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

10.   Create a competition

Numerous national and international student competitions exist particularly in the Sciences, Mathematics and Engineering subjects and you may want to investigate what is available for your area. But you can also create a mini competition amongst your own students that will cause them to investigate a particular idea or formula. This is particularly useful where the work results in a practical demonstration that can be judged. For example, what about asking students to come up with the best solution to a specified environmental problem? You can also use poster presentations or short presentations such as are used for ‘three-minute thesis’ competitions if practical demonstrations are not possible, or if the competition is based on the best design rather than the implementation of it.


“Second year Engineering students research how to move a 10 kilogram block of ice through water powered only by candles. They then build a device to do this. A competition is held on a nearby lake. The winning device not only moves the ice furthest, it does so at least cost because cost is important in engineering design” (University of Sydney, Australia).

“An industrial organisation sets a task for students: to design a skating robot that can skate faster than the fastest speed skaters. The fastest robot is chosen for the first stage of manufacture.” (University of Calgary, Canada)

Do I need course approval?

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

When can I start introducing research into my units?

Does this only work in small classes?

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

Why should I engage students in research and inquiry now?

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 inquiryis 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.


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 on their website.

Posted by Angela Brew

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