3.2 The degree to which students are free to select the research topic
Allowing students to research topics that capture their interest and which they believe are relevant to them makes sense if we wish to develop optimal motivation for their effort. Because most students are novices in the research process, it is tempting to skip this and provide a list of research ideas from which students can choose. This is especially likely if the project is developed for a course with a prescribed set of topics.
Although providing topics allows students to get a jump start on their research, there is a strong likelihood that the student will not have a passion for the topic. Alternatively, students can be asked to develop their own research topic. While this freedom of choice can occur with projects developed for topic-driven elective courses, it is more likely in the case of an independent study, a senior thesis or a capstone course dedicated to the research process. The advantage of free choice is that it allows students to be creative in the development of topics that may be interdisciplinary, introduce new topics not covered in currently offered courses or serve as extensions of their own past work. The downside of this choice is that it also requires students to overcome a significant hurdle: narrowing their interests to a single topic.