This series of posts presents ten simple suggestions to help you change your units or parts of your units to develop students’ research skills and competencies that you can adapt to suit your particular context.

10 easy ways

  1. Change an assessment to an inquiry
  2. Change a laboratory class to guided discovery
  3. Engage students in gathering or working with data
  4. Turn your unit of study into a conference
  5. Arrange for students to interview researchers
  6. Invite students and staff to research speed-dating
  7. Get students to write an abstract
  8. Change essays into academic articles
  9. Turn the class into a hypothesis-generating forum
  10. Create a competition
2.   Change a laboratory class to guided discovery

In many science laboratory classes, students follow a set procedure to achieve a known outcome. But what if the outcome is known, but the stages required to achieve that outcome are unknown? Perhaps a problem is set and students have a few pieces of equipment and have to work out how to achieve the desired outcome. There may be an initial discussion but the instructions may ask questions rather than providing procedures. Of course you will need to ensure that what the students do is safe. It won’t do to have students mixing volatile chemicals that are likely to explode!

Changing a laboratory class into a guided inquiry session is not a new idea. There is stacks of literature in the scientific community indicating why change is needed for the twenty-first century scientist.


“As a development of a traditional laboratory class, each first-year biology student is given a Petri dish and they each collect the fungal spores in the atmosphere in their back yards. There are 1000 students in the class living all over the city. Students bring the samples back to the lab, grow them and write a report on their findings. The results are mapped onto a geophysical map generating new knowledge for publication in scientific journals.” (University of Sydney, Australia)

“In a first year undergraduate computer science course, students engage in the design of computer software which requires simulation of a complex system, for example, planning and managing checkouts in a supermarket, managing a biodiversity survey, managing information for an entertainment advisor, managing the data for a school timetable or managing a product inventory for a computer vendor. Students begin by working on a simple problem and learn how to work in teams. They then, in groups, research their chosen topic and the computer code needed to develop the simulation. Each simulation requires that students collaboratively write a small core of essential code and then develop that so that the simulation can cope with ever more complex situations.” (University of Sydney, Australia)

Author: Emeritus Professor Angela Brew

Posted by Lilia Mantai

Lilia's PhD was on the role of social support in the development of researcher identities in the PhD. She is a Higher Ed professional, passionate about education, research, and providing support to staff and students.

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