May 31, 2017

RS Course FAQs

We have been gathering common questions about RS (Research & Scholarship intensive) courses, and we've put together the answers here. Please feel free to suggest additions!

RS stands for “Research and Scholarship intensive.” These courses are designed to give students an authentic scholarly experience through research or creative projects. By participating in one of these classes, students are actively involved in a project that is the central focus of the class. Students  work on identifying the project, are responsible for carrying out a significant portion of the project, and present the results to a audience beyond classmates and instructor.

This is a tricky question. In Students as Scholars, we define undergraduate scholarship as “the process of generating and sharing knowledge or creative works”. The Council on Undergraduate Research defines it as “an inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline.” Programs need to agree on a definition of scholarly work in the discipline, and what it means for undergraduates to engage in that work.  Generally, we expect that if it is the research, creative or professional work that would count as “scholarship” for faculty, and at a level that undergraduate students can reasonably be expected to engage in, then it “counts.”

Some definitions recently written by programs include:

  • Management: Generating a question that is relevant to the domain, using the Scientific Method (broadly construed) to gather information relevant to the question, coming up with an answer, and communicating it to a stakeholder group.
  • Sociology: The systematic exploration of evaluation of a specific social phenomenon using appropriate sociological categories and concepts, methods of data collection, and data analysis, communicated to the relevant publics.
  • Social work: Research is the process of exploring and understanding the multidimensional factors that affect clients/client systems at the individual, family, community, and societal levels, and the subsequent interventions that may be used to address presenting concerns.
  • Global and Community Health: Research is the systematic synthesis of data, information, and faculty to advance public health knowledge.
  • Neuroscience: The process of inquiry by which we generate knowledge about the structure and function of the nervous system. This includes extending and validating (or invalidating) current ideas, understanding implications of the work, and implementing existing methods or developing new ones to address specific research questions.
  • Psychology: The process of inquiry by which scholars explore hypotheses and generate and share knowledge of thought and behavior
  • Communication: Research is the systematic process of using direct observations answer original question, with questions generated from a foundation of existing knowledge.

The application is online, where there are complete details.  The application is not meant to be onerous, only complete enough for the review committee to understand your course and your commitment to including authentic scholarly work in the course.

RS courses are listed on a student’s transcript, allowing them to highlight to future employers or graduate programs that they were in a class that involved a significant original research or creative project. When you teach an RS course, you get the opportunity to engage interested students in an exciting way – they become partners in scholarly inquiry, rather than recipients of knowledge. Students are increasingly looking for these courses, and we hope that all students will have the opportunity to take at least one RS course before they graduate.

The registrar changes the official name of the course to “RS: COURSE NAME,” so that it appears on the transcript. We have a list of approved RS courses on the website, and there is a list in the catalog (unfortunately, this is only updated periodically, so our list is most accurate).

You can find the current list of classes in several places: the OSCAR website, and Mason’s catalog (unfortunately, this is only updated periodically, so our list is most accurate).

You can visit our Faculty Toolbox, which has a list of books and on-line resources. Many of the books are available in OSCAR (Johnson Center 246, above Burger King), and you are welcome to come hang out during regular office hours (8:30-5, Monday-Friday) and peruse the books. You can also visit either OSCAR or the Center for Teaching and Faculty Excellence during our consultation hours (posted on regularly on our websites) to have us brainstorm with you or review your syllabus and assignments.  We are also available to come talk with your faculty directly, and Bethany often works with you during department or curriculum committee meeting- just contact OSCAR to set up a meeting. Finally, we can connect you with someone in your program or a related program who is already teaching an RS course, so you can get the on-the-ground support from a colleague.
NEW! We have designed a RS course planner that can help in your course design, too.

A course portfolio is required the first time that a course is taught with the RS designation, and after any substantial changes to the course. This portfolio is reviewed by the Faculty and Curricular Activities and Assessment subcommittees. The purpose of this portfolio is NOT to review how “good” the professor is. Instead, our goal is to find out what works and what doesn’t in teaching students about research, inquiry, and the scholarly process. By putting together the portfolio, faculty have an opportunity to reflect on what went well and what they would like to change next time the course is offered, and our review committees learn more about the courses. We have already used this information to make clearer guidelines for RS courses, and to provide additional resources earlier in the semester to RS faculty.

