Jisan Research Institute Educational Policy
The JRI Educational Policy is a system of practices employed at the Jisan Research Institute (JRI) intended to provide an environment conducive to self-directed, collaborative science research among high school students. The body of practices cited in the policy broadly outlines the methods, means, and culture of the organization as a tool for encouraging high school students’ advancement in the fields of undergraduate- and graduate-level academic research.
- 1 Goals of the JRI program
- 2 Program Assumptions
- 3 Educational Policy
- 4 Program Phases
- 5 Assessing Program Quality
- 6 Additional Opportunities
- 7 Pros & Cons
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Goals of the JRI program
Assessment of Educational Needs
JRI defines two major educational needs which guide its operations.
- “There is a need to teach individuals how to think critically as defined with respect to the Information Age.” Where increased availability of information requires increased ability to put such information to use, the JRI educational policy assumes that critical thinking is a staple component of successful academic research. Tied to the notion of critical thinking is the idea of self-directed learning.
- “There is a need to fill in educational gaps in science and math.” Addressing this defined need is assumed to be an auxiliary effect of the advanced science teaching. In the course of teaching prerequisite classes for more advanced research, instructors are expected to assist learners in applying “that which should have been taught in school” to the research project at hand.
In its implementation, JRI Educational Policy rests upon the following assumptions:
- In academic research in particular, where participants continually apply newly framed knowledge to existing problems, the role of learner autonomy is central.
- The capacity for novel problem solving and social learning is innate to humans, traceable even to non-human primates. It is assumed that such “socializable-curiosity” can, if properly channeled, override any argument that high school-aged students are incapable university-level, publishable research. (See for more on this assumption as it applies to children.)
Instructors and research leaders follow the principle that everything that is expected of the students can be done. The first and most critical component of JRI educational policy is the instructor belief that students are capable of doing what instructors tell them they can do. Though such a belief cannot be coerced, it is embedded in the pedagogy as well as hiring practices, and also forms central component of the selection process for branch directors.
Learning by teaching
If you can’t teach it, you don’t understand it. Student teaching forms the heart of the five JRI educational phases. As an individual student completes a lesson, he or she gives a lecture to the instructor on what was learned. Herein modeled after the forms employed in Kata instruction in Karate (where application is frequently considered the measure of mastery), JRI employs a variant of “teach as you preach” methodology whereby instructors pose to students the same kinds of questions expected of a “sufficiently educated, yet naïve listener.” Assessment of these lectures is subjective. If an instructor is not satisfied that a student knows what he or she is talking about in a particular lesson, the student fails the lecture and must begin again. In this case, repetition and synthesis also play a role in student instruction. Following a successful lecture, a student will typically be assigned selected problems from any book chapter they have discussed. Successful completion of the problems is required before the student attempts the next lesson.
Because it is possible for students to get “stuck” on a particular lesson, each learner is encouraged to seek help either from instructors or peers in between lectures, in addition to revisiting each lesson themselves. Each student proceeds at his or her own pace, and it is normal for a newcomer to a particular JRI phase to work alongside one who is advancing out of that same phase. This too is intended to reflect the circumstances of normal academic research.
Collaboration, not Competition. There are no grades at JRI. While students are introduced to a semi-collaborative work environment in the first phases of the program, they are encouraged to adopt the option of collaboration as an essential tool in their academic repertoire. In later phases (3 – 4) of instruction, students are assigned to research groups in which their ability to work with peers is indispensable. Along these lines, especially in light of the daunting nature of some of the research conducted, students are labeled only by their phase 3 or 4 research group, if at all.
The Social Environment Enhances the Educational Environment. Scholars have obtained mixed results on the effectiveness of collaborative learning. While some studies have found that collaborative learning may contribute to educational outcomes, other studies have noted that, in cases where learners must confront a wide range of complex information, individual and teacher-directed learning may be preferred by students as a coping mechanism. Because JRI educational policy assumes that there are no formal teachers in research past a certain level of learner expertise, traditional methods of teacher lecture are not employed. The policy does, however, take into account the idea that external guidance should not be done away with completely. As such, instructors employ Socratic questioning on an individual level as a means of guiding students through the process of asking their own questions in the face of ambiguity. It is expected that by the time a student graduates from phase 1, he or she will know not only what to expect from laypersons during the former’s demonstration of specialized knowledge, but also how to best prepare for the demands of research in a way that fits their individual learning style.
