Starting Point: Teaching and Learning Economics > Teaching Methods > Undergraduate Research > Undergraduate Research in Economics > Hansen's Proficiencies

The first step in planning an undergraduate research experience is to identify your learning objectives. Hansen (2006) presents a hierarchy of cognitive skills that can be used to identify and construct appropriate learning objectives in economics. McGoldrick (2007) shows that Hansen's proficiencies have a direct relationship to the research process. Carefully crafted undergraduate research experiences in economics can illustrate the relationships of the steps of the research process to one another and strengthen student understanding of what it means to "do economics."

Hansen (2006) suggests that economic educators promote student skills in the following areas (examples of outcomes for each skills are listed as well):

In planning an undergraduate research experience, begin by using Hansen's proficiencies to construct learning objectives, giving careful consideration to the weight you wish to give to each step of the research process. This will help you determine the proper place for undergraduate research in your course or curriculum and the proper way to structure the experience.

For example, if you wish to focus special energy on developing student skill in asking pertinent and penetrating questions, you may favor a senior capstone independent research project. However, if your key learning objectives are related to interpreting and manipulating data, you could choose a research question for, say, a class service-learning project in an upper-level elective. By freeing students from the task of forming the research question, they could devote more energy to data analysis, a skill that could improve the quality of empirical projects they could go on to complete in their senior year, when they then could be asked to identify their own research questions. Not all undergraduate research experiences need to put equal weight on each of Hansen's proficiencies or on the research process. Some can weigh lower- and mid-level proficiencies more heavily or involve students more directly in some parts of the research process than others in order to provide the scaffolding for more intense and independent experiences later in a student's undergraduate education.


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