The portfolio consists of a narrative statement that answers a series of questions about the course, a copy of the most recent syllabus, an evaluation of the class on the identified student learning outcomes, and samples of student work that exceeded, met, and did not meet the faculty’s expectations. These materials are submitted through Blackboard, and are due in January for fall classes and end of May for spring classes.  The portfolio takes three to four hours to put together, and less if you have attended the faculty development meetings. Faculty who have not been supported by a Scholarship Development Grant are given a small stipend for completing the portfolio. Faculty who have taught the class before are also encouraged to continue to submit portfolios, and will be eligible for the stipend.

The first time someone teaches an RS class, we ask that she/he attend a series of three professional development meetings. The first meeting, an RS Orientation, takes place before classes begin.  Mid-way through the semester you first teach, we meet again to talk about progress in the courses and share sample assignments. The final meeting, towards the end of the semester, focuses on assessment-both less formal methods that can help faculty learn more about the course, and the nuts-and-bolts of putting together the RS course portfolio.

This varies depending on the undergraduate program; many different types of courses have earned the RS designation. RS courses are typically upper-division courses, but can be required capstone experiences, elective topical classes, alternative honors paths through a major, senior theses, and individualized research/creative experiences (the typical independent study research course).


In this diagram, you can see that some programs require RS courses for all students in that major (left), some programs require an RS course for some students (like an honors or research track), and some offer RS courses as electives available to all students but not required.

This happens more often than you would expect! Some research projects span two semesters, and some are completed in more than one class. For instance, the Senior Advanced Design Projects in Electrical and Computer Engineering spans both ECE492 and ECE493, which is a two-semester sequence. In the Bachelor of Individualized Study, students meet most of the student learning outcomes with their project in BIS490, the Senior Capstone Project, but they do their public presentations in BIS491. In these cases, we give the final or central course the RS designation that appears on the student’s transcript. We also label the other course as “Research Associated,” with an RA attribute, but that isn’t visible to the student.

The most important point here is that it is fine to have a RS experience span two classes, and we can help you figure it out. Contact us if you have any questions.

With the revision (simplification) of the rubric and the course definition, this is easier. Students will need to demonstrate “Proficiency”-level accomplishments (see the SaS Program Rubric) on the three required project-focused learning outcomes and on one of the methods-related outcomes. That is, by the time they have finished the course or project, students will be able to:

  • Articulate and refine a focused and manageable question, problem, or challenge that may contribute to the field. (Core outcome)
  • In consultation with a faculty mentor, design a project that has the potential to make contributions to knowledge, appropriately adapt research or design strategies as the project progresses, and complete the project. (Creation outcome)
  • Clearly communicate the results of a scholarly or creative project through publishing, presenting or performing, consistently employing conventions appropriate to the audience and context. (Communication outcome)

You’ll also pick at least one of the three Methods outcomes. Although we know it’s like picking your favorite child, you really want to narrow your focus to the one(s) that you concentrate on and will be easily able to evaluate for your course portfolio.

  • Consistently choose effective methods for exploring an inquiry, and address advantages and limitations of those methods.
  • Acquire information or data using effective, well-designed strategies; consistently use appropriate criteria to judge the credibility of the evidence.
  • Consistently analyze or synthesize new and previous evidence to make important contributions to knowledge.

You are also welcome to also include any of other Students as Scholars student learning outcomes at the Proficient level that you think are appropriate to the class, although these are not required (and we don’t e

Yes, it would be great to get these courses RS designated (since the purpose is doing research!), if the course number is only used for individualized research or creative projects, and there is a common syllabus to the research experience. Note that this syllabus doesn’t need to be prescriptive, but it should include the student learning outcomes, and include spaces for the student and faculty to work out the goals of the research experience, a schedule, and the grading. We have a sample syllabus (in PDF and Word formats) for independent research that you are welcome to adapt.

Unfortunately, no.  The RS designation is attached to the course number, not individual sections.  All sections need to be taught as RS if it is designated. In this case, you can either have the department agree that whoever teaches the course will include authentic scholarly work, or you can go through your department and college process to establish a new RS course.  You can simultaneous apply for RS designation while your course proposal is working its way through curriculum committees.   I include research or creative work in my class, but it doesn’t meet the level expected for RS designation. Are there other levels? Yes! Courses can also be identified at the Discovery and Inquiry levels, as seen in our course diagram.

In Discovery-level courses, students are introduced to scholarship, both as a general concept, and as done at Mason by students and faculty. They also learn about OSCAR and opportunities for undergraduates to participate (we have videos and presentations you can use in your class). The Discovery-level material will be covered in introductory courses in a major or general education courses. These courses should include some active or inquiry-based learning techniques.

