Where to Begin?

How are instructors embedding applied research projects into their classes?

Richard Menkis in History uses applied research projects 

I am fulfilling my responsibility as an educator to provide the students with a range of experiences.

Read the full interview here


Where do I even start?

If you’re new to incorporating applied research projects into your syllabus and you’d like some guidance, get in touch with the Arts Amplifier. We can help you find a suitable partner and can connect you with them, provide feedback on your syllabus, as well as support your development of assignments, descriptions, and grading rubrics.


What do I need to do beforehand?

I wanted to show the organization that a joint project would be of benefit to both the students and the organization.” – Richard Menkis about his applied research project in History

Establishing a new collaboration and determining its fit in your course syllabus might take a few weeks. Start looking for a community partner a term or two before you want to teach the applied research course and approach a few different organizations. This will provide you with more choice and you will gain a better perspective on how each of them fits within your course material.

Once you have established your collaboration partner, think about the project the students will be working on and what kind of assignments you can include in your course to connect this project to your course material and to make it a part of your course grade.


How do I find a fitting community partner?

In its best form, the applied research project establishes a clear connection between academic research and its relevance for off-campus communities and industries. If you ensure that the partner organization and the problems it is trying to solve are relevant to the course content, this connection is made more obvious to the students.

If you already are a scholar who includes community engagement in your research, you might know of organizations that work in a related field or of community efforts that require the very skills your graduate students are developing. If you are just getting started, take some time to explore local community organizations and have some open conversations with a few of them to explore the shape your applied research component could take. Richard Menkis, Professor of History at UBC, recommends, “It is important to cast a wide net in terms of possible agencies to work with.”

The Arts Amplifier has also worked successfully with a number of not-for-profits and might be able to suggest potential partners, if you reach out to us at arts.amplifier@ubc.ca.


What do I need to include in my syllabus?

Students will spend a substantial amount of time learning about the issue the community partner is trying to address, as well as creating and implementing solutions for it. The grade portion assigned to this effort needs to match the amount of time required in order for students to dedicate the necessary time.

We would recommend having at least 30% and up to 60% of the grade dedicated to the applied research component. Assignments that have a low weight distribution are often the first to be deprioritized as students juggle their course workloads with their research and other commitments. For that reason, we strongly encourage you to assign a significant portion of the grade to the applied research project as a clear signal that this is a vital component of your class.

As the applied research project progresses alongside your course, consider scaffolding the assignment by creating several graded constituents. For example, incorporate a few shorter reflections in addition to a final paper that includes a short presentation, like Karen S. Wilson’s syllabus in her graduate history course. By embedding these assignments throughout the semester, you create a sense of cohesion between the course work and the applied research project.

Our Examples and Resources section below provides you with a few sample syllabi and assignments that you can consider adapting.

Consider involving the students in the evaluation process by using peer assessments of some of the components, for example the reflections or the presentations. You can even integrate technology using the peerScholar peer-assessment and evaluation tool, which works together with Canvas for easier grading.


How much work is this?

While you need to invest the initial time in finding a collaboration partner, the supervision of your class is then split between you and the community organization because your students will spend part of their class-time working for them.

Similarly, developing assignments that fit the research project is not different from creating assignments for other classroom activities and therefore do not add more time in preparation or grading.

If you and the community organization are both clear on your expectations and duties, an applied research project is a mutually beneficial experience. As with all collaborations, clear communication is key both between you and the organization, as well as between you and your students.