September 2013
Rethinking the dissertation:
Avoiding throwing the baby out with the bathwater
Mick Healey
HE Consultant and Researcher; [email protected]
“new models of curriculum … should all … incorporate research-based study for undergraduates.” (Ramsden 2008:
“I cannot think of anything more unfair than … to treat all students as if they are the same, when they so manifestly
are not.” (Elton 2000: 1)
“Our argument is that a more flexible but equally robust approach is required to the design and assessment of FYPD
[final year projects and dissertations] to meet the needs of students from diverse subject areas and types of
institution.” (Healey et al., 2013: 10)
The text from pp1-5 is taken from Healey et al. (2013).
Table 1 Terminology
In the UK a ‘dissertation’ normally refers to an undergraduate honours project, while
in North America it usually refers to a doctoral level project. Whereas the Americans
use the term ‘project’ or ‘thesis’ to refer to research projects at undergraduate level,
in the UK the word ‘thesis’ is usually reserved for Masters and Doctoral level research
projects. In this publication the UK use of the term dissertation is used.
The great majority of students in the UK undertake an honours project for their
undergraduate or Bachelor degree, which usually counts for 20-40% of the final year
credits. It is variable in the rest of Europe; while in Australasia and Canada only a small
proportion of students typically take an honours project. In the USA some HE
institutions have a separate honors program, generally offered to the top percentile
of students, that offers more challenging courses or more individually directed
research projects or seminars instead of the standard curriculum. These students
graduate ‘with honors’, but are awarded the same Bachelor degree as other students.
The traditional honours dissertation in the UK, and some other European countries, is
an independent piece of research, typically 8-12,000 words long, but those with lower
credit ratings may be shorter (e.g. 5-6,000 words). In Australasia and Canada an
honours project usually involves a larger piece of work undertaken as part of an
additional year’s study. This publication explores alternative forms of dissertation and
final year projects which might be offered alongside or instead of the traditional form.
The term ‘capstone project’ is commonly used in North America and Australasia for a
project in the last year or semester of the degree programme which provides
opportunities for students to synthesise and apply their knowledge and experiences
from their whole programme. It helps them to negotiate successfully the transition to
Honours project
dissertation or
honours project
Capstone project
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Final year projects
and dissertations
Degree credits
the next stage of their career, whether to the workplace or further study. Our interest
is in those capstone projects where undergraduate students undertake a significant
amount of research and inquiry.
In this book FYPD refer to all of the above types of project which engage students in
research and inquiry at the end of their undergraduate or bachelor programme. They
include both traditional and alternative forms of the dissertation and honours project.
The key dimensions and characteristics of FYPD and some alternative possibilities are
discussed in Chapters 2 and 3.
Commonly 5-8 modules or courses (according to their credit ratings) are taken by full
time students in their final year in the UK.
The term ‘assessment’ is used here in the UK sense of grading work or providing
feedback rather than the North American sense of evaluation of institutional and
programme effectiveness.
Credit ratings for FYPD are cited in several of the case studies. Confusingly these vary
between and within countries. In the UK a Bachelor honours degree involves 360
credits; in Australia, parts of Canada and the USA a Bachelor degree is commonly
around 120 credits, while under the Bologna Accords in Europe a Bachelor degree
requires 180-240 credits. In the UK 15 credits = 7.5 European credits = 4 credits in US.
A clearer comparison is the proportion an FYPD constitutes of a full-time final year
Final year undergraduate dissertations and projects
The dissertation represents an important opportunity for students to use their own initiative to select a topic,
methodology, writing style, way of working and presentation format that aligns with their interests, personal and
career goals, discipline and course requirements, and the changing world around them. To encourage students to
use their initiative, dissertation guides often give minimal guidance about the range of possible forms a dissertation
can take. For some students, however, this lack of guidance can actually close down their choices since they
automatically assume that what is required is a formal piece of writing that echoes the style and approach of the
textbooks and journal articles of their discipline. To give students genuine choice in tailoring what they produce to
their own specific abilities, interests and goals, one approach is to be explicit about which aspects of a dissertation
are ‘essential’ and what possibilities and opportunities are available. The essential aspects, such as being an
extended piece of work, being research based and being underpinned by literature are the features that make a
dissertation a dissertation. There are, however, many different forms a dissertation can take while still exhibiting
these core characteristics, as our project found in case studies of a wide range of innovative practice across the
higher education sector.
Our suggestion for dissertation guides is that they include both a list of essential features that need to be part of any
dissertation, as well as an open-ended list of possible shapes and forms their dissertation can take so long as the
essential features are present. An example of a guide which follows this format is given in Case Study 8 (see list of
case studies below). Clearly, what is considered essential and what range of possibilities are available to students will
vary according to institution, subject area and course, but the following list of key characteristics and table of
possibilities offers some ideas for consideration. The suggestions here are intended to be expansive rather than
restrictive – there are clearly far more possibilities for dissertations than we can describe here.
Although this guide has been designed with the UK undergraduate dissertation in mind, many of the ideas can also
apply to other final year projects and what in North America and Australasia are referred to as ‘capstone projects’
(i.e. projects which synthesise material developed in the first degree programme) which contain a significant amount
of research and inquiry.
September 2013
Key characteristics of dissertations
The following list is an attempt to characterise a dissertation – that is, to describe the essential features that make a
dissertation a dissertation rather than another form of work. As with all characterisations, not every dissertation can
be expected to exhibit all of the characteristics – some are generally applicable, but some are more relevant to
particular disciplines than others. And some are aspirational rather than being a strict requirement. We have tested
these ten characteristics through extensive consultation in 2011-12 with colleagues and students in the UK and
abroad. The intention, though, is for educators to pick, chose, adapt and add to this list according to their specific
discipline, institution and education goals. Whatever form a project or piece of work takes, and whether undertaken
on campus, in the workplace or community, characteristics such as the following make it a dissertation:
Table 1 Characteristics of final year projects and dissertations
1. It should be an extended piece of work
This means that the dissertation or project tackles a central question or issue in depth which the
students take ownership of. All sections of the FYPD relate to the same issue rather than being a
collection of unrelated essays. The size depends on the contribution it makes to the final year
marks e.g. 10%, 25%, 40% or, in the case of honours years in Australasia and Canada, 50% or more.
2. It should be research or inquiry-based
There are a great variety of approaches to research, but central to these is a desire to find out
something significant about ourselves, our society, our culture, our environment or other aspects
of our world. Research can be qualitative, quantitative, laboratory or design-based, artistic,
ethnographic, participative, action research, research ‘on’, ‘for’ or ‘with’ people, first person inquiry,
or one of many other scholarly approaches.
3. It should be relevant to a discipline or take an interdisciplinary approach
The dissertation needs to draw from the disciplinary and interdisciplinary knowledge and skills and
literature that students have gained during their degree, regardless of where the research takes
place, e.g., work or community-based research.
4. It should be underpinned by a range of relevant sources
Sources that inform dissertations and projects include textbooks, journal articles, surveys,
interviews, experiments, secondary data, websites, blogs, tweets, wikis, practice reports and direct
personal experience. What is appropriate depends on the type of FYPD and the purposes that the
source is being used for. It should be recognised that all sources have strengths and limitations, and
reflection on the limitations and validity of the sources used is part of the process.
5. It should be contextualised and show recognition of the provisional nature of
FYPD need to be contextualised through reference to the larger disciplinary and real world
contexts to which it is contributing. They should recognise that knowledge is uncertain, provisional,
and may be contested.
6. It should incorporate an element of critical thinking, challenge and evaluation
The authors of FYPD should take a questioning attitude towards the sources used, the discipline,
the data, and/or the social and cultural context, examining, problematizing and critiquing these as
appropriate. The best FYPD challenge and stretch their authors and move them beyond their
comfort zone helping them to discover new things about themselves and their capacities.
September 2013
7. It should be clear what it is contributing
A key part of a FYPD is its contribution to the field being investigated. For some disciplines, it is
important that dissertations go beyond stringing facts together and demonstrate at least some
elements of originality, innovation or creativity, though these are more likely to be the
characteristics of a very good piece of work rather than a minimum threshold judgement. The
originality could, for example, come from the application of a theoretical framework to new data,
the critical evaluation of arguments surrounding a controversial issue, bringing together of
information from multiple sources that have not been collated in that way before, or applying
theory to real-life issues. It is also important that the experiences of undertaking FYPD contribute
to the personal fulfillment of the students.
8. It should have a clearly defined and justified methodology
FYPD should be based on a systematic and rigorous methodology, with clear explanation of how
application of the methodology can achieve the purposes and goals of the dissertation. It should
give the opportunity for students to demonstrate the understanding and skills that they have
developed during their degree programme. Furthermore it should show an awareness and
understanding of appropriate ethical issues in undertaking the research.
9. It should build up to its conclusions and where appropriate have an element of
reflective commentary, including recommendations
FYPD should reach a coherent set of conclusions which relate to both the particular topic and the
research process. A variety of ideas should be considered, leading up to reasoned conclusions and
recommendations, e.g., for future research or policy or practice. In some cases, critical evaluation
can extend to reflection on the personal interests and goals of the researcher and how they
influence the research process. Many disciplines emphasise the importance of the author presenting
evidence-based and argued opinions.
10. It should communicate the research outcomes appropriately and effectively
FYPD should be presented in ways which most clearly and effectively communicate the ideas to the
intended audience. For some dissertations and projects, there may be multiple intended audiences,
for example, a research section which is aimed at an academic audience and a report based on the
research aimed at policymakers. Most FYPD will incorporate an extended piece of academic writing
while some may also include other forms of writing or other media, such as a report, conference
presentation, website, or digital story.
Possibilities for the shape and form of a dissertation
So long as dissertations demonstrate a set of ‘essential’ features, such as those described in the previous section,
there are a wide range of possibilities for the shape and form that they can take. Table 2 is based on a large number
of cases studies of innovative practice in dissertation projects, and gives an idea of the potential range of possibilities
available. The case studies referred to are on the project web site.
September 2013
Table 2 Alternative possibilities for dissertations
Common features
Individual work
The output is a research
Disciplinary focus
Detached observation
Use of scholarly
Consideration of the
ethics of the research
process in terms of not
harming subjects
Emphasising in-depth
Writing style derived
from subject textbooks
and journal articles
A written and bound
thesis (c.5-12,000 words
dependent on credit
Self-contained and
Campus based
Aimed at preparation for
a career as an academic
Reproduction of the
traditions of the
Individual supervision
Assessed by academics
Alternative possibilities
Teamwork and group-work at some stage in the process; from workshops, miniconferences and peer evaluation to entirely collaborative projects. Case study 1.4 is an
example of a teamwork project.
The output consists of a research report as well as a product or artefact that has been
created through practical application of the research findings. Case study 1.8 gives
examples of artefacts that students include in their dissertation.
Interdisciplinary and/or practice focused, where the dissertation can link to career,
employability and/or citizenship agendas. Case study 3.5 is an example of an
interdisciplinary approach.
Engagement and intervention in the real world and ‘live’ issues; personal reflection. Case
study 4.1 is based on reflection in the real world context of the workplace.
Using scholarly literature, but also drawing on a wider range of practice and other
sources; for example, high quality new media sources or oral testimony. Case study 1.3
demonstrates using a scholarly approach to develop a visual artefact.
Deeper consideration of the ethics of the research in terms of the potential benefits or
detriments to society arising from the type of research conducted. Case study 1.9
includes reflection on ethical issues.
Emphasising the integration of analytical skills with other skills. In Case study 5.6 students
are required to use and demonstrate a wide range of skills.
Appreciation of the wide range of scholarly writing that takes place in a subject area,
including creative approaches. Using a mixture of writing styles; for example, a research
section written in an academic style and an artefact produced in a business or publicfacing style for a target audience. Case study 1.12 describes a range of creative scholarly
writing styles in which dissertations could be written.
A written thesis for the main part of the dissertation, together with one or more artefacts
derived from the research such as: project reports, reflective writing, conference
presentations, business plans, software packages or visual artefacts such as DVD
documentaries, sculptures or websites. Case study 4.5 illustrates how a written and
bound thesis can be enhanced through the student presenting at an undergraduate
Part of a larger project. Case study 5.18 inherits and builds on work of previous cohort of
Work-based, problem-based, or community-based research, consultancy, event planning
and so on. Case study 2.14 describes work-based projects.
Aimed at students’ preferred career, whether as an academic researcher or a wide range
of other possible careers, agendas and priorities. Case study 5.11 prepares students for a
particular career path.
Creative extension of the discipline, or combining disciplines into an interdisciplinary
project. Case study 3.7 shows how an interdisciplinary approach can achieve a tangible
useful output.
Group and/or peer advice and support. Case study 4.4 is a group-based project, where
only one member of the team is required to be at the weekly meeting, giving
responsibility to students to divide up tasks and communicate information effectively to
other group members.
Assessed by peers or professionals in addition to academics. In Case study 2.4 35% of the
assessment is marked by the client.
September 2013
Rethinking Final Year Projects and Dissertations: Creative Honours and
Capstone Projects
Summary Case Studies
The following summary case studies were collected by a National Teaching Fellowship Scheme funded project based
at the University of Gloucestershire. They are categorised under the following disciplinary groupings:
Arts, Design, Media and Humanities
Business, Hospitality, Law, Sport and Tourism
Interdisciplinary and cross institutional
Education, Social and Environmental Sciences
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics
Further information and links to fuller case studies, where available are given on the project website at: Here will also be found the sources on
which the case studies are based.
Updates and additions to the mini case studies case studies after October 2012 may be found at:, where will also be found Dissertations and capstone projects: a selected
1. Arts, Design, Media and Humanities
1.1 Giving students alternative assessment options for undertaking a Product Design project at Nottingham Trent
University, UK
The module consists of several possible routes. Assessment is based on a learning contract negotiated and agreed
between the tutors and student. This contract stipulates the content of work, enabling students’ to complete one of
the following options:
 Option 1: a 10,000 word dissertation and students produce a poster that summarises their work
 Option 2: a 5,000 word conference paper with a supporting presentation that is delivered to peers and tutors
 Option 3: a conceptual project with a 5,000 word critical justification. As well as a written outcome students are
required to produce illustrations or simulations.
Prior to students undertaking their chosen assignment, there is a three week intensive period when students’ are
required to complete their learning contract. The contract identifies what option the student will complete, what
they hope to learn and how that learning will be demonstrated. The module involves students using a wide range of
primary and secondary research skills. Throughout the year, the direct contact students have with tutors is mainly
limited to group or sometimes individual tutorials, where the tutor acts as a ‘consultant’, advising on their proposals,
work in progress, what knowledge or skills should be developed, how to tackle certain issues and who students’
should approach for further information. Occasionally there will be content common to all students and this will be
delivered through lectures, for example, covering approaches to research. There are also opportunities for students’
to present their work in progress to a panel of tutors and peers, to obtain feedback.
1.2 History students contribute research findings to a Web site at Victoria University, Canada
‘Micro History and the Internet’ is a learner-centred and research-oriented course in which the main activity is
primary archival research on various aspects of life in Victoria, British Columbia from 1843 to 1900. Students work in
small groups to conduct the research and eventually to publish their findings on the website called “Victoria’s
September 2013
1.3 Design Dissertation: From Practice to Theory and Back Again at the University of Greenwich, UK
In March 2007 the dissertation experience of students in Graphic and 3D Digital Design was reviewed. Due to
students reporting a lack of engagement with a solely text-based piece of written research the emphasis of the
dissertation changed. The dissertation has become a ‘practice with theory’ model of learning. This model of the
‘studio’ and the theory elements of a design course working closer together has been tested in many undergraduate
art and design courses with great success. The emphasis of the dissertation is now on the quality of the research; so
the experience becomes about how to gather information and then how to communicate that information in an
appropriate manner. Using resources from a successful Teaching Innovation Fund application, a series of books were
bought for the students to enable them to be fully engaged with current research strategies in art and design. This
has proved to be highly successful on many fronts, including an improvement in their abilities to critically analyse a
variety of texts and discourses. Graphic design students have taken to this very easily as this relates very strongly to
their own practice. This has meant there is a strong visual element to each project, which helped construct and
define their arguments. Now the ‘physical’ format of the final presentation is as flexible as possible and is relevant to
the content of the written report. The main evidence for the success of this project comes from the students now
showing their dissertation in their final exhibition and having a greater prominence in their portfolios and there is
anecdotal evidence that employers have been surprised and impressed by the quality of the dissertation both in
their form and content
1.4 Advanced Newsweek: Work-based Learning and Employability Skills for Student Journalists at the University of
Gloucestershire, UK
This third year double module aims to consolidate journalism theory and practice into one intensive ‘Newsweek’
where students operate their own news organisation across the three media platforms of television, radio and
online news. Using a purpose-built production office alongside television and radio studios, the students elect their
newsroom roles and formulate working rotas to research and produce news bulletins, programmes and a news
website for one 40-hour intensive week. The module aims to enhance relevant employability skills. Students run
their own newsroom and utilise vocational skills that are less explicit in other modules such as strategic thinking and
problem-solving, as well as understanding group and individual motivation factors. They are required to act (and
dress) in a professional manner and to maintain a high level of respect while making often difficult and instant
decisions to tight deadlines. Teaching and learning is blended with twelve weeks of tutor-led lectures, seminars and
workshops, followed by a student-led ‘practise Newsweek’ before the assessed Newsweek begins. During the course
of the assessed week, students carry out their own primary research to gather and produce daily news to an industry
standard. They brand and present their programmes from inception to completion. At the end of each news
programme they hold an editorial meeting where they reflect upon their experience and the finished ‘product’. This
encourages individual and peer-to-peer reflection which is used to enhance the next news programme, and the
student’s cycle of progression becomes noticeable after the first day of operating a ‘rolling newsroom’. The module
integrates the development of research and vocational skills in an intensive real-world environment.
