Rethinking the dissertation: avoiding throwing the baby out with the bathwater.


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Handout to accompany the keynote workshop by Professor Mick Healey (University of Gloucestershire) at the Research-Teaching Practice in Wales Conference, 9th September 2013, at the University of Wales, Gregynog Hall. The accompanying slidecast presentation may be found at

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Rethinking the dissertation: avoiding throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  1. 1. September 2013 Rethinking the dissertation: Avoiding throwing the baby out with the bathwater Mick Healey HE Consultant and Researcher; A full version of this handout is available at: “new models of curriculum … should all … incorporate research-based study for undergraduates.” (Ramsden 2008: 10-11) “I cannot think of anything more unfair than … to treat all students as if they are the same, when they so manifestly are not.” (Elton 2000: 1) “Our argument is that a more flexible but equally robust approach is required to the design and assessment of FYPD [final year projects and dissertations] to meet the needs of students from diverse subject areas and types of institution.” (Healey et al., 2013: 10) The text from pp1-5 is taken from Healey et al. (2013). Table 1 Terminology Term Meaning Dissertation In the UK a ‘dissertation’ normally refers to an undergraduate honours project, while in North America it usually refers to a doctoral level project. Whereas the Americans use the term ‘project’ or ‘thesis’ to refer to research projects at undergraduate level, in the UK the word ‘thesis’ is usually reserved for Masters and Doctoral level research projects. In this publication the UK use of the term dissertation is used. The great majority of students in the UK undertake an honours project for their undergraduate or Bachelor degree, which usually counts for 20-40% of the final year credits. It is variable in the rest of Europe; while in Australasia and Canada only a small proportion of students typically take an honours project. In the USA some HE institutions have a separate honors program, generally offered to the top percentile of students, that offers more challenging courses or more individually directed research projects or seminars instead of the standard curriculum. These students graduate ‘with honors’, but are awarded the same Bachelor degree as other students. The traditional honours dissertation in the UK, and some other European countries, is an independent piece of research, typically 8-12,000 words long, but those with lower credit ratings may be shorter (e.g. 5-6,000 words). In Australasia and Canada an honours project usually involves a larger piece of work undertaken as part of an additional year’s study. This publication explores alternative forms of dissertation and final year projects which might be offered alongside or instead of the traditional form. The term ‘capstone project’ is commonly used in North America and Australasia for a project in the last year or semester of the degree programme which provides Honours project Traditional dissertation or honours project Capstone project 1
  2. 2. September 2013 Final year projects and dissertations (FYPD) Module Assessment Degree credits opportunities for students to synthesise and apply their knowledge and experiences from their whole programme. It helps them to negotiate successfully the transition to the next stage of their career, whether to the workplace or further study. Our interest is in those capstone projects where undergraduate students undertake a significant amount of research and inquiry. In this book FYPD refer to all of the above types of project which engage students in research and inquiry at the end of their undergraduate or bachelor programme. They include both traditional and alternative forms of the dissertation and honours project. The key dimensions and characteristics of FYPD and some alternative possibilities are discussed in Chapters 2 and 3. Commonly 5-8 modules or courses (according to their credit ratings) are taken by full time students in their final year in the UK. The term ‘assessment’ is used here in the UK sense of grading work or providing feedback rather than the North American sense of evaluation of institutional and programme effectiveness. Credit ratings for FYPD are cited in several of the case studies. Confusingly these vary between and within countries. In the UK a Bachelor honours degree involves 360 credits; in Australia, parts of Canada and the USA a Bachelor degree is commonly around 120 credits, while under the Bologna Accords in Europe a Bachelor degree requires 180-240 credits. In the UK 15 credits = 7.5 European credits = 4 credits in US. A clearer comparison is the proportion an FYPD constitutes of a full-time final year programme. Final year undergraduate dissertations and projects The dissertation represents an important opportunity for students to use their own initiative to select a topic, methodology, writing style, way of working and presentation format that aligns with their interests, personal and career goals, discipline and course requirements, and the changing world around them. To encourage students to use their initiative, dissertation guides often give minimal guidance about the range of possible forms a dissertation can take. For some students, however, this lack of guidance can actually close down their choices since they automatically assume that what is required is a formal piece of writing that echoes the style and approach of the textbooks and journal articles of their discipline. To give students genuine choice in tailoring what they produce to their own specific abilities, interests and goals, one approach is to be explicit about which aspects of a dissertation are ‘essential’ and what possibilities and opportunities are available. The essential aspects, such as being an extended piece of work, being research based and being underpinned by literature are the features that make a dissertation a dissertation. There are, however, many different forms a dissertation can take while still exhibiting these core characteristics, as our project found in case studies of a wide range of innovative practice across the higher education sector. Our suggestion for dissertation guides is that they include both a list of essential features that need to be part of any dissertation, as well as an open-ended list of possible shapes and forms their dissertation can take so long as the essential features are present. An example of a guide which follows this format is given in Case Study 8 (see list of case studies below). Clearly, what is considered essential and what range of possibilities are available to students will vary according to institution, subject area and course, but the following list of key characteristics and table of possibilities offers some ideas for consideration. The suggestions here are intended to be expansive rather than restrictive – there are clearly far more possibilities for dissertations than we can describe here. 2
  3. 3. September 2013 Although this guide has been designed with the UK undergraduate dissertation in mind, many of the ideas can also apply to other final year projects and what in North America and Australasia are referred to as ‘capstone projects’ (i.e. projects which synthesise material developed in the first degree programme) which contain a significant amount of research and inquiry. Key characteristics of dissertations The following list is an attempt to characterise a dissertation – that is, to describe the essential features that make a dissertation a dissertation rather than another form of work. As with all characterisations, not every dissertation can be expected to exhibit all of the characteristics – some are generally applicable, but some are more relevant to particular disciplines than others. And some are aspirational rather than being a strict requirement. We have tested these ten characteristics through extensive consultation in 2011-12 with colleagues and students in the UK and abroad. The intention, though, is for educators to pick, chose, adapt and add to this list according to their specific discipline, institution and education goals. Whatever form a project or piece of work takes, and whether undertaken on campus, in the workplace or community, characteristics such as the following make it a dissertation: Table 1 Characteristics of final year projects and dissertations 1. It should be an extended piece of work This means that the dissertation or project tackles a central question or issue in depth which the students take ownership of. All sections of the FYPD relate to the same issue rather than being a collection of unrelated essays. The size depends on the contribution it makes to the final year marks e.g. 10%, 25%, 40% or, in the case of honours years in Australasia and Canada, 50% or more. 2. It should be research or inquiry-based There are a great variety of approaches to research, but central to these is a desire to find out something significant about ourselves, our society, our culture, our environment or other aspects of our world. Research can be qualitative, quantitative, laboratory or design-based, artistic, ethnographic, participative, action research, research ‘on’, ‘for’ or ‘with’ people, first person inquiry, or one of many other scholarly approaches. 3. It should be relevant to a discipline or take an interdisciplinary approach The dissertation needs to draw from the disciplinary and interdisciplinary knowledge and skills and literature that students have gained during their degree, regardless of where the research takes place, e.g., work or community-based research. 4. It should be underpinned by a range of relevant sources Sources that inform dissertations and projects include textbooks, journal articles, surveys, interviews, experiments, secondary data, websites, blogs, tweets, wikis, practice reports and direct personal experience. What is appropriate depends on the type of FYPD and the purposes that the source is being used for. It should be recognised that all sources have strengths and limitations, and reflection on the limitations and validity of the sources used is part of the process. 5. It should be contextualised and show recognition of the provisional nature of knowledge FYPD need to be contextualised through reference to the larger disciplinary and real world contexts to which it is contributing. They should recognise that knowledge is uncertain, provisional, and may be contested. 6. It should incorporate an element of critical thinking, challenge and evaluation The authors of FYPD should take a questioning attitude towards the sources used, the discipline, the data, and/or the social and cultural context, examining, problematizing and critiquing these as 3
