By Dr. Ira Wells, Program Manager for Scholars-in-Residence
Each May, when most campus-based UofT undergraduates are packing to leave their residence rooms behind for the summer, a growing cohort of undergraduate researchers has been moving into residence to participate in the Jackman Scholars-in-Residence program (SiR).
For the last several years, SiR alums have indicated that the social atmosphere nurtured by the program has been fundamental to its success. In the final weeks of the winter 2020 academic year, as COVID-19 foreclosed the possibility of a traditional “residential” experience, SiR organizers and participating faculty re-imagined the annual research residency as a completely online experience. Maintaining the personal and social dimensions of the program remained an important priority for organizers.
On May 4th, the program welcomed 85-students and 17 faculty supervisors to Virtual SiR: an intensive online undergraduate research experience that ran throughout the month.
Once again, faculty research projects spanned disciplines in the humanities and interpretive social sciences: students investigated the relationship between slavery and classical architecture; developed a digital privacy and algorithmic toolkit to further young people’s understanding of online privacy and equality (below); and collaborated with a team of Stanford-based education researchers to code and interpret thousands of global education reforms over several decades (among many other projects).
Re-engineering projects for online delivery was no small task for participating faculty supervisors: every project had originally been conceived for in-person delivery.
In the end, SiR supervisors rose to meet the challenges of our moment, devising innovative online solutions to advance their research program and provide students with high-quality experiences with mentored research. Collaborative research remained the norm, as students employed a variety of online platforms to work in multi-disciplinary teams. Shared workshops, talks, and faculty roundtable discussions also moved online.
A couple of supervisors even surprised their researchers with food delivery and shared an on-line lunch session over Zoom.
Doubtless, everyone involved with Virtual SiR looks forward to a time when face-to-face delivery of the program can resume. Until then, undergraduate humanities research continues to thrive in Virtual SiR, as faculty supervisors and undergraduate RAs find new ways to connect, share knowledge and experiences, and deepen our practice of mentored research.