1.5 Community Sector Work Placements as Capstone Projects at Swinburne University of Technology, Australia
Students undertaking Media Projects in their final years are invited to develop projects (both individual and group
projects) or take up a placement opportunity with a community based organisation. Those opting for a placement
can choose from opportunities sourced by staff in the subject or they can approach an organisation independently to
undertake a placement. The research activities of the student vary according to the aptitudes of the student and the
placement undertaken. All students are required submit a Statement of Intention detailing what they are agreeing to
do over the course of the semester. Because each project is individually designed, students must satisfy the
requirements of their individual supervisor. This can range from a self-directed project such as a short film, website,
creative writing piece, radio production, etc. They can also undertake a self- organised work placement for up to 3
weeks. In both cases, the student is required to keep a detailed journal of their activities and to submit any work
generated throughout the project production or placement, and submit as part of their assessment. They must also
write a 1,000 word reflective self assessment of their placement detailing what they learned and achieved.
September 2013
1.6 Developing Authentic Undergraduate Research in Art & Design at Nottingham Trent University, UK
The Critical Practices Modules occur throughout the students’ undergraduate degree in years 1, 2 and 3. The process
of teaching in Years 1 and 2 develops this focus on research, and also on collaborative learning. The modules focus
on critical and contextual thought and practice in the context of an undergraduate design programme. The teaching
starts from the presupposition that the research process as an inquiry should have primacy, and that the modes of
development and exposition should be “authentic” to the research context. Authentic in the context of a creative art
& design programme is therefore understood to include creative art & design practice itself. Student research is as
likely to be situated in the context of developing creativity in the context of a Primary School, or practically applying
Bakhtin’s notion of carnival to flashmobs, as it might be focused on deconstructing Wagnerian Stenography, or
analysing the visual language of Jacobean play texts. The final year Major Research Project has been revalidated to
replace a written dissertation with a three part structure:
 A “research document” which can be in any form relevant to the research. This can include the traditionally
written dissertation, but has also included video, animations, documented performances, artefacts and
business plans. These are usually integrated within written texts.
 An abstract of 750 – 1500 words which articulates the fundamental aspects of the research project (research
question, methodology, findings, and conclusions). The abstract effectively makes the claim for the research
project and cross references the evidence in the research document.
 A seminar presentation which frames the research for a live audience, where the student responds to
questions which arise from the research.
1.7 An Extended Essay as an Alternative to a Dissertation in a Radio Production Degree Course at the University of
Gloucestershire, UK
The extended essay is approached in a similar way to the dissertation. Students are required to research and
investigate a topic of their choice. Themes and projects researched have included genre focused studies, analysing a
particular radio station, to researching North Korean Radio. The extended essay is a 4,000 word individually research
piece, and students are supported with individual tutorials. In their essays students are expected to demonstrate:
 A sophisticated and extensive understanding of a subject related to the study of radio.
 An applied understanding of theoretical approaches appropriate to the subject and an ability to illustrate,
evaluate and interrogate theory with examples/case studies.
 An ability to develop a clear and effective structure that reveals close analysis, theoretical synthesis,
integrated and developed arguments, and convincing summative conclusions
 Extensive research of the topic
 Clear and effective written communication
The University requires the students to produce a bound copy, in line with the University’s dissertation guidelines.
The reason why the extended essay was introduced was partly to support the inclusion of the module RAP312
Collaborative Practice, and it didn’t feel appropriate to the Radio Production degree to ask students to produce a
10,000 word dissertation in terms of the aim of the whole course The radio production degree requires students to
consider theory and the extended essay is one component of this. Although RAP312 Collaborative Practice and the
extended essay modules are not specifically linked, by completing a professional project and having an opportunity
to research a topic individually students are provided with an opportunity to develop a wider skills base.
1.8 Producing Artefacts through Collaboration in Media Production at University of Gloucestershire, UK
Instead of undertaking a dissertation students in Media are required to develop a collaborative arts and media piece
which they research and design themselves. Individual programmes adopt their own coded version of the module
making minor amendments as appropriate. Some programmes also have an extended essay module. Students are
able to work either with students from different discipline backgrounds or external clients. Students are required to
identify and research the product, how it may be marketed, etc. It is a long, thin module (15 credits) which provides
students with an opportunity to develop and enhance their professional practical skills. Students are supervised in
individual tutorials throughout the project, but there are also three taught sessions, each one hour long, where
students are brought together and the tutors co-teach in order to disseminate important interdisciplinary
information. Students are assessed by a portfolio with supporting documentation (50%) and an essay supported by
September 2013
theory, reflecting on the collaborative process (50%). The main learning outcome is to get students to collaborate
with others from different disciplines, but also to understand the value of that collaboration. When students
understand the potential of the module, excellent innovative pieces of work can be created which demonstrates the
students’ entrepreneurial and collaborative skills.
In addition to this creative project students are required to complete an extended essay, which provides them with
an opportunity for academic research. Both projects provide students with an opportunity to engage with both
practical and academic skills and knowledge.
1.10 Learning from Industry Professionals and a Student-led Conference on Contemporary Issues in Arts
Management at the Liverpool University for the Performing Arts, UK
In this final year module, Contemporary Issues in Arts Management, students engage in inquiry through questioning
industry professionals, researching their areas of interest and presenting their findings at a student conference. Ten
speakers at the top of performing arts management talk for one session each about the future of the arts, music,
theatre and entertainment. Each speaker chooses their own issue to talk about with students plus the format. Small
groups of students host each session, contacting the speaker in advance, researching their area of interest and
providing research packs to fellow students. On the day of the talk students meet the speaker for lunch. This
enables them to network with industry professionals, as well as to lead discussions and collate questions in order to
chair Q&A sessions. Guest inputs are tweeted. Dissemination therefore happens live throughout the module. 80% of
the assessment is through a presentation at the end of the module. Emphasis is placed on coherence and strength of
argument and supporting evidence over presentation criteria. These presentations also constitute an annual
Contemporary Issues in Arts Management Conference. The 5-day gathering is based around 32 students delivering
their own papers on the future of our industries. This unique event is attended by industry professionals and
members of the public as well as our other two years of management students. Conference reaction is tweeted by
the audience, generating wide dissemination (Some 850 tweets per month; the last 50 have reached 7,562
recipients). The External Examiner commented (2008-09) that the “student conference... is excellent professional
preparation as well as a sound testing of the students’ understanding of the industry.” Twenty percent of the marks
are available for criteria decided on by students themselves e.g. their interaction with guest speakers’ subject matter
and enhancements to the course.
Hot tip: “Don’t try to do it all at once – it has taken 9 years to build up this module”!
1.11 Entertainment Technology Dissertation at Staffordshire University, UK
Students on undergraduate technology awards have to produce a piece of creative work, together with a research
report. The nature of the discipline is that students are keen to carry out the creative element, but less keen to carry
out the more academic research. By asking a student to carry out research work which is directly linked to the
creation of an artefact, we ensure that they develop skills in enquiry, which have a practical outcome in supporting
their artefact production.
Research Dissertation (30 credits)
Runs over both semesters, and the final report includes all the usual elements of research, literature review,
analysis, design, implementation, testing and critical evaluation.
Entertainment Portfolio (15 credits)
This is an artefact that is produced by the student and these are quite diverse. These have included projects such as
a short film, a feature film with music, analysis of sound, a game level, an animation, a cartoon, comparison of
various editing techniques, simulation of different studio produced music.
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1.12 Letting the apple fall further from the tree: the creation of a guide to inform students of the diversity of
possible forms an English Language dissertation can take in the University of Gloucestershire, UK
This case study discusses the initial findings from introducing a guide earlier this academic year to inform students
about the diversity of possible forms an English Language dissertation can take. Further research will examine the
impact of the dissertation guide on the kind of dissertation that students actually chose to do and the quality of the
final product. One of the defining characteristics of a dissertation is that it is an independent piece of work where
the student has the freedom to choose their own research topic, methodology and, to some extent, format and
writing style. Assignment briefs often describe the word limit, hand in date, learning outcomes and assessment
criteria, but are careful not to specify further details about the topic or approach since these are up to the student.
Ironically though, the lack of specificity can lead to a closing down of choice, since in their desire to produce ‘what is
expected’ students often seek models from the standard textbooks of their course, the journals of their discipline, or
previous dissertations, but not beyond. This project has produced a more detailed and specific assessment brief and
process for dissertations. The brief outlines the essential characteristics of a dissertation and describes a wide range
of possibilities for the shape and form that the dissertation can take. The process is designed to provide students
with a strong support structure to give them confidence in the direction they are taking in their dissertation. Initial
feedback suggests that students are delighted both to be offered a range of possibilities to consider for their
dissertation and to have a clear structure to undertake their project in.
1.13 Exploring Contemporary Literature at Oxford Brookes University, UK
This final-year capstone course for English Studies at Oxford Brookes University is compulsory for students taking a
degree solely in English and strongly recommended for those studying English and another discipline (Brookes
operates a US style credit or modular course where many students specialise in two disciplines). The 'Contemporary
Literature' module encourages students in their final year of study to reflect upon their accumulated reading
experiences and to explore and implement their critical vocabularies by examining a number of contemporary
writings. The course is intended to present students with a series of challenging texts that provoke consideration of
the interrelationships of past, present and future. The module includes texts that self-consciously analyse the impact
of the past on the present, but it will also foreground material that deliberately postulates the relationship between
present and future. In so doing students will be required to address the hybridity of notions of the contemporary.
This capstone course brings all students together to analyse common issues in contemporary literature. Assessment
requires students to take a critical and individual overview of their whole English programme: to consider what
pathways they have followed during it and, crucially, where they are at the close of the degree and where they are
taking both the subject and themselves (e.g. whether into work or into postgraduate study). Assessment for this
module is 100% coursework comprising: a 15 minute in-seminar group presentation (30%); a 3000 word essay (40%)
and a completed module logbook (30%). All assignments are assessed on the reading which the student has engaged
with over the course of the module and on a synopticising overview of the students’ English Studies course. One of
the principal aims of the assessment strategy is to get students to relate the material that is discussed in class back
to other texts and cultural forms that they have encountered on their degree.
1.14 Music and the dissertation at Oxford Brookes University, UK
The module ‘Written Dissertation’ consists of a student-directed critical examination, through independent study
and extended written work, of a music-based theme, topic or issue. Although the dissertation is a written piece it
may include a CD, tape or video of musical which accompanies the written work. The project is selected by the
student in consultation with (and subject to the approval of) Music staff, or, in the case of an interdisciplinary
dissertation, in consultation with staff in both Music and the student's other subject. Students have a non-assessed
opportunity to present their dissertation to peers through the Dissertation Forum. This provides a chance to observe
how their material appears when set alongside other student work. Attendance at, and engagement in, the forum is
compulsory for the module. In the first semester of their final year students are required to present an overview of
their research. This provides the student with an opportunity to orally present their ideas and respond to questions
from staff and peers. It also provides the student cohort with an opportunity to ask questions about submission and
presentation. The assessment is 100% coursework consisting of: a 20% Submission of chapter draft, annotated
bibliography and chapter outline and an 80% written dissertation of 8,000-10,000 words.
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1.15 Creative Exchange: Multidisciplinary Media Arts Practice in an Industry Context at James Cook University,
Creative Exchange (CXC) is designed to capitalise on a common thread of interdisciplinary practice built into the New
Media Arts degree programme which features five disciplines, Sound and Music Media, Illustration and Visual Media,
Contemporary Theatre, Media Design and Photo Media. The degree teaches students the practical and theoretical
concerns and specificities of each area through a core programme of subjects that focus on convergent production
methodologies. Projects are devised by staff, students and the wider community and are observed at close quarters
by a panel of industry and academic personnel. It is common that these projects demand a rapid expansion into
technical areas that either build on existing skill-sets or draw from available expertise in the local creative industry
Students undertaking CXC are encouraged to design their own projects, but can also work with staff, client and
community groups to design projects. Each project team must include at least 3 disciplines - this might include
student expertise from outside of the school and in the past has featured students and staff from Information
Technology, Education, Anthropology and Business - and project teams must develop a professional “shop front” to
represent their professional identity online and in the public space. Built into the programme is a heavily structured
pre-production phase which takes its cues from production based methodologies commonly found in film, game and
media design studios. These documents are developed early, often pre-semester, and evaluated by a panel of
industry professionals who are representative of the major disciplines from the New Media Arts programme. Finally,
all projects must have a public or industry relevant launch event. Students are encouraged to engage with local
venues and event management professionals and spend a considerable amount of time developing logistical run
sheets, Occupational Health and Safety plans, promotional material and media savvy PR collateral with the School’s
Community Engagement and Events Officer and Facilities Management team.
1.16 BA (Hons) popular music students – an alternative approach to assessment design of a research project
module at the Colchester Institute, UK
For a many years the BA (Hons) Music Degree in the Colchester Institute, Centre for Music and Performing Arts has
included a 15 credit Honours Career Option Research Project (HCO), of 4,000 words, that provides an academic focus
to students’ 45 credit HCO ‘package’ in their final year (based on one of four pathways: performance, education,
composition or arts business). There was a strong body of evidence that supported a need to change to a new
module design/concept:
 Poor success rates (50% in 2010-11 together with no resit attempts when offered to students)
 Low levels of student engagement
 Student comments at Course Committee meetings
 Comments from the external examiner, who was supportive of change
During 2011-2012 an Alternative Assessment Working Group was set up to consider other possible methods
involving innovation and alternatives in assessment within Higher Education as a whole at Colchester Institute.
Popular Music, with its proposed Research Project, was identified as a suitable model for consideration by the
department of Higher Education at the college and by its validating partner, the University of Essex. After more than
a year of research, debate and revision the new module was approved and will run for the first time in October 2012.
This new module will provide a student centred approach to assessment through the submission of a negotiable
research project and assessment instrument as opposed to a compulsory text-based document. The precise nature
of the submission is flexible and will depend on the nature of the research, but it must be appropriate in approach
and scale to a 15-credit module at Level 6. Assessment is through a 100% research portfolio; the option of a 4,000
word essay will remain but an action research project involving practical work, for example, could be evidenced
through a DVD and accompanying report.
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1.17 Developing the reflective practitioner in performing arts at the University of Winchester, UK
The BA (Hons) Performing Arts degree at the University of Winchester concerns contemporary performance practice.
We place the notion of the student as 'reflective practitioner' at the heart of the programme as a pedagogical and
philosophical model. Performance-making and researching-through-performance are fundamental to the
programme. Theory is explored through practice, while practice is evaluated and contextualised through theory.
Interdisciplinarity and cross-disciplinarity are also at the core of the programme.
The final year project module aims to develop a key transferable skill, which is promoted by the programme, namely
that of fostering thestudents' ability to recognise their own learning needs in relation to their particular strengths
and learning skills. Through this module students develop an individually negotiated portfolio of work informed by
current debates in performing arts, specifically focusing upon preparing students to continue work at post-graduate
level or in a professional context. Various models are available to the students, including 100 per cent performance,
workshops and performance, and a traditional 10,000-word dissertation. In all the work, the process must be
underpinned by critical reflection.
Source: Extracts from Hellier-Tinoco and Cuming (2010, 18, 21)
1.18 Style in performance in music degree at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, UK
This case study explores aspects of a course that is offered in each year of the four year BMus degree at the Royal
Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD). This course, which is entitled 'Style in Performance' (SiP), includes a
number of elements that link teaching and research, in terms of course content, assessment and outcomes. SiP is
principally concerned with learning through practice, research and reflection, and at the RSAMD it is considered to
be an opportunity for students to begin to explore practice-based research (or research 'in-and-through practice'). In
the fourth year, the teaching in SiP takes a more philosophical and critical approach, examining a range of issues
relating to performance in a short series of lectures. Students then work independently on music of their choice, and
are encouraged to study a work or works that they will perform in their main final recital. Studying part of their final
recital programme opens up the potential to synthesise the philosophical and critical approach of the classes with
music that they are preparing in detail for a polished performance. They complete a worksheet, and sit a
performance/viva. In addition, students may also choose to undertake an elective research project within SiP IV.
These projects can be diverse, but always deal with aspects of performance. A wide variety of submission types is
available to cater for a range of practice-based projects, including lecture-recital, recital with research notes,
recording, DVD or multimedia submission and demonstration lesson. Whatever the submission type, the student
also undergoes a rigorous oral examination.
