Showcase Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

STARS and STRIPES: Flying the flag at Deakin in developing and implementing authentic large scale research experiences (ALURES) in undergraduate units (#34)

Jan West 1 , Anneke Veenstra 1
  1. Deakin University, Burwood, VIC, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

The current focus of higher education is to produce graduates with skills for jobs for the 21st century workforce. Graduates need to be able to deal with authentic, complex and unstructured problems. Inquiry-based learning has been incorporated into science curricula which engage students in “...identifying questions, attending to evidence, identifying patterns, making controlled comparisons, interpreting increasingly complex data, supporting claims and drawing justified conclusions”. Inquiry based learning has been used as a tool to teach students “how to think like a scientist”.

The ALURE projects at Deakin University are part of level 3 units for the Bachelor of Biomedical Science - STARS (Scientific Thinking for the Acquisition of Research Skills) and the Bachelor of Biological Science STRIPES (Scientific Training Researching Invertebrate Populations using Ecological Surveys).  The difference between these research experiences and routine undergraduate practical classes is that the students design the project and there is an authentic outcome. The project results in more than just “the production of report for assessment”. Instead, students generate novel data that is useful and valuable to parties outside the university.  

While implementing these programs we recorded and analysed student perceptions before commencement and after completion of the project. Our major findings are:

1) Students were initially daunted by the concept, particularly when there was no “guaranteed result”. Students were product (“result”) driven rather than “process” driven.

2) Students initially thought that research only happens in a laboratory

3) Students could formulate an isolated hypothesis, but they struggled to develop a testable hypothesis for use with the project-generated data.

4) Student perceptions changed and became more positive as the project progressed. Good supporting resources are essential to guide students.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

This showcase will present our experience in implementing undergraduate research experiences in 3rd year units at Deakin University. We will outline how we increased student engagement and skill development by providing students with an authentic project with worthwhile outcomes. Resourcing is essential to support students in this endeavour – we found that students did not always understand concepts we take for granted. Many of the practical tasks undergraduate science students complete have well defined, very predictable outcomes and indeed the element of uncertainty is deliberately minimized by staff. Consequently, students become result-focused, rather than process-driven. This is further consolidated by assessment of undergraduate practicals where marks are awarded for producing the “correct result” rather than demonstrating and exploring the “process” of the task and the skills required to get that result. We found it was challenging to move students from a result-driven to a process-driven mindset, however when students are given the appropriate support and guidance while they experience research and outcome uncertainty, the quality of the work they can produce is remarkable.