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

4.   Turn your unit of study into a conference

A conference or showcase is a great way for students to demonstrate what they have learnt. So why not turn the whole unit of study into a conference process. Students can develop useful organisational skills and skills of critical judgement by being involved with academics and others in its organisation. For example, deciding and organising location, timing, catering and even what the program is going to look like. To prepare for their research they might begin by developing an abstract which sets out what they want to investigate, how they’re going to do it and how they will demonstrate their learning. You may allow them to choose their topic, or you might set a broad topic within which each student is free to choose an area to focus on. You will then need to provide feedback on their abstract and this will give you a chance to judge whether the topic and methods of research they have chosen to do is appropriate. Students will then carry out their own research. How much guidance they are given in this will depend on the level of the students, the subject and the level of structure and guidance that you consider is needed. Each student will need to write some kind of report on what they have found and at this stage the conference organising committee may decide which students will give spoken presentations at the conference and which students will present posters and/or demonstrations depending on what has been decided. The organising committee can then plan the program. Further research may be necessary before the presentations are ready. You can add in further assessment stages as required.

As a variation on this idea, depending on the subject, the endpoint might be an exhibition or a series of exhibits.


“In a unit about new multimedia, students choose a topic, write an abstract for the topic they wish to research. They get feedback and approval from the lecturer. They carry out the research and write a report. They present it at a conference towards the end of the semester. The conference is organised by the students. The quality of the reports is used to decide which students will give spoken presentations at the conference. Other students give poster presentations. The exam is focused on topics their peers researched and which they heard about in the conference in order to ensure their participation is also a useful learning experience. Some employers and other guests are invited to the conference.” (University of Southampton, UK)

Posted by Angela Brew

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