Source: Extracts from Broad (2010, 11, 13)
1.19 Engaging students in digital humanities in an archives and public history curriculum at New York University,
“Traditionally we required a written thesis thirty-five pages in length. We modified the requirements to allow for
digital projects, as well as other forms of archives and public history activities, such as exhibition designs, oral history
projects, online documentary editions, and walking tours. Students have already begun to take advantage of the
opportunities, and some have built extremely creative undertakings. An example is a historical blog, First Hundred
Days, hundreddays/), created by two students around the theme of the
first hundred days of the Franklin Roosevelt administration. They invented several historical characters, embedded
documents and media from the period into the site, and created lesson plans that secondary school teachers might
use to incorporate the site into the classroom.”
Source: Wosh et al. (2012, 90-91)
1.20 Shaping dissertation research in dance and music theatre: critical approaches and shifting methodologies at
London Studio Centre, UK
London Studio Centre’s BA (Hons) Theatre Dance programme, validated by Middlesex University, prioritises technical
excellence in dance/music theatre performance and creative practice, based on a clear grasp of dance history and
culture. The dissertation forms a key part of the Level 6 module M301 – Research: Putting Theory into Practice (40
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credits). Modules at Levels 4 and 5 prepare the students for this task, establishing study skills and research methods
appropriate for HE and developing critical and analytical tools to locate different dance practices, including the
students’ own creative practice, in a wider cultural context. The integration of theory and practice through
dissertation research encourages students to develop the transferable graduate skills needed when they enter the
professional field, and indeed when they exit it, considering professional dance may be a relatively short-lived
career. Furthermore, recent methodological shifts in the wider field of dance studies have led students, in
conjunction with tutors, to develop tailor-made research methodologies. There is a breadth of interdisciplinary
theoretical frameworks, combining insights from dance studies as a discipline with theatre studies, cultural studies,
psychology, anatomy/physiology or sociology. Many students choose to study topics in the field of popular culture,
in line with the recognition of popular dance and music theatre as meriting academic enquiry; however, this is not
without its challenges due to the apparent lack of substantial bodies of literature in these areas. Also, practice-based
research in choreography and dance on screen is becoming increasingly significant.
1.21 Developing of a creative research culture for ‘Top-up’ Fine Art students through providing a choice of
dissertations at Somerset College of Art, Taunton, UK
To extend and deepen a research culture for students topping up to a BA Fine Art a departmental decision was taken
to develop the research options available to students for their dissertation module. Students now have a choice of
three forms:
1. The traditional 5,000-8,000 word Thesis module.
2. A 5,000-8,000 word Critical Commentary. This research form explores the students work and ideas about
their own Fine Art practice.
3. A Special Project that requires a 3,000-5,000 word research document and the production of three pieces of
studio work.
All three options have consistently proved popular with Fine Art students.
The diversity of research options empowers and motivates students; emphasises active learning; facilitates learning
through the production of artefacts; and encourages reflective practice and first person enquiry. A sense of
discovery, exploration and provisionality are therefore integrated into the research culture. Students are better able
to develop their own interests and to engage deeply with learning processes. Learning strengths and weaknesses are
better identified by students. Staff are challenged to respond to outputs from a creative range of learning and
project forms.
Both staff and students need to consider very carefully the three types of research form, and the different
assessment criteria each requires. Varied forms of assessment enhance the student learning experience and their
insights into the nature of research. The distinctiveness of each research form is also highlighted. Conversely
assuring standards across different forms requires careful discussion of marking criteria by staff. Students are placed
in peer learning groups to support one another and, early on, to help discuss the relative merits of each of the
research forms. A bridging module is also in place towards the end of the 2nd year to help students get started on
their 3rd year so that the summer vacation can be used for primary and secondary research.
Source: Correspondence with Peter Hawkins ([email protected])
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2. Business, Hospitality, Law, Sport and Tourism
2.1 Engaging students in applied research through a community sports development consultancy project at
University of Central Lancashire, UK
The final year Community Sports Development module acts as a capstone module for Sports Coaching students. It is
taken in addition to the honours dissertation. Students work as a project team through a consultancy brief with a
partner agency and recommend strategies that can be employed to support community development through
community sport and coaching initiatives. There are normally 8-12 consultancy briefs divided up among the 40-50
students, with students creating their own consultancy teams. Examples include: a) A “health check” of football
refereeing in Blackburn; b) Community Sport and Crime Reduction; and c) Community Sport (“Street Dance”).
2.2 Modelling the Research Experience: Tourism Students’ Virtual Conference at Universities of Lincoln and
Wolverhampton, UK
In May every year, final-year Tourism students at the Universities of Lincoln and Wolverhampton participate
together in a live virtual conference, as part of their final-level assessment. A conference is a useful vehicle for
extending insight into the process and practice of knowledge creation and dissemination and for students to
participate as, in effect, research disseminators. Information technology has made it possible: during the specified
time frame of one week, students across two campuses can come together at times of their choosing to participate
in a joint effort to disseminate research findings and engage in dialogue about their research.
Students submit a full conference paper, but it is only a summary discussion paper that appears on the conference
website. Each student is also required to post a comment on another conference paper, in true conference dialogue
tradition. For further information, visit. Feedback from students has been very positive and encouraging. Two
qualified web designers built the site and have been on hand to deal with technical issues. Teaching staff have
provided support for the conference throughout.
In 2011-12, in the same module, the concept of tourism socialisation (not well-researched in the tourism
literature) was analysed. In seminars, as a non-assessed feature, students were asked to submit childhood holiday
snaps and a story attached reflecting on the ways in which they thought early holiday experiences had influenced
their own holiday choices. The work they produced formed an exhibition as part of the University’s Festival of
Teaching and Learning. As a result a 'Holiday Memory Bank' project has been started. As a natural part of this
evolution, it seemed appropriate to ask students to turn themselves into consultants - should the socialisation
project continue? How should the virtual conference develop? What content should be covered in the module?
2. 3 Students Participate in a Research Project on Criminal Justice Linked to Staff Interests at Australian National
University, Australia
Students at ANU have the opportunity to participate in a research project based on current research being
conducted by members of the Faculty of Law, the Australian Institute of Criminology and Research School of Social
Science. ‘Criminal Justice’ is an advanced law elective which critically examines the principal institutions, processes
and legal rules relating to the administration of criminal justice. The Learning project is an assessable option that
allows students to devise research projects which have both academic value and practical outcomes.
2.4 International on-course Market Research Experience for Final Semester Bachelor of Agribusiness Students at
The University of Queensland, Australia
This compulsory capstone course is based around international market research consultancy projects undertaken for
fee-paying Australian agribusiness firms. Guided by an experienced academic mentor, groups of 4-5 students work
on their client's project for the whole of their second semester (early August to early November). In late September
each group travels overseas to do the in-market research and they are required to have the whole project finished
and a full report back to the company, orally and in writing, by the end of the first week of November. In the last five
years more than 300 students have completed research in 16 different countries including China, Hong Kong, Japan,
Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore, Dubai, and France; covering products as diverse as beef, lamb, pork,
game meats, citrus, mangoes, avocados, processed fruit, bamboo products, macadamias, and farm machinery.
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Currently 35% of each group's assessment comes from their client, not the university, so when a client awards a
mark it reflects their satisfaction with the quality of the work. For this part of each project, students develop their
own assessment criteria and negotiate them with their client.
2.5 Events Management Live Consultancy Project, University of Gloucestershire, UK
The live consultancy project has adapted the Dissertation so that it continues to meet the requirements of the QAA
subject benchmarks and Qualifications Framework whilst allowing for a more applied approach to their research.
Students are required to contextualise their existing academic and operational knowledge within the framework of
an applied event working with a ‘real industry’ context that will allow the students to develop the skills that
employers within the event management field are looking for. Skills that are most specifically related to project
management, such as planning and development skills, attention to detail, continuous evaluation and flexibility, are
valued most highly by employers. Students gain excellent experience from the running of live events, and find that
theory becomes more meaningful when applied and tested in real situations. They are encouraged to think about
their own skills and their personal development as researchers and event managers throughout the process. The
result of their involvement with the client is also intended to contribute to the engagement of the University with
local businesses and residents. Collaborative ventures such as this project help prospective employers to see how
capable undergraduate students are, and the range of skills they can bring into the sector.
2.6 Coaching and Community Development at Southampton Solent University, UK
The third year unit Coaching and Community Development follows a second year unit titled Coaching and
Development, which is a precursor to the third year unit. Students begin the third year with a formed idea and
project plan as they have been required to engage with industry partners, employers, and businesses. The main
function of the third year unit surrounds students in groups delivering their own coaching and development initiative
in the local community. Students’ projects have to address a social issue and be sustainable. Involvement of industry
has been an important factor in developing both the second and third year units. Industry involvement has
increased, as it became apparent how significant the contribution is to the students from those within the
profession. There is now a ‘Dragons Den' element where students have to present their work to a mixture of
academic staff and industry professionals. This enables students to receive feedback from a variety of sources,
strengthening the student experience. Students are assessed via a poster presentation in front of partners from the
industry and they are required to submit an individual reflective portfolio. In the third year unit the second period of
study takes a more directive approach. Whilst students are developing their coaching plan a number of optional and
compulsory tutorial sessions are run to provide support to the student.
2.7 Implementing a Research Active Curriculum at the University of Sunderland, UK
The University of Sunderland in January 2010 revised its institutional teaching and quality assurance processes to
deliver a curriculum that is ‘research active’. At level 3 all programmes will ensure that students experience a
suitable synoptic activity which helps them bring together their understanding of their discipline and professional
area and prepare them for their subsequent employment and civic engagement. Implementation of this broad
framework is at Faculty level. The undergraduate curriculum will be designed to promote progressive development
of graduate research attributes fostered through increasing student engagement in enquiry and understanding of
research in a structured way through all levels.
In the Business School the undergraduate programmes are being redesigned to offer a common first year,
comprising an 80-credit ‘super module’ in which students will work in multi-disciplinary teams to research and
design a business start-up and a 20-credit ‘Contemporary debates in ….’ module, where experts from the various
disciplines of business and management will lead debates on topical and controversial issues in their subject area to
raise student awareness of the uncertainty, subjectivity and the dynamic nature of knowledge.
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2.8 Researching Contemporary Management Issues: An alternative to the Final Year Project at the University of
Winchester, UK
Students are required to critically evaluate approaches to research into a contemporary management issue, for
example: case studies, ethnographic approaches, or action research, etc. Students are then required to select,
research and critically assess a range of contemporary management issues in depth in their own research paper for
presentation and submission. Examples of such issues might be drawn from a range of subject disciplines, such as
marketing, strategic management, human resource management, and enterprise and innovation. Enquiry-based
learning methods are used to explore the nature and implications of these issues and particular emphasis is placed
upon how managers can contribute to the effective management of these issues in practice.
2.9 Virtual Law Placement: Experiencing Work Integrated Learning in Diverse Law Graduate Employment
Workplaces Virtually at Queensland University of Technology, Australia
Virtual Law Placement provides law students with an opportunity for research and inquiry into a diverse range of
working environments that are now available to law graduates, including international work placements. Students
are assessed through their submission of an application for their preferred placement, their contribution to an online
discussion forum, the project and an ePortfolio reflection. Students work as part of a team on a real world law
workplace project, for example, an internet bases intellectual property dispute; or listing a public company; or
engaging in research about access to justice of juvenile offenders in regional Thailand. Students apply legal
knowledge and skills to complete a real world workplace project in a team, using online communication technologies
to enable students to be virtually, rather than physically, present at the workplace and to engage with the other
participants in the workplace, including the workplace supervisor of the virtual placement.
2.10 Broadening Final Year Projects through Use of Major and Minor Theses Requirements at the Japan Advanced
Institute of Science and Technology, Japan
This project combines and develops students’ two areas of interest as they are required to research and submit work
on two different areas of interest, thus broadening the knowledge and experience of the student. The project is
currently applied to Masters Degrees but could be adapted for an undergraduate course. The major and minor thesis
program is the capstone element of a two-year Masters degree program known as the Management of Technology
at the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. Students are required to submit two pieces of research,
presented in two theses. The major theme research takes place within their specific area of interest, but students
are also required to submit a minor piece of research in an area which is different to their major theme. The major
theme thesis research is completed by learners in their final year, and comprises a supervised, substantive thesis on
an original research topic from within those topics being explored in the learner’s laboratory (relating to their chosen
field of study: Information Science, Material Science, or Knowledge Science). The thesis is for the most part the
original work of the learner and their empirical inquiry into a research problem (in the classic manor). The learners’
workload here is about 6 months, with a final paper usually over 60 pages. The condition to finish minor-theme
research depends on the relationship between the learner and a different chosen supervisor of a sub-theme. This
research project should be developed based on research of a different lab, and usually, a different school from the
‘home’ lab and school of the learners’ chosen field. In this way the learner completes a research project in a very
different subject than their major thesis; working with a supervisor with likely a very different perspective on
research. Students are required to produce project reports, c.30 pages; and most ask learners to present these at
major meetings of their lab and student's actual work is around 2 months.
This project is at postgraduate level, however the writing of a minor theme report with an interdisciplinary focus
could work at undergraduate level given sufficient support and recognition in credits allocated to the project.
Learners are required to work with academic advisors from outside of their department, and this could be continued
at undergraduate level, either with undergraduates forming partnerships with academics or business organisations
in an area related to the learners’ research.
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2.11 Students Solving Real-life Projects in Computer Science and Software Engineering at Sheffield University, UK
A number of projects are used in degree courses in computer science and software engineering at Sheffield
University to give students the experience of working in teams for real clients. Such projects complement the
traditional dissertation and help develop additional employment related skills.
Second year undergraduate computer science and software engineering students take a one semester module called
Software Hut. The students organise themselves in teams of 4-6 and each team spends one semester researching
and investigating for one project. These projects are submitted by real clients and reflect various needs and
problems from their businesses; 3-5 teams are allocated to each client and they compete for the best project which
will be chosen by the client. Students receive training on software engineering methodologies, team related
activities; support is provided by companies like IBM, Accenture, etc. The projects selected by clients are
immediately utilised in their business context and sometimes they return back to us for expanded versions of these
Another very successful module, Genesys, is open for 4th year undergraduate students and MSc advanced software
engineering students. Genesys is organised like a small company with a well-defined structure and specific teams
and responsibilities. There are student research teams involved in getting and managing projects, providing quality
control services for the rest of the company, and design and programming teams implementing the projects that real
clients contract with the company. This module is runs for two semesters. The Lecturers involved in running both
Software Hut and Genesys act as supervisors and managers, observing teams’ behaviour, providing advice and
sorting out outstanding situations.
2.12 Charity Fund Raising Final Year Project in Business and Management Studies for Enhancing Employability at
the University of Bradford, UK
This is a new module designed with two broad outcomes in mind:
1) to give students the knowledge and expertise they needed to perform well in the graduate selection
process; and
2) to add to their CV activities which would give them something to talk about at interview and which would
stretch them in the development of their skills.
The former was delivered via classroom teaching whilst the latter was seen as the product of planning and delivering
fund-raising initiatives for one of a small number of charities. Students variously undertook football matches, disco
nights, cake stalls, fashion shows, etc and on a significant number of occasions, obtained corporate sponsor shop to
cover certain expenses. The emphasis of the module is on the practical demonstration of skills and students are
asked to present an analysis of what they had done and why in an “Apprentice Boardroom” at the end of the
module. Assessment criteria included their presentation skills, their performance as a team and their performance
on the task. Whilst teams who raised larger sums of money typically did better than those who did not, the amount
of money raised was not part of the assessment. Assessment was through a formal presentation undertaken in front
of three employers as well as tutors and team documentation (minutes of meetings, accounts, receipt from the
charity involved, evidence of communication with the charity, risk assessment of health and safety for the activities
proposed, feedback from the mentor and two-side reflective account) submitted one week before the presentation.
The documentation gave an indication of potential questions which could be asked at the presentation.
2.13 Management Practice in Real World Projects at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong
To qualify students better for the real world, the backbone of this intensive course centres on “consultancy projects”
where student groups are assigned to Hong Kong companies to help address unsolved management challenges.
Using a supervision-based independent study mode, student groups meet with managers who have volunteered
their own organization’s challenge for the purposes of the project. These meetings span over the 14 week term. On
top of this, student groups meet the coordinating professor of the subject for five progress report meetings. These
contacts are in consultation / seminar style centring round discussions on the latest research reports and where
possible, guest speaker sessions, in helping address the consultancy report. The projects are designed to follow the
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mode of supervision-based independent study between the teacher and manager, teacher and student groups, and
manager with student groups.
2.14 Final Year Work Placement, an Alternative to the Dissertation in Events Management, at the University of
Winchester, UK
Students can opt for a work based placement over a dissertation in BA (Hons) Event Management programme. This
involves being based at the placement for 2 full days per week during term time, totalling 30 days. Part of the time is
spent developing industry skills and part of the time should be spent working on a small scale research project (for
the company which will be submitted for marking). Students have a designated work based supervisor and an
academic supervisor. Students are not paid. In the past students have taken up a range of placements with
corporate event management departments, event management agencies, venues (hotels, academic venues, sporting
venues) and a number have worked with charity organisations. Projects have varied enormously according to the
nature of the organisation and any developing interests of the organisation. Past projects have included writing and
implementing a sustainability policy for the company, introducing and evaluating new events, introducing and
evaluating e-marketing methods and investigating impacts of exclusivity at venues.
