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Parallel session 5: Curricular and strategic perspectives on research based learning

04 October 2017

This session covered the work of an EUA thematic peer group on research and teaching links, which featured staff and students from eight different European institutions. The nature of this extensive work (see session abstract) was covered but the primarily focus of this interactive session, led by two of the peer group participants, was on the impacts, thoughts and questions that the practice of research based learning triggers.

“We want to share our findings, see what people think of them and find out what additional ideas and input people have,” said Louise Woodcock, Head of Academic and Learning Services at the University of Sheffield in the UK.

“The inspiring part of this was very evident,” reflected Catherine O’Mahony on the peer group results. O’Mahony manages the Centre for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning at the University College Cork in Ireland, “Students were delighted in their discoveries,” she said.
(See below students talking about their experience, and watch more videos on EUA’s YouTube channel).

Students were found to grow both as researchers and as citizens and their collaboration and critical thinking skills, as well as their and autonomy, were seen to improve. On the research side too, students appeared to have learned about the construction of research questions and about project management.

Academic staff also benefited from applying the research based learning techniques, said Woodcock and O’Mahony. Higher engagement in their teaching, more effective assessment methods, and the diversification of research funding for research-informed teaching were among the gains cited.

On the implementation side, delegates echoed observations and questions raised by the presenters.

“We found that it is important to bring research-based learning in from the first year. How do we build inquiry in right from day one and what does that mean for the activities and research life of the university? Also, how do we show that we bring the world into the university? How will the students be prepared to work in teams? How do we cross disciplinary boundaries?,” Woodcock said.

There are all sorts of challenges ranging from available physical space to mandatory things that we must cover in curricula and how to build those in,” she continued.

“A big problem for me,” said a delegate from Poland, “is how to put research-based learning into the curricula in terms of learning outcomes. My university considers it in the same way as it does a traditional lecture. We need to define learning outcomes in a way that fits with the curricula and allows students to choose between classic lectures and labs.”

Delegates also emphasised the need for short-term results and community involvement in order to maintain student interest.

The low availability of appropriate physical learning environments for research based learning was reiterated as was the cultural issue of encouraging academics to invest in the reorganisation of curricula to accommodate research based learning.

“Changing the model takes time. Professors are very individualistic. We need to understand that the people we are educating are on a different frequency to us but the way forward is this one,” commented one delegate.

The presenters closed the session with some conclusions and recommendations (below) and with a strong call for continued feedback and best practice sharing on this exciting and evolving area.

  • The institutional mission and vision should reference research-based learning.
  • All high education students should be engaged in researched based learning during their programme of education.
  • Research-based learning should aim at developing soft skills for students and encourage student-centred models for teaching.
  • Staff and students should be supported to develop their capacity to engage in research-based learning.

If you’d like to share examples or want to join the debate please join the EUA’s LinkedIn group.

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