  4. 4. September 2013 appropriate. The best FYPD challenge and stretch their authors and move them beyond their comfort zone helping them to discover new things about themselves and their capacities. 7. It should be clear what it is contributing A key part of a FYPD is its contribution to the field being investigated. For some disciplines, it is important that dissertations go beyond stringing facts together and demonstrate at least some elements of originality, innovation or creativity, though these are more likely to be the characteristics of a very good piece of work rather than a minimum threshold judgement. The originality could, for example, come from the application of a theoretical framework to new data, the critical evaluation of arguments surrounding a controversial issue, bringing together of information from multiple sources that have not been collated in that way before, or applying theory to real-life issues. It is also important that the experiences of undertaking FYPD contribute to the personal fulfillment of the students. 8. It should have a clearly defined and justified methodology FYPD should be based on a systematic and rigorous methodology, with clear explanation of how application of the methodology can achieve the purposes and goals of the dissertation. It should give the opportunity for students to demonstrate the understanding and skills that they have developed during their degree programme. Furthermore it should show an awareness and understanding of appropriate ethical issues in undertaking the research. 9. It should build up to its conclusions and where appropriate have an element of reflective commentary, including recommendations FYPD should reach a coherent set of conclusions which relate to both the particular topic and the research process. A variety of ideas should be considered, leading up to reasoned conclusions and recommendations, e.g., for future research or policy or practice. In some cases, critical evaluation can extend to reflection on the personal interests and goals of the researcher and how they influence the research process. Many disciplines emphasise the importance of the author presenting evidence-based and argued opinions. 10. It should communicate the research outcomes appropriately and effectively FYPD should be presented in ways which most clearly and effectively communicate the ideas to the intended audience. For some dissertations and projects, there may be multiple intended audiences, for example, a research section which is aimed at an academic audience and a report based on the research aimed at policymakers. Most FYPD will incorporate an extended piece of academic writing while some may also include other forms of writing or other media, such as a report, conference presentation, website, or digital story. Possibilities for the shape and form of a dissertation So long as dissertations demonstrate a set of ‘essential’ features, such as those described in the previous section, there are a wide range of possibilities for the shape and form that they can take. Table 2 is based on a large number of cases studies of innovative practice in dissertation projects, and gives an idea of the potential range of possibilities available. The case studies referred to are on the project web site. 4
  5. 5. September 2013 Table 2 Alternative possibilities for dissertations Common features Individual work The output is a research report Disciplinary focus Detached observation Use of scholarly literature Consideration of the ethics of the research process in terms of not harming subjects Emphasising in-depth analysis Writing style derived from subject textbooks and journal articles A written and bound thesis (c.5-12,000 words dependent on credit rating) Self-contained and completed Campus based Aimed at preparation for a career as an academic researcher Reproduction of the traditions of the discipline Individual supervision Assessed by academics Alternative possibilities Teamwork and group-work at some stage in the process; from workshops, miniconferences and peer evaluation to entirely collaborative projects. Case study 1.4 is an example of a teamwork project. The output consists of a research report as well as a product or artefact that has been created through practical application of the research findings. Case study 1.8 gives examples of artefacts that students include in their dissertation. Interdisciplinary and/or practice focused, where the dissertation can link to career, employability and/or citizenship agendas. Case study 3.5 is an example of an interdisciplinary approach. Engagement and intervention in the real world and ‘live’ issues; personal reflection. Case study 4.1 is based on reflection in the real world context of the workplace. Using scholarly literature, but also drawing on a wider range of practice and other sources; for example, high quality new media sources or oral testimony. Case study 1.3 demonstrates using a scholarly approach to develop a visual artefact. Deeper consideration of the ethics of the research in terms of the potential benefits or detriments to society arising from the type of research conducted. Case study 1.9 includes reflection on ethical issues. Emphasising the integration of analytical skills with other skills. In Case study 5.6 students are required to use and demonstrate a wide range of skills. Appreciation of the wide range of scholarly writing that takes place in a subject area, including creative approaches. Using a mixture of writing styles; for example, a research section written in an academic style and an artefact produced in a business or publicfacing style for a target audience. Case study 1.12 describes a range of creative scholarly writing styles in which dissertations could be written. A written thesis for the main part of the dissertation, together with one or more artefacts derived from the research such as: project reports, reflective writing, conference presentations, business plans, software packages or visual artefacts such as DVD documentaries, sculptures or websites. Case study 4.5 illustrates how a written and bound thesis can be enhanced through the student presenting at an undergraduate conference. Part of a larger project. Case study 5.18 inherits and builds on work of previous cohort of students. Work-based, problem-based, or community-based research, consultancy, event planning and so on. Case study 2.14 describes work-based projects. Aimed at students’ preferred career, whether as an academic researcher or a wide range of other possible careers, agendas and priorities. Case study 5.11 prepares students for a particular career path. Creative extension of the discipline, or combining disciplines into an interdisciplinary project. Case study 3.7 shows how an interdisciplinary approach can achieve a tangible useful output. Group and/or peer advice and support. Case study 4.4 is a group-based project, where only one member of the team is required to be at the weekly meeting, giving responsibility to students to divide up tasks and communicate information effectively to other group members. Assessed by peers or professionals in addition to academics. In Case study 2.4 35% of the assessment is marked by the client. 5
  6. 6. September 2013 Rethinking Final Year Projects and Dissertations: Creative Honours and Capstone Projects Selected Summary Case Studies The following summary case studies were collected by a National Teaching Fellowship Scheme funded project based at the University of Gloucestershire. They are categorised under the following disciplinary groupings: • Arts, Design, Media and Humanities • Business, Hospitality, Law, Sport and Tourism • Interdisciplinary and cross institutional • Education, Social and Environmental Sciences • Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Further information and links to fuller case studies, where available are given on the project website at: Here will also be found the sources on which the case studies are based. The full set of mini case studies plus updates and additions to the mini case studies since October 2012 may be found at:, where will also be found Dissertations and capstone projects: a selected bibliography. 1. Arts, Design, Media and Humanities 1.1 Giving students alternative assessment options for undertaking a Product Design project at Nottingham Trent University, UK The module consists of several possible routes. Assessment is based on a learning contract negotiated and agreed between the tutors and student. This contract stipulates the content of work, enabling students’ to complete one of the following options:  Option 1: a 10,000 word dissertation and students produce a poster that summarises their work  Option 2: a 5,000 word conference paper with a supporting presentation that is delivered to peers and tutors  Option 3: a conceptual project with a 5,000 word critical justification. As well as a written outcome students are required to produce illustrations or simulations. Prior to students undertaking their chosen assignment, there is a three week intensive period when students’ are required to complete their learning contract. The contract identifies what option the student will complete, what they hope to learn and how that learning will be demonstrated. The module involves students using a wide range of primary and secondary research skills. Throughout the year, the direct contact students have with tutors is mainly limited to group or sometimes individual tutorials, where the tutor acts as a ‘consultant’, advising on their proposals, work in progress, what knowledge or skills should be developed, how to tackle certain issues and who students’ should approach for further information. Occasionally there will be content common to all students and this will be delivered through lectures, for example, covering approaches to research. There are also opportunities for students’ to present their work in progress to a panel of tutors and peers, to obtain feedback. 1.2 History students contribute research findings to a Web site at Victoria University, Canada ‘Micro History and the Internet’ is a learner-centred and research-oriented course in which the main activity is primary archival research on various aspects of life in Victoria, British Columbia from 1843 to 1900. Students work in small groups to conduct the research and eventually to publish their findings on the website called “Victoria’s Victoria”. 6
  7. 7. September 2013 1.4 Advanced Newsweek: Work-based Learning and Employability Skills for Student Journalists at the University of Gloucestershire, UK This third year double module aims to consolidate journalism theory and practice into one intensive ‘Newsweek’ where students operate their own news organisation across the three media platforms of television, radio and online news. Using a purpose-built production office alongside television and radio studios, the students elect their newsroom roles and formulate working rotas to research and produce news bulletins, programmes and a news website for one 40-hour intensive week. The module aims to enhance relevant employability skills. Students run their own newsroom and utilise vocational skills that are less explicit in other modules such as strategic thinking and problem-solving, as well as understanding group and individual motivation factors. They are required to act (and dress) in a professional manner and to maintain a high level of respect while making often difficult and instant decisions to tight deadlines. Teaching and learning is blended with twelve weeks of tutor-led lectures, seminars and workshops, followed by a student-led ‘practise Newsweek’ before the assessed Newsweek begins. During the course of the assessed week, students carry out their own primary research to gather and produce daily news to an industry standard. They brand and present their programmes from inception to completion. At the end of each news programme they hold an editorial meeting where they reflect upon their experience and the finished ‘product’. This encourages individual and peer-to-peer reflection which is used to enhance the next news programme, and the student’s cycle of progression becomes noticeable after the first day of operating a ‘rolling newsroom’. The module integrates the development of research and vocational skills in an intensive real-world environment. 1.5 Community Sector Work Placements as Capstone Projects at Swinburne University of Technology, Australia Students undertaking Media Projects in their final years are invited to develop projects (both individual and group projects) or take up a placement opportunity with a community based organisation. Those opting for a placement can choose from opportunities sourced by staff in the subject or they can approach an organisation independently to undertake a placement. The research activities of the student vary according to the aptitudes of the student and the placement undertaken. All students are required submit a Statement of Intention detailing what they are agreeing to do over the course of the semester. Because each project is individually designed, students must satisfy the requirements of their individual supervisor. This can range from a self-directed project such as a short film, website, creative writing piece, radio production, etc. They can also undertake a self- organised work placement for up to 3 weeks. In both cases, the student is required to keep a detailed journal of their activities and to submit any work generated throughout the project production or placement, and submit as part of their assessment. They must also write a 1,000 word reflective self assessment of their placement detailing what they learned and achieved. 1.10 Learning from Industry Professionals and a Student-led Conference on Contemporary Issues in Arts Management at the Liverpool University for the Performing Arts, UK In this final year module, Contemporary Issues in Arts Management, students engage in inquiry through questioning industry professionals, researching their areas of interest and presenting their findings at a student conference. Ten speakers at the top of performing arts management talk for one session each about the future of the arts, music, theatre and entertainment. Each speaker chooses their own issue to talk about with students plus the format. Small groups of students host each session, contacting the speaker in advance, researching their area of interest and providing research packs to fellow students. On the day of the talk students meet the speaker for lunch. This enables them to network with industry professionals, as well as to lead discussions and collate questions in order to chair Q&A sessions. Guest inputs are tweeted. Dissemination therefore happens live throughout the module. 80% of the assessment is through a presentation at the end of the module. Emphasis is placed on coherence and strength of argument and supporting evidence over presentation criteria. These presentations also constitute an annual Contemporary Issues in Arts Management Conference. The 5-day gathering is based around 32 students delivering their own papers on the future of our industries. This unique event is attended by industry professionals and members of the public as well as our other two years of management students. Conference reaction is tweeted by the audience, generating wide dissemination (Some 850 tweets per month; the last 50 have reached 7,562 recipients). The External Examiner commented (2008-09) that the “student conference... is excellent professional preparation as well as a sound testing of the students’ understanding of the industry.” Twenty percent of the marks 7