2.15 Language students work in teams on international market research projects at Leeds Metropolitan
University, UK
For almost 15 years all the final-year undergraduates on language degrees at Leeds Metropolitan University work in
teams of four over a full year to undertake international market research projects on behalf of local businesses,
following project briefs prepared for them by the managers in those businesses. The students practise the whole
range of skills they have developed on their course (applied languages, team-working, time management, research,
project management, data analysis, report-writing, presenting recommendations and so on) in a real-world
environment based on genuine commercial needs and products.
The students appreciate that they are not working on a case study but with actual products and professionals who
teach them about expectations in a professional environment. Over the years, those products have included fashion
jewellery, specialist woven fabrics, language services, bathroom equipment and even high-speed, crash-proof
shutter doors. Students are particularly fascinated by the company or factory tours as, for many of them, it will be
the first time they have ever seen behind the facade of a business. The employers also prize the experience as they
get valuable research undertaken that can assist them with their strategic development of international markets.
2.16 Marketing final year research project at Letterkenny Institute of Technology, Ireland
All students taking the Bachelor of Business (Honours) Marketing complete a major marketing research project as a
partial requirement for the fulfilment of their BBS Honours Marketing. The Marketing Research Project (5 credits)
module is the capstone marketing research module. Prior to this, all students complete two modules (equating to 10
credits) specifically related to the field and practice of marketing research. These modules are called Marketing
Research Methods and Applied Marketing Research.
In the research capstone module learners must work in groups and source a business that has a research problem or
opportunity that they can address. For example one group of learners recently worked with an established hotel in
the locality to investigate the consumer decision-making process for the selection of a wedding venue in Co.
Donegal. The methodology for this project included a focus group with five couples who were married recently in Co.
Donegal and a structured survey (N = 100).
Learners are required to apply the principles of best practice marketing research throughout their project. They are
required to design and justify a sound methodology, and execute that methodology, incorporating innovative
marketing research techniques throughout. Learners present a copy of their research projects to the business.
Learners are also required to maintain a personal log, detailing their individual research reflections, throughout the
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The Marketing Research Project module (semester 8) is linked to a preceding module, Applied Marketing Research
(semester 7). In this module, the continuous assessment requires learners to source a business that has a research
problem or opportunity and design a suitable marketing research proposal to address that research opportunity. In
the semester 8 Marketing Research Project module, learners revise the proposal and execute the proposed research.
The Marketing Research Project module is assessed by 100% Continuous Assessment. 80% of the marks available are
for group work and the remaining 20% is for an individual submission. Group work is assessed in four stages; stage 1
(20% of group work) represents the literature review, stage 2 (20% of group work) represents the methodology, and
stage 3 (40% of group work) represents the findings and analysis section. Learners are provided with marks and
feedback on their performance at each of these three stages. Stage 4 (the final 20% of group work) is for the
resubmission of the final document; the Marketing Research Report. This report is also presented to the business.
In the individual submission, worth 20% of the module, learners must detail their personal research reflections. This
must include information on areas they had special responsibility for, reflection of the division of labour throughout
the project, and reflection on the research limitations.
Sources: Correspondence with Vicky O’Rourke ([email protected]);
2.17 Student-led research journal in business at Newcastle College, UK
An understanding of academic publication as an integral component of scholarship is embedded within the final year
undergraduate and Masters courses (levels 6 and 7) in business. Curriculum design emphasises a cross-disciplinary
approach to research. The benefits of publication are communicated to all HE business students in terms of
employability skills and preparation for further study.
A student-led on-line research journal has been established to disseminate student scholarship, usually the findings
of dissertation projects, to an external audience. Entitled The Seven Bridges Management Journal (a title proposed
by students), it provides a range of opportunities for their students, not only as authors but also as Editors, peer
reviewers and members of the Editorial Board. Collaboration between staff and students is central to the ethos of
the journal. The Editorial Board is composed of both staff and students, with students in the majority. Each
submission is peer reviewed by at least one student and one staff member. The editor is selected from the student
body and allocated a number of staff advisors. Some of the papers have been written by collaborative partnerships
of staff and students.
Course leaders have noted that involvement in the journal seems to provide students with greater confidence in the
value of their own work. Establishing a new student-led academic journal inevitably requires a considerable time
commitment from associated staff, particularly in terms of guiding students through the publication process as peer
reviewers and members of the Editorial Board. In time, it is envisaged that experienced students will begin to
mentor new participants.
Sources: Correspondence with Jonathan Eaton ([email protected]);;
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3. Interdisciplinary and cross-institutional
3.1 Compulsory community-based learning capstone project at Portland State University, USA
During the final year each undergraduate student is required to participate in a Senior Capstone, the culmination of
the University Studies program. The Senior Capstone is a community-based learning experience that
a) Provides an opportunity for students to apply the expertise they have learned in their major to real issues
and problems in the community; and
b) Enhances students’ ability to work in a team context necessitating collaboration with persons from
different fields of specialisation.
Each student works with a team of students and faculty. Each Senior Capstone must result in some form of
summation, closing project, or final product that puts closure to the students' experience.
3.2 Unravelling complexity at Australian National University, Australia
The final year synoptic capstone course involves students from each of the seven colleges/faculties examining
different disciplinary ways to “unravel complexity”. The course has a weekly two hour panel of different high profile
researchers speaking to the class on how different disciplines deal with complexity. Each panel typically consists of a
range of speakers taking different perspectives on an issue, e.g. global financial crises, the collapse of empires,
contemporary 'failing' states, pandemics, engineering and network failures, and the moral and legal dimensions of
these issues. Students in pairs then facilitate a tutorial discussion with about 16 of their classmates on this topic.
Reflective and interdisciplinary thinking is encouraged through a learning portfolio. Students commented that the
course structure modelled likely work scenarios they were soon to be in – i.e. working in interdisciplinary teams on
complex problems that need a diverse range of tools and perspectives to address.
3.3 Inter-disciplinary Inquiry-based Learning (IDIBL) Focused on Action Research in the Workplace at Bolton, UK
The IDIBL framework project at the University of Bolton has developed an undergraduate and postgraduate module
framework for inquiry-based learning, which includes final year honour projects. The student is seen as an actionresearcher who must identify an opportunity in their work-context for improvement. Learners support each other in
an online community to combine study with work. The modules contained within the framework focus on process,
and generic concepts and outcomes, rather than subject content. Through a process of negotiation between the
individual learner and the course staff, a personalised inquiry is developed to include learning activities and
assessment products that meet the module requirements and informed by the learners’ professional practice. The
student then plans the action they will take, undertakes it in their own work context, evaluates the action, and
revises the plan.
3.4 Academic Credit for Employability Skills at the University of Gloucestershire, UK
This project outlines work-based learning and volunteering, which has attracted academic credit under different
courses and modules for over fifteen years.
This module, originally called Continuing Professional Development, was used for students working in the wider
community, either in voluntary work or in paid part-time work, whilst at University. The module gave students the
opportunity to reflect on the work they were undertaking and to research more deeply into their chosen area of
employment or volunteering. The work students undertook ranged from creative writing students working with
packs of wolves in Devon, to students volunteering with the St John Ambulance, running their own businesses
making skate boards to those putting together productions as part of the University theatre group. After 2004 this
module was superseded by a specific volunteering module entitled Volunteering and Employability.
The mentoring project originally involved undergraduates from the University of Gloucestershire going in to schools
and colleges within Gloucestershire to provide academic mentoring to students in years 10 and 11 in order to help
them achieve better GCSE results. Undergraduates went in to school for approximately four hours a week to give
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one-to-one help and guidance. Undergraduates had the benefit of an academic tutor per campus to support them
and help with any issues they had regarding their role or use of effective teaching materials during the mentoring
session. There was also a school co-ordinator there to support them within each school.
Assessment was in the form of either a reflective piece of writing, portfolio or journal accompanied by a
presentation lasting approximately 10 minutes. In each case there was a strong element of primary research. Live
interviews were often undertaken with colleagues within that industry/charity/school and some very original work
was produced.
3.5 Changing Institutional and Undergraduate Perspectives and Approaches to Education: the State of Sexual
Assault Undergraduate Project at Ball State University, USA
Ball State University promotes immersive learning; an interdisciplinary concept which combines content, skills,
societal need, and students’ interests into an intense, transformative learning experience. Each year, four Ball State
University faculty members are chosen to lead teams of 15 students in interdisciplinary, immersive seminars. The
students are chosen by application or audition. Working together with a community sponsor, each group of faculty
and students creates a product to engage the community in public dialogue. To demonstrate how the Virginia B. Ball
Centre for Creative Inquiry supports academics, students and community groups the State of Sexual Assault project
is used as an illustrative example.
Students working on the State of Assault project immersed themselves in a project which had a victim-centred
perspective of the sexual assault casework process. The victims-centred perspective considered how sexual assault
cases are handled by experts in forensics, nursing, law enforcement, DNA analysis, patient advocacy and legal
prosecution. The Seminar then produced a short documentary, State of Assault, addressing current issues and
evolving needs of rape case management, including DNA processing, laboratory technologies and assault kit
evidence collection protocol. The project interacted directly with Madison County Sexual Assault Treatment Centre,
Indianapolis-Marion County Forensic Services Agency, and other regional supporting agencies to address the
evolving needs and rights of sexual assault victims. Field, laboratory, law enforcement and legal perspectives were
provided by experts in each discipline, essentially following the order that medical and forensic casework takes
during the collection and processing of evidence. The interdisciplinary seminar culminated in a marketable DVD
documentary with interviews and hands on activities outlining the evolving needs and future trends in sexual assault
case management. State of Assault was nominated for three Emmy Awards, and won one in 2009 in the
editing/story category. It has been shown and presented in several local, regional, and national venues since
3.6 Involving Students in Interdisciplinary Interactive Media Consultancy Projects at Miami University, Ohio, USA
Interactive Media Studies at Miami University is an interdisciplinary programme (including Computer Science,
Engineering, MIS, English, Marketing, Graphic Design, Education, etc.) that brings together students and faculty to
investigate how interactive media informs and transforms their disciplinary perspective. The programme has been
running since 1996 and uses problem-based learning and team-oriented projects to help students to learn how to
apply their theoretical knowledge to innovative digital solutions for a paying client. About 100 students a year take
the programme. The students work in groups of up to 20. The students themselves decide how to divide up tasks;
typically there are groups undertaking development, design and marketing. The programmes are team taught with
the last two weeks spent on de-briefing and talking about what they’ve learnt. The students are typically in class
four hours a week, but spend many more hours, for example visiting clients, undertaking research or doing user
testing. They make a presentation to their client at the end of the project. Commercial companies are charged
$20,000 per project paid on delivery; non-profit organisations and charities are typically charged c$5,000. They
found the client did not take it as seriously when no charge was made. From the client’s perspective, they get out of
the box thinking that they would never obtain from a consultant firm. The clients typically end up with something
that far exceeds their expectations. The students find it surprising and challenging to manage the changes which
commonly occur during the development stage of the project.
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3.7 Working in an Interdisciplinary way with Communities in the UK, Kenya and Zambia to Design, Produce and
Sell a Children’s Book at University of Central Lancashire, UK
The idea for the project is extremely simple. We had a lot of programmes across the university producing content
and research in isolation of each other. All we have done is bring them all together to work on one project with a
tangible, real output. In this case it was a book, ebook, film and exhibition but you could change this to suit your
individual disciplines and institution. The Letters to Africa and Pipeline Projects are an innovative way of bringing
students from different disciplines together in a practical, applied way to devise, produce and sell real products for
children, usually books, photographs and ebooks, under the banner of UCLan Publishing. Students work with
communities, including local schools, in Lancashire, Zambia and Kenya to gather content for the output. Sales from
the products partly fund the following year's projects and partly go towards funding a secondary school education
for children in the African community of Kimana in Kenya.
As the project is entirely integrated into all the participating programmes the students work on the project is
assessed. The way in which this is done is up to the programme/ module tutor. Here are a couple of examples:
MA Publishing students coordinated the project and prepared the briefs for all students from various disciplines.
They were doing this work as part of a practical module and were assessed through group project books and
individual reflective statements. The emphasis was put on assessing the process rather than the actual output.
Many MA Linguistic students adopted the project as part of their dissertation work. They researched the Maasai
language (Maa) and contributed a piece about the Maa language to the book, interviewed local African people
about the language and put together the very first Maa language glossary in print.
Although at Masters level the idea is transferable to undergraduate programmes.
3.8 Staff Engaged in Action Research at the University College Yeovil, UK
Academic staff at the University College Yeovil are taking a Masters degree in Personal and Professional
development (awarded by the University of Gloucestershire) as part of the Gloucestershire Framework. The initial
cohort is taking their final module, titled ‘Action Research’, which is a work-based alternative to a traditional
dissertation. Staff teaching the module at The University Centre Yeovil are effectively assuming the part of the
employer within the context of the Gloucestershire Framework (i.e. the workplace is The University Centre Yeovil
and the university is the University of Gloucestershire).
The module provides an active approach to research issues, offering a comprehensive programme of generic
research training that culminates in an in-depth exploration of active research by thesis and practical application.
The module provides a comprehensive introduction to the broad philosophies, methods and processes involved in
undertaking action research, including group work and work based applications. The module aims to give students
an in depth study in to the skills required to read, understand and undertake action research within their specified
area of employment. This will include working with research supervisors both at university and within the
workplace on a work- based learning project. The area of research will be chosen in consultation with their
employer/supervisor and University tutor.
3.9 Independent Study Programme at the College of Wooster, USA
Independent Study (IS) is an integral part of the Wooster degree. Students are given opportunities to develop their
skills, to support them in the completion of their IS, from their first year. Students are exposed to research
opportunities in the second semester of their first year. They are also offered an opportunity to participate in
Wooster's Summer Research Program; which can act as an apprenticeship.
The IS programme allows students to demonstrate skills and abilities that employers value. IS is a year-long project
conducted by all senior students at Wooster. It is an individual study which is completed in consultation with a
mentor. The project can take different forms; depending on the research area and student’s interests. IS can
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culminate in a major research paper, an art exhibit or a performance. Students are required to present their initial
ideas in front of professors and peers. It is as a result of this process that mentors are chosen; ensuring that students
are given appropriate support. Students meet with their mentor in weekly, hour-long, one-on-one meetings.
Students are required to conduct a literature review and plan and conduct research in an appropriate environment
(i.e. lab, theatre, or studio). At the end of their project students are required to orally defend their research. There
are also opportunities for celebration. There is the hand in deadline, IS Monday, which ends with an IS parade that
provides students with a final focus. The Senior Research Symposium, a celebration of IS, allows students, staff,
peers, parents and community members to celebrate the accomplishments of students in their senior year. It is a
day where students’ classes are cancelled and they hold presentation, art exhibits, research posters, etc., to
demonstrate their knowledge and achievements.
3.10 Dissertation Question Time: supporting the dissertation project through panel discussion at Brunel
University, UK
Dissertation Question Time attempts to create an informal arena for discussion, while allowing the input of voices
from a range of subjects and perspectives. The workshop consists of a panel of undergraduate students, academic
staff and an academic skills advisor discussing questions from students on any aspect of the dissertation project.
During the workshop the student attendees submit their question to any member of the panel. The aim is to prompt
open discussion and students on the panel are particularly encouraged to lead the discussion. To encourage
participation students are invited to submit questions beforehand and these are distributed to the audience. The
main themes that arose from the students attending the sessions involved issues over the relationship with the
supervisor, confusion over structure or format and time management.
The dissertation is seen by many as a highly individual project; meaning it can be difficult to provide advice that
students deem specific enough for their learning needs. Consequently students can find it hard to relate the answers
to their topic area. However students can find the discussion of general research approaches from the panel
reassuring and interesting. Therefore the advice generated through the discussion is valuable in the way for which
the session is intended: support that complements subject specific provision but makes no attempt to replace it.
3.11 Engaging students through empowering them to co-create the curriculum at Newcastle University, UK
Undergraduates studying multiple subjects face particular challenges to establishing a student identity and a sense
of belonging. Combined Honours at Newcastle University had the lowest rate of student satisfaction in the University
in 2008. It was for this reason, when I became degree director, that I addressed this issue, by taking a holistic
approach to student engagement. Initially, I began this process by asking the students what their issues were and
what they suggested the solutions were in solving these issues. A key issue was the inability of many Combined
Honours students to do a dissertation or a project combining their subjects, as the subjects they studied did not
allow this. I set out to design an Independent Studies module with student representatives, who made many
innovative suggestions which were implemented in the course design.
Assessment on the Independent Studies module follows a path from formative to more summative; with a balance
between assessing the output and the process, assessing the latter through a culminating reflective interview. We do
encourage authenticity in topic and output, connected to the professional world beyond HE with wide scope and
format choice. Peer assessment was introduced, which the students now appreciate after some initial reluctance.
Support for students is delivered through workshops; with the students choosing the topics and supervision, but
there are also peer groups where collaboration is encouraged. I continue to work closely with the students to
evaluate and improve the module design and operation. Subsequently three further modules have been co-created
and designed, focused on developing ‘graduateness’. Student engagement is now much higher, all round.
