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24th June 2010, 2:26pm
Major study to redefine relationship between students and their university
student producing The University of Lincoln is to embark on an ambitious research project that could lead to wide-sweeping cultural reform in higher education.

The University has today been awarded £200,000 by the Higher Education Academy for a three-year study examining the relationship between the student and the teacher, with emphasis on undergraduates taking a more active role and larger stake in the academic community.

The move comes at a time when students are demanding greater value for money in terms of quality of teaching and graduate employability, with the prospect of higher tuition fees looming and student complaints nationally on the rise.

Professor Mike Neary who is leading the project said: “The idea is that the student is a producer and a more active collaborator in the academic community. In this model, undergraduates are no longer here simply to consume information passively: they are here to learn by generating knowledge through real research or projects which replicate the process of research within their discipline.

“We are getting past the notion that teaching and research are antagonistic and this project will demonstrate how they are connected at all levels. Our goal is not to establish pockets of research-engaged teaching, but to make it an institution-wide strategy and at the heart of the student experience.”

It is hoped that by re-engineering the relationship between students and academics, giving students more responsibility and a greater involvement with real world situations, they will benefit from a more engaged learning experience leading to enhanced employability and greater satisfaction with their course.

Professor Neary explained that the project began at the University of Warwick and Oxford Brookes where he was director of the Reinvention Centre for Undergraduate Research before moving to the University of Lincoln.

He added: “The Reinvention Centre supported academics who wanted to engage students in a process of teaching in a research-engaged way. The difference between the Reinvention Centre and the current ‘Student as Producer’ project is that the principle of research-engaged teaching is applied not at the level of individual models and programmes, but at the level of the institution: as the organising principle for teaching and learning in the university. And, ‘Student as Producer’ is more directly connected to a wider network of universities, nationally and internationally.”

From the start of the coming academic year, when new courses are being approved or others validated, academics at Lincoln will be asked to build the idea of the student as producer into their programmes.

Activities will also include using students as consultants for enhancing academic teaching and as support for other students; establishing learning “co-laboratories” - week-long projects involving groups of around 500 undergraduates from within one faculty working in multidisciplinary teams of 10 with academic staff; and a bursary scheme whereby undergraduates are awarded £1,000 and given mentoring and support, normally during the summer break, to conduct research and contribute to a student research journal.

The project, which is being funded through the HEA’s National teaching Fellowship Scheme, involves academics from eight other universities including Sheffield, Reading, Warwick, Oxford Brookes, Central Lancashire, Bishop Grosseteste University College, Macquarie in Australia and the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands.

Findings will form the basis for a framework and operational model that can be adopted or customised by other institutions. A national association for the development of research engaged teaching and learning will also be established.

Information on the Higher Education Academy’s National Teaching Fellowship Scheme can be found here:
Project director Professor Mike Neary is a National Teaching Fellow and was the founding director of the Reinvention Centre for Undergraduate Research at the Universities of Warwick and Oxford Brookes. He now heads up the University of Lincoln’s Centre for Educational Research and Development. He has been an advisor and consultant on various projects to establish research based learning programmes, with publications and frequent keynote presentations.

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