  8. 8. September 2013 are available for criteria decided on by students themselves e.g. their interaction with guest speakers’ subject matter and enhancements to the course. Hot tip: “Don’t try to do it all at once – it has taken 9 years to build up this module”! 1.12 Letting the apple fall further from the tree: the creation of a guide to inform students of the diversity of possible forms an English Language dissertation can take in the University of Gloucestershire, UK This case study discusses the initial findings from introducing a guide earlier this academic year to inform students about the diversity of possible forms an English Language dissertation can take. Further research will examine the impact of the dissertation guide on the kind of dissertation that students actually chose to do and the quality of the final product. One of the defining characteristics of a dissertation is that it is an independent piece of work where the student has the freedom to choose their own research topic, methodology and, to some extent, format and writing style. Assignment briefs often describe the word limit, hand in date, learning outcomes and assessment criteria, but are careful not to specify further details about the topic or approach since these are up to the student. Ironically though, the lack of specificity can lead to a closing down of choice, since in their desire to produce ‘what is expected’ students often seek models from the standard textbooks of their course, the journals of their discipline, or previous dissertations, but not beyond. This project has produced a more detailed and specific assessment brief and process for dissertations. The brief outlines the essential characteristics of a dissertation and describes a wide range of possibilities for the shape and form that the dissertation can take. The process is designed to provide students with a strong support structure to give them confidence in the direction they are taking in their dissertation. Initial feedback suggests that students are delighted both to be offered a range of possibilities to consider for their dissertation and to have a clear structure to undertake their project in. 1.13 Exploring Contemporary Literature at Oxford Brookes University, UK This final-year capstone course for English Studies at Oxford Brookes University is compulsory for students taking a degree solely in English and strongly recommended for those studying English and another discipline (Brookes operates a US style credit or modular course where many students specialise in two disciplines). The 'Contemporary Literature' module encourages students in their final year of study to reflect upon their accumulated reading experiences and to explore and implement their critical vocabularies by examining a number of contemporary writings. The course is intended to present students with a series of challenging texts that provoke consideration of the interrelationships of past, present and future. The module includes texts that self-consciously analyse the impact of the past on the present, but it will also foreground material that deliberately postulates the relationship between present and future. In so doing students will be required to address the hybridity of notions of the contemporary. This capstone course brings all students together to analyse common issues in contemporary literature. Assessment requires students to take a critical and individual overview of their whole English programme: to consider what pathways they have followed during it and, crucially, where they are at the close of the degree and where they are taking both the subject and themselves (e.g. whether into work or into postgraduate study). Assessment for this module is 100% coursework comprising: a 15 minute in-seminar group presentation (30%); a 3000 word essay (40%) and a completed module logbook (30%). All assignments are assessed on the reading which the student has engaged with over the course of the module and on a synopticising overview of the students’ English Studies course. One of the principal aims of the assessment strategy is to get students to relate the material that is discussed in class back to other texts and cultural forms that they have encountered on their degree. 1.15 Creative Exchange: Multidisciplinary Media Arts Practice in an Industry Context at James Cook University, Australia Creative Exchange (CXC) is designed to capitalise on a common thread of interdisciplinary practice built into the New Media Arts degree programme which features five disciplines, Sound and Music Media, Illustration and Visual Media, Contemporary Theatre, Media Design and Photo Media. The degree teaches students the practical and theoretical concerns and specificities of each area through a core programme of subjects that focus on convergent production methodologies. Projects are devised by staff, students and the wider community and are observed at close quarters by a panel of industry and academic personnel. It is common that these projects demand a rapid expansion into 8
  9. 9. September 2013 technical areas that either build on existing skill-sets or draw from available expertise in the local creative industry sector. Students undertaking CXC are encouraged to design their own projects, but can also work with staff, client and community groups to design projects. Each project team must include at least 3 disciplines - this might include student expertise from outside of the school and in the past has featured students and staff from Information Technology, Education, Anthropology and Business - and project teams must develop a professional “shop front” to represent their professional identity online and in the public space. Built into the programme is a heavily structured pre-production phase which takes its cues from production based methodologies commonly found in film, game and media design studios. These documents are developed early, often pre-semester, and evaluated by a panel of industry professionals who are representative of the major disciplines from the New Media Arts programme. Finally, all projects must have a public or industry relevant launch event. Students are encouraged to engage with local venues and event management professionals and spend a considerable amount of time developing logistical run sheets, Occupational Health and Safety plans, promotional material and media savvy PR collateral with the School’s Community Engagement and Events Officer and Facilities Management team. 1.17 Developing the reflective practitioner in performing arts at the University of Winchester, UK The BA (Hons) Performing Arts degree at the University of Winchester concerns contemporary performance practice. We place the notion of the student as 'reflective practitioner' at the heart of the programme as a pedagogical and philosophical model. Performance-making and researching-through-performance are fundamental to the programme. Theory is explored through practice, while practice is evaluated and contextualised through theory. Interdisciplinarity and cross-disciplinarity are also at the core of the programme. The final year project module aims to develop a key transferable skill, which is promoted by the programme, namely that of fostering thestudents' ability to recognise their own learning needs in relation to their particular strengths and learning skills. Through this module students develop an individually negotiated portfolio of work informed by current debates in performing arts, specifically focusing upon preparing students to continue work at post-graduate level or in a professional context. Various models are available to the students, including 100 per cent performance, workshops and performance, and a traditional 10,000-word dissertation. In all the work, the process must be underpinned by critical reflection. Source: Extracts from Hellier-Tinoco and Cuming (2010, 18, 21) 1.18 Style in performance in music degree at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, UK This case study explores aspects of a course that is offered in each year of the four year BMus degree at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD). This course, which is entitled 'Style in Performance' (SiP), includes a number of elements that link teaching and research, in terms of course content, assessment and outcomes. SiP is principally concerned with learning through practice, research and reflection, and at the RSAMD it is considered to be an opportunity for students to begin to explore practice-based research (or research 'in-and-through practice'). In the fourth year, the teaching in SiP takes a more philosophical and critical approach, examining a range of issues relating to performance in a short series of lectures. Students then work independently on music of their choice, and are encouraged to study a work or works that they will perform in their main final recital. Studying part of their final recital programme opens up the potential to synthesise the philosophical and critical approach of the classes with music that they are preparing in detail for a polished performance. They complete a worksheet, and sit a performance/viva. In addition, students may also choose to undertake an elective research project within SiP IV. These projects can be diverse, but always deal with aspects of performance. A wide variety of submission types is available to cater for a range of practice-based projects, including lecture-recital, recital with research notes, recording, DVD or multimedia submission and demonstration lesson. Whatever the submission type, the student also undergoes a rigorous oral examination. Source: Extracts from Broad (2010, 11, 13) 9
