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Angela Brew

Page history last edited by nataliewhelan 13 years, 1 month ago





Angela will be hosting a conversation around the theme of 'Engaging undergraduates in research that contributes to the research effort of the university".




Comment from Natalie Whelan 18:33pm 25/06/08


Firstly I would like to say how much I enjoyed this hosted conversation and wish it could have continued as I believe some really interesting debatable topics were established and ideas put forward for further discussion. Maybe some of these could be continued if we meet again throughout the conference or even be discussed here on the Wiki. I would like to put forward a few points that I feel I could have raised in the discussion but time limited us.


In regards to the view that undergraduates cannot contribute to ‘research’, I believe this to be wrong. As I mentioned towards the end of the discussion, my dissertation topic this summer is an original piece of research in respect that this has not been conducted on the Cornish peninsula and therefore results that I find will contribute to ‘new knowledge’. Fair enough, some people may contradict this and say that land-sea breeze convergence (the arrival of an onshore wind from opposite sides of peninsular that interact) has already been discovered and therefore I am not contributing to new knowledge, however, I argue that I am testing the theory in a new place and establishing what factors influence where this zone of convergence happens. This is the same concept of what academics use in their own research papers, as they test the initial theory devised by an earlier academic on a different location and see if it still conforms, while they also aim to find something new – precisely what I am aiming to do myself, therefore is this not classed as research?


I would also like to argue that my dissertation tutor will enhance their knowledge based on my research, which is of course interest to them in their own field or research and will possibly contribute to their own future research.


The only downside to undergraduate research is the limiting factors that perhaps restrain students from coming to a sound conclusion that can be referenced by academics and termed ‘valid’. These are time, resources and assistance. A student only has a year to produce their dissertation which involves the initial idea, planning, design, data collection, analysis, discussion and conclusions and academics have a longer period of time to conduct their research as they don’t have to work to a deadline like that of which the student experiences due to assessment criteria. I would also like to put forward the point that students are limited by money and equipment, as they do not have access to funding to visit places like Iceland which may be in their research interests due to high tuition fees. Also I have found that staff requests and needs come above students, whereby students have to alter their dissertation needs if equipments is not available due to staff usage – this again relates to the argument of hierarchy within the University which was discussed. I also would like to point out that dissertations are individual projects due to plagiarism issues and therefore assistance is limited but when an academic conducts a piece of research, they can collaborate, discuss, work with others and seek advice more readily than a student can or would even be allowed.


Therefore I conclude that it is the restrictions imposed by the University system that prevents students from contributing to what many see as ‘real research’ as apposed to ‘student research’ which can be frowned upon or not seemed worthy.




Notes from this sesion ' Engaging students in undergraduate research that contributes to the research of the university' with Professor Angela Brew


Angela wrote a book about the relationship between research and teaching for which she collected hundreds of examples. While many of these participants claimed they were engaing their students in research, in fact they were giving the impression of saying 'go away and form a group' so the implicit message was 'don't interfere wth me!' While this may have provided a good learning experience with peers,  were students engaging with real researchers?

Is 'real' research generating new knowledge? One 'successful' example was of 1000 students identifying different fungi and writing up and analyzing their findings which were published in both an international science and a pedagogical journal


What can we do?

What could be done with the number of students you have?

What is facilitative and what inhibitive?


Do we just mean 'gather information'?

This raises the question of 'What is knowledge?' - what kind of knowledge did those students generate?

Another issue is how we define research.

In the example given above, it's not a case of if the students did the analysis themselves - as they would have  learned valuable study skills in the process.  However research is not just a skills development exercise.

One university in the Netherlands is deliberating about opening up research opportunities to 3rd year students to participate in actual research or whether to involve instead students  in their 3rd semester.

How much can an undergraduate contribute? What may we expect of under-graduate students?The decision is whether to go with the more experienced.

At Sheffield, staff/student partnerships exist and research is co-authored by staff and student teams. 

Certain disciplines have different issues.

Three publishers have turned down the project on account of the co-editing prospect.

Nature of new knowledge in context.Issue is of expectations.

This is a difficult argument to reconcile.  Angela deliberately uses the terms 'research and enquiry'

When are students ready? While it is common in USA for students to be involved in research, this is still developing in UK.

At MIT (?) 80% of students have this experience.  We often underestimate students and their capability.  Students will rise to the challenge and can engage critically.

A problem for those in the Netherlands is dealing with the skepticism from other departments - issue: How can this idea be sold to colleagues?

In Sydney they have a 'Talented Student' programme.

The conflict seems to be between academic rigour and fear of losing control.

Some people thave the attitude that they want to get on with their research and the students get in the way.

A phrase that turned students around - 'the purpose of your degree is that you will be critical thinkers'.

Research is at the root of academia.  - Are we becoming conformist?

There are power issues and political overtones.

Research has been seen as the reward for hard work. To say that the first year students can work with us is breaking through the hierachies.

Universities depend on the system of patronage.  What is 'doing'? What is the intellectual process we are offering students?

There are different levels of engagement  - it's a facilitative process - however in IBL - lots of people are from a teaching background.If we are asking traditional people ( who haven't learned how to teach) what are we expecting?

We need to question the assumption that undergraduates are not able to do research.

A PhD is original contribution to knowledge. With undergraduates do we need to give them the foundation of knowledge ( can we give anyone anything?)- which 

 they must process for themselves.

It's useful to do data collection etc and learn incrementally.  Given their inexperience can they contribute?

The paradox is to create critical thinkers - yet  immerse them in research.  Would it be better to experiement for the development of critical thinking?

Teaching is undervalued and research is over valued.

Do we do research just to get through RAC? Or is it about intellectual contribution?

There are huge complex difficult problems in the world - we have new minds sitting in lecture theatres and we are saying 'Sit down! Shut up'!

The intellectual project of the the university - there are issues about how to be a university, how to be in this world, how to solve problems.

Undergraduate research is creative problem solving.

Do we need to reclaim the high ground?

While we are in established academe, we want 'them' to be able to make a difference when we don't know how to ourselves.


We have lost the balance between formative and summative.  We want our students to be innovative.  Students have an expectation  and we try to meet that.

How do we assess? Do assessment criteria interfere with professional judgement?

How can we do this differently?



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