What is research and how to help students look forward to the analytical assignments.
By Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT
Last month, we discussed encouraging curiosity in our students and building a classroom culture that fosters discovery. This month, we will focus on fostering research in our students as we prepare for the fall.
Definition of Research
One of the problems most students – and some faculty – face is their fear of conducting research since it sounds so formal and overwhelming. Actually, research is not that complex.
- It involves a systematic investigation of something that interests a person or team.
- It demands acquiring background information.
- It demands consciously deciding what is the best way to acquire and analyze information.
- It requires providing insights with many qualifications.
In fact, the more careful the researcher, the more likely he or she will mention limitations for the conclusions and suggestions for future research. The credibility of the findings depends on the systematic and careful conduct of the research and the analysis of the data collected. However, many students are not aware of this definition or how many types of research they already do.
Types of Research
Our students undertake many types of research with the most common being writing papers. These tasks involve mostly online reading, analysis, and writing, something that many students have done at one level or another for years. Most are comfortable with the research if not with the writing. Some love the process; others find it hard, especially when they have to pick a topic or if they are not good at writing papers.
Other research includes forms of applied research in which students interview a professional or observe behavior – whether in a restaurant, dining room, kitchen or other location – or ask questions and analyze the results. Many of the assignments such as analyzing plate presentations, developing a menu for a special event, or creating a dinner event with marketing materials, menu, table design, etc. involve this kind of practical applied research. Many students thrive on these assignments. If you do not call this practical research “research” it may help students get excited and perform well.
Many culinary, restaurant management, and hospitality programs also include field research as a common element in their curricula. Sometimes, the field trip involves individual work by a student or one or two partners. Other times, it involves a group activity planned and organized by a faculty member. In these situations, students rely on background research about the location and much observation and question asking during the event. They then write reports describing what they noticed and how it compares to what they have been studying. The educational value of the fieldwork comes from the discussion of what they learned, sometimes in group situations and often in individual papers.
In addition, most students also conduct informal research when they decide where to go for a meal or a drink or what present to buy for a friend or family member. They get involved in collecting data about what the person might want or appreciate, what resources they have to spend on the gift, where they can find options or examples, and then they conduct field research by visiting stores or investigating what is available online. The third step involves analyzing what they have found and and making a choice among options. Using these research examples may help students overcome their fear.
Ways to Foster Research
There are many ways to encourage students to conduct research. An easy one is requiring them to interview a professional in the field and then write up the results of the interview. Helping them with questions and encouraging them to write an analysis – rather than a simple description – makes it a stronger assignment. Encouraging them to add suggestions for further interviews or ways to improve their interviewing keeps the focus on critical thinking about what happened.
A second strategy involves field trips – visiting farms, food warehouses, production operations, restaurants or hotels – which will give them a chance to practice their observation skills, especially if you help young students focus on what to notice. Writing up the field trip experience and requiring them to compare what they saw with what they expected or with what they have learned so far in the course becomes the most important aspect of this assignment. Making fieldwork assignments in which they arrange the visits can expand the research in another dimension by requiring students to locate a person or company to visit which requires thinking, planning and organizing. When they have completed the visit, they are able to write about what they learned about setting up the visit and how they handled the introductions in addition to the thank you notes.
A third way to promote research involves assigning projects or problems you select. The students can get involved in the process of finding and analyzing information without having to define the problem, sometimes the most difficult task. It still leaves them with plenty of work to do since they still must decide what data to collect and how to collect it using careful methodology. They should also determine how to analyze the data and present the findings, especially if the results will be presented in a public setting. This assignment calls on a wide range of critical thinking and other research skills.
Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, is retired as a clinical professor of hotel and tourism management at New York University. As principal of Mayo Consulting Services, he continues to teach around the globe and is a regular presenter at CAFÉ events nationwide.