How science really works: the student experience of research-led education

Abstract

There has been a shift in modern tertiary education theory that has moved away from a traditional, didactic model of education, towards a more student-led, constructivist approach. Nowhere is this more the case than in science and mathematical education, where the concept of research-led education is gaining more and more traction. The focus of this approach is on training students to join a community of scholars, rather than on encouraging the accrual of factual knowledge. What has scope to be addressed further in this area is what students might gain from research experience and the impact this kind of education has on career intentions. The current study, using a combination of quantitative and qualitative survey data, explores this experience. We aim to answer questions surrounding skill gains, student perceptions and the impact on career choices. Findings indicate that students value research experience and gain much from it. Further, we find evidence that engaging in, and benefiting from, research experience is related to career intentions. These results have implications for the ways we scaffold research experience for students, as well as reinforcing the value of this approach to education.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Notes

  1. 1.

    These activities were: a scripted lab or project in which the students know the expected outcome; being responsible for a part of the project; a lab or project in which only the instructor knows the outcome; reading primary scientific literature; a lab or project where no one knows the outcome; writing a research proposal; a project in which students have input into the process; collecting data; a project entirely of student design; analysing data; working individually; presenting results orally; working as a whole class; presenting posters; working in small groups; critiquing the work of other students.

  2. 2.

    These skill areas were: problem-solving in general; formulating a research question that could be answered with data; identifying limitations of research methods and designs; understanding the theory and concepts guiding my research project; understanding the relevance of research to my coursework; comfort in discussing scientific concepts with others; comfort in working collaboratively with others; ability to work independently; understanding what everyday research work is like; writing scientific reports or papers; defending an argument when asked questions; explaining my project to people outside my field; preparing a scientific poster; keeping a detailed lab notebook; using statistics to analyse data; managing my time.

References

  1. ANU. (2011). ANU by 2020: Strategic plan. Canberra: Australian National University.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Biggs, J. (1993). What do inventories of students’ learning processes really measure? A theoretical review and clarification. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 63(1), 3–19.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Biggs, J. (1999). What the student does: Teaching for enhanced learning. Higher Education Research and Development, 18(1), 57–75.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2007). Using constructive alignment in outcomes-based teaching and learning. Teaching for quality learning at university (3rd ed., pp. 50–63). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Brew, A. (2012). Teaching and research: New relationships and their implications for inquiry-based teaching and learning in higher education. Higher Education Research and Development, 31(1), 101–114.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Christ, O., van Dick, R., Wagner, U., & Stellmacher, J. (2003). When teachers go the extra mile: Foci of organisational identification as determinants of different forms of organisational citizenship behaviour among schoolteachers. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 73, 329–341.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Cousin, G. (2012). Getting our students to engage: A review of two key contributions 10 years on. Higher Education Research and Development, 31(1), 15–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Hattie, J., & Marsh, H. W. (1996). The relationship between research and teaching: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 66(4), 507–542.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Healey, M. (2005). Linking research and teaching: exploring disciplinary spaces and the role of inquiry-based learning. In R. Barnett (Ed.), Reshaping the University: New relationships between research, scholarship and teaching (pp. 67–78). Mcgraw Hill: Open Universtiy Press.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Herman, W. E. (1995). Humanistic influences on a constructivist approach to teaching and learning. In Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (San Francisco, CA, April 18–22). http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED393814.pdf

  11. Hofstein, A., & Lunetta, V. N. (2003). The laboratory in science education: Foudations for the twenty-first century. Science Education, 88(1), 28–54.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Howitt, S., Wilson, A., Wilson, K., & Roberts, P. (2010). ‘Please remember we are not all brilliant’: Undergraduates’ experiences of an elite, research-intensive degree at a research-intensive university. Higher Education Research and Development, 29(4), 405–420.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Jiang, F., & Roberts, P. J. (2011). An investigation of the impact of research-led education on student learning and understandings of research. Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice, 8(2), 4.

  14. Johnstone, A. H., Sleet, R. J., & Vianna, J. F. (2006). An information processing model of learning: Its application to an undergraduate laboratory course in chemistry. Studies in Higher Education, 19(1), 77–87.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Lopatto, D. (2004). Survey of undergraduate research experiences (SURE): First FINDINGS. Cell Biology Education, 3, 270–277.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Mauranen, A. (2009). Spoken rhetoric: How do natives and non-natives fare? In E. Suomela-Salmi & F. Dervin (Eds.), Cross-linguistic and cross-cultural perspectives on academic discourse. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  17. McDermott, L. C. (1993). How we teach and how students learn—A mismatch? American Journal of Physics, 61(4), 295–298.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. McNamara, J., Larkin, I. K., & Beatson, A. (2010). Using poster presentations as assessment of work integrated learning. In Paper presented at the Australian collaborative education network National conference, Perth.

  19. Meyer, J. H. F., Shanahan, M. P., & Laugksch, R. C. (2005). Students’ conceptions of research. I: A qualitative and quantitative analysis. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 49(3), 225–244.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Mitchell, P., & Forer, P. (2010). Blended learning: The perceptions of first-year geography students. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 34(1), 77–89.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. O’Donnell, V. L., & Tobbell, J. (2007). The transition of adult students to higher education: Legitimate peripheral participation in a community of practice? Adult Education Quarterly, 57, 312–328.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Palincsar, A. S. (1998). Social constructivist perspectives on teaching and learning. Annual Review of Psychology, 49, 345–375.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Robertson, J., & Blackler, G. (2006). Students’ experiences of learning in a research environment. Higher Education Research and Development, 25(3), 215–229.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Rust, C., O’Donovan, B., & Price, M. (2005). A social constructivist assessment process model: How the research literature shows us this could be best practice. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 30(3), 231–240.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Ryan, G. W., & Bernard, H. R. (2003). Techniques to identify themes. Field Methods, 15(1), 58–109.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Seymour, E., Hunter, A.-B., Laursen, S. L., & Deantoni, T. (2004). Establishing the benefits of research experiences for undergraduates in the sciences: First findings from a three-year study. Science Education, 88(4), 493–534.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Valter, K., & Akerlind, G. (2010). Introducing students to ways of thinking an acting like a researcher: A case study of research-led education in the sciences. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 22(1), 89–97.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Walsh, A. (2007). An exploration of Biggs’ constructive alignment in the context of work-based learning. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 32(1), 79–87.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Watkins, D. (1982). Factors influencing the study methods of Australian tertiary students. Higher Education, 11, 369–380.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Wilson, A. N., Howitt, S. M., & Wilson, K. F. (2007). Research-led Education: challenges and experiences. In Paper presented at the Australian conference on science and mathematics education, Sydney.

  31. Zamorksi, B. (2002). Research-led teaching and learning in higher education: A case. Teaching in Higher Education, 7(4), 411–427.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lillian Smyth.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Smyth, L., Davila, F., Sloan, T. et al. How science really works: the student experience of research-led education. High Educ 72, 191–207 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-015-9945-z

Download citation

Keywords

  • Research-led education
  • Science
  • Higher education