Developing a “Research-Active” Curriculum

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It is clear that a research-intensive university should be structured and organised around a strong emphasis on developing a “research-active” curriculum that socialises students into inquiry-based learning from day one. By 2026, students’ successful transition from university to professional life will require the ability to resolve problems in an analytic manner, to evaluate evidence and take rational decisions based on it, as well as to defend one’s choices in a clear, articulate manner. In this, a “research-active” curriculum is best suited to support students’ engagement in research and inquiry.

Multiple approaches have attempted to link research and teaching, many focusing on promoting students’ research in their capstone/final year, initiated and administered by the relevant College or School, and focused on individual students’ research contribution in the form of a dissertation. I would argue that a “research-active” curriculum would challenge many of these approaches by going beyond them: it would focus instead on student-driven processes taking place throughout students’ years at university; it would reward collaborative work rather that merely individual research; it would be integrated across the curriculum, rather than in a final-year dissertation; it would link research skills to post-university employability.

Most importantly, a research-active curriculum would focus on more than formal teaching: I would like to see the University of Birmingham look carefully at the strategies of a number of American universities that have created centres for undergraduate research (at the University of Maryland, the University of Pennsylvania, at UC Davis, and elsewhere). We may be able to expand the University of Birmingham Undergraduate Research Experience scheme by encouraging faculty to create and publicise research opportunities for students; by instituting an undergraduate research day where students could showcase research; or by linking to Universitas 21 network opportunities. Back in my undergraduate days, the opportunity to get involved in, and write for, a student-run journal (the Yale Review of International Studies) convinced me to embark on postgraduate study and an academic career. Nurturing such initiatives within the University of Birmingham should form part of our vision for the future, and of our “Big Conversation.”

Gerasimos Tsourapas
Lecturer in Middle East Politics

6 thoughts on “Developing a “Research-Active” Curriculum”

  1. Gerasimos makes an important point and one that I would like to pursue further in this Big Conversation. In a ‘Research-Intensive’ university surely we should offer a ‘Research-Active’ curriculum…from day one!

    The question is: what does this mean in practice? What would we need to change in order to achieve that ambition? How quickly can we do it? Further thoughts on these points would be welcomed.

    1. We are doing research on this. Who can I talk to in the team running this initiative, to explain what we have found so far?

  2. Hi Chris, You can come and talk to me in the DPVC (Student Experience) office (J.a.gilson), or Jon Green DPVC (Education, or to Kathy herself (K.Armour). It would be great to know what you have done so far.

  3. Gerasimos,
    You make some great points and I wonder if we should start by seeing what we actually do at present that integrates the research culture into our everyday practice. I would also be really interested to know whether our approvals structures encourage this kind of thinking when we plan our modules and programmes, or whether we ought to think carefully about exactly how we can promote a different kind of thinking.

  4. Is there perhaps a way of involving undergraduate and postgraduate students more in our existing research centres, even having them join a research centre (with a kind of student membership which could be different from an academic’s membership) when they start their degree? Student membership could involve being invited to some of the talks that are given within the centres, being invited to special student-focused Q+A sessions with academics who are invited here to conferences, publishing their work in online student journals related to the centres, involvement in conference organisation. The level and type of involvement would vary enormously from centre to centre, but we could have student member ships of centres as a kind of over-arching principle.

  5. We are working on this in the Curriculum Development Implementation Group for the Collaborative Teaching Laboratory (for those that aren’t aware of this, it’s being built between Biosciences and the Learning Centre and will be for STEM subjects). We are developing collaborative modules for first and second year students that will incorporate research. A recent workshop we ran on Research Intensive Teaching in STEM revealed that there is already a lot of good practice going on here….. we need to share it.

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