THE POWER of research-led teaching and student co-creation. Laura King and Kevin Linch, School of History, discuss the value of handing over research initiative to the students.
All modules evolve: research-based teaching means that we frequently update the content of our module with latest research, ideas and approaches to a topic.
But what if we put the practice of research at the core of module? Involve students with active research in a School or department, rather than just telling them about it?
This is the premise of FOAR2000 Research Placement. The module provides an opportunity for second and third year students to work with humanities colleagues on current research projects.
This necessarily means that there is no set content to the module – each year the projects and staff involved change – and the core of the module shifts to focus on being a researcher, working in groups, networking, and flexibility.
And these skills and attributes aren’t just acquired by the students either; colleagues involved in the module find themselves expanding their horizons, challenging themselves, and developing in ways that they hadn’t anticipated through working so closely with students.
Indeed, the module has proved to be a test pad for new approaches to a topic, opening up research avenues, and strengthening, and even forging, new partnerships with external collaborators.
As researchers, students play a very active and central part in this module – shaping its content and even what their final assessment entails.
For them, it’s a challenging experience – students can initially feel overwhelmed by the decisions they have to make, scared by the responsibility involved, and worried about acquiring the skills needed for collaboration and public engagement.
But though it’s never easy, our students generally really enjoy and value the experience.
As Laura King, module tutor, explains, former students are required to keep a reflective blog, using an online Journal tool to document how they are developing personally and academically.
This has been very valuable, as most students find it can be an easier way of raising concerns with their tutors than in face-to-face meetings or seminars.
The ‘blogs’ can only be seen by tutors, who can respond directly to students’ worries, thereby keeping a supportive dialogue with students open throughout the year.
Students develop sophisticated research skills as part of the module, through working in archives, staging interviews, conducting online surveys – and much more.
As tutors, one area in which we see them develop most in confidence – from those early nerves and worries – to confidently presenting their work at a conference each year: the Undergraduate Research Experience. Attended by academics, fellow students and external partners.Project outputs are often external facing, with students creating exhibitions, heritage trails, film showings and public debates.
The module has helped many students feel more confident in tackling final year research projects and even facing a demanding job market after university.
As one student advised others thinking about taking the module: ‘Do it! It helps with improving skills, it gets you in contact with people/companies, great for CV… and they have cake’.