A supportive environment is the last major component of the JRI research program. While not required, parental support is strongly encouraged, both in the students’ undertakings and with respect to the larger goal of completing the program. Because research phases 2 – 5 often prove challenging for some students, the presence of a stabilizing force is recommended so that quitting the program does not become the easy option.
The JRI program is divided into five phases:
Phase (Level) 1
Prerequisites for this Level: Enrollment in JRI
Level 1 is designed to teach students important skills that are used in a laboratory setting. There is an emphasis on learning how to extrapolate from known ideas to unknown—primarily accomplished via a core class in theoretical mathematics and logic. In addition to mathematics, students learn how to program a computer, design computational processes, and use the computer as a primary research tool for future projects. As the nature of branch-specific research changes, so too may the Level 1 content change, as other research-specific “applied methods” classes such as statistics, or biology) may also be available. Students successfully complete a final exam and comprehensive qualifier in order to progress to Phase 2.
Phase (Level) 2
Prerequisite: Completion of Level 1 or permission from JRI.
Students who have completed Level 1 learn about the various research projects currently being conducted at their branch and, subsequently, choose which group they will join. Students are then provided with a list of publications relevant to the chosen research group; These may include those authored by JRI students in addition to those authored by the members of the broader academic community.
Students progress through their group's literature by providing a written report about each paper which is in turn discussed with the group Research Mentor and/or research group. This stage also includes study of requisite topics that have yet to be explored by the student. Such topics may include Fourier analysis, numerical integration, or other required skills.
Students in Phase 2 are encouraged to learn not only the basics of their research, but also some of the “spirit of science.” They are encouraged to experiment with the tools available to them and taught how to document their work in a well-maintained log book.
Phase (Level) 3
Prerequisite: Completion of Level 1 and Level 2, or permission of JRI.
Students in Level 3 are guided through the process of investigating their first scientific question. Some of the work includes building apparati and/or computer programs, taking data, and reporting a group’s work to the greater scientific community. The focus of this level is to develop the basic research skills required to carry out a research project. Students learn how to formulate a scientific question, how such a question translates into a research plan, and other steps conducted in the process of answering such research questions.
During Level 3, Research Mentors follow student progress, creating specific tasks for students to complete, some of which include projects designed to get students acquainted with the tools used in the research. Following these initial steps, Research Mentors direct student activities on the current project, carrying out daily planning discussions with students and helping them evaluate the results of their activities.
The demands of Level 3 are designed to be rigorous, as the standards of a typical scholarly journal are the standards against which the quality of published student work is assessed. A student must write a portion of his or her groups’ journal paper in order to be credited with authorship. Paper authorship, attendance any associated conference presentation, and participation in the actual work as judged by the Research Mentor are among some of the main criteria for promotion to Level 4.
Phase (Level) 4
Prerequisite: Recommendation of Research Mentor while in Level 3.
In some cases, a student may be considered to have completed the JRI program after phase 3. However, phases 4 and 5 exist for those displaying significant autonomy as scholars in their field. In phase 4, a student works alone on a project with minimal guidance from a Research Mentor.
A student may be promoted to Phase 4 if the Research Mentor believes that he or she has learned enough about the process of scientific research to work semi-independently. Accordingly, Research Mentor work with Level 4 students primarily through meetings, with lab work becoming much more autonomous.
In Level 4, Research Mentors are more open to student ideas about procedures, design, and experimentation than they are in previous levels. Students learn how to lead a research group and are assisted in developing good leadership skills such as those concerning interpersonal exchanges, planning and implementation, logistics, and budgeting.
Phase (Level) 5
Phase 5 is highest level a student can achieve at the Jisan Research Institute. A student can achieve this level after he or she has been part of a research group that has had its conference or scholarly journal paper accepted for publication, where that paper contains an original idea which the student has created and fully examined. At this point, a student has learned most of what can be learned at JRI, and formal training ends. An individual may still be involved with research with permission of the appropriate Research Mentor, but he or she will no longer be a student.