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3.12 Engaging students in researching research support and developing web resources at University of Newcastle,
Students identified good practice across a large faculty in undergraduate dissertation and research modules, and
then shared the models of student support identified widely through a web resource that all students may draw on
to assist them in such modules. All second year students were offered the opportunity to be part of the Research
Project. Four students were selected and paid £200 for this. A member of staff supervised the project and interns
but always ensured that the students were the ones who informed the shape of the project. The students worked in
pairs to identify all the relevant modules, send out initial email contact and then arrange face-to-face interviews with
those staff who were willing. This was a major task for most of them as they had never been involved in this type of
more social research before. They also spoke with student representatives in each subject to gather more student
views. An emergent component from the student intern input was their desire to create a set of quality standards
for research module student support with both ‘essential’ elements and ‘good practice’ elements. This will be
progressed through our quality mechanisms. As intended too, development of resources for a website to assist
students in dealing with dissertation issues has identified a wide variety of engaging practices – from playing a funny
flash game to ways of finding a research topic.
3.13 Undergraduate research celebration days in the USA
Many US institutions have a special day, days or a whole week in which students from across the institution present
their research – generally by posters but also by talks, exhibitions or performances. These are often accompanied by
talks from leading researchers in that institution or nationally. Audiences for such events are faculty, fellow students;
and in some cases, e.g. Boston University and Bates College, the dates for such events are carefully selected to
ensure parents, potential students, alumni and potential sponsors can attend (Huggins et al., 2007). In 2012 the
University of New Hampshire celebrated its 13th undergraduate research conference; over 1100 students
participated over ten days.
Sources: Huggins et al. (2007);
3.14 Final year project presentation at Alaska Pacific University, USA
At Alaska Pacific University, a small private university, all students in all disciplines undertake a senior project and
present it to the campus community on designated days at the end of each semester. Thus students experience
both the experience of doing research, but also communicating it through spoken presentation. The institution has a
strong commitment to active and research based learning and they now market themselves as "The University of
Active Learning." They have a strong year one orientation to active learning and a range of required courses in all
years involving research techniques and projects which lead into the required final year senior project. This has a
strong applied focus. As well as a formal research paper, students in discipline groups (mainly Environmental
Sciences, Human Services, and Business) present their research as a professional public presentation. These end of
semester presentations are advertised for the faculty, staff and students, as well as interested members of the
public. Other classes are cancelled so that the student body may attend. Often members of the site where the
investigation takes place attend. The final assessment is on the 40-60 page research paper, the quality of the
presentation and handling of questions at the presentation. While numbers of graduating students are small (c70
per year) the idea of a public presentation as part of the final year project could be adapted by larger departments
and institutions.
Sources: Correspondence with Carl Hild;;
3.15 Extracts from the undergraduate capstone project guidelines at Claflin University, South Carolina, USA
Claflin University is a historically black university founded in 1869. … Beginning with the 2000/2001 academic year,
completion of either a senior thesis or capstone project became a requirement for graduation for all Claflin
University undergraduate students (Claflin University Catalog 2000-2003, page 55). For Honors College students the
required capstone is the Honors Senior Thesis. For non-Honors College students, each school at the University has
discipline designed appropriate capstone projects. (p2).
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In 2003 a decision was made to incorporate a Strategic Goal of: “establishing a comprehensive undergraduate
research program across the campus” into the university’s five-year Long Range-Plan. Since that time, the university
faculty agreed on the following definition of undergraduate research at the university: … faculty mentored student
participation in inquiry to create intellectual contributions for the discipline of study. (p3)
As their Capstone Project, Honors College students are required to produce a substantive and original thesis under
the guidance of a selected faculty advisor. Topics must be in line with the student’s major. Intensive reading and
utilization of primary documents direct the initial preparation for the research. This process begins in the first
semester of the junior year and continues through the senior year. The student may, for instance, write a
comprehensive paper, or he or she may produce a play, perform a major recital, give a major exhibition, produce
television documentary, compose a musical, perform scientific research, or write a novel, etc. In cases where the
student chooses to do a project instead of a comprehensive paper, a written component will be necessary to fulfill
the thesis requirement.” (p6)
The Senior Capstone Project requirement for non-Honors College students varies according to the student’s major
degree program. These variations accommodate discipline specific learning objectives in addition to the Claflin
University institutional level learning objects associated with the Senior Capstone Project requirement itself. Projects
range from juried performances, to research proposals, to portfolios, but all carry with them a requirement for
producing a technical writing paper appropriate to the student’s program of study. Many Schools or Departments
will include an option for non-Honors College students to complete an undergraduate level Thesis paper as the
Senior Capstone. (p33)
Source: Extracts from Claflin University (2012)
3.16 Community-based research at Bates College, Maine, USA
Bates has a strong social service, citizenship ethos (it was founded by abolitionists in 1865 and gave early support for
black and female enrolment at the College) and more recently with has developed a strong focus on “service
learning and supporting students as active informed citizens.” Recently this public service mission has been greatly
strengthened in scale and given a more clearly central academic focus through the establishment in 2005 of the
Harward Center for Community Partnerships. The central goals of the Centre include:
Based on previous service learning, student and staff volunteering – building a strong scholarly research-based
approach that both supports community development but also transforms teaching and research in the
disciplines. Now several departments have integrated research based service learning into their courses and
senior capstones. Some departments now offer research methods courses that focus specifically on
collaborating with the community for research.
 One important priority is working with faculty and community partners as a “Collaboratory” to transform in term
and out of term research learning opportunities and the mainstream curricula in the disciplines at Bates.
 The Harward Centre seeks to build long term projects founded in community needs and student and faculty
research interests that enable students and faculty to work with community partners within semester based
courses on issues of common concern. The projects are co-generated by community partners and faculty. Thus
one project had local museum staff working with humanities students who were learning and using oral history
research methodologies to interview former mill workers to develop a travelling exhibit about Lewiston’s mills
and mill workers in the twentieth century.
Sources: Huggins et al. 2007;;;
3.17 Hons Program Capstone Course at American University, Washington DC, USA
At the American University students on the Honours Program in the senior year, usually complete a capstone which
1. demonstrates sufficient mastery of a field
2. represents at least three months of deep study and analysis
3. results in an essay, document, performance, artwork, or some other artifact that can be preserved
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Most students write a long, scholarly essay in their major, but you may do creative projects or use multimedia. Some
students use the capstone to bridge work in their primary major and secondary major or in their minor. Some use it
to explore some other field of interest, which may or may not be related to their major.
The University Honors Program holds its Capstone Research Conference each spring to celebrate the outstanding
research, creative work, and other work of its graduating seniors. A group of students is selected from the various
schools and departments to give a 10-minute oral presentation of the essence of their capstone work. Another
group of students is selected to present capstone work during the poster presentation period.
3.18 The Project Hub at Swinburne University of Technology, Australia
Swinburne University’s Hawthorn Project Hub was designed as a learning space offering 24-hour, 7-day-a-week
access to approximately 2000 students who are undertaking capstone subjects in the final year of their
undergraduate degrees. It contains meeting rooms, state-of-the-art technology and social, open working spaces. In
2009 the institution decreed all final year students would undertake a major capstone project – with an emphasis on
interdisciplinary group work, industry /professional relevance and links with external organisations. It was built as a
result of undergraduate students stating that the most important thing Swinburne could do to improve the capstone
group project learning experience would be to provide facilities dedicated to undergraduate projects and group
Sources: Lee (2009);;
3.19 Institutional Research office supports local economic development and student research at Holland College,
Prince Edward Island, Canada
The Applied Research Department at Holland College supports economic development for Prince Edward Island by
solving technical and business problems for industry and community clients utilizing the college's expertise and
facilities while enhancing the quality of college programmes. The research undertaken is focussed on key areas
closely linked to the college curricula particularly Social Innovation and Science and Technologies.
A central way that this ‘external’ research feeds into the curriculum is through the Applied Research Department
supporting capstone projects that are a key feature of the two year applied degree program. Through its links with
external local clients the Research Department provides the contacts and expertise for students to undertake a
significant applied research capstone project. Two examples follow:
The two year Applied Degree in Culinary Operations program has a required practical, community-based research
project in their final year of study. As part of the Directed Foodservice Study course, students conduct research in the
foodservice industry within the Culinary Institute of Canada faculty and under employer supervision. The planning
process (proposal development) for this research project takes place earlier in the program as a result of work
completed in a course titled, Food Service Study Seminar. In the students’ final year of study, they are expected to
submit a project proposal by late fall so that their projects can be approved by faculty, the Applied Research
department, and the Holland College Research Ethics Board. Research is timed to start in early January. Through the
research process, students work independently with guidance from a faculty advisor and an industry liaison. The
research projects enable students to implement new skills as they work to meet industry needs. Students are
exposed to the entire research process from proposal and ethics application writing, to carrying out the actual
project, compiling a report and finally preparing a presentation for a panel of experts. These applied research
projects teach students how to carry out a project from start to finish, as well as offering networking opportunities
between students and industry partners for potential future employment.
As a part of the two year Energy Systems Engineering Technology program, students are given a choice between
completing on-the-job-training or conducting an applied research project with an energy company. If they choose
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the latter they complete individual applied research projects as a part of the Capstone Project course in the students’
final year of study. The projects focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy and can include information on
consumer needs, habits, alternative energy sources, and recommendations. Students focus on the technical aspect
of the project and are required to submit a proposal, write a report of their findings and present the final results to
the class.
Sources: Correspondence with Audrey Penner ([email protected]);;;
3.20 HE student research conference at Newcastle College, UK
Newcastle College is committed to valuing and celebrating student scholarship. The institution recognises that a
large proportion of our students enrol pre-equipped with a high level of knowledge derived from experience in
employment. The vocational nature of our HE provision ensures that students produce final projects and
dissertations which have the potential to inform or enhance industry practice.
Discussions with students indicated that they often perceived their research to be of minimal interest to a wider
audience and, in a few instances, failed to recognise the value of research skills for their future progression plans.
Newcastle College has therefore established a dedicated HE Student Conference, which will showcase and celebrate
undergraduate years 2 and 3 (levels 6 and 7) student research from across the institution. The event has been
organised as a collaborative endeavour by staff from the HE Directorate and a student organising panel representing
a range of disciplines. Student representation ensured that the event has been shaped to meet their expectations.
Placement students enrolled on our FdA Events Management programme were also involved in assisting with
planning for the event.
The HE Student Conference in 2013 was held shortly before the Graduation Ceremonies. The event featured
academic papers, performances and poster presentations. Particular highlights included the launch of the business
student-led Seven Bridges Management Journal (see Case study 2.3) and a presentation by two students who were
recently awarded a £25,000 start-up loan to fund their theatre company. Pre-HE Level 3 students were invited to
attend in order to enhance their understanding of the College’s HE offer. Some of their FE students who hope to
progress to HE were involved in photographing and filming the event to gain further experience of professional
practice. It is hoped that the HE Student Conference will become an annual event.
Sources: Jonathan Eaton [email protected];
3.21 The International Baccalaureate includes an extended research essay as a final year capstone to the preuniversity diploma
The extended essay is an independent, self-directed piece of research, culminating in a 4,000-word paper. As a
required component, it provides:
 practical preparation for the kinds of undergraduate research required at the tertiary level
 an opportunity for students to engage in an in-depth study of a topic of interest within a chosen subject. The
subject can come from any of the six areas of knowledge.
Emphasis is placed on the research process:
 formulating an appropriate research question
 engaging in a personal exploration of the topic
 communicating ideas
 developing an argument.
Participation in this process develops the capacity to analyse, synthesize and evaluate knowledge. Students are
supported throughout the process with advice and guidance from a supervisor (usually a teacher at the school). The
extended essay (EE) is a mandatory core component of the IB Diploma Programme. It is a research paper of up to
4,000 words giving students an opportunity to conduct independent research or investigation on a topic that
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interests them. Although the extended essay may be written on a topic of the student's choice, it is recommended
that it be taken from the field of one of the IB subjects being studied. However, the topic must not be too broad or
too narrow as to make it difficult to write 4,000 words, and the general subject must be taught under the IB diploma
program by one of the members of staff at the high school (so that there is someone with expertise able to help).
Extended essays are marked by external assessors.
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4. Education, Social, Environmental and Health Sciences
4.1 Service-learning Program, Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology, Australia
The QUT Service-learning program has engaged fourth-year primary and secondary Bachelor of Education students
in transformational learning experiences that cultivate their ability to question, deconstruct and then reconstruct
knowledge to inform their role as teachers. The program has been designed to prepare teachers better to support
the diversity of children and adolescents in schools. The service-learning program complements the teacher
practicum by requiring pre-service teachers to complete 20 hours of non-paid service with partner organisations
prior to engaging in their final practicum and their internship. Partner organisations include homework clubs for
children who are refugees, drop-in centres for people who are homeless, rehabilitation centres for people who have
an acquired brain injury, and aged care facilities. Reciprocal relationships are established with the organisations so
that the service reinforces and strengthens academic learning and the academic learning reinforces and strengthens
service in the organisations. The students research the mission and focus of the activities of the service
organisations. Students are required to focus on solving real problems and dealing with issues required to support
people who are marginalised in society. The program of learning is transformational because it requires the students
to participate in critical reflection such as classroom discussions, role plays, presentations, and scaffolded reflective
writing about their experiences and learning while participating in the service-learning program.
4.2 Giving Students First-hand Experience of Research-based Consultancy in Environmental Management at
University of Queensland, Australia
Team-based problem-based learning in used in the final year capstone course for the Environmental Management,
Rural Management Environmental Tourism and Tropical Forestry degrees at the University of Queensland’s Faculty
of Natural Resources, Agriculture and Veterinary Science to give students experience of research-based consultancy.
It is a year-long course, team taught by an interdisciplinary staff (in recent years, a social scientist and an ecologist
for the internal students, a multi-skilled environmental manager taking the external students). The staff solicit
suitable ‘problems’ and clients among their contacts, for instance from government agencies, non-governmental
organisations, or land care groups, or the private sector. The staff may help the client mould the topic to achieve
appropriate degrees of difficulty, and equity in workload and difficulty across the student groups. The students work
like consultants to their client, coping if the client changes the brief during the year (as many do a couple of times).
They work in groups of about six students. The clients come to campus at least three times, for an initial briefing to
their students, and presentations at the ends of first and second semester. They liaise with the students all year,
usually off campus at their offices, and by phone and email. The staff give a flexible program of lectures in first
semester, to prepare the students with skills they need towards each forthcoming step of their tasks, and in group
processes. At the end of the year their report is 'published' (printed and bound) for the clients. Peer and selfassessment are used to distribute group marks among the contributors.
4.3 Preparing and Defending a Consultancy Report in Environmental Geology at Kingston University, UK
Each student in a final year module is given an environmental geophysics problem and is asked to role play being a
consultant recruited to address this problem for a client, either a local authority or a private land owner. They are
required to design a solution, interpret field data and present their findings in a technical report and verbal format.
Students are required to prepare and deliver a solo presentation to an open public meeting (20 minute session,
including 5 minutes for fielding questions) describing their problem outline, methodology, data interpretation and
recommendations. The audience includes Councillors (soon up for re-election) and members of the lay public (staff
members and other students) who have a vested interest in the environmental issues. A disruptive group of 'ecowarriors' (usually noisy postgraduate students) also make an appearance! During their presentations, students must
show appropriate local and environmental considerations and effective handling of heckling from concerned local
residents and the 'eco-warrior' group.
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4.4 Trainee Teachers Making Change Happen in their Professional World, University of Chichester, UK
The Creativity 3 project has a simple goal: to challenge student teachers to make change happen so they develop the
skills and confidence to do the same in their first jobs. Creativity 3 is a 15-credit module that gives final year student
primary teachers the chance to develop skills and confidence in creative problem-solving in their professional world.
Students work in small self-selected teams of around 3-5 students. They address real world problems over realistic
timescales and, by the end of their projects, provide genuine end products for external clients, typically schools or
non governmental organisations (NGOs) such as museums or environmental education centres. In the first 2 years of
the project we have had around 23 diverse projects running each year in different schools, locality clusters and NGOs
Assembling an interesting range of projects has not been difficult. The only scheduled contact time for the module is
an hour a week, where just one member of each group is required to be there, but the responsibility is on the
participants to communicate the content with the rest of the group. All groups contribute to a newsletter to share
ideas and show that the module itself is a creative, professional initiative. We assess the product for external users
(85% weighting) whatever that end product might be. We also require a group reflection (15%) on the process of
engaging in the project. For both items, the group work receives a mark from a tutor. However, individual students’
marks reflect their personal contribution to the work because students agree how the mark will be divided up
among group members before the mark is known.
4.5 Students act as research consultants in joint degree in education, sport and leisure at Nottingham Trent
University, UK
This case study works within the confines of the NTU’s dissertation guidelines, but creatively tries to encourage
students to develop links with professional organisations which will support them in their future careers. Students
are encouraged to use the dissertation experience to develop links with employers and develop practitioner
contacts. The aim of this project is to undertake research within a professional organisation where the student will
act as an external consultant and provide evaluative feedback to that organisation. For the purposes of this case
study one student project is used to illustrate the nature of researching and writing a dissertation thesis in
consultation with a professional organisation. The student conducted research with the charity ‘Street Games’, an
organisation which makes sport accessible to young people. Before undertaking the dissertation research at level 3
the student undertook a six week placement with Street Games in level 2 and began researching the organisation
throughout the summer period, prior to undertaking her level 3 studies. The students’ involvement and research
with Street Games as an organisation has enabled her to develop key skills and professional relationships at the
organisation and with the Local Authority. In addition to writing her research up in an 8,000 word dissertation the
student produced an undergraduate research conference paper for the British Conference on Undergraduate
Research and provided feedback, with recommendations, to Street Games.
