Community Research at Bilkent University

Since 1998, students taking the course GE301: Science, Technology, and Society undertake term projects in the nature of community research projects. Although it is not uncommon in European countries for university students to receive college credit for participating in community research, this may very well be the first time the concept has been integrated into a course as a term project.

We all know the close relationships between science, technology, industry, and the economy. When people speak of science today, what comes to mind are usually big and expensive projects which have captured the imagination: space exploration, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, electronics and information technology, and the human genome project. As greater and greater wealth is being poured into such research, the discontent felt by ordinary people increases. They are at the same time impressed and disillusioned by the exponential progress, which despite the many conveniences its brings, somehow falls short of solving what they feel to be their real and immediate problems and improving their conditions.

Though quietly, a new concept has been emerging in Europe and more slowly in the United States, as an answer to this dilemma. It is called community research. It is contrasted with what its advocates call ``Big Science'': research heavily funded by governments and corporations and practiced by professional scientists, but which they believe do not serve the more immediate needs of the people. In the words of the Loka Institute, a small organization based in the United States:

``. . . community-based research is intended to empower communities and to give everyday people influence over the direction of research and enable them to be a part of decision-making processes affecting them. Community-based research is rooted in communities. Communities often identify the issue or problem and participate in defining the research question, conducting the research, and finally, using the results toward an action-oriented outcome. Our definition of community-based research is: research conducted by, with, or for communities.'' (See for more information.)

Since knowledge is ultimately pursued by people for the sake of people it is important to ensure that common people are actively involved in solving their own problems and that they are knowledgeable enough to have a say in which areas they want public research money to be spent. Community research is about the use of knowledge and ideas and creativity to solve human problems, it is about bringing science down to the people.

The 160+ engineering students taking GE301 were required to propose and undertake a project of this nature in groups of 8-12 students. Some of the projects they have undertaken are shown in the list below. However, these should not be taken as representative of the broad spectrum of possibilities. Community research can take the form of social science type research, but it can also take the form of engineering research (e.g. producing a certain software to serve a certain need not served by the software market). See the Loka home page for more examples.

The students were definitely motivated by the real life nature of the project and the concrete aims. Although few of the projects actually produced and presented results complete and convincing enough that one might actually consider putting them into practice, consideration of the educational value embedded in the process gives us the courage to continue working on the concept.

If you, as an individual, a club, or a group, would like to design and work on a research project to generate information, knowledge, techniques, or practices that would benefit your community, I would be pleased to discuss your ideas with you and see if I can help you get started, or refer you to someone who can. Here, ``community'' may mean a particular group of students, a district of the city or your home town, or even larger. (If you took GE301, you might want to continue the project you started.) Remember: community research, in contrast to ``Big Science,'' does not require a PhD, but commitment.

Examples of community research projects undertaken by members of the community of students of Bilkent University

* Improving Dormitory Room Assignment Procedures at Bilkent University

* Evaluation of Nutritional Intake of Students at Bilkent University

* Conservation of Energy and Resources at Bilkent University

* Improving Course Scheduling Procedures at Bilkent University

* Improving the Life of the Disabled at Bilkent University

* Feasibility Study of a Communication Center for University Students in Ankara

* A Critical Comparison of University Entrance Exam Systems in Turkey

* Factors Affecting Life Expectancy in Turkey