Developing research-based curricula in college-based higher education

Mick Healey, Alan Jenkins and John Lea. Developing research-based curricula in college-based higher education, Higher Education Academy, March 2014.
This report examines ways in which students are enabled to engage with scholarship and research as an integral part of their learning experience throughout CBHE. The authors of the report are leading experts in the ‘research–teaching nexus’ in HE. Based on case studies they have collected, they describe a rich and varied landscape of scholarship in CBHE, contextualising the UK experience within a wider, global consideration, drawing on experience from Australasia, Europe and North America.

Below the paragraph is presented in which they provides a language to discuss the way the studens could be involved into research activities.

‘Conceptions of student research and inquiry
As with the practice of ‘research’ by university staff (Brew 2001), there are contested meanings of the word ‘research’ at undergraduate level. In the US, much practice and policy sees ‘undergraduate research’ as students producing ‘original’ knowledge, suitable for publication in externally refereed journals. Others, however, define or conceive undergraduate research as students learning through courses which are designed to be as close as possible to the research processes in their discipline. In these cases, what is produced and learned may not be new knowledge per se; but it is new to the student and, perhaps more significantly, transforms their understanding of knowledge and research.

As we have argued elsewhere this approach to curriculum design puts the focus on the students’ learning as participants in research and in the curriculum supporting their understanding of the processes and practices of research in their discipline or professional area (Jenkins and Healey 2012). Growing out of the research on teaching–research relations (Griffiths 2004), the following framework has been developed and widely adopted to help individual staff, course teams, and whole institutions analyse their curricula and consider ways of strengthening students’ understanding of and through research.

Curricula can be:

Research-led: learning about current research in the discipline.
Here the curriculum focus is to ensure that what students learn clearly reflects current and ongoing research in their discipline. This may include research done by staff teaching them.

Research-oriented: developing research skills and techniques.
Here the focus is on developing students’ knowledge of and ability to carry out the research methodologies and methods appropriate to their discipline(s).

Research-based: undertaking research and inquiry.
Here the curriculum focus is on ensuring that as much as possible the student learns in research and or inquiry mode (i.e. the students become producers of knowledge not just consumers). The strongest curricula form of this is in those special undergraduate programmes for selected students, but such research and inquiry may also be mainstreamed for all or many students.

Research-tutored: engaging in research discussions.
Here the focus is on students and staff critically discussing research in the discipline as, for example, in many seminar-based courses.

All four ways are valid and valuable
All four ways of engaging students with research and inquiry are valid and valuable, and curricula can and should contain elements of them all. So, the question becomes not so much, “Do you engage your students in each of these ways?” as “What proportion of their time do they spend in each category and is this an appropriate balance given the students you teach, the type of course and discipline, and the departmental and institutional culture?”. We argue that, in much of HE, too much teaching and learning is in the bottom half of the model, and students would benefit from spending more time in the top half. This framework provides a language to discuss such issues and talk over what aspects of these approaches are already in their programme and which they might want to strengthen. Thus, here is how this model has been used by one course team in an Australian TAFE institute (case study 2.1).

Case study 2.1: Building a research identity in the Bachelor of Education (Early Years) at Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE, Australia
Students are introduced to research skills in year one. Subsequently, in the four-year programme students are introduced to research-led and research-oriented teaching and learning. Students are required to participate in critical reading and discussion of research literature in order to understand research structures broadly and the impact of research on the field of education. Pedagogical approaches replicate the strategies that characterise research methods; students are engaged in learning activities that require them to undertake problem posing, that is, generating a research question, data collection techniques – specifically those based on observation – and building their capacity to interpret data from a range of theoretical perspectives. In the third year of the program, research-based activity is introduced to students as they develop and implement a self-reflective action-oriented research project based on their allocated teaching practice placements. In the fourth year of the program, students are supervised to develop a research question in an area that interests them. They submit an ethics application and design their methodology accordingly. Students conduct this project and prepare a research report discussing the processes used and their findings.’

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Developing research-based curricula in college-based higher education