Skip to content

Toggle service links
  1. eSTEeM
  2. Category
  3. Theme
  4. Supporting students
Subscribe to RSS - Supporting students

Supporting students

Embedding research into teaching: practices, motivations and impacts

Project leader(s): 
Sarah Davies
Faculty: 
STEM
Status: 
Current
Body: 

Academics are often interested in using their own research in their teaching – this can be a valuable way of sharing their passion for their subject, connecting students with cutting edge research knowledge, and enabling students to experience authentic science practices. OU science research is often included in OU science teaching, but to date no-one has investigated its uses or impact. This project aims to explore the extent and different ways research is used in teaching, focussing on the environmental sciences, and the impacts of this research-teaching nexus on students and on staff.

An individual’s own research can be used in different ways in teaching; as knowledge or an information source (e.g., when students are directed to a publication), as authentic datasets (that students can analyse and interpret), as an authentic methodology (e.g., data collection through remote instruments) or technique (e.g., a computer model that students operate). In the environmental sciences, where urgent action and public engagement with rapidly changing science are important for issues such as the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, embedding research is seen as helpful for strengthening students’ connections with such issues.

Recently, a lightbulb icon has been used in some modules to highlight OU research to students; this was pioneered by S397 ‘Terrestrial ecosystems’ (30 credits, first presentation 2018) and has also been used in SDT306 ‘Environment: responding to change’ (60 credits, first presentation 2018). This is introduced to students as “Connections between OU research and teaching materials serve to enrich your learning experience”, as showing that “you are now very close to research” and with the aim that students will find this “inspiring for your own futures as scientists” (S397 and SDT306 module guides). Academics’ interest in embedding their research in teaching is high; in the OU, for example, Profs Neil Edwards and David Gowing have recently (Aug 2020) been running professional development workshops on ‘Embedding research into teaching’ for OU staff which received positive feedback and generated plenty of questions and discussion (pers comm). However, students’ perceptions of these research-teaching links and the impact on their learning has not been investigated.

This study will review the range of examples and types of research-teaching links currently in OU core environmental science modules, investigate the motivations and experiences of staff that have included their own research in their teaching, and explore the attitudes and experiences of students towards OU research in their modules and the impacts on their learning. The project will look to develop examples of use, experiences, and effective practices. Core environmental science modules (U116, S112, S/XF206, S397, SDT306, SXE390) will be reviewed for research-teaching links, with three specific instances being used as in-depth case studies to explore experiences of students and staff:

  • Modelling: students using a research-grade climate model (GENIE) in S397
  • Data: Real-time remote data collection by students using the instrumented tree in S397
  • Knowledge from research: use of module-team authored papers, e.g.  on food security and biodiversity and niche segregation on SDT306

Cultivating student led tutorials in STEM

Project leader(s): 
Melanie Gregg and Vivien Cleary
Faculty: 
STEM
Status: 
Current
Body: 

Introduction

The purpose of a tutorial is to put learning into practice and cultivate a sense of community within the tutor group.  However, often tutorials regress into didactic lectures with little student input.  Lack of confidence and preparation are often key reasons behind the lack of participation.  I am reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s quote ‘Tell me and I forget.  Teach me and I remember.  Involve me and I learn.’

To resolve this, it is important to create a place where the tutor promotes interest and hones skills rather than lectures:  to turn the tables so that the tutorials become student led, and in so doing nurture independent, confident learners.  

Approach

As a STEM tutor, I have observed during breakout activities that students were more content to join discussions due to the small group size and the absence of the tutor. The students also prefer to present findings as a group rather than as individuals.

This study proposes to modify the design of some SDK100 science tutorials, which are run within the existing Tutor Group (TG) tutorials. A 15-minute breakout room activity at the end of the planned tutorials will be used to let students work their way through a skill orientated task relating to the upcoming TMA. A short plenary session with the tutor at the end will be used to collect ideas or questions from the discussion. This session would be recorded so that absent students do not miss out on the learning experience.

Anticipated Outcomes

To increase student participation and create an environment where they can develop a growth mindset can be developed. It is anticipated the skill will be developed over the duration of the course. 

Impact

By cultivating this approach early in the student learning pathway we would reinforce the fact that understanding rather than learning is the most successful strategy for education. If breakout room tools are understood by staff, they allow the tutor to be more of a facilitator rather than a deliverer of information. This would lead to higher attainment, more satisfied students, and better student retention. The strategy could impact student engagement and performance across multiple faculties in the evolving blended learning environment. 

Melanie Gregg and Vivien Cleary poster (PPT)

Investigating how to enhance the idea generation process by students for their T452 project

Project leader(s): 
Martin Braun
Faculty: 
STEM
Status: 
Current
Body: 

Having taught on project modules at HNC, HND and final UG level (T452), I have observed that the most intense tutor engagement is when discussing possible topics. Therefore, this project seeks to identity problems students encounter during the generation of their project ideas, and tries to suggests ways to address them.

This project will survey resources available to students at the OU and other HEIs, and academic literature exploring the obstacles to the generation of student project topics together with possible solutions. Based on this, a hypothesis (or a set of hypothesises) will be developed regarding problems in the idea generation process for academic project by students. This will lead to the proposition of possible support strategies to mitigate these issues. In order to test this understanding a toolkit will be developed, most likely in the form of guiding questions together with an evaluation matrix to be either used by students independently or in a workshop setting. In parallel to this, a team of tutors will be recruited to participate in a design critique workshop refining the underlying assumption and the toolkit before deploying it in their modules. The effectiveness of this toolkit (as a proxy of understanding student needs) will be evaluated through two focus groups (one with the tutor team and one with students who used the toolkit). This resource could be made available in the STEM faculty and/or on the OU library website.

This project aims at improving the student experience and enhancing project skills, as it gives guidance in what would otherwise be a very stressful phase toward the end of their degree. At the same time, it should increase the focus the tutor-student contact time on discipline specific matters, thus reducing the tutor workload pressures.

Martin Braun poster

1 of 24