4.6 Empowering Communities through Asset Mapping and GIS, a Series of Senior Capstone Courses at Portland
State University, USA
Senior Capstone courses at Portland State University are generally one-term, six-credit hour courses that all
undergraduates must complete to graduate. The central feature of this particular series of Senior Capstones is a
partnership with a community organization in need of community-based research and the engagement of teams of
students in:
1. the vision and goals of the partner organization,
2. the purpose of the project and how it affects the larger community,
3. the research itself (including background research, fieldwork, data entry and analysis, and mapping), and
4. the dissemination of their findings in the form of a report or atlas, PowerPoint presentation, and, most
recently, Google Earth.
Students reflect, in writing and discussion, on both the process of their work and the impacts of both their
engagement in the process and their findings on the community partner organization, the community it serves, the
community at large, and themselves. At the outset of each project, the students work together to develop a mission
statement and a timeline for the project. Students are randomly assigned to research teams to accomplish both the
background research for the project and the fieldwork. Fieldwork in this context generally involves on-the-ground
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observation and documentation of particular attributes or activities that the partner organization might be
interested in. For example, the Multnomah County Health Department was interested in documenting tobacco
advertising in the public realm close to schools. In another example, the Early Childhood Head start program of
Neighbourhood House in Portland wanted to explore the physical isolation of recent Somali refugees in light of
important resources such as health facilities, grocery stores, access to parks, and social services. After the research
phase of the project, two student project managers are either self-selected or selected by the overall team of
students to act as the conduit between the partner organization and the students and to make sure that all of the
project’s tasks are on track. In addition, students self-select into task oriented teams to accomplish the data entry,
analysis, asset mapping, GIS mapping, Google Earth development, writing, editing, document design, and
4.7 GEOverse: A national journal for undergraduate research in Geography at Oxford Brookes and three other
universities, UK
GEOverse is a national undergraduate research journal for Geography which has been piloted in four institutions.
The geography departments in Oxford Brookes University (the lead institution) Queen Mary, University of London,
the University of Gloucestershire, and University of Reading comprise the editorial board of the journal. GEOverse
publishes student-led original research based on theoretically considered and empirically-based investigations
undertaken at undergraduate level. The aim is to motivate and reward students for producing innovative and best
undergraduate research practice, and then give them support through the review process before disseminating their
work through publication. Papers are reviewed by a panel of postgraduate students.
Students at Oxford Brookes undertake a compulsory second year module called Geography in the Field where they
go on a field trip and work in groups and collect data. An optional third year honours module was created in which
students could write up their research as a paper with supervisory support from a tutor. This resulted in many
students becoming authors of research papers but in a supervised manner. This helps fill a gap in the research cycle
for undergraduate students because they did not get the same kind of constructive, meaningful and useful feedback
that an academic would get from going to conferences, putting papers in, and getting feedback from peer reviewers.
In this module students get dialogic feed-forward on their work and they are provided with an opportunity to
disseminate their research through organizing a set of undergraduate conferences as well as the opportunity to
publish in GEOVerse.
The work has also impacted on the work of colleagues in other institutions and transformed their curricula.
Colleagues at the University of Reading have replaced an examination with writing a journal article for GEOVerse.
The University of Gloucestershire has developed a collaborative writing assignment in which students write a
collaborative journal article. At Queen Mary, University of London they have an expedition to Iceland. Students are
given the opportunity to produce a research paper on their return.
4.8 Research and Inquiry Based Practice Dissertation for Undergraduate Qualified Nurses at the University of
Southampton, UK
Undergraduate nurses, choose an aspect of their own practice to explore in depth and complete either an Evidence
Based Practice project (EBP) or Practice Inquiry (PI). This is written up in the form of a 10,000 word dissertation.
 The EBP is essentially a literature review - i.e. a systematic search, selection and critique of 3-5 pieces of
published evidence. This has been the traditional approach to undergraduate nursing dissertations over
many years.
 A practice Inquiry (PI) involves generating original evidence/data in the form of a journal/diary about the
student’s selected area of practice. Between 3-5 pieces /excerpts of their journal are analysed using
either critical reflection (CR) or narrative analysis (NA). This has been a novel approach for us.
In both cases students discuss findings in relation to the wider literature and consider relevance and applicability to
the clinical setting and own practice, bearing in mind issues e.g. change management, social and political context.
Students devise an action plan for any changes they wish to make and how to disseminate their findings. They reflect
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critically on their learning and changes they may be able to make to future practice. Often the topic has been
negotiated with managers and colleagues.
Students undertake 2 formative and 1 summative assessments:
A 10 minute presentation with peer and cohort/module leader feedback plus
A 1500 word project proposal with tutor feedback
A 10K word dissertation comprises the summative assessment
Each student attends 10 taught days and has 5-8 hours of 1-to-1 supervision. In teaching the module a challenge has
been to ensure that both approaches are given equal status in the teaching and presentation of the options to the
student. This is because the EBP has a long history and staff and students felt very comfortable with this format.
4.9 Encouraging Students’ Critical Engagement with Community-based Publics and Issues at Birmingham City
University, UK
The third year Extended Project provides students with an opportunity to undertake an applied project, or a library
based, piece of research in an area that is of particular interest and relevance to them and that is informed by the
tenets of Public Sociology. Students have to submit a project/research plan that counts for 5% of their final mark;
they are asked to dedicate the equivalent of a day a week on this project during the rest of the two terms of the
third year of the degree. Students are also asked to keep a reflexive learning log on the significance of their work.
This learning log provides the basis for their project.
Concretely, this can mean the following (and this example is one that one of our third year students this year
pursued). The student may decide that they would like to work with/support and understand the situation that
asylum seekers in this country face. One of us might then contact activist organisations that we know of to see if
they would be willing to take on a student one day a week to provide them with additional support/offer the student
the chance to talk with and support asylum seekers. Or else the student could directly contact a group that they
would like to work with after we talk with them about this group. If the group is deemed to be appropriate (that is,
with regard to asylum seekers, a group that is on the side of asylum seekers), we then ask the student to arrange to
meet with the organization and report back how their meeting went. We then discuss with the student how they
might realize their work with this organization as a public sociology project. This year one of our students’ projects
included a blog on asylum seekers that partly included information she obtained from the organization she worked
with as well as from the academic literature. The student showed drafts of the blog to her supervisor before they
were uploaded so that: the topic was clearly explained, and the discussion of the topic was informed by public
sociology, the academic and literatures on asylum seekers. The blog then went live and was so successful that part of
it was put on a local council website!
4.10 Geography Workplace Project at Staffordshire University, UK
Students who choose the Geography Workplace Project find a business/charity/institution with whom they wish to
be placed. Students work for the institution and are asked to write a report on the work they have done. Typically a
student will undertake some project work on behalf of the hosts and produce a report of mutual benefit. The
projects are assessed as if they were dissertations, but less rigorous criteria is applied to scholastic style, references,
and so on. The project write-up includes a personal reflection section whereby students reflect upon and evaluate
the learning experience they have undergone through the project. Students generally reflect positively upon the
project but do find it difficult to write up as it is not following the ‘normal’ pattern that most of their contemporaries
are doing and discussing amongst themselves.
4.11 Bachelor Thesis in international cooperation and development for pre-primary and primary school teachers,
Prospective pre-primary and primary teachers conclude their program of studies by developing a research-oriented
final project usually conducted in a local school. Students that take this option are put in contact with local NGOs
active in developing countries in educational projects (primary schools, summer camps, etc.). Together with the
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NGO, each student (or pair of students) develops a small development project where they act as a professional
international co-operator. These projects usually comprise two dimensions:
a) teaching children, and
b) engaging in professional development of local staff.
The action plan includes preparation in Switzerland and at least a 6-week international internship that takes place
over the summer break between the students' second and third year of study. Participating students are trained
within a 30-hour course in international cooperation, intercultural communication and teaching. During the course
they are also encouraged to identify one broad issue, which will be used to structure their final work. After the
international internship, students work with one professor to develop a full report of their experience. They also
skim and structure their data in order to develop a final work that documents their experience and activity within
the broader framework of the NGO's international cooperation project, and that provides insights in their selected
4.12 Final year students undertake team research projects on local environmental issues at the University of
Gloucestershire, UK
Issues in Environmental Geography ran for about a decade at the University as a final year capstone module; and an
earlier version ran at Coventry University for several years. Students worked in groups of 4-6 on local environmental
issues. The module was concerned with analysing competing environmental philosophies, applying them to
understanding a particular local or regional environmental issue and coming up with policy recommendations. The
students developed their own projects, starting with a proposal. They were supported through two key lectures on
environmental philosophies, a workshop on effective teamwork and individual group tutorials on their chosen
topics. The semester long course was assessed through a group report (60%); oral presentation of project (30%) and
an individual learning journal and reflective essay (together counting for 10%). The marks given for the group
project were redistributed among group members using peer and self-assessment of the quality and effectiveness of
their contributions on a five point scale to five group processes (ideas and suggestions; leadership, group
organisation and support, minute taking; data collection/ collation/ analysis; report writing, production and editing;
and preparing/ giving verbal presentation). The average mark for the module was consistently c3-5 percentage
points higher than for other modules reflecting the benefits of working in teams. The difference in marks was
confirmed by the external examiners.
4.13 Helping students to engage more effectively with the research process in undertaking their undergraduate
dissertations at Keele University, UK
Undertaking an independent research project in the form of a dissertation can be the most challenging and
rewarding part of an undergraduate student’s university experience. However, students often suffer from
disjuncture expressed as lack of motivation, hesitancy and avoidance when faced with the daunting enormity of the
task and the high demands placed on them as independent learners and problem solvers. Robson (2006) undertook
a case study of her efforts as a supervisor, using action research, to help students to engage more effectively with
the research process. The aim of the research was to make effective changes to improve students’ motivation,
commitment and achievement with regard to completing a geography dissertation.
It is argued that listening to student and responding to their perceived needs is an effective way to improve
supervision practices. Initial findings showed students to be lonely and insecure about their dissertations and the
supervisor pressured by a considerable supervisory burden. Four cycles of action research were subsequently
conducted with a group of eight dissertation students during one academic year. The research implemented and
evaluated four interventions whereby the supervisor-researcher invited the students to
evaluate their progress
learn from examples of completed dissertations
share and support each other
engage in peer assessment.
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Qualitative evidence demonstrates a shift from a status quo of individual supervisory meetings between poorly
motivated students and a frustrated supervisor, to highly motivated students effectively empowered as independent
self-learners and peer supporters. It is concluded that given the right circumstances students can be facilitated to ‘do
it better themselves’.
4.14 Student Poster Conference Linked to Dissertation in Psychology at St Mary’s, UK
Most UK institutions have a dissertation / senior thesis as a graduating requirement. The psychology department at
St Mary’s University College have integrated a required poster session into the dissertation requirements. The
research project – some 5,000 words – is handed in the April of their final year. This counts for 80% of the final mark
on that course. As with many other UK institutions work on this project is meant to start on the second year. At St
Mary’s there is a required poster session in May of their second year – where students present and discuss an initial
outline of their work. This counts for 20% of the final grade on the project and is assessed on visual content and
presentation and student answers to questions on their project. The poster session is run in the form of an
academic conference, with all academic staff attending as well as first year and third year students. Involving first
year students both increase the numbers of questions second year students have to answer, and perhaps most
significantly orients first year students to how to carry out their research.
4.15 Designing a research capstone experience for pharmacy students at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville,
The objective of this initiative was to implement a required capstone experience in research for pharmacy students,
assess course outcomes, and solicit mentors' and students' opinions regarding the structure and efficacy of the
course. Fourth-year pharmacy students chose a research project, selected a mentor, and completed a 5-week
capstone advanced pharmacy practice experience (APPE), during which they wrote a research paper and presented
their research at a poster session. Eighty students completed the capstone experience in 2008-2009 and 56 faculty
and non-faculty pharmacists served as mentors. Based on their responses on a course evaluation, the students'
experience with their mentor and course instructor were positive. Thirty-one mentors completed a survey on which
they indicated their overall support of the capstone project, but wanted their role to be better defined and felt the
students needed to have additional training in statistics, survey question design, and the IRB process before
completing the APPE. The capstone APPE was perceived by students and mentors as a positive learning experience
that allowed the student to take information from the curriculum and apply it to a real-world situation. Additional
research is needed to determine whether pharmacy students will use the research skills acquired in their future
Source: Wuller (2010)
4.16 Capstone service-learning project in geography at University of Canterbury, New Zealand
This final year course is for between 40 and 60 students working in groups of five or six. It was set up a more than a
decade ago as a PBL course, with the students responsible for undertaking research selected from a suite of topics
assembled by academic staff (Spronken-Smith 2005). Six years ago, this format was subsumed within a servicelearning framework, with the topics being formulated in conjunction with community groups and agencies. The key
to its successful operation is the negotiation of roles and responsibilities between students, community partners and
academic staff (the last named acting as advisors, not supervisors). The course runs for a semester (12 weeks) with
minimal formal contact time, although it begins with a residential weekend away from campus for all parties to meet
each other and for students to engage in research methods workshops. It ends with a publicly open presentation of
class findings. Assessment is 60% group-based and 40% individually-based. The individual items are a short essay at
the start of the course assessing previous published work relevant to the topic, and a reflective essay at the mid-way
point on the process of research. Marks for the group work (a 5,000 word written report and the conference
presentation) are moderated with input from each group member, including the staff advisor.
An assessment of the impact of this learning method on student engagement showed that students with high,
moderate or low levels of engagement in their university careers, according to measures derived from the AUSSE
(Australasian Survey of Student Engagement), all experienced enhanced engagement in the course. Those previously
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deemed to be least engaged reported the biggest gains (O’Steen et al. 2011). Since 2011, the format has proved
readily adaptable for undertaking earthquake response and recovery research, following the Christchurch
earthquakes of 2010/12.
Sources: O’Steen et al. (2011), Spronken-Smith (2005)
4.17 Promoting Oral Health in a Local Community, University of Otago, NZ
The Bachelor of Oral Health (BOH) programme has a particular focus on health promotion and a strong awareness of
socio-cultural influences on health. Graduates of the programme are registered health professionals who are part of
the oral health care team. Undergraduate BOH students are required to produce a patient education resource for a
target group in their local community. Each year a different target group is identified and a context for use of the
resource is provided. Students are required to research a topic and produce a five to seven minute video (on DVD)
that includes appropriate scientific information. Students work in groups of three or four, and engage in a variety of
learning activities that develop a range of skills including critical thinking, evaluation of the literature,
communication, time management, problem solving and collaboration. Each project extends over approximately 13
weeks and has 50 timetable hours. Assessment is based on a presentation to class and colleagues, supporting
documents, self- and peer- assessment of each member’s contribution to their group, and an individual written
4.18 Engaging students in critical enquiry on a postgraduate primary and early years teacher training programme
at Middlesex University
Opportunities for critical enquiry are being enhanced by a two-part module assessment task. Part 1 requires
students to compile a portfolio of children’s learning experiences they have observed or taught in school and
critically analyse and reflect on these experiences. In Part 2, students discuss current theoretical and methodological
approaches to learning, with a particular focus on socio-constructivist theory. Students refer to their active practice
data in this discussion, which enables their critical thinking about theory to be embedded in practice. Through the
process of this inquiry, students are supported to develop a more critical perspective about the tension of the
relationship between theoretical approaches to teaching and learning and pedagogical practice. This more ‘informed
and reflective approach to practice’ (Allen, 2011) is significant for teacher training students as they enter an
uncertain and confusing educational arena.
Sources:; Allen (2011);;
4.19 Building a research identity in the Bachelor of Education (Early Years) at Northern Melbourne Institute of
TAFE, Australia
The Bachelor of Education (Early Years) is a four-year undergraduate degree that prepares pre-service early years
and primary school teachers. The program attracts students from diverse backgrounds; many of whom are not well
prepared for tertiary study. The program is committed to developing in students a ‘research identity’ from the outset
as we believe that developing scholarship and a scholarly mindset is crucial for professional teachers in practice.
Students are introduced to research skills in Year 1. Subsequently, students are introduced to research-led and
research-oriented teaching and learning. In this, 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. This requires
students to identify areas of their practice requiring improvement, to undertake a detailed focused literature review
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in order to understand the issue at a broader level, plan for observation and intervention in their identified area of
practice and reflect on their progress across the project’s lifespan. Students are required to formally present their
projects to their peers and academic staff thereby demonstrating engagement in and exposure to peer critique and
peer review. Such an approach supports students’ understanding of the research process at a personal level and also
creates an understanding of the usefulness of the research process in professional learning and growth. In the fourth
year of the program, students then plan and implement a research project in an educational setting. This activity
occurs in a subject dedicated to the development of student’s research proposals and related activity. 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 in an educational setting and prepare a
research report discussing the processes used and their findings.