Assessing Program Quality
The efficacy of the JRI program is assessed broadly along two dimensions: student outcomes and research outcomes.
Students in phase 1 are evaluated via between-lesson assignments, the lectures they give, and their performance on any qualifying exams. Throughout this process, a student may make as many work-related errors as is required for his or her mastery of the subject. (For behavioral errors, see below). After phase 1, the quality of student performance is gauged mainly by peers’ and mentor assessment of one’s contribution to research-group work. By this time, senior group members are capable of applying earlier semi-Socratic methods to assess the competence of junior members and will typically prove invaluable in getting newer members acclimated to the research group. Historically during this phase, peers have been more likely than research mentors to judge the work of other peers critically, and when this happens the dynamics of the research group itself reveals its own functional quality. (That is, where a group can conduct its own quality control without the aid of a mentor, the group may be considered successful in this respect.)
JRI defines quality work as:
- Maximally resistant to gaps in the work's exercise of the scientific method
- Formally accepted by a peer-reviewed scientific journal or academic conference
- Resilient against the internal scrutiny of those within JRI
- Citable by others researchers outside of JRI (contributing to the field)
The effectiveness of each branch of JRI as an instructional institution is gauged solely by its ability to publish quality papers via quality student-centered research groups. A branch that cannot publish quality scholarly work is considered unsuccessful. There are no “in-house” journals, nor are measures of college acceptance considered a primary criterion (though students’ acceptance into good colleges may be a beneficial side effect of the program).
In addition to the research aspects of JRI, students may receive many other opportunities for growth and personal development.
- Publication and presentation skills
- Increased expertise in a specific field of science
- Leadership through group work
- Social skills in a complex problem solving setting
- Traveling around the world (as a byproduct of attendance at conference proceedings)
- Entrepreneurship through technologies developed through research
Each of the above opportunities is encouraged both directly and implicitly over the course of the JRI phases, giving students access to the world beyond the lab and classroom.
Pros & Cons
The JRI Education Policy emphasizes autonomous, semi-collaborative learning via active exploration of both solved (phase 1) and unsolved (phases 2 - 5) problems. As noted above, benefits of the program include
- The chance to learn and contribute to a genuine area of scientific research
- Numerous social and leadership opportunities
- Acceptance into a good university
- A general increase in problem solving and critical thinking skills
- (Where students are part of a commercial enterprise arising from research) the payoff associated with developed technologies
Additionally, there are drawbacks that come with participation in JRI.
- Education at JRI is time intensive.
- There is an associated cost dependent on the equipment and personnel present at each branch.
- Students who are not naturally self-starters must generally work harder
- Despite the absence of grades, JRI is designed to be rigorous. Work occasionally requires repetition and failure; students without substantial peer and family support may be easily discouraged, especially given the requirement that he or she continually teach material that may have been unknown just hours prior.
The last of the above drawbacks of JRI has historically proven the most significant determinant of success or failure in the program. JRI instructors require a level of discipline and rigor befitting the organization’s definition of a scholar-practitioner. Thus the standards for behavior towards others, effort, and work quality are strictly enforced. Adhering to those standards is ultimately the responsibility of the student.
Removal from JRI
JRI policy emphasizes the institution’s role as a place of research (rather than a college preparatory program or alternative to high school). As such, students are expected to “act like adults” where behavior and effort are concerned. Currently, JRI holds no formal policy for disciplinary action towards students, as all disruptive behavior—whether the result of recklessness, lack of effort, or general disrespect—are remedied by removing the student from the program. A student may be removed for any of the reasons listed below:
- Staying in phases 1 – 3 beyond the branch-specific standard for productivity. (This is typically one year for phase 1).
- Any form of disrespectful behavior (if a behavior would earn one a reprimand or termination from one’s place of work, such would apply at JRI)
- Free-riding within one’s group
- Violating lab safety rules
Additionally, students who leave the program voluntarily are not allowed to return.
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