  10. 10. September 2013 1.19 Engaging students in digital humanities in an archives and public history curriculum at New York University, USA “Traditionally we required a written thesis thirty-five pages in length. We modified the requirements to allow for digital projects, as well as other forms of archives and public history activities, such as exhibition designs, oral history projects, online documentary editions, and walking tours. Students have already begun to take advantage of the opportunities, and some have built extremely creative undertakings. An example is a historical blog, First Hundred Days, hundreddays/), created by two students around the theme of the first hundred days of the Franklin Roosevelt administration. They invented several historical characters, embedded documents and media from the period into the site, and created lesson plans that secondary school teachers might use to incorporate the site into the classroom.” Source: Wosh et al. (2012, 90-91) 1.20 Shaping dissertation research in dance and music theatre: critical approaches and shifting methodologies at London Studio Centre, UK London Studio Centre’s BA (Hons) Theatre Dance programme, validated by Middlesex University, prioritises technical excellence in dance/music theatre performance and creative practice, based on a clear grasp of dance history and culture. The dissertation forms a key part of the Level 6 module M301 – Research: Putting Theory into Practice (40 credits). Modules at Levels 4 and 5 prepare the students for this task, establishing study skills and research methods appropriate for HE and developing critical and analytical tools to locate different dance practices, including the students’ own creative practice, in a wider cultural context. The integration of theory and practice through dissertation research encourages students to develop the transferable graduate skills needed when they enter the professional field, and indeed when they exit it, considering professional dance may be a relatively short-lived career. Furthermore, recent methodological shifts in the wider field of dance studies have led students, in conjunction with tutors, to develop tailor-made research methodologies. There is a breadth of interdisciplinary theoretical frameworks, combining insights from dance studies as a discipline with theatre studies, cultural studies, psychology, anatomy/physiology or sociology. Many students choose to study topics in the field of popular culture, in line with the recognition of popular dance and music theatre as meriting academic enquiry; however, this is not without its challenges due to the apparent lack of substantial bodies of literature in these areas. Also, practice-based research in choreography and dance on screen is becoming increasingly significant. Sources:; 2. Business, Hospitality, Law, Sport and Tourism 2.1 Engaging students in applied research through a community sports development consultancy project at University of Central Lancashire, UK The final year Community Sports Development module acts as a capstone module for Sports Coaching students. It is taken in addition to the honours dissertation. Students work as a project team through a consultancy brief with a partner agency and recommend strategies that can be employed to support community development through community sport and coaching initiatives. There are normally 8-12 consultancy briefs divided up among the 40-50 students, with students creating their own consultancy teams. Examples include: a) A “health check” of football refereeing in Blackburn; b) Community Sport and Crime Reduction; and c) Community Sport (“Street Dance”). 2.2 Modelling the Research Experience: Tourism Students’ Virtual Conference at Universities of Lincoln and Wolverhampton, UK In May every year, final-year Tourism students at the Universities of Lincoln and Wolverhampton participate together in a live virtual conference, as part of their final-level assessment. A conference is a useful vehicle for extending insight into the process and practice of knowledge creation and dissemination and for students to participate as, in effect, research disseminators. Information technology has made it possible: during the specified 10
  11. 11. September 2013 time frame of one week, students across two campuses can come together at times of their choosing to participate in a joint effort to disseminate research findings and engage in dialogue about their research. Students submit a full conference paper, but it is only a summary discussion paper that appears on the conference website. Each student is also required to post a comment on another conference paper, in true conference dialogue tradition. For further information, visit. Feedback from students has been very positive and encouraging. Two qualified web designers built the site and have been on hand to deal with technical issues. Teaching staff have provided support for the conference throughout. In 2011-12, in the same module, the concept of tourism socialisation (not well-researched in the tourism literature) was analysed. In seminars, as a non-assessed feature, students were asked to submit childhood holiday snaps and a story attached reflecting on the ways in which they thought early holiday experiences had influenced their own holiday choices. The work they produced formed an exhibition as part of the University’s Festival of Teaching and Learning. As a result a 'Holiday Memory Bank' project has been started. As a natural part of this evolution, it seemed appropriate to ask students to turn themselves into consultants - should the socialisation project continue? How should the virtual conference develop? What content should be covered in the module? 2.4 International on-course Market Research Experience for Final Semester Bachelor of Agribusiness Students at The University of Queensland, Australia This compulsory capstone course is based around international market research consultancy projects undertaken for fee-paying Australian agribusiness firms. Guided by an experienced academic mentor, groups of 4-5 students work on their client's project for the whole of their second semester (early August to early November). In late September each group travels overseas to do the in-market research and they are required to have the whole project finished and a full report back to the company, orally and in writing, by the end of the first week of November. In the last five years more than 300 students have completed research in 16 different countries including China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore, Dubai, and France; covering products as diverse as beef, lamb, pork, game meats, citrus, mangoes, avocados, processed fruit, bamboo products, macadamias, and farm machinery. Currently 35% of each group's assessment comes from their client, not the university, so when a client awards a mark it reflects their satisfaction with the quality of the work. For this part of each project, students develop their own assessment criteria and negotiate them with their client. 2.6 Coaching and Community Development at Southampton Solent University, UK The third year unit Coaching and Community Development follows a second year unit titled Coaching and Development, which is a precursor to the third year unit. Students begin the third year with a formed idea and project plan as they have been required to engage with industry partners, employers, and businesses. The main function of the third year unit surrounds students in groups delivering their own coaching and development initiative in the local community. Students’ projects have to address a social issue and be sustainable. Involvement of industry has been an important factor in developing both the second and third year units. Industry involvement has increased, as it became apparent how significant the contribution is to the students from those within the profession. There is now a ‘Dragons Den' element where students have to present their work to a mixture of academic staff and industry professionals. This enables students to receive feedback from a variety of sources, strengthening the student experience. Students are assessed via a poster presentation in front of partners from the industry and they are required to submit an individual reflective portfolio. In the third year unit the second period of study takes a more directive approach. Whilst students are developing their coaching plan a number of optional and compulsory tutorial sessions are run to provide support to the student. 2.7 Implementing a Research Active Curriculum at the University of Sunderland, UK The University of Sunderland in January 2010 revised its institutional teaching and quality assurance processes to deliver a curriculum that is ‘research active’. At level 3 all programmes will ensure that students experience a suitable synoptic activity which helps them bring together their understanding of their discipline and professional area and prepare them for their subsequent employment and civic engagement. Implementation of this broad framework is at Faculty level. The undergraduate curriculum will be designed to promote progressive development 11
  12. 12. September 2013 of graduate research attributes fostered through increasing student engagement in enquiry and understanding of research in a structured way through all levels. In the Business School the undergraduate programmes are being redesigned to offer a common first year, comprising an 80-credit ‘super module’ in which students will work in multi-disciplinary teams to research and design a business start-up and a 20-credit ‘Contemporary debates in ….’ module, where experts from the various disciplines of business and management will lead debates on topical and controversial issues in their subject area to raise student awareness of the uncertainty, subjectivity and the dynamic nature of knowledge. 2.9 Virtual Law Placement: Experiencing Work Integrated Learning in Diverse Law Graduate Employment Workplaces Virtually at Queensland University of Technology, Australia Virtual Law Placement provides law students with an opportunity for research and inquiry into a diverse range of working environments that are now available to law graduates, including international work placements. Students are assessed through their submission of an application for their preferred placement, their contribution to an online discussion forum, the project and an ePortfolio reflection. Students work as part of a team on a real world law workplace project, for example, an internet bases intellectual property dispute; or listing a public company; or engaging in research about access to justice of juvenile offenders in regional Thailand. Students apply legal knowledge and skills to complete a real world workplace project in a team, using online communication technologies to enable students to be virtually, rather than physically, present at the workplace and to engage with the other participants in the workplace, including the workplace supervisor of the virtual placement. 2.12 Charity Fund Raising Final Year Project in Business and Management Studies for Enhancing Employability at the University of Bradford, UK This is a new module designed with two broad outcomes in mind: 1) to give students the knowledge and expertise they needed to perform well in the graduate selection process; and 2) to add to their CV activities which would give them something to talk about at interview and which would stretch them in the development of their skills. The former was delivered via classroom teaching whilst the latter was seen as the product of planning and delivering fund-raising initiatives for one of a small number of charities. Students variously undertook football matches, disco nights, cake stalls, fashion shows, etc and on a significant number of occasions, obtained corporate sponsor shop to cover certain expenses. The emphasis of the module is on the practical demonstration of skills and students are asked to present an analysis of what they had done and why in an “Apprentice Boardroom” at the end of the module. Assessment criteria included their presentation skills, their performance as a team and their performance on the task. Whilst teams who raised larger sums of money typically did better than those who did not, the amount of money raised was not part of the assessment. Assessment was through a formal presentation undertaken in front of three employers as well as tutors and team documentation (minutes of meetings, accounts, receipt from the charity involved, evidence of communication with the charity, risk assessment of health and safety for the activities proposed, feedback from the mentor and two-side reflective account) submitted one week before the presentation. The documentation gave an indication of potential questions which could be asked at the presentation. 2.15 Language students work in teams on international market research projects at Leeds Metropolitan University, UK For almost 15 years all the final-year undergraduates on language degrees at Leeds Metropolitan University work in teams of four over a full year to undertake international market research projects on behalf of local businesses, following project briefs prepared for them by the managers in those businesses. The students practise the whole range of skills they have developed on their course (applied languages, team-working, time management, research, project management, data analysis, report-writing, presenting recommendations and so on) in a real-world environment based on genuine commercial needs and products. 12