Sources: Correspondence with Karina Davis ([email protected]) and Christine Spratt
([email protected]);
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5. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics
5.1 Collaborative and Student-driven Learning Approaches to Capstone units in ICT at Macquarie University,
The Systems Engineering Project was designed to create alliances between top computing students, academics and
industry to the benefit of each party. Student groups are engaged in a variety of research and development projects,
including; investigating for themselves how the company works, what the problem really is, what are the range of
solutions, how does this technology work and so on, and writing these up. To ensure that each team member gains
the most from the experience, the roles within our teams are rotated; significantly everyone must have a turn at
being the project leader. Decisions made regarding the various design and management choices must be justified
and be based on the environment they are working within: thereby providing students with greater autonomy and
ownership of the project.
5.2 Nurturing Biochemical Research Skills in Group Laboratory-based Capstone Unit at Queensland University of
Technology, Brisbane, Australia
This final year unit provides students with an authentic learning experience which integrates a number of specialist
biochemical procedures. Students work in teams of six to complete a 13-week laboratory-based project to attempt
to purify an enzyme. There are no lectures or examinations in the unit. In addition to the major lab project,
workshop sessions moderated by the Unit Coordinator foster critical analysis of scientific procedures and provide
insights into particular aspects of successful group work. On completion of the unit, students should be able to apply
problem-solving skills to project design and data interpretation. They will have developed abilities to work and
contribute in a significant way to the organisation and function of a collaborative research team. They will have
consolidated their information literacy skills in the areas of information access, retrieval and evaluation by designing
efficient search strategies. Students improve oral and written communication skills through individual presentations,
group submissions and as a contributor to on-line discussion forums. The unit is supported by comprehensive on-line
resources plus personal tuition and support from the unit coordinator and other academic staff. The unit is very well
received by students and the student’s performance in this unit is a key indicator of honours potential.
5.3 Chemistry ‘Concentrated Study’ Project at the University of St Andrews, Scotland
This is a core course done by all 3rd year chemistry students (within a 4 year BSc/5year MChem framework); current
enrolment is 48. It is taught in the last four weeks of the Spring semester. Students have no other class and are able
to spend their full time on this module. Students are divided into (mixed ability) groups of five - six each assigned to
an academic supervisor who assigns a topic for investigation. This requires some literature research, experimental
planning, experimental work, analysis of results and their presentation. The projects assigned vary but generally fall
somewhat short of original research while maintaining substantial scope for student input to the direction of the
work and how to best achieve the goal set. The module has run for the last five years and typically yields grades
rather similar to conventional laboratory classes at this level. A consistent observation however is that this really
brings out the best in some otherwise weaker students who seem to be inspired by the idea of contributing to the
team effort in a way that is not achieved in a more conventional class. It provides a sound preparation for those
students who go on to take an honours project.
5.4 Research into Practice: An Alternative Format for Final year Bioscience Honours Project, University of
Plymouth UK
Research into Practice is a new module which includes a research proposal as an assessed element, instead of having
the bulk of the marks weighted onto the writing of a project report/dissertation. The new format encourages more
external employer engagement, if the student wants to explore this opportunity. This module is beneficial to
students wishing to pursue careers such as teaching, and is beneficial to students who want a more directed
approach. There is also a traditional format module offered to students. The new format involves a group of
students signing up to a single project where the protocol for data collection is largely written by the project advisor.
Data collection is then carried out by the group and results are pooled, before being analysed and written up on an
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individual basis. The new format is similar to an extended laboratory investigation and consequently, the project
advisor is largely responsible for the planning and any risk or ethical assessments. Projects that have used this new
format to date involve an investigation into the ergogenic effects of caffeine on exercise performance and also the
effects of a particular growth medium on the culture of young plants. As students taking projects in the new module
format have not designed their own research study, they have to carry out a separate research proposal assessment
to meet this learning outcome. They need to identify a research question from a literature review they have carried
out and then design an appropriate study around this issue. The proposal allows all the planning and design learning
outcomes to be achieved, albeit after students have carried out the data collection and analysis elements. The
research proposal is guided by a template and although the student does not have to carry out the proposed study,
it does need to be realistic, affordable and capable of being completed by an undergraduate student.
5.5 The Mechanical Engineering Final Year Project at University of Adelaide, Australia
The final year project in the School of Mechanical Engineering aims to provide solutions to engineering problems
related to industry or to scientific research, with emphasis on project management and effective communication. It
is considered to be an important part of the engineering education process and projects sponsored by local industry
are strongly encouraged. Industry sponsored projects enhance student skills through relevant real-world projects in
research and development, and profits industry by collaboration in training expertise transfer, innovation, and
development. Students work in teams ranging in size from one to a dozen. Although the projects require a minimum
of 330 hours of student time, many students spend over 600 hours and some up to 1000. The scope of the projects is
often ambitious, such as the design, build and launch of a supersonic combustion RAM jet, or a Formula SAE racing
car. Students are encouraged to suggest projects themselves as these often lead to outstanding outcomes. The
projects are facilitated by the extensive resources put in place by the School to support the students including the
provision of a project budget and access to workshop staff time and manufacturing facilities. Each project has at
least one academic supervisor, and in the case of industry sponsored projects, an industry-based supervisor.
5.6 Linking Students with Industry through Co-operative Education for Enterprise Development (CEED) in four
Australian Universities
The CEED projects are open to students in the disciplines of Engineering, Information Technology, Business, Science,
Sustainable Management, and Food Technology or Food Studies, for either final year or Masters level students.
Industry-based training is integrated with the student’s university degree. The project is integrated with study and
students work on-site with their industry host, working around other lectures, tutorials and exams. The size of
projects vary, but should be able to be completed in 13 weeks, with a student working 3-4 days per week over that
period. Most projects completed by CEED students are ‘practical’ or R&D focused rather than highly researchfocused, but nevertheless give the students the opportunity to develop applied research skill in a real world context.
CEED has reviewed student performances over hundreds of projects and found that the students who participate are
considered more employable at the time of graduation.
5.7 Communicating Maths at the University of Bath, UK
Communicating Maths is an optional module for third and fourth year students in the department of mathematics.
The project aims to provide mathematics students, who are traditionally poor communicators, with the opportunity
to demonstrate competency with these skills and to evaluate their ability, whilst increasing student interest in
teaching careers and provide ambassadors of mathematics and the University of Bath within the wider community.
The students involved undertake a wide range of activities designed to enhance and broaden the public
understanding of mathematics, with a particular emphasis on working with local schools. All of the students on the
course attend training and over the course of one semester undertake four tasks:
1. 'Bath Taps into Science’, a science fair based in Bath during National Science Week. Undergraduates work in
teams of four, running a half day exhibition on a subject of their choice which they have researched.
2. Mathematics master class for school pupils aged around 13 led by the students.
3. The third task is drawn from a number of different options. This can vary from students choosing to deliver a
lesson in a local primary or secondary school (working with a local teacher), to working with Maths
Inspiration, Dr Maths, or with the Further Maths Network.
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4. Research and produce a permanent piece of work on a mathematical topic of their choice. Various mediums
have been used including posters, web-sites, a YouTube video, and newspaper articles
5.8 Bioscience End of Year Project at Durham University, UK
Bioscience students at Durham University have a choice of three different types of final year project
(a) Laboratory-based project
The laboratory-based project provides an opportunity to participate in the research being carried out by staff in the
School. Many students are able to work in the research laboratories, alongside postgraduate and postdoctoral
researchers, and all students have access to the full array of research facilities in the School. The project currently
takes place over 5 weeks of full time research, and students are given a piece of work that can lead to concrete
results in this period. Many undergraduate projects have generated data that has subsequently been incorporated
into scientific papers, with the student as a named author. The project is assessed through a report, written in the
form of a mini-thesis, and a short presentation. This module gives the student a taste of scientific research, and
exemplifies the School's commitment to providing research-led education.
(b) Biology Enterprise
Biology Enterprise (BE) is project-orientated module, based on research in a commercial context, with self-selecting
groups of 5 or 6 students working together. The learning context for BE follows the real-life scenario of the
formation of a biotechnology spin-out company from an academic biosciences research group. Within this context
BE aims to introduce students to: key processes of business start-up, specifically in the context of a spin-out of an
innovation generated as a result of biological research; key factors and considerations that influence the decision
making process of the commercialisation of biotechnological innovation; the necessary skills, knowledge and
resources required to take biological innovation from concept through to credible commercial propositions; the
purpose of a Business Plan and, using a self-generated idea, how to prepare and present a Plan for a research-led
biotechnology spin-out. A core component of BE is an in-depth desk study of a biological topic to collate, review,
critically appraise and present the scientific research evidence that underpins the self-generated idea for the
biotechnological product or process. The content of this module provides an introduction to key business processes
such as ideas generation; market research; protection of intellectual property; raising finance, in addition to
developing individuals' team working, project planning, time management and transferrable skills
(c) Biology into Schools
For students who see their future in science education, or other communication-based activities such as journalism,
the Science into Schools module may provide an attractive option. As for the other research project options, it is
research-led, but in this case the research takes the form of a systematic inquiry into the teaching and learning
process. Students are required to prepare materials for teaching science in secondary schools, and to interact with
teachers and pupils. After an initial training period, students spend at least 4h per week for 10 weeks in a local
school. They are expected to graduate from classroom observation, to assistance in teaching, to an opportunity to
undertake whole class teaching. They will also devise a special Biological Sciences project for the school, which they
implement and assess. The module is assessed through a journal of activities, reports, a presentation, and a report
by the host teacher. This module is focussed towards developing communication skills, as well as team working and
interpersonal skills. This module is only available to a limited number of students, determined by participating
5.9 GIS Management in Industry at Curtin University, Australia
The GIS Management course is a cooperative unit with industries, working with 10–30 students per cohort. Guest
lecturers from leading GIS consultant companies and governments share their experiences with students. I also have
applied the Work Integrated Learning teaching theory to the assignment designs. As a result, all assignments are
now work-integrated learning projects on behalf of organisations, such as Landgate or Mainroads, in which the
students act as GIS consultants to help solve real-world problems. Through this unit the students gain practical work
experiences and the organisations get help in addressing complex issues in a considered and well-research manner.
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Some students’ work has been published in peer-reviewed journals or conference papers. In addition, the close
alliance between the University and external partners has produced a fruitful partnership which has fed into the
research program, such as ArcLInkage projects.
5.10 Bridging the gap between textbooks and scientific research: Cell biology at the University of Utrecht,
A third year course for cell biology majors focuses on writing and defending of a research proposal as an open ended
authentic assignment; i.e. modelling much of the authentic research experience of cell biologists, but not the actual
laboratory research: and includes student teams writing a PhD proposal. It builds on the more textbook-orientated
knowledge and limited controlled laboratory experiences in years one and two.
The 15 week course, with some 24 students has these components:
 A general research topic is defined by staff, and students read selected research papers with a focus on research
methodology and research questions.
 Students are divided into four groups of six and out of class formulate a research question and methodologies.
They also visit relevant research laboratories, contact experts and discuss their proposals in class with their
fellow students and staff.
 Student teams present their final proposals to a jury of four staff (two cell biology specialists, one biologists, and
one non-biology scientist). The broad composition of the jury requires that the proposal should be clearly
formulated for both specialists in the field and for non-specialists.
Students then take an extended senior research thesis (usually in the summer semester and often extending into the
summer vacation). Some students will work in the lab of jury members, as they were invited by them to do their
research project with them. Six years of course evaluations and also a survey of alumni has shown the initial
difficulties students face in moving beyond textbook knowledge; the value of the various components; and the
course’s success in helping them to think as scientists and better appreciate how research is conducted.
5.11 Integrating professional and technical competencies in a final year capstone design course at the University
of New South Wales, Australia
In this final year capstone design course which last ran in 2009-10 the pedagogy was centred on the ‘student as
engineering design consultant’, utilising authentic learning experiences obtained through collaboration with industry
who contributed a variety of commercial design problems for student design teams to work on. In the course,
students were allowed to form teams and choose from six industry-provided design problems that were outlined to
the students in a one day presentation by key employees of the five companies involved in the course. The course
had only six lectures over the entire 12 weeks of the course with learning activities aligned to support the design
projects. The course aims were to achieve a balanced set of outcomes, integrating knowledge and skills from both
technical and professional competencies. Emphasis was placed on making explicit the process of identity change
from a student to a professional engineer.
5.12 Alternative Final Year projects in the Biosciences at the University of Leeds, UK
Final year students within the Biomedical Sciences group of programmes (Human Physiology, Medical Sciences,
Neuroscience, Pharmacology) have the opportunity to undertake one of the seven types of research project. Each
project is of 8 weeks duration, with students expected to commit 3.5 days per week to their project. Students are
provided with a list of projects (with project descriptors) in March of the year preceding their final year and invited
to choose, in rank order, 10 projects they would like to be considered for. Projects are then allocated based on
student choice and ranking within the year group; with projects staring in the January of their Final Year.
September 2013
The assessments for all project types are similar. Students are required to write a 25-30 page dissertation and
deliver an oral presentation. Students undertaking critical review projects also have to submit a 5 page grant
proposal linked to their review. There is also a supervisor allocated “productivity” mark.
i. Individual laboratory projects
Students undertake an individual programme of research in the laboratory of their project supervisor, often
contributing to ongoing research within that laboratory.
ii. Group laboratory projects
Students work collaboratively, a team of 3-4, to undertake a programme of research; based either in their
supervisor’s laboratory or in the teaching laboratories.
iii. Computer simulation project
Students investigate the function of biological systems using established computer models (e.g. human cardiac
iv. Critical review projects (with linked grant proposal)
Students undertake a hypothesis driven critical review of the literature in a specific area/topic within the
v. Survey projects
Students undertake a public health survey under the general theme of “Healthy Lifestyles”.
vi. Science and Society projects
Students undertaking science and society projects create, deliver and evaluate an interactive, curriculum
enhancing teaching in local primary (students aged 7-11 ) and secondary (students aged 13-18) schools.
vii. Educational development projects
Students undertaking educational development projects develop and evaluate learning resources for use in
undergraduate teaching. Working either individually or in small teams, students develop learning resources or
new teaching methods (e.g. social media) to support ongoing teaching.
5.13 Students undertake paid internships as agents of change or educational researchers in biosciences at the
University of Leeds, UK
The Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Leeds has recently begun to run two programmes of non-laboratory
based internships for first and second year students. These provide good training for students who opt to take the
educational development dissertation option. The first, badged as “Students as agents of change” is where students
work in groups to develop a resource to enhance the curriculum; it can be something they have identified
themselves as being needed within their programme or a project initiated by a member of staff. The second scheme
is where the intern contributes (individually) to an educational research project. Examples of ongoing projects
include podcasting of research seminars for student/staff use; improvements to educational environment; collation
and evaluation of Open Educational Resources for teachers/students. Start-up funding for these internships was
obtained from the University of Leeds Academic Development Fund and the Leeds for Life Foundation. These
internships are extremely popular, with 63 applications for 18 internships in September 2011. A second tranche was
made available in January 2012. Students undertaking Students as agents of change projects agree the number of
hours required to complete their project with their supervisor and are paid in installments when they meet defined
objectives/milestones. Educational research interns are paid, in two installments, for 75 hours work. For both
schemes, academic support and advice is provided, as required, throughout the internship, a true collaborative
partnership between the intern and supervisor to meet the agreed outcomes. Students are required to blog their
initial aspirations, reflect on progress and the skills gained throughout the internship and provide an end of
internship case study. The Faculty has incorporated the resources into its teaching and its public engagement
activities and has committed to the continued funding of the scheme.
5.14 Facilitating Student Professional Readiness through Industry Sponsored Senior Capstone Projects at Western
Carolina University, USA
The Kimmel School’s Department of Engineering and Technology at Western Carolina University (WCU) has
implemented a 5 course engineering project based learning (PBL) core culminating in a senior capstone course
sequence, focused on new product/process development. The department has partnered with The Centre for Rapid
September 2013
Product Realisation in delivering and administering the PBL and capstone courses. Both equipment and staff are
being shared in a collaborative effort to meet the needs of both industry and students. The capstone projects vary
across several areas including medical devices and testing equipment, manufacturing products and processes,
military and tactical devices, solar collectors and control devices, and sports equipment redesign. The joint
collaborative partnership has produced well over 100 industry related products/processes with several resulting in
application for patent. The CATME Team-Maker is employed in the development of student teams and the
assignment of projects. Faculty and industry mentors are assigned to each team at the beginning of the course
sequence. As a first step, project management techniques, such as work breakdown structures, Gantt charting,
scheduling and quantitative trade off studies, are presented to the students. The stage-gate process is employed as a
means of monitoring the progress of student teams. As a second step, faculty mentors work closely with each team
during the design, build, and test stage-gates. A variety of presentation methods are used by the students in
disseminating their progress at each gate. Several methods are used in assessing and characterising student progress
and performance including the CATME, instructor assessment, faculty mentor assessment, and industry-customer
assessment. Overall, the collaborative partnership has been a positive experience for all collaborators and student
learning has increased significantly. Several problems with our model have arisen, including: equitable evaluation of
projects that vary in scale and complexity, managing unequal team member contribution, student time-management
issues, and faculty loading.