In Scholarly Inquiry courses, students learn content and skills that make them capable of evaluating scholarly work and may prepare them to conduct their own scholarly project. A scholarly inquiry class may be a research methods course in a discipline or a course that uses inquiry-guided learning to explore a topic.

At this time, we offer guidelines for courses at the Discovery and Inquiry levels, but are not formally designating these courses. Faculty are encouraged to use our guidelines to help shape their courses and curricula to incorporate these student learning outcomes. To be included on our list of potential Discovery- or Inquiry-level courses, you may either apply for a Curriculum Scholarship Development Grant that includes courses at these levels, or contact OSCAR to submit a syllabus and a curriculum map indicating that the course includes the required student learning outcomes. In the future, OSCAR may develop a formal path for these classes, also.

OSCAR offers Scholarship Development Grants that offer “catalyst funding” to help department defray the expenses related to scaling up research opportunities within classes. These grants can help support widgets for the students, as long as widgets are durable items that can be used each time the class is taught.  Funds can also be used for faculty stipends, and student hour pay (graduate and undergraduate) to help in preparing a class.

The Faculty and Curricular Activities Committee, a committee of the Students as Scholars QEP Leadership Council. The FCA consists of representative faculty from all schools/colleges with undergraduate programs, University Libraries, and the director of the Center for Teaching and Faculty Excellence.  Bethany Usher, director of Students as Scholars/OSCAR serves as a non-voting chair.

Once you submit your materials, the applications for RS designation are distributed by OSCAR to all members of the FCA. The members review the application, looking specifically at the criteria for RS courses. They then meet, discuss the applications, and make a recommendation to the chair of the committee (Bethany), which can fall into one of four categories:

  • To accept the application and designate the course as RS
  • To accept pending minor revisions that can be submitted to OSCAR for approval and designation.
  • To delay decision pending major revisions, which are reviewed by the FCA again (usually the same semester)
  • Decline to designate

In cases of middle two categories, you are given a clear explanation of what changes are needed before the course can be designated.

All RS designations are provisional until the course has been taught for the first time as RS and a full RS portfolio has been submitted. The course is permanently (see “in perpetuity” below) approved after the portfolio is accepted, unless significant changes have been made to the course.

The FCA reviewers look to make sure that:

  • Courses have a sustained, authentic research or creative project that is a significant aspect of the class
  • The syllabus identifies the course as RS and describes the student learning outcomes (in the best cases, the outcomes correlate with the Students as Scholars learning outcomes but use language that the students can understand). We have sample language that you should to adapt to make it accessible for your students.
  • The curriculum map has course activities that correlate with the syllabus.
  • The curriculum map identifies the expected level of achievement, using the Students as Scholars Program Rubric.
  • The syllabus and/or the narrative statement identify the opportunities for students to share the results beyond the classroom.
  • The program has a plan for sustain teaching all sections of the class as RS in the foreseeable future. This is usually shown by both the narrative statement, as well as support from the chair.

Just as with faculty, scholarship doesn’t become meaningful until it is disseminated, and we want student to have this opportunity.  Having the expectation that the results of their work will be, in some way, public, increases the quality of the work. And students can point to the final product as evidence of their scholarly work in their resumes and CVS, job and graduate school applications.

  • At Mason students can participate in scholarly presentations in school or university-wide events.
  • At local, regional, and international conferences. Students who are presenting their projects off-campus are eligible for support from the Undergraduate Student Travel Fund.
  • In research or creative journals, including Mason’s own GMReview.
  • At competitions or exhibitions, such as the College Inventors Competition or the Association for Computing Machinery Student Research Competition.
  • In poster or oral presentations to other classes or faculty, including inviting introductory classes, other sections of the same course, and/or departmental faculty.
  • To the public, which can include schools or community audiences (see the photo above)
  • Reports or white papers issued publicly or shared with community organizations.
  • Performances open to the public
  • Other venues as appropriate.

In writing that language, we are trying to get departments to understand that the courses will be taught as RS, with the associated student learning outcomes, for the foreseeable future – that this is a permanent change to the course as a whole, not just a single section, under one professor, or for a specified length of time. You can also think of the language as meaning, “for the foreseeable future.”

Contact OSCAR, or check the rest of our website. Bethany has open consultation hours during the week, and you are welcome to call, email, or schedule an appointment with her. You can also meet with Shelley Reid in CTFE.  Most everyone in the OSCAR office can often answer many of your questions