  13. 13. September 2013 The students appreciate that they are not working on a case study but with actual products and professionals who teach them about expectations in a professional environment. Over the years, those products have included fashion jewellery, specialist woven fabrics, language services, bathroom equipment and even high-speed, crash-proof shutter doors. Students are particularly fascinated by the company or factory tours as, for many of them, it will be the first time they have ever seen behind the facade of a business. The employers also prize the experience as they get valuable research undertaken that can assist them with their strategic development of international markets. 2.16 Marketing final year research project at Letterkenny Institute of Technology, Ireland All students taking the Bachelor of Business (Honours) Marketing complete a major marketing research project as a partial requirement for the fulfilment of their BBS Honours Marketing. The Marketing Research Project (5 credits) module is the capstone marketing research module. Prior to this, all students complete two modules (equating to 10 credits) specifically related to the field and practice of marketing research. These modules are called Marketing Research Methods and Applied Marketing Research. In the research capstone module learners must work in groups and source a business that has a research problem or opportunity that they can address. For example one group of learners recently worked with an established hotel in the locality to investigate the consumer decision-making process for the selection of a wedding venue in Co. Donegal. The methodology for this project included a focus group with five couples who were married recently in Co. Donegal and a structured survey (N = 100). Learners are required to apply the principles of best practice marketing research throughout their project. They are required to design and justify a sound methodology, and execute that methodology, incorporating innovative marketing research techniques throughout. Learners present a copy of their research projects to the business. Learners are also required to maintain a personal log, detailing their individual research reflections, throughout the module. The Marketing Research Project module (semester 8) is linked to a preceding module, Applied Marketing Research (semester 7). In this module, the continuous assessment requires learners to source a business that has a research problem or opportunity and design a suitable marketing research proposal to address that research opportunity. In the semester 8 Marketing Research Project module, learners revise the proposal and execute the proposed research. The Marketing Research Project module is assessed by 100% Continuous Assessment. 80% of the marks available are for group work and the remaining 20% is for an individual submission. Group work is assessed in four stages; stage 1 (20% of group work) represents the literature review, stage 2 (20% of group work) represents the methodology, and stage 3 (40% of group work) represents the findings and analysis section. Learners are provided with marks and feedback on their performance at each of these three stages. Stage 4 (the final 20% of group work) is for the resubmission of the final document; the Marketing Research Report. This report is also presented to the business. In the individual submission, worth 20% of the module, learners must detail their personal research reflections. This must include information on areas they had special responsibility for, reflection of the division of labour throughout the project, and reflection on the research limitations. Sources: Correspondence with Vicky O’Rourke (; 3. Interdisciplinary and cross-institutional 3.1 Compulsory community-based learning capstone project at Portland State University, USA During the final year each undergraduate student is required to participate in a Senior Capstone, the culmination of the University Studies program. The Senior Capstone is a community-based learning experience that 13
  14. 14. September 2013 a) Provides an opportunity for students to apply the expertise they have learned in their major to real issues and problems in the community; and b) Enhances students’ ability to work in a team context necessitating collaboration with persons from different fields of specialisation. Each student works with a team of students and faculty. Each Senior Capstone must result in some form of summation, closing project, or final product that puts closure to the students' experience. 3.2 Unravelling complexity at Australian National University, Australia The final year synoptic capstone course involves students from each of the seven colleges/faculties examining different disciplinary ways to “unravel complexity”. The course has a weekly two hour panel of different high profile researchers speaking to the class on how different disciplines deal with complexity. Each panel typically consists of a range of speakers taking different perspectives on an issue, e.g. global financial crises, the collapse of empires, contemporary 'failing' states, pandemics, engineering and network failures, and the moral and legal dimensions of these issues. Students in pairs then facilitate a tutorial discussion with about 16 of their classmates on this topic. Reflective and interdisciplinary thinking is encouraged through a learning portfolio. 3.3 Inter-disciplinary Inquiry-based Learning (IDIBL) Focused on Action Research in the Workplace at Bolton, UK The IDIBL framework project at the University of Bolton has developed an undergraduate and postgraduate module framework for inquiry-based learning, which includes final year honour projects. The student is seen as an actionresearcher who must identify an opportunity in their work-context for improvement. Learners support each other in an online community to combine study with work. The modules contained within the framework focus on process, and generic concepts and outcomes, rather than subject content. Through a process of negotiation between the individual learner and the course staff, a personalised inquiry is developed to include learning activities and assessment products that meet the module requirements and informed by the learners’ professional practice. The student then plans the action they will take, undertakes it in their own work context, evaluates the action, and revises the plan. 3.6 Involving Students in Interdisciplinary Interactive Media Consultancy Projects at Miami University, Ohio, USA Interactive Media Studies at Miami University is an interdisciplinary programme (including Computer Science, Engineering, MIS, English, Marketing, Graphic Design, Education, etc.) that brings together students and faculty to investigate how interactive media informs and transforms their disciplinary perspective. The programme has been running since 1996 and uses problem-based learning and team-oriented projects to help students to learn how to apply their theoretical knowledge to innovative digital solutions for a paying client. About 100 students a year take the programme. The students work in groups of up to 20. The students themselves decide how to divide up tasks; typically there are groups undertaking development, design and marketing. The programmes are team taught with the last two weeks spent on de-briefing and talking about what they’ve learnt. The students are typically in class four hours a week, but spend many more hours, for example visiting clients, undertaking research or doing user testing. They make a presentation to their client at the end of the project. Commercial companies are charged $20,000 per project paid on delivery; non-profit organisations and charities are typically charged c$5,000. They found the client did not take it as seriously when no charge was made. From the client’s perspective, they get out of the box thinking that they would never obtain from a consultant firm. The clients typically end up with something that far exceeds their expectations. The students find it surprising and challenging to manage the changes which commonly occur during the development stage of the project. 3.7 Working in an Interdisciplinary way with Communities in the UK, Kenya and Zambia to Design, Produce and Sell a Children’s Book at University of Central Lancashire, UK The idea for the project is extremely simple. We had a lot of programmes across the university producing content and research in isolation of each other. All we have done is bring them all together to work on one project with a tangible, real output. In this case it was a book, ebook, film and exhibition but you could change this to suit your individual disciplines and institution. The Letters to Africa and Pipeline Projects are an innovative way of bringing students from different disciplines together in a practical, applied way to devise, produce and sell real products for 14
  15. 15. September 2013 children, usually books, photographs and ebooks, under the banner of UCLan Publishing. Students work with communities, including local schools, in Lancashire, Zambia and Kenya to gather content for the output. Sales from the products partly fund the following year's projects and partly go towards funding a secondary school education for children in the African community of Kimana in Kenya. As the project is entirely integrated into all the participating programmes the students work on the project is assessed. The way in which this is done is up to the programme/ module tutor. Here are a couple of examples: - MA Publishing students coordinated the project and prepared the briefs for all students from various disciplines. They were doing this work as part of a practical module and were assessed through group project books and individual reflective statements. The emphasis was put on assessing the process rather than the actual output. - Many MA Linguistic students adopted the project as part of their dissertation work. They researched the Maasai language (Maa) and contributed a piece about the Maa language to the book, interviewed local African people about the language and put together the very first Maa language glossary in print. Although at Masters level the idea is transferable to undergraduate programmes. 3.10 Dissertation Question Time: supporting the dissertation project through panel discussion at Brunel University, UK Dissertation Question Time attempts to create an informal arena for discussion, while allowing the input of voices from a range of subjects and perspectives. The workshop consists of a panel of undergraduate students, academic staff and an academic skills advisor discussing questions from students on any aspect of the dissertation project. During the workshop the student attendees submit their question to any member of the panel. The aim is to prompt open discussion and students on the panel are particularly encouraged to lead the discussion. To encourage participation students are invited to submit questions beforehand and these are distributed to the audience. The main themes that arose from the students attending the sessions involved issues over the relationship with the supervisor, confusion over structure or format and time management. The dissertation is seen by many as a highly individual project; meaning it can be difficult to provide advice that students deem specific enough for their learning needs. Consequently students can find it hard to relate the answers to their topic area. However students can find the discussion of general research approaches from the panel reassuring and interesting. Therefore the advice generated through the discussion is valuable in the way for which the session is intended: support that complements subject specific provision but makes no attempt to replace it. 3.11 Engaging students through empowering them to co-create the curriculum at Newcastle University, UK Undergraduates studying multiple subjects face particular challenges to establishing a student identity and a sense of belonging. Combined Honours at Newcastle University had the lowest rate of student satisfaction in the University in 2008. It was for this reason, when I became degree director, that I addressed this issue, by taking a holistic approach to student engagement. Initially, I began this process by asking the students what their issues were and what they suggested the solutions were in solving these issues. A key issue was the inability of many Combined Honours students to do a dissertation or a project combining their subjects, as the subjects they studied did not allow this. I set out to design an Independent Studies module with student representatives, who made many innovative suggestions which were implemented in the course design. Assessment on the Independent Studies module follows a path from formative to more summative; with a balance between assessing the output and the process, assessing the latter through a culminating reflective interview. We do encourage authenticity in topic and output, connected to the professional world beyond HE with wide scope and format choice. Peer assessment was introduced, which the students now appreciate after some initial reluctance. Support for students is delivered through workshops; with the students choosing the topics and supervision, but there are also peer groups where collaboration is encouraged. I continue to work closely with the students to 15