5.15 Dissertation in Database Professional MSc by portfolio at Sheffield Hallam University, UK
After researching how some other disciplines have included built artefacts into the assessment of dissertations, we
decided to allow students to submit either a traditional report, or a portfolio of artefacts for their Database
Professional MSc. Although at Masters level the ideas are transferable to Bachelor level dissertations. In order to
maintain visible fairness between the two approaches we identified marking criteria that could be used for both
types of dissertation. In both cases they are:
 Knowledge of the domain (25%)
 Justification of the approach (25%)
 Description of the research and discussion of the outcomes, (25%)
 Quality of the report and presentation of the argument (25%).
Students work one-to-one with a supervisor. They undertake some of the "usual" tasks, such as Literature Review
and Methodology, but they also include other items such as design outputs, sample working programmes (if that
was one of their target outcomes), screencasts with demonstrations, videos of users feeding back and anything else
they think might be useful to paint the picture. Often they have a learning Blog at the same time, which is also
included as an artefact so long as they provide some reflective commentary on it. The real art to what they deliver is
the way that they piece together the artefacts. Typically this portfolio will be delivered as a website, allowing the
inclusion of hyperlinks to media of different types.
5.16 Developing and professionally managing video-games at Utah Game Forge, at the University of Utah, USA
Faculty members in the entertainment, arts and engineering programme at the University of Utah have opened a
company, Utah Game Forge, which aims to help students understand the commercialisation of video-games through
a real work-based learning experience. The company is financed by the University although students are able to
retain their Intellectual Property Rights for use in future projects. The company was established as there became an
evident gap in students’ knowledge. Students were able to master the programming of video-games, but they were
not taught the skills in running a business or managing risk. These factors all contribute to enhancing the students’
employability skills. In addition to this, in establishing the company the University aims to develop links with outside
business and develop links for internship placements.
5.17 Reorganisation of labs to develop research independence in agricultural science at University of Tasmania,
The Department radically revised laboratory teaching to address problems students and staff encountered in a
required final year research project. Students frequently had difficulties in understanding what was required and
staff spent much time resolving such issues through individual supervision. Lower level (laboratory) courses were
September 2013
revised to integrate laboratory teaching with lecture based and statistical methods courses and assessment. Lab
based activities were developed which required students to work in teams with increasing levels of independence.
For example, the final ‘lab’ four week activity had a paper by the lecturer in preparation for publication, and a
discussion of some future research options. Students were provided with all information prior to the lab and divided
into subgroups. Then as a whole class they designed the experiment and discussed the relative advantages and
disadvantages of the various approaches. The students then ran the labs with support shifting from help to guidance
with the final labs being class (group) discussions around the (1) statistical analyses, then (2) the presentation and (3)
the meaning of each of the experiments. Students individually wrote up a single experiment of their choice and were
advised the final exam question would be:
You are working as a research scientist in a horticultural institute. You have been given a horticultural
research issue to deal with. The specific issue is … Describe and explain an experiment you would set up to
understand part of the issue.
5.18 Science undergraduates build on research of previous students at University College London, UK
The chief innovation in the history of science course at UCL is the mechanism of inheritance: each year students
receive a body of work produced by the previous group of students and make improvements and additions to it; this
process can be repeated until publishable materials are produced. This is part of a system of learning that enables
students to function as a real and evolving community of researchers. First developed in a final third year course, the
course was then opened up to second years to enable interested students to continue their work as part of their
dissertation, and to strengthen the diachronic community by having the previous year’s students present when the
next cohort take the course (Chang 2007). One outcome was a monograph on the history of chlorine, which
contained selected articles by undergraduates on their research (Chang and Jackson 2007). Chang has now moved to
Cambridge. However, since 2007-8, Chiara Ambrosio has developed a related course ‘Topics in the History of the
Physical Sciences’. Selected students investigate an aspect of the history of electricity from a variety of angles:
philosophical, sociological. Students produce an extended essay and their research materials in a form that
subsequent students can use them. Open Resource digital technology is central to the course including an online
journal for student articles: with digital support making “the editing work considerably more 'manageable', thus
allowing our methodology to become 'more transferable” (Ambrosio and Jackson 2011).
Sources: Chang (2005; 2007); Chang and Jackson (2007); Ambrosio and Jackson (2011)
5.19 Across department undergraduate research programme in College of Engineering, Maryland, USA
Gemstone is a highly innovative programme for selected ‘honors’ students in engineering and other disciplines. The
programme is now in its seventeenth year. Student teams, formed in the freshman year, undertake three-year,
student-initiated research projects in which they analyze and propose solutions to societal problems, which
generally involve a significant technology focus. Team members work as a coordinated group, investigating their
project from the perspective of individual majors, under the guidance of a faculty mentor. In their first two years
students are encouraged to live together on a residence hall floor reserved for Gemstone participants. The research
projects e.g. ‘a comparative study of erosion control measures in the Chesapeake Bay area and homeowner
response to such interventions’, are developed in consultation with outside experts and agencies. In their final year
student teams present their research to experts in the field or outside agencies and write a team thesis. The learning
process mirrors the team based consultancy style research that students are likely to carry out after graduating. The
students present and defend their team research at the Team Thesis Conference. The presentations are 30 minutes
long followed by 30 minutes of questions from the discussants and the audience. Following this the team have one
hour in a private discussion room with their discussants and mentor for feedback on the presentation and thesis.
5.20 Students work in multidisciplinary teams on both year-long engineering capstone projects for partnering
corporate sponsors and two to three year-long entrepreneurial sustainable projects at Olin College, USA
Olin College (USA) is an innovative engineering institution with a curriculum from year one built around group
project based entrepreneurial engineering design projects. Early projects are shaped by faculty but later projects are
student designed with faculty support. Each year every student presents a project they have been working on at the
September 2013
Fall Project Expo. In the final year capstone, seniors work in multidisciplinary teams of 5-7 students on full-year
engineering projects for partnering corporate sponsors. Olin works with companies and technology clients to
develop SCOPE projects that are important to the sponsor while providing an important educational experience for
the student. The corporate partner provides financial and organisational support. Olin provides a faculty advisor and
dedicated work space and technical support and equipment. The teams deliver formal mid-year and final reports to
the sponsors.
Partly drawing on the SCOPE experience, Olin with neighbouring Babson College (an entrepreneurial business
college) has recently developed a linked course that starts in the junior year but can also serve as an alternative or
additional capstone on ‘Affordable Design and Entrepreneurship’. Student teams from Olin and Babson work on
entrepreneurial, but sustainable projects around the world, including the USA in areas such as energy, water, health,
agriculture, transportation and communication. An ideal student path would be to complete an internship with an
initiative partner, take the course for two semesters, work for a mission-driven company or NGO as an intern, and be
part of launching a new social venture. The plan is for projects to last 2-3 years, with dozens of students “getting on
and off the (project) bus,” as one course or one year is not enough time for the necessary technology and business
model development.
Sources: Kearns et al. (2004);;;;;;;
5.21 Bioscience Horizons is an undergraduate research journal published by a mainstream publisher, UK
Bioscience Horizons (BH) is a journal of undergraduate research which was established in 2008 by a consortium of UK
universities in association with Oxford University Press as a free, open-access online journal. It publishes full research
papers and reviews, all of which have been subject to expert review. They are citeable publications and contribute to
the world corpus of scientific literature. The unique features of BH are that it operates at a professional level, is not
tied to a single institution and manuscripts are subject to critical scrutiny by expert reviewers (rather than
postgraduate or undergraduate peers). Reviewers are asked to evaluate the quality of the content just as they would
for any other journal in the biological field, save that the quantity of work may be less. Unsatisfactory material is
rejected or returned from correction and resubmission. Other than acknowledging the role of the supervisor, BH
insists that submissions are authored by the student. This ensures that they take ownership of the work and also
assume full responsibility for the normal requirements of publication, including compliance with guidelines and
responding to review. Several university bioscience departments now BH’s article format as a model for their own
undergraduate research reports. Several of its student authors attest to the transformative effect that professional
publication has on their personal development and career prospects.
5.22 Engaging students in applied research through industry sponsored collaborative capstone projects at
Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) Edmonton, Canada
NAIT’s applied research program gives students the opportunity to put their learning to work in an applied, realworld project. They work with faculty, industry, and community partners to investigate problems and opportunities
proposed by our partners or sponsors. There follows two examples of capstone projects.
Students in the Bachelor of Technology in Technology Management (BTech) must demonstrate the integration of
their learning through a Capstone applied research project before graduating. Partnerships are formed between
BTech, industry sponsors, and student groups of three to four students, in order to pursue ‘real world’ applied
research projects to solve industry problems. A faculty guidance team works closely with the student groups to
generate research questions, develop research plans, gather and analyze data, and propose solutions. Projects in
LEAN manufacturing, IT solutions, alternative energy, construction, and government policy are examples of applied
research that has been undertaken in the capstone project. Students prepare a research report and present their
findings publicly in a capstone symposium that is attended by industry representatives, faculty, and the general
September 2013
public. Curricular themes such as applied research methods, leadership, project management, ethics, and
communication are emphasized throughout the capstone project as a way to transfer program knowledge to its
many applications in society.
The Information Systems Development Major of the Bachelor of Applied Information Systems Technology (BAIST)
degree program allows for students to interact and work with industry partners in the creation of a solution for a
partner’s needs. Students undertake two four month full time paid work experience. The work integrated learning
internships make up the entire 4th year of the BAIST degree program. Students combine their technical and
managerial skills to develop a scalable enterprise system for a real client. Some students have the option to engage
in research work in integrating large system components into a complex organization. They are expected to
contribute fully to solving the companies’ problems using IT. We also require students to complete research
paper(s) for grading. Along with demonstrations and presentations to stakeholders combined with what the student
has learned over the program, this course prepares the students to easily blend into a corporation's context.
Sources: Correspondence with Michelle Ivanochko ([email protected]);;;;
5.23 Research project and poster presentation in applied plant science and biotechnology at Myerscough College,
Undergraduate students experience research during the process of carrying out an experiment and producing a
poster as an assignment for a third year (level 6) module. They are given the research background to the control of
organogenesis (forming roots and shoots) in plant tissue culture and the accepted model of hormonal regulation.
Students are then asked to devise an experiment to test this theory with a given type of plant culture, e.g. shoot tips.
As a group, they decide what hypothesis is to be tested, the treatments to be applied to test their hypothesis, and
the measurements that need to be taken. They then undertake the experiment, so in the process develop aseptic
techniques, consideration of replication and experimental design. They then need to select appropriate statistical
analysis and method of presenting the results. Students then report what they think are the major findings as a
Students develop skills in discussing experiments and experimental design. It gives the students an opportunity to
consider how the measurements to be taken can be standardised across the group. They need to think of using
photographic and pictorial methods to present their findings. They gain skills in communication, particularly
scientific communication and in the process of selecting and interpreting key information and presenting facts
accurately and concisely. This exercise also provides opportunity to undertake data analysis and presentation, with
staff guidance.
This research-oriented, research-based and research-tutored exercise compliments their dissertation modules. The
dissertation is 40 credits in length and is compulsory for the honours degree. Although this exercise is delivered
alongside the dissertation modules, the assignment is sufficiently early to enable them to apply the skills developed
to their own dissertation in terms of establishing existing knowledge, developing hypotheses, designing the
experiments, determining measurements, statistical analysis and the presentation and discussion of results. Even
something as simple as developing an appropriate title, is discussed during the poster assignment.
Sources: Correspondence with Mick Cottam ([email protected]), David Elphinstone
([email protected]) and Irene Weir ([email protected]);
September 2013
5.24 Students undertaking Diploma in Engineering analyse mechanical or electrical engineering design problems
and identify possible solutions in final project at Bay of Plenty Polytechnic, New Zealand
Undergraduate students completing the second year of a polytechnic Diploma are required to undertake a semesterlong research project as a culmination of their learning. Once the topic is agreed, students research existing
solutions, create and trial variants or innovations, then record, assess and refine their processes. Bay of Plenty
Polytechnic has strong connections with local industry and national bodies; wherever possible, the projects are
guided by jointly developed proposals which address real-world workplace issues. Students are involved in every
aspect of the project development and negotiate project parameters, scope, timeframe, resourcing and intended
outcomes with both the industry sponsor, and the program teachers. They are required to follow good engineering
practice and apply rigor to all phases of the research, according to both industry and academic standards.
Assessment is again a collaboration between the sponsor organisation and teaching staff. As well as research and
practical skills, students learn about project management and liaison between stakeholders, and enhance their
verbal and written communication skills. For some, the introduction to an industry organisation has led to
employment and on-going opportunities.
Sources: Correspondence with Uli Fuerst ([email protected]) and Mark Hendry
([email protected]);
5.25 Group based integrated Masters project to develop professional mechanical engineers at University of
Manchester, UK
Integrated Masters programmes in mechanical engineering in the UK usually offer an individual research project in
Year 3 and a group project in Year 4. At Manchester the aim of the Year 4 group design project is to treat the
students as professional engineers with the brief to deliver a successful working prototype of their own invention.
Students are allocated to groups of 5 to 6 according to their position in the previous year’s class list. At the end of
week 1 of the year each team perform a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style pitch to tutors to make the case for their preferred
project from a list of eight to ten project briefs (e.g. design in plastic to help to alleviate the suffering of disaster
victims; low energy log splitter; portable coffee maker; or ball curling laboratory experimental equipment). The next
task is to make an oral presentation in Week 5 describing the basic idea that the group is working on, and bidding for
a budget to build the prototype. This is typically £300 to £600 and excludes the cost of technician time or indirect
University overheads. Tutor support is provided throughout the two semesters during the weekly Friday afternoon
sessions. In weeks that do not have a formal presentation event, the tutors see each group individually to coach,
probe, act as clients and provide advice as necessary.
Assessment is based on:
 Semester 1, week 5 oral pitch to convince the tutors that they have a good concept design and can justify
their budget request (10%)
 End of first semester evidence that they have engaged with the technical staff, finalised their designs,
purchased the necessary items and managed their budget (10%).
 Demonstration of the working prototype in week 9 of the second semester (40%)
 In week 10 the groups must submit user and technical manuals for their device (25%)
 500 word individual reflective commentary with central question ‘what did you learn that would make your
next project more successful?’ (15%).
The focus of the assessment is on whether the groups manage to produce a working prototype of their own
invention. An element of peer assessment involves the groups doing anonymous assessment of their teammates
twice in semester 1 and twice in semester 2. The resulting personal performance factor is used via the WebPA
algorithm to scale the mark for the prototype (40% of the unit).
Further information: A longer case study is available from John Yates ([email protected])
September 2013
For a discussion of this material see Healey et al. (2013)
The sources for most of the case studies can be found on the project website at: The sources for recent additional case
studies and other references are below.
Allen, S. (2011) Pedagogical Leadership, in Whalley, M. and Allen, S. (eds) (2011) Leading Practice in Early Years
Settings (2nd edn.) Exeter: Learning Matters.
Ambrosio C. and Jackson, C. M. (2011) Building on the 'directed community' model: Projects and prospects,
Discourse: Learning and Teaching in Philosophical and Religious Studies. 10 (3). Available from:
Broad, S. (2010) Style in Performance, in Neil, K. (Ed.) Research-teaching linkages: Enhancing graduate attributes Creative and cultural practice (pp.11-14). Glasgow: The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. Available
Chang, H. (2005) Turning an undergraduate class into a professional research community, Teaching in Higher
Education. 10 (3), pp. 387-394.
Chang, H. (2007) Enrich yourself, and the world, Times Higher Education Supplement, November 30, 21.
Chang, H. and Jackson, C. (Eds.) (2007) An element of controversy: The life of chlorine in science, medicine,
technology and war, London: British Society for the History of Science.
Claflin University (2012) Undergraduate capstone project guidelines. Available from:
Healey, M., Lannin, L., Stibbe, A. and Derounian, J. (2013) Developing and enhancing undergraduate final year
projects and dissertations. York: HE Academy. Available from:
Hellier-Tinoco, R. and Cuming, R. (2010) Developing the reflective practitioner in performing arts, in Neil, K. (Ed.)
Research-teaching linkages: Enhancing graduate attributes - Creative and cultural practice (pp. 18-22). Glasgow:
Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (Scotland). Available from:
Huggins, R., Jenkins, A. and Scurry, D. (2007) Undergraduate research in selected US universities: Report on US visit institutional case studies. Coventry: The Reinvention Centre, University of Warwick and Oxford Brookes.
Available from: [31 December 2012].
Kearns S E, Miller R K and Kerns D V (2004) Designing from a blank slate: the development of the initial Olin College
Curriculum, In Committee on the Engineer of 2020, Phase II, Committee on Engineering Education, National
Academy of Engineering Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century (pp
Luck, M. (2012) Undergraduate research projects: a flexible wireframe for success. Poster presented to International
Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Annual Conference, Hamilton, Canada 24-27 October.
Wuller, C. A. (2010) A capstone advanced pharmacy practice experience in research, American Journal of Pharmacy
Education Dec 15, 74(10), 180.

Students undertaking Media Projects in their final