about how to improve it in the future.  This reflection can help students to enhance their visionary thinking and the types of improvements they would like to make.  Instructors can use this sharing to help students relate what they learned with other life experiences or other knowledge.  In summary, the sharing activity during the learning process can improve communication among students both in small and large learning groups.

  1. Extra Reading on Related Scientific Journal Articles

Most students are often hesitant to read scientific journal articles, especially if the materials are not associated with the lectures or chapters in the textbook. By writing a review from at least three scientific articles related to the lectures, students are able to better understand the topics. Sharing the results from reading these articles enhances the discussion among students and provides broader knowledge about evidences related to the particular topics discussed in the lecture.  Therefore, the assessment for students are not only from the exams but also from their activities to read, review, and share the extra readings. 



Churchill, D. 2003.  Effective design principles for activity based learning: The crucial role of “Learning

            Objectives” in Science and Engineering Education.  National Institute of Education.  Nanyang

            Technological University, Singapore.

Cooperstein, S.E. and E. Kocevar-Weidinger.  2004. Beyond active learning: a constructivist approach to

learning.  Reference Services Review 32(2):141-148.

Haury, D., and P. Rillero.  1994.  Perspectives of Hands-On Science Teaching:  The ERIC Clearinghouse

for Science, Mathematics, and Environmental Education.

Schroeder, C.C. 1993.  “New Students-new learning styles.”  Change 25: 21-26.

Yerigan, T.  2008.  Getting active in the classroom.  J. of Teaching and Learning 5(6):19-24.

Integrating Moments of Fun and Happiness into the Course using 4-STEPS (Iin Handayani)

Integrating Moments of Fun and Happiness

into the Course using 4-STEPS

Iin Handayani

Murray State University, Hutson School of Agriculture
Fall 2015

            Higher education rarely recognizes the important role of classroom culture for student satisfaction, retention and learning (Quay and Quanglia, 2004).  As instructors, we often have limited time to consider the class situations that will improve the learning process. However, students reported that if they do not feel comfortable in a class or with a certain professor, they will pay less attention to the course, will be less attentive in the classroom and will not want to face challenges related to the course materials (Beatty et al., 1991; Weimer, 2014).  As university faculty, we are challenged to make students think, to provide experiences and to help students learn and understand the concepts taught by us, as well as, provide opportunities to do, think and reflect (Deeter, 2003; Weimer, 2013).  Therefore, there is nothing wrong with having a good time in class to promote a classroom culture that inspires student learning (Quay and Quanglia, 2004).  One important strategy to promote the fun learning process is by creating fun moments and giving happiness to students through interaction with classmates in a classroom setting.  Students learn about everyday life from selected topics related to the course and have conversation or dialogue with others which helps them critically think and apply concepts taught in class to real world situations.  This creates happy moments for students because of the sharing process and value of interaction with others (Bonwell and Eison, 1991).

            Doing activities with a partner is one of the active learning strategies that can bring excitement in a classroom format.  I have used this method for 400 and 500 level courses. This activity gave students opportunities to think on a topic, turn to their partner for a short discussion, share the results of the discussion and present their thoughts to the rest of the class.

This method involves four steps - THINK, FIND PARTNER & DISCUSS, SHARE and PRESENT.  Step 1- THINK- students needed to think about the subject matter independently.  Step 2- FIND PARTNER and DISCUSS- students were asked to find one or two students and discuss the subject matter identified in step 1 by connecting with real life situations.  In this step, students not only collected the view of the subject matter from each other, but they learned from each other’s thoughts. Step 3- SHARE- Students were sharing their thought with the rest of the class.  This step showed the concept from various perspectives.  Steps 1 to 3 took about 12 to 15 minutes.  After sharing, students put together their thoughts and submitted them to the instructor.  Step-4-PRESENT- Students selected relevant articles and incorporated them into their thought.  Then, they created a presentation with the partner.  The presentation was conducted during the next class meeting.  This method was used three to five times during a semester.

            Overall, 80-95% of students agreed that this active learning provided a fun and happy classroom environment. The students were more excited about learning with partners as compared to learning from reading the textbook or handout. Their grades improved significantly on the exam covering the subject matter that used this method.  

            By integrating the fun and happy classroom using the “4-STEPS,” it helps the instructor to (1) better organize the course content and track the students on where they are relative to the subject matter discussed in the class, (2) provide opportunities for students to know each other, (3) more “learner-centered” than “teacher-centered” courses, (4) create more interactive classroom than lecture sessions, (5) allow students to prepare the topic for each class session, (6) increase the level of students’ attendance and participation and (7) improve the students’ GPA.

            In conclusion, the 4-STEPS encourages students to be creative, enthusiastic, and curious about the subject matter. If carefully planned, it saves the instructor time on lecturing. However, this method is not fit to be used for large classes at low level courses, since the students may not have the basic knowledge about certain subject matter. The result from the 4-STEPS show that we, as professors have the power to enhance the process of teaching and learning in each of our classes by incorporating fun and happy moments in the classroom.


Beatty, J.E., J.S.A. Leigh, & K.L. Dean. 2009. Philosophy rediscovered: Exploring the connections between teaching philosophies, educational philosophies, and philosophy. Journal of Management Education, 33(1): 99-114. 

Bonwell, C.E, and J. Eison.  1991.  Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No.1. Washington, DC:  George Washington University.

Deeter, J. 2003.  Incorporating student centered learning techniques into an introductory plant identification course.  NACTA Journal, 47-52.

Quay, S.E., and R.J. Quaglia.  2004.  Creating a classroom culture that inspires student learning. Faculty Focus, February

Radhakrishna, R., and J. Ewing.  2012.  TPS as an active learning strategy.  NACTA Journal, 84-85.

Weimer, M. 2014. What’s your learning philosophy? Faculty Focus, March

Weimer, M. 2013. Two activities that influence the climate for learning. Faculty FocusNovember