  16. 16. September 2013 evaluate and improve the module design and operation. Subsequently three further modules have been co-created and designed, focused on developing ‘graduateness’. Student engagement is now much higher, all round. 3.13 Undergraduate research celebration days in the USA Many US institutions have a special day, days or a whole week in which students from across the institution present their research – generally by posters but also by talks, exhibitions or performances. These are often accompanied by talks from leading researchers in that institution or nationally. Audiences for such events are faculty, fellow students; and in some cases, e.g. Boston University and Bates College, the dates for such events are carefully selected to ensure parents, potential students, alumni and potential sponsors can attend (Huggins et al., 2007). In 2012 the University of New Hampshire celebrated its 13th undergraduate research conference; over 1100 students participated over ten days. Sources: Huggins et al. (2007); 3.16 Community-based research at Bates College, Maine, USA Bates has a strong social service, citizenship ethos (it was founded by abolitionists in 1865 and gave early support for black and female enrolment at the College) and more recently with has developed a strong focus on “service learning and supporting students as active informed citizens.” Recently this public service mission has been greatly strengthened in scale and given a more clearly central academic focus through the establishment in 2005 of the Harward Center for Community Partnerships. The central goals of the Centre include:  Based on previous service learning, student and staff volunteering – building a strong scholarly research-based approach that both supports community development but also transforms teaching and research in the disciplines. Now several departments have integrated research based service learning into their courses and senior capstones. Some departments now offer research methods courses that focus specifically on collaborating with the community for research.  One important priority is working with faculty and community partners as a “Collaboratory” to transform in term and out of term research learning opportunities and the mainstream curricula in the disciplines at Bates.  The Harward Centre seeks to build long term projects founded in community needs and student and faculty research interests that enable students and faculty to work with community partners within semester based courses on issues of common concern. The projects are co-generated by community partners and faculty. Thus one project had local museum staff working with humanities students who were learning and using oral history research methodologies to interview former mill workers to develop a travelling exhibit about Lewiston’s mills and mill workers in the twentieth century. Sources: Huggins et al. 2007;;; 3.18 The Project Hub at Swinburne University of Technology, Australia The Project Hub has been built and renovated to support final year students. It's located in the Library at the Hawthorn campus. This creative space is entirely dedicated to students working on Capstone Projects. It contains meeting rooms, state-of-the-art technology and social, open working spaces. Source: 4. Education, Social, Environmental and Health Sciences 4.1 Service-learning Program, Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology, Australia The QUT Service-learning program has engaged fourth-year primary and secondary Bachelor of Education students in transformational learning experiences that cultivate their ability to question, deconstruct and then reconstruct knowledge to inform their role as teachers. The program has been designed to prepare teachers better to support 16
  17. 17. September 2013 the diversity of children and adolescents in schools. The service-learning program complements the teacher practicum by requiring pre-service teachers to complete 20 hours of non-paid service with partner organisations prior to engaging in their final practicum and their internship. Partner organisations include homework clubs for children who are refugees, drop-in centres for people who are homeless, rehabilitation centres for people who have an acquired brain injury, and aged care facilities. Reciprocal relationships are established with the organisations so that the service reinforces and strengthens academic learning and the academic learning reinforces and strengthens service in the organisations. The students research the mission and focus of the activities of the service organisations. Students are required to focus on solving real problems and dealing with issues required to support people who are marginalised in society. The program of learning is transformational because it requires the students to participate in critical reflection such as classroom discussions, role plays, presentations, and scaffolded reflective writing about their experiences and learning while participating in the service-learning program. 4.2 Giving Students First-hand Experience of Research-based Consultancy in Environmental Management at University of Queensland, Australia Team-based problem-based learning in used in the final year capstone course for the Environmental Management, Rural Management Environmental Tourism and Tropical Forestry degrees at the University of Queensland’s Faculty of Natural Resources, Agriculture and Veterinary Science to give students experience of research-based consultancy. It is a year-long course, team taught by an interdisciplinary staff (in recent years, a social scientist and an ecologist for the internal students, a multi-skilled environmental manager taking the external students). The staff solicit suitable ‘problems’ and clients among their contacts, for instance from government agencies, non-governmental organisations, or land care groups, or the private sector. The staff may help the client mould the topic to achieve appropriate degrees of difficulty, and equity in workload and difficulty across the student groups. The students work like consultants to their client, coping if the client changes the brief during the year (as many do a couple of times). They work in groups of about six students. The clients come to campus at least three times, for an initial briefing to their students, and presentations at the ends of first and second semester. They liaise with the students all year, usually off campus at their offices, and by phone and email. The staff give a flexible program of lectures in first semester, to prepare the students with skills they need towards each forthcoming step of their tasks, and in group processes. At the end of the year their report is 'published' (printed and bound) for the clients. Peer and selfassessment are used to distribute group marks among the contributors. 4.3 Preparing and Defending a Consultancy Report in Environmental Geology at Kingston University, UK Each student in a final year module is given an environmental geophysics problem and is asked to role play being a consultant recruited to address this problem for a client, either a local authority or a private land owner. They are required to design a solution, interpret field data and present their findings in a technical report and verbal format. Students are required to prepare and deliver a solo presentation to an open public meeting (20 minute session, including 5 minutes for fielding questions) describing their problem outline, methodology, data interpretation and recommendations. The audience includes Councillors (soon up for re-election) and members of the lay public (staff members and other students) who have a vested interest in the environmental issues. A disruptive group of 'ecowarriors' (usually noisy postgraduate students) also make an appearance! During their presentations, students must show appropriate local and environmental considerations and effective handling of heckling from concerned local residents and the 'eco-warrior' group. 4.4 Trainee Teachers Making Change Happen in their Professional World, University of Chichester, UK The Creativity 3 project has a simple goal: to challenge student teachers to make change happen so they develop the skills and confidence to do the same in their first jobs. Creativity 3 is a 15-credit module that gives final year student primary teachers the chance to develop skills and confidence in creative problem-solving in their professional world. Students work in small self-selected teams of around 3-5 students. They address real world problems over realistic timescales and, by the end of their projects, provide genuine end products for external clients, typically schools or non governmental organisations (NGOs) such as museums or environmental education centres. In the first 2 years of the project we have had around 23 diverse projects running each year in different schools, locality clusters and NGOs Assembling an interesting range of projects has not been difficult. The only scheduled contact time for the module is 17
  18. 18. September 2013 an hour a week, where just one member of each group is required to be there, but the responsibility is on the participants to communicate the content with the rest of the group. All groups contribute to a newsletter to share ideas and show that the module itself is a creative, professional initiative. We assess the product for external users (85% weighting) whatever that end product might be. We also require a group reflection (15%) on the process of engaging in the project. For both items, the group work receives a mark from a tutor. However, individual students’ marks reflect their personal contribution to the work because students agree how the mark will be divided up among group members before the mark is known. 4.7 GEOverse: A national journal for undergraduate research in Geography at Oxford Brookes and three other universities, UK GEOverse is a national undergraduate research journal for Geography which has been piloted in four institutions. The geography departments in Oxford Brookes University (the lead institution) Queen Mary, University of London, the University of Gloucestershire, and University of Reading comprise the editorial board of the journal. GEOverse publishes student-led original research based on theoretically considered and empirically-based investigations undertaken at undergraduate level. The aim is to motivate and reward students for producing innovative and best undergraduate research practice, and then give them support through the review process before disseminating their work through publication. Papers are reviewed by a panel of postgraduate students. Students at Oxford Brookes undertake a compulsory second year module called Geography in the Field where they go on a field trip and work in groups and collect data. An optional third year honours module was created in which students could write up their research as a paper with supervisory support from a tutor. This resulted in many students becoming authors of research papers but in a supervised manner. This helps fill a gap in the research cycle for undergraduate students because they did not get the same kind of constructive, meaningful and useful feedback that an academic would get from going to conferences, putting papers in, and getting feedback from peer reviewers. In this module students get dialogic feed-forward on their work and they are provided with an opportunity to disseminate their research through organizing a set of undergraduate conferences as well as the opportunity to publish in GEOVerse. The work has also impacted on the work of colleagues in other institutions and transformed their curricula. Colleagues at the University of Reading have replaced an examination with writing a journal article for GEOVerse. The University of Gloucestershire has developed a collaborative writing assignment in which students write a collaborative journal article. At Queen Mary, University of London they have an expedition to Iceland. Students are given the opportunity to produce a research paper on their return. 4.8 Research and Inquiry Based Practice Dissertation for Undergraduate Qualified Nurses at the University of Southampton, UK Undergraduate nurses, choose an aspect of their own practice to explore in depth and complete either an Evidence Based Practice project (EBP) or Practice Inquiry (PI). This is written up in the form of a 10,000 word dissertation.  The EBP is essentially a literature review - i.e. a systematic search, selection and critique of 3-5 pieces of published evidence. This has been the traditional approach to undergraduate nursing dissertations over many years.  A practice Inquiry (PI) involves generating original evidence/data in the form of a journal/diary about the student’s selected area of practice. Between 3-5 pieces /excerpts of their journal are analysed using either critical reflection (CR) or narrative analysis (NA). This has been a novel approach for us. In both cases students discuss findings in relation to the wider literature and consider relevance and applicability to the clinical setting and own practice, bearing in mind issues e.g. change management, social and political context. Students devise an action plan for any changes they wish to make and how to disseminate their findings. They reflect critically on their learning and changes they may be able to make to future practice. Often the topic has been negotiated with managers and colleagues. Students undertake 2 formative and 1 summative assessments: 18
  19. 19. September 2013 • • • A 10 minute presentation with peer and cohort/module leader feedback plus A 1500 word project proposal with tutor feedback A 10K word dissertation comprises the summative assessment Each student attends 10 taught days and has 5-8 hours of 1-to-1 supervision. In teaching the module a challenge has been to ensure that both approaches are given equal status in the teaching and presentation of the options to the student. This is because the EBP has a long history and staff and students felt very comfortable with this format. 4.10 Geography Workplace Project at Staffordshire University, UK Students who choose the Geography Workplace Project find a business/charity/institution with whom they wish to be placed. Students work for the institution and are asked to write a report on the work they have done. Typically a student will undertake some project work on behalf of the hosts and produce a report of mutual benefit. The projects are assessed as if they were dissertations, but less rigorous criteria is applied to scholastic style, references, and so on. The project write-up includes a personal reflection section whereby students reflect upon and evaluate the learning experience they have undergone through the project. Students generally reflect positively upon the project but do find it difficult to write up as it is not following the ‘normal’ pattern that most of their contemporaries are doing and discussing amongst themselves. 4.12 Final year students undertake team research projects on local environmental issues at the University of Gloucestershire, UK Issues in Environmental Geography ran for about a decade at the University as a final year capstone module; and an earlier version ran at Coventry University for several years. Students worked in groups of 4-6 on local environmental issues. The module was concerned with analysing competing environmental philosophies, applying them to understanding a particular local or regional environmental issue and coming up with policy recommendations. The students developed their own projects, starting with a proposal. They were supported through two key lectures on environmental philosophies, a workshop on effective teamwork and individual group tutorials on their chosen topics. The semester long course was assessed through a group report (60%); oral presentation of project (30%) and an individual learning journal and reflective essay (together counting for 10%). The marks given for the group project were redistributed among group members using peer and self-assessment of the quality and effectiveness of their contributions on a five point scale to five group processes (ideas and suggestions; leadership, group organisation and support, minute taking; data collection/ collation/ analysis; report writing, production and editing; and preparing/ giving verbal presentation). The average mark for the module was consistently c3-5 percentage points higher than for other modules reflecting the benefits of working in teams. The difference in marks was confirmed by the external examiners. 4.13 Helping students to engage more effectively with the research process in undertaking their undergraduate dissertations at Keele University, UK Undertaking an independent research project in the form of a dissertation can be the most challenging and rewarding part of an undergraduate student’s university experience. However, students often suffer from disjuncture expressed as lack of motivation, hesitancy and avoidance when faced with the daunting enormity of the task and the high demands placed on them as independent learners and problem solvers. Robson (2006) undertook a case study of her efforts as a supervisor, using action research, to help students to engage more effectively with the research process. The aim of the research was to make effective changes to improve students’ motivation, commitment and achievement with regard to completing a geography dissertation. It is argued that listening to students and responding to their perceived needs is an effective way to improve supervision practices. Initial findings showed students to be lonely and insecure about their dissertations and the supervisor pressured by a considerable supervisory burden. Four cycles of action research were subsequently conducted with a group of eight dissertation students during one academic year. The research implemented and evaluated four interventions whereby the supervisor-researcher invited the students to (i) evaluate their progress 19
  20. 20. September 2013 (ii) (iii) (iv) learn from examples of completed dissertations share and support each other engage in peer assessment. Qualitative evidence demonstrates a shift from a status quo of individual supervisory meetings between poorly motivated students and a frustrated supervisor, to highly motivated students effectively empowered as independent self-learners and peer supporters. It is concluded that given the right circumstances students can be facilitated to ‘do it better themselves’. 4.16 Capstone service-learning project in geography at University of Canterbury, New Zealand This final year course is for between 40 and 60 students working in groups of five or six. It was set up a more than a decade ago as a PBL course, with the students responsible for undertaking research selected from a suite of topics assembled by academic staff (Spronken-Smith 2005). Six years ago, this format was subsumed within a servicelearning framework, with the topics being formulated in conjunction with community groups and agencies. The key to its successful operation is the negotiation of roles and responsibilities between students, community partners and academic staff (the last named acting as advisors, not supervisors). The course runs for a semester (12 weeks) with minimal formal contact time, although it begins with a residential weekend away from campus for all parties to meet each other and for students to engage in research methods workshops. It ends with a publicly open presentation of class findings. Assessment is 60% group-based and 40% individually-based. The individual items are a short essay at the start of the course assessing previous published work relevant to the topic, and a reflective essay at the mid-way point on the process of research. Marks for the group work (a 5,000 word written report and the conference presentation) are moderated with input from each group member, including the staff advisor. An assessment of the impact of this learning method on student engagement showed that students with high, moderate or low levels of engagement in their university careers, according to measures derived from the AUSSE (Australasian Survey of Student Engagement), all experienced enhanced engagement in the course. Those previously deemed to be least engaged reported the biggest gains (O’Steen et al. 2011). Since 2011, the format has proved readily adaptable for undertaking earthquake response and recovery research, following the Christchurch earthquakes of 2010/12. Sources: O’Steen et al. (2011), Spronken-Smith (2005) 4.17 Promoting Oral Health in a Local Community, University of Otago, NZ The Bachelor of Oral Health (BOH) programme has a particular focus on health promotion and a strong awareness of socio-cultural influences on health. Graduates of the programme are registered health professionals who are part of the oral health care team. Undergraduate BOH students are required to produce a patient education resource for a target group in their local community. Each year a different target group is identified and a context for use of the resource is provided. Students are required to research a topic and produce a five to seven minute video (on DVD) that includes appropriate scientific information. Students work in groups of three or four, and engage in a variety of learning activities that develop a range of skills including critical thinking, evaluation of the literature, communication, time management, problem solving and collaboration. Each project extends over approximately 13 weeks and has 50 timetable hours. Assessment is based on a presentation to class and colleagues, supporting documents, self- and peer- assessment of each member’s contribution to their group, and an individual written report. Sources: 4.18 Engaging students in critical enquiry on a postgraduate primary and early years teacher training programme at Middlesex University Opportunities for critical enquiry are being enhanced by a two-part module assessment task. Part 1 requires students to compile a portfolio of children’s learning experiences they have observed or taught in school and critically analyse and reflect on these experiences. In Part 2, students discuss current theoretical and methodological approaches to learning, with a particular focus on socio-constructivist theory. Students refer to their active practice 20
  21. 21. September 2013 data in this discussion, which enables their critical thinking about theory to be embedded in practice. Through the process of this inquiry, students are supported to develop a more critical perspective about the tension of the relationship between theoretical approaches to teaching and learning and pedagogical practice. This more ‘informed and reflective approach to practice’ (Allen, 2011) is significant for teacher training students as they enter an uncertain and confusing educational arena. Sources:; Allen (2011);; 5. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics 5.3 Chemistry ‘Concentrated Study’ Project at the University of St Andrews, Scotland This is a core course done by all 3rd year chemistry students (within a 4 year BSc/5year MChem framework); current enrolment is 48. It is taught in the last four weeks of the Spring semester. Students have no other class and are able to spend their full time on this module. Students are divided into (mixed ability) groups of five - six each assigned to an academic supervisor who assigns a topic for investigation. This requires some literature research, experimental planning, experimental work, analysis of results and their presentation. The projects assigned vary but generally fall somewhat short of original research while maintaining substantial scope for student input to the direction of the work and how to best achieve the goal set. The module has run for the last five years and typically yields grades rather similar to conventional laboratory classes at this level. A consistent observation however is that this really brings out the best in some otherwise weaker students who seem to be inspired by the idea of contributing to the team effort in a way that is not achieved in a more conventional class. It provides a sound preparation for those students who go on to take an honours project. 5.4 Research into Practice: An Alternative Format for Final year Bioscience Honours Project, University of Plymouth UK Research into Practice is a new module which includes a research proposal as an assessed element, instead of having the bulk of the marks weighted onto the writing of a project report/dissertation. The new format encourages more external employer engagement, if the student wants to explore this opportunity. This module is beneficial to students wishing to pursue careers such as teaching, and is beneficial to students who want a more directed approach. There is also a traditional format module offered to students. The new format involves a group of students signing up to a single project where the protocol for data collection is largely written by the project advisor. Data collection is then carried out by the group and results are pooled, before being analysed and written up on an individual basis. The new format is similar to an extended laboratory investigation and consequently, the project advisor is largely responsible for the planning and any risk or ethical assessments. Projects that have used this new format to date involve an investigation into the ergogenic effects of caffeine on exercise performance and also the effects of a particular growth medium on the culture of young plants. As students taking projects in the new module format have not designed their own research study, they have to carry out a separate research proposal assessment to meet this learning outcome. They need to identify a research question from a literature review they have carried out and then design an appropriate study around this issue. The proposal allows all the planning and design learning outcomes to be achieved, albeit after students have carried out the data collection and analysis elements. The research proposal is guided by a template and although the student does not have to carry out the proposed study, it does need to be realistic, affordable and capable of being completed by an undergraduate student. 5.7 Communicating Maths at the University of Bath, UK Communicating Maths is an optional module for third and fourth year students in the department of mathematics. The project aims to provide mathematics students, who are traditionally poor communicators, with the opportunity to demonstrate competency with these skills and to evaluate their ability, whilst increasing student interest in teaching careers and provide ambassadors of mathematics and the University of Bath within the wider community. 21
  22. 22. September 2013 The students involved undertake a wide range of activities designed to enhance and broaden the public understanding of mathematics, with a particular emphasis on working with local schools. All of the students on the course attend training and over the course of one semester undertake four tasks: 1. 'Bath Taps into Science’, a science fair based in Bath during National Science Week. Undergraduates work in teams of four, running a half day exhibition on a subject of their choice which they have researched. 2. Mathematics master class for school pupils aged around 13 led by the students. 3. The third task is drawn from a number of different options. This can vary from students choosing to deliver a lesson in a local primary or secondary school (working with a local teacher), to working with Maths Inspiration, Dr Maths, or with the Further Maths Network. 4. Research and produce a permanent piece of work on a mathematical topic of their choice. Various mediums have been used including posters, web-sites, a YouTube video, and newspaper articles 5.8 Bioscience End of Year Project at Durham University, UK Bioscience students at Durham University have a choice of three different types of final year project (a) Laboratory-based project The laboratory-based project provides an opportunity to participate in the research being carried out by staff in the School. Many students are able to work in the research laboratories, alongside postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers, and all students have access to the full array of research facilities in the School. The project currently takes place over 5 weeks of full time research, and students are given a piece of work that can lead to concrete results in this period. Many undergraduate projects have generated data that has subsequently been incorporated into scientific papers, with the student as a named author. The project is assessed through a report, written in the form of a mini-thesis, and a short presentation. This module gives the student a taste of scientific research, and exemplifies the School's commitment to providing research-led education. (b) Biology Enterprise Biology Enterprise (BE) is project-orientated module, based on research in a commercial context, with self-selecting groups of 5 or 6 students working together. The learning context for BE follows the real-life scenario of the formation of a biotechnology spin-out company from an academic biosciences research group. Within this context BE aims to introduce students to: key processes of business start-up, specifically in the context of a spin-out of an innovation generated as a result of biological research; key factors and considerations that influence the decision making process of the commercialisation of biotechnological innovation; the necessary skills, knowledge and resources required to take biological innovation from concept through to credible commercial propositions; the purpose of a Business Plan and, using a self-generated idea, how to prepare and present a Plan for a research-led biotechnology spin-out. A core component of BE is an in-depth desk study of a biological topic to collate, review, critically appraise and present the scientific research evidence that underpins the self-generated idea for the biotechnological product or process. The content of this module provides an introduction to key business processes such as ideas generation; market research; protection of intellectual property; raising finance, in addition to developing individuals' team working, project planning, time management and transferrable skills (c) Biology into Schools For students who see their future in science education, or other communication-based activities such as journalism, the Science into Schools module may provide an attractive option. As for the other research project options, it is research-led, but in this case the research takes the form of a systematic inquiry into the teaching and learning process. Students are required to prepare materials for teaching science in secondary schools, and to interact with teachers and pupils. After an initial training period, students spend at least 4h per week for 10 weeks in a local school. They are expected to graduate from classroom observation, to assistance in teaching, to an opportunity to undertake whole class teaching. They will also devise a special Biological Sciences project for the school, which they implement and assess. The module is assessed through a journal of activities, reports, a presentation, and a report by the host teacher. This module is focussed towards developing communication skills, as well as team working and 22
  23. 23. September 2013 interpersonal skills. This module is only available to a limited number of students, determined by participating schools. 5.10 Bridging the gap between textbooks and scientific research: Cell biology at the University of Utrecht, Netherlands A third year course for cell biology majors focuses on writing and defending of a research proposal as an open ended authentic assignment; i.e. modelling much of the authentic research experience of cell biologists, but not the actual laboratory research: and includes student teams writing a PhD proposal. It builds on the more textbook-orientated knowledge and limited controlled laboratory experiences in years one and two. The 15 week course, with some 24 students has these components:  A general research topic is defined by staff, and students read selected research papers with a focus on research methodology and research questions.  Students are divided into four groups of six and out of class formulate a research question and methodologies. They also visit relevant research laboratories, contact experts and discuss their proposals in class with their fellow students and staff.  Student teams present their final proposals to a jury of four staff (two cell biology specialists, one biologists, and one non-biology scientist). The broad composition of the jury requires that the proposal should be clearly formulated for both specialists in the field and for non-specialists. Students then take an extended senior research thesis (usually in the summer semester and often extending into the summer vacation). Some students will work in the lab of jury members, as they were invited by them to do their research project with them. Six years of course evaluations and also a survey of alumni has shown the initial difficulties students face in moving beyond textbook knowledge; the value of the various components; and the course’s success in helping them to think as scientists and better appreciate how research is conducted. 5.12 Alternative Final Year projects in the Biosciences at the University of Leeds, UK Final year students within the Biomedical Sciences group of programmes (Human Physiology, Medical Sciences, Neuroscience, Pharmacology) have the opportunity to undertake one of the seven types of research project. Each project is of 8 weeks duration, with students expected to commit 3.5 days per week to their project. Students are provided with a list of projects (with project descriptors) in March of the year preceding their final year and invited to choose, in rank order, 10 projects they would like to be considered for. Projects are then allocated based on student choice and ranking within the year group; with projects staring in the January of their Final Year. The assessments for all project types are similar. Students are required to write a 25-30 page dissertation and deliver an oral presentation. Students undertaking critical review projects also have to submit a 5 page grant proposal linked to their review. There is also a supervisor allocated “productivity” mark. i. Individual laboratory projects Students undertake an individual programme of research in the laboratory of their project supervisor, often contributing to ongoing research within that laboratory. ii. Group laboratory projects Students work collaboratively, a team of 3-4, to undertake a programme of research; based either in their supervisor’s laboratory or in the teaching laboratories. iii. Computer simulation project Students investigate the function of biological systems using established computer models (e.g. human cardiac myocytes). iv. Critical review projects (with linked grant proposal) Students undertake a hypothesis driven critical review of the literature in a specific area/topic within the biosciences. v. Survey projects Students undertake a public health survey under the general theme of “Healthy Lifestyles”. vi. Science and Society projects 23