Independent study projects are individualized academic experiences that provide students with the opportunity to pursue an academic topic in greater depth than the coverage of the topic in a class, or to pursue significant original research or creative inquiry projects, with the guidance of a faculty member, whether in the field, in archives, in the laboratory, or in the studio. The goal of these projects is to enhance the student's ability to engage in sustained, self-directed learning. Effective independent study/research/inquiry experiences require appropriate academic preparation, regular consultation with a faculty mentor, and a clear plan of action. Students assume much of the responsibility for defining, designing, and implementing these projects.
Independent study projects can include action research or service learning projects in the community. For such projects, it can sometimes be difficult to determine if it is an independent study project or an internship. We suggest that if the student's work and the project goals are guided and evaluated primarily by a faculty mentor, it is an independent service learning project; if the work is primarily guided and evaluated by an on-site professional supervisor, it is an internship.
Projects undertaken as independent study courses can be academic-oriented projects, such as "directed readings," which can include a student developing an annotated bibliography or conducting a literature review, or they can take the form of a specific research plan the outcome of which be a major research paper or report. Other projects included in the independent study framework can include research-focused data collection, creative inquiry including poetry writing or studio art, computer programming, or laboratory research.
Note that students may not elect to do an independent study that covers the same material that is taught in courses offered as a regular part of a department’s curriculum.