Challenge 21 Initiative: A helping hand for students' research proposals

Writing a research proposal is a crucial step in every student’s journey towards receiving their degree and it can be quite a daunting time choosing a topic that is both relevant for their courses and interesting to them. Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences offers students numerous tools for support as they write their research proposals and subsequently their research papers. One senior lecturer, Doron Zilbershtein, has gone the extra mile to help MBA and MBM students write their research proposals through an initiative he calls “Challenge 21”.

What is the background of the Challenge 21 initiative?

DZ: Based on a study I conducted over the past 18 months among WUAS students, I have found that there are four types of mindset: the observer, the involved, the engaged and the advocate. This initiative has been developed for students with an advocate mindset. This student is characterised by a growth mindset. His/her performance is typically between excellent and outstanding. He/she is highly passionate about learning and acquiring new knowledge for a professional career.

How is the initiative being run?

DZ: Students applied for the programme and were carefully selected based on a personal interview and a motivation letter. We have set up our own WhatsApp group and I made myself available to the team 24/7. Students are posting both their draft work as well as their respective sources (articles, published reports) in a folder which is accessible to all other students. It is important for these students not to work in silos, as typically happens in a university setting; rather, we are mimicking the real-world workplace where they will be working on diverse topics while collaborating across the organisation. As a result, we have already found out that two students are working on a similar topic from two different perspectives. Interesting to note at this early stage, the initiative was announced to all MBM and some MBA students, yet we received applications only from women, and the selected team consists of six women!

What benefits have you observed the students gaining from this initiative?

DZ: Given the Corona situation, we have experienced some drawbacks. For example, the website support is not functioning and, therefore, we had to improvise and find alternative suitable solutions to support the students during this journey. I am already observing the quality of work that the students are producing. They have gradually begun showing traits of researchers, in the way they think, reason, find relevant literature and develop their writing skills. Having said that, it is premature to assess the embedded – long-term (as opposed to the superficial, short-term) benefits.

What challenges will the students have to overcome in this initiative?

DZ: The students who were invited are facing several challenges; the overarching challenge that drives this initiative is their ability to complete the development of a Research Proposal within 21 days. This process typically extends beyond three months, and advanced students are held behind because of various reasons. Other challenges are time management, working under time constraints, sharing reasoning and researching skills, as well as the challenge of verbal and written expressive capabilities in a non-native language.

Considering these challenges, do you think the initiative is having its desired outcome?

DZ: It is still too early to say as we are only five days into the process.

Would you like to undertake this initiative again?

DZ: Absolutely! Irrespective of the outcome of this experiment at WUAS, I will evaluate the outcome, assess and apply potential corrective measures and will continuously seek to improve this programme. The benefits to our students by far outweigh any feeling of disappointment. I hope to see this type of programme expanding to other courses at WUAS.

WUP 21/4/2020
by Olivia Kawuma
©Wittenborg University Press

 

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