Learning Together: Using Student Researchers To Discover The Truth About The Student Experience -- 124 -- Short (oral) Paper

10:30 - 11:30 on Thursday, 13 September 2012 in 1.218

This paper will discuss the Undergraduate Research Bursaries at Northampton (URB@N) project, which supports pedagogic research by undergraduate students, and uses it to inform teaching practice both within the institution and in the wider field. The project provides a model for embedding the student voice into curriculum development, and supports research into the use of technology for teaching and learning.

Each year, staff at the University are invited to submit proposals for small scale research projects. These can be in any subject area, but must have a pedagogic rather than disciplinary focus. The projects are offered out to undergraduate students, who volunteer based on their own interests. Students from all disciplines can apply, and where there is a close relationship between the discipline of the staff and the student they will usually be matched, but this is not always or necessarily the case. The research tasks and outputs are agreed between the student and their supervisor, and all students are required to present their findings as well as reflecting on their experiences. On successful completion of the project, students are given a £500 bursary.

URB@N is now in its fourth year, and there have been an increasing number of projects focusing on technology in teaching and learning. URB@N is giving staff the opportunity to explore effective use of new technologies in their teaching, and removing obstacles of time and technical confidence. Students have a chance to recommend technologies they find useful, and staff benefit from the student/user perspective, creating a truly learner-centred teaching practice.

The URB@N model is evaluated each year, using a mixed method approach. This includes the collection of reflective feedback from students and project leaders, notes from collaborative meetings, and e-surveys, as well as tracking of the number of proposals and applications, and of any external outputs. The model develops iteratively as this analysis is fed back into each following round.

URB@N projects have succeeded not only in stimulating change and encouraging research-informed practice in teaching. Staff have reported other benefits, including opportunities to pursue research they would not otherwise have had time to do, and to develop their supervisory skills and working relationships with students. For the students, being engaged in research and influencing practice has had a significant impact on their confidence and motivation, as well as providing insight into the research process and the chance to develop valuable skills. These findings reflect the literature on the value of undergraduate research in general (Henkel, 2004; Healey and Jenkins 2009), although as yet there is little in the literature on undergraduate pedagogic research.

This paper will be of interest to anyone looking for scalable ways to address issues in current teaching and learning practice, or investigate new practices, from the learner's perspective.