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Designing alternative dissertations and capstone projects Martin Luck University of Nottingham Re-thinking the Final Year Undergraduate Dissertation University.

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Presentation on theme: "Designing alternative dissertations and capstone projects Martin Luck University of Nottingham Re-thinking the Final Year Undergraduate Dissertation University."— Presentation transcript:

1 Designing alternative dissertations and capstone projects Martin Luck University of Nottingham Re-thinking the Final Year Undergraduate Dissertation University of Gloucestershire, 22/6/11

2 Background: Biosciences at a research-intensive university TeachingResearch Service Passionate about: ● Teaching ● Undergraduate research ● Teaching Research ● Student support 2M R Luck, 22/6/11

3 The undergraduate research project and dissertation are alive and well in the biosciences and in most other science disciplines. Evidence: Practice: Virtually universal Required by QAA Benchmark statements Expected by external examiners; part of subject discourse Respected by employers Publications: Buoyant submissions to Bioscience Horizons...despite the effort and cost Defended against: Increasing class sizes Lack of resources Pressure on curriculum time Criticism re: lack of uniformity, subjective assessment, lack of relevance 3M R Luck, 22/6/11

4 Why defend it? Skill developmentSubject ownership Experience the limits of confident knowledge Dissertation: Discursive analysis Required characteristics:  Real research  Opportunity to find out something new  Application of scientific method Strong, controversial position 4M R Luck, 22/6/11

5 However... 1.Fewer opportunities for traditional lab/wet/field research projects 2.Limited resources/larger numbers 3.More restrictions (safety, ethics etc) - ve 3.Increasing subject diversity 4.Wider range of opportunities 5.Greater student expectations + ve Diversification is happening: Fieldwork and exhibitionsOpinion surveys Experimental lab workLiterature review Commercial collaboration; product development Bioinformatics, database analysisPublic/educational communication Learning resource developmentStudent Ambassadors’ scheme 5M R Luck, 22/6/11

6 Reconciling diversity and academic validity Research project must be: 1.A valid educational exercise 2.A real research experience Priority 6M R Luck, 22/6/11

7 Project A: Pharmacology Aim: To analysis a large collection of blood samples, obtained by the supervisor one year ago during the evaluation of a drug. The design of the original investigation is fully explained to the student. She is given key background papers to read. Student’s task: 1)Assay hormone concentrations in samples, accurately and reliably, using a well established, routine lab protocol. 2)Summarise results with descriptive statistics and present them to supervisor. Outcome: The student does diligent and careful work. She generates a dataset which her supervisor says is of value to his research. It will be included in his next research paper with an acknowledgement of her contribution. Real research? 7M R Luck, 22/6/11

8 Project B: Bioinformatics Aim: To elucidate a small aspect of the design of an anti-inflammatory drug. The student will work closely with the supervisor, with links to a drug company. He will use a simple tool to interrogate a database. He is given advice and key background papers to read. Student’s task: 1)Read literature and create an evaluation strategy 2)Interrogate a database provided by a drug company 3)Identify a structural feature of the drug Outcome: Student designs an innovative evaluation strategy, does an effective analysis and identifies a structure. Towards the end of the project, the drug company withdraws key data from the database because it is found to be unreliable. The student’s conclusions have no value and cannot be used by the supervisor. Real research? 8M R Luck, 22/6/11

9 Reconciling diversity and academic validity Some guiding educational principles 1.The project is an integral part of the degree programme 2.The student only gets one chance 3.All students deserve equal opportunity 4.Assessment must be clear, transparent and independent of research outcome 9M R Luck, 22/6/11

10 Table A Project checklist – For students “Will this project suit me?” “Do I know what I’m doing?” Is it a proper research experience?  Is this an opportunity for real research?  Is the research interesting, exciting and relevant to my interests?  Will I have the opportunity to be creative?  Does the investigative approach clearly embrace the Scientific Method? Does it have a clear structure?  Is there a clear overall target/envisaged outcome?  Are objectives defined clearly?  Is there a well-structured investigative programme? Are risks identified and responsibilities defined?  Have intellectual and practical risks been anticipated and allowed for?  Are all of the resources required for this project readily available?  Will I be given training in appropriate techniques?  Is the academic supervisor clearly identified?  Will others e.g. postdoctoral fellows, postgraduate students, be involved in the project?  Am I entirely clear about what will be expected of me during the time involved? Will I be successful?  Is there a real opportunity to succeed?  Are there opportunities to excel, and will exceptional performance be rewarded? 10M R Luck, 22/6/11

11 Does the project have intrinsic educational validity?  Is the project being offered principally for educational reasons?  Does it fit with the degree programme?  Is it appropriate for the level of study?  Are there opportunities for development of skills?  Is there a structured programme of supervision? Are the intellectual risks acceptable?  Is the proposed work soundly based in existing knowledge?  Are all relevant literature and data available?  Will results which I consider undesirable, nevertheless be of value to the student? Have all resources been anticipated and secured?  Is funding in place and are all resources available?  Is the support that may be required from other staff (e.g. postdocs or postgraduate students) definitely available?  If the project involves teamwork, will individual performance be independent of that of others? Can the project be objectively assessed?  Is the project assessable on process, not content?  Is the project clearly assessable using the department’s assessment criteria?  Does the project allow opportunities for exceptional performance, and can this be recognised and rewarded? Does it offer cohort comparability?  Is the intellectual challenge and technical difficulty comparable with other projects?  Group work: can students can take individual ownership and be assessed in individual achievement? Table B Project checklist – For supervisors “Does this project provide the right educational experience?” “Is it an appropriate part of the degree programme?” 11M R Luck, 22/6/11

12 Note!  They emphasise educational principles  Real research is expected because it is an educationally essential experience  The project may well fall within the supervisor’s research activity be useful to the supervisor have intrinsic research importance, but... this must not be its prime purpose.  The checklists should encourage a dialogue between student and supervisor; they can be adapted for module literature  They are completely independent of subject area, topic or style of research Make sure all staff, especially research intensive ones, understand this! 12M R Luck, 22/6/11

13 Some potentially controversial issues 1. Is it a) feasible, b) possible for all students to do real research? 3. Assessment must be clear and transparent, but marking is subjective and the student-supervisor relationship can be a close one. Solution: focus assessment criteria on intellectual qualities of student, not the outcome of the project. 4. Some research projects are intrinsically more difficult than others, but allocation should not be on the basis of students’ past performance. 5. Group projects are efficient but, no student should be dependent on the performance of another. 2. All students should experience research, even though they may not go on to be researchers. 13M R Luck, 22/6/11

14 Conclusions 1. The project and dissertation are essential components of degree programmes. They must be retained. 2. Form and content must evolve, to reflect educational, contextual and subject developments. 3. The values and characteristics of the research experience must be defended. 4. A set of context-free guidelines will ensure the educational quality of the research project. 5. Guidelines will inform project choice and the dialogue between student and supervisor. 14M R Luck