Over the last ten weeks Emeritus Professor Angela Brew presented 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. Here is a recap:

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

Now, you may have a few questions in mind. Angela answers a few of them below:

Do I need course approval?

You need to consider whether what you are changing constitutes a new mode of offering the unit. Some small changes, where what the students do in class is changed (e.g. Number2) or where the assessment is essentially the same but the way it is presented to the students changes (e.g. Number 8) may not need approval, but larger changes, may need approval (e.g. changing the structure of the unit as in Number 4). In any case, you should talk to your Associate Dean (Learning and Teaching) in your faculty who will be able to inform you whether you need to obtain approval from the Executive Dean or the Faculty Standards and Quality Committee.

How can I make sure students learn the stuff they’ve got to know?

It’s important that you think about what the students have to know and to do before you decide how to change the teaching and learning. The challenge you have is to find a way of engaging students in research and inquiry that means they can’t avoid learning the things that you need them to learn. Choosing the task is your first challenge. Then you have to think about how to prepare students for what they are going to be asked to do, how you will structure the learning, and then how you will debrief the students afterwards. Note that the activities suggested here are not just for fun (although hopefully they will be fun!). They are serious ways for students to engage with essential course material.

When can I start introducing research into my units?

Students should be engaged in research and inquiry right from the very start of their degree. Some research may only be possible with large numbers of students and some may only be possible with small groups or individuals. These are contextual factors that critically influence what you are able to achieve. See more examples.

Does this only work in small classes?

Many people tell me they can’t engage in research-based learning because there are just too many students in the class. The challenge is not to think about the research that needs just a few helpers. Ask yourself, what research can you not do unless you have large numbers of people to help. There are some wonderful examples of crowd-sourcing research using social media. What does having lots of people available make possible for you in your research?

Won’t students resist, after all only very few are likely to become researchers?

Engaging in research and inquiry isn’t just for students who are going to become academics or researchers in industry. It’s for every student who is going to have a professional career in any domain whatsoever. Every educated person needs to have the skills of critical analysis, the ability to investigate and to make decisions in the light of well-founded evidence and to make clear and cogent presentations. There are lots of problems in the world and we need to ensure that our students are prepared to contribute to solving them. The best way to do this is through engaging them in research and inquiry during their undergraduate years. The challenge for us is to make the research experience relevant to the profession we’re preparing students for. So use the language of your discipline or profession when you present the research-based learning to them.

Why should I engage students in research and inquiry now?

There are lots of reasons for engaging students in various forms of research and inquiry that have to do with the skills, abilities and knowledge that they will need when they graduate. Click here for more information about this. This booklet also provides useful information on the benefits of undergraduate research and case studies.

Other reasons have to do with the Macquarie strategic objectives. The interdependence of research, teaching and learning is stressed in Macquarie University’s strategic framework “Framing our Futures”. A culture of teaching and learning in a research-enriched environment is a key strategic priority.

This is elaborated in the Learning and Teaching Strategic Framework 2015-20 (p.4) which sets a strategic priority to provide connected, creative and innovative learning experiences, and to do this, among other things, by building linkages between disciplines and developing engagement with research. A key strategic goal is for students to become partners and co-creators in their formal learning:

“Universities are also distinguished by their engagement with research and the connected curriculum is built upon research and enquiry-led discipline-specific content. Enquiry-based learning is one of our strategic priorities and we will develop and embed teaching models and practices that support this. All students need to engage in the process of acquiring and creating knowledge, to understand how it is produced and to critique it as required”.

We will bring teaching and research together within the curriculum through program based teaching which is informed by research, through integration of disciplinary research into courses (Research-enhanced teaching); and by providing opportunities for students to participate in and conduct research, learn about research, develop skills of research and enquiry and contribute to the university’s research effort (Research-based learning). Collectively, these efforts will provide opportunities for students to participate in and conduct research, learn about research, develop skills of research and enquiry and contribute to the university’s research effort.(Macquarie University, Learning and Teaching Strategic Framework 2015-20, p.5)

The intention to integrate research and teaching is clearly expressed in the goals for Key objective 2 of the Learning and Teaching Strategic Framework: “Ensure deep, broad graduate capabilities through a connected curriculum”. Specifically, Point 2.3 Research-led Discipline Content specifies the following goals:

  1. In 2018, include as part of the program review cycle, approaches to embedding a broad based culture of enquiry and knowledge creation into teaching approaches, including research as an essential component of all coursework.
  2. In 2018, provide opportunities and incentives (e.g. credit points for students, funding for staff) for coursework students to engage with the university’s leading researchers.

Engaging undergraduate students in research and inquiry is also implied in the Macquarie University’s Strategic Research Framework (2015-2024) which aims to accelerate world-leading research performance by, among other things attracting more high quality higher degree research candidates and increasing the percentage of Macquarie undergraduates transitioning to HDR. It is known that good students make decisions to do postgraduate study prior to starting university. First year experiences of research are influential in students deciding to do postgraduate degrees.

How can I get further help?

Talk to the Learning and Teaching team in your Faculty and your colleagues to explore ideas of how to integrate research experiences in your curriculum.

Visit the Undergraduate Research in Australia website. (Site development and update in progress)

Get involved with the Australasian Council of Undergraduate Research (ACUR) or keep an eye out for their website.

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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