Directed Independent Study

by Mark Galizio, Department of Psychology

UNCW emphasizes the value of learning that extends beyond the classroom: applied learning. The Directed Independent Study (DIS) mechanism is critical to this emphasis in that it permits students to integrate and apply their knowledge to find solutions to real-world and active disciplinary problems. DIS provides students with the opportunity to work individually or in small groups with faculty mentors and allows students the opportunity to acquire hands-on experience with the tools and skills of their chosen discipline.

The DIS experience, by definition, varies widely depending on the unique interests and approaches of different students and faculty. The DIS is literally designed by the faculty mentor and student before the semester begins. The course design involves specifying the course objectives and project description, the rationale for the course and methods of evaluating the student's grade. DIS at UNCW can range from writing a script, developing a literary critique, conducting a student survey, a laboratory experiment or a field project off campus.

Some features common to most DIS experiences include the opportunity for close one-on-one interaction between the faculty mentor and the student. In many departments, the DIS student is treated as a "junior-colleague" by the mentor and participates in a study group that may include other undergraduate researchers, graduate students and sometimes multiple faculty researchers. Generally, at least one regularly scheduled meeting between the student and faculty member or research team is held weekly or more often. This level of supervision assures that the student will have sufficient guidance to progress appropriately even though their work may be quite independent. There is typically a specified number of hours of effort expected of the student, whether the work involves laboratory activities, library time or creative writing. Finally, some final product is generally specified for the DIS. This might be a final report or paper, a poster or talk presented to the lab group or at a conference, or a show or performance if appropriate.

DIS students also vary in the extent to which the student's project is independent of the faculty mentor's program of research or scholarly endeavor. Often beginning DIS students must spend a semester studying the background literature and learning the research skills and tools of the field before they are capable of more independent work. Once the student gets "up to speed" in their field of study, more independent projects can be attempted and students often enroll in DIS for two or more semesters. DIS projects may develop into an Honors project and it is not uncommon for DIS students to develop sufficient ownership of projects to be credited as authors of articles in refereed journals, convention presentations or other formal discipline-specific presentations. In sum, the DIS experiences helps the student to make the transition from the classroom to active participation in their major field.