Professor David Williams had his career path dramatically changed by his research involvement with emeritus instructional psychology and technology professors Dr. Adrian Van Mondfrans and Dr. Grant Von Harrison. Williams was a premed student who was given the opportunity to do work-study with Harrison translating tutoring materials and curriculum into Spanish. But there was a catch to getting the job.
“In order to be hired by Harrison, I had to take Adrian Van Mondfrans’ class on research methods,” recalls Williams.
At first Williams was bored. Then Van Mondfrans started talking about specific studies. He reviewed research that involved weighing people before and after they died—looking for evidence of what is lost. Van Mondfrans took his students to the MTC building, which was then being constructed. He asked his students to think about what building such a huge complex revealed about the role of missionaries in the Church.
“Professor Van Mondfrans caught my imagination,” says Williams. “Through that program I became interested in the eld of instructional psychology.”
“Interested” is an understatement. Now, many years later, Williams is a professor of instructional psychology, teaching the same research methods class that changed his life. The name of the program currently involving undergraduate students in educational research is Mentored Undergraduate Research (MUR). Williams assures that “the spirit of the program is the same” as the one that engaged him long ago. The importance of undergraduate research is evident in the fact that the university has dedicated research funding to it since 1972.
As part of MUR, David Williams currently teaches Instructional Psychology and Technology 470. In this two-semester course, Williams continues with the spirit of the instruction of Van Mondfrans.
“I ask students, ‘How are you using the different ways of knowing in your projects?’” He explains, “I teach them to think with inquiring minds.” He defines inquiry as the formalization of what a person does as a learner. Mentoring professors design the students’ projects to support their own research. “I try to show [students] the bigger picture as compared to the [specific] tasks they may be doing,” says Williams.
Mentoring undergraduate research positively affects McKay School faculty in several ways, according to Williams. Having a student come in each week motivates faculty to complete research that might otherwise be delayed. The responsibility for mentoring encourages them to examine their mentoring skills. Additionally, many publications originate with MUR projects. Williams explained that his latest MUR project produced two conference presentations and a journal article.
But perhaps the greatest benfit is for McKay School students. “A student graduates and becomes not just a teacher but a researching teacher,” says Williams. He adds that the program also promotes lifelong learning for participants. Not least on the list of benefits is the development of potential faculty researchers.