Inspiring students through research-based education

Research-based education was the focus of a one day conference at University College London  (UCL)-  this week (Thurs 3 April).

UCL ranks 4th in the world for research, but according to the Provost, in his introductory presentation, needs to do better in the National Student Survey, i.e. the student satisfaction ratings. The Provost’s strategy for bringing about this improvement is to make UCL a world leader in research-based learning.

The conference was principally for UCL staff, i.e. a teaching and learning conference, but there were also some ‘visitors’, attending from other institutions such as the Institute of Education and other Universities. I was attending to run a workshop with my colleague Elpida Makriyannis in which we wanted to promote discussion about readiness for research-based learning in participant specific contexts around such questions as What is research? What is teaching? What is a research community? What is research-based teaching? What is research-based learning?

UCL Presentation

At least one presentation during the day made reference to the Healey matrix (see image below and click on it to enlarge) and there were some excellent presentations, which demonstrated how different aspects of this model are being implemented within different disciplines and programmes across the University

Healey Matrix

Source of Figures: Healey, M. (2005). Linking research and teaching: exploring disciplinary spaces and the role of inquiry-based learning.

Despite the excellent practice demonstrated by many at UCL, from the workshop that we ran, it seems that a common understanding of research-based learning is difficult to achieve. Ideas such as negotiated outcomes, student autonomy, collaborative learning and student/staff integrated research communities all need much unpicking and discussion – to make meaning through dialogue and working across boundaries.

For an institution that is recognized for its excellence in research, it may be difficult for some to make the cultural shift to the student-centered approach that will be needed to become a global leader in research-based learning. Hasok Chang, who used to work at UCL, but now works at the University of Cambridge, has written that practices which promote the use of graduate slaves, graduate seminars and promoting the budding genius will not turn an undergraduate class into a professional research community. For him learning is not merely practice in preparation for something else that is ‘real’, but requires a community of students and experts in which the research needs to be authentic.

So Etienne Wenger was a good choice for the keynote.  He talked about research-based education from the perspective of social learning theory.  (See tweets here). Etienne explained that you cannot separate knowing from the social community in which competence is defined. Learning and meaning-making is part of the becoming of the person. Students need meaningful experiences of engagement with the world. Are our institutions helping students with meaning making, which is where the focus should be, or are they focused on curriculum? Access to information is unproblematic. Access to who you are in the world of a landscape of practices, is the problem.

So engaging students in research is a social practice. It needs to be social to demystify it, to locate it in a landscape of practice and to apply it to other aspects of life.

Etienne Knowledgeability

 Photo taken by Elpida Makriyannis

This has significant implications for the ways in which students and their tutors interact with each – teach each other and learn from each other. These ideas about community, identity, negotiating meaning, student autonomy and so on, are not covered by the Healey matrix. Whilst models such as the Healey matrix certainly clarify the different types of research processes that students can be engaged in, perhaps they are a second step. Perhaps the first step is to understand what we mean by student-centred learning, identity development in landscapes of practice and research communities of practice.

Etienne Research-based Educatiton

Photo taken by Elpida Makriyannis

References

Chang, H. (2005). Turning an undergraduate class into a professional research community. Teaching in Higher Education, 10(3), pp.387–394.

Healey, M., Jordan, F. & Short, C. (2002). The student experience of teaching, research and consultancy. Available at: http://trnexus.edu.au/uploads/downloads/TR Questionnaire.pdf

Healey, M. (2005). Linking research and teaching: exploring disciplinary spaces and the role of inquiry-based learning.  In Barnett, R (ed). Reshaping the University: New Relationships between Research, Scholarship and Teaching. McGraw Hill / Open University Press, pp.67-78. Available at:  http://www.delta.wisc.edu/Events/BBB Balance Healey.pdf 

Healey, M. & Jenkins, A. (2009) Developing undergraduate research and inquiry.  Summary by: Dr Laura Hodsdon (June 2009). Available at: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/documents/EvidenceNet/Summaries/healeym_jenkinsa_jun09_developing_ug_research_and_inquiry_summary.pdf

Professor Mick Healey website. Publications and Resources. Available at: http://www.mickhealey.co.uk/recent-publications

Reinmann, G. (2013).  Forschendes Lernen oder Bildung durch Wissenschaft. Available at: http://gabi-reinmann.de/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Vortrag_Okt13_ZU.pdf

UCL Teaching and Learning Portal.  Research-based learning case studies. Available at: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/teaching-learning/case-studies/research-based-learning

University of Leeds. Research-based Learning website. Available at: http://curriculum.leeds.ac.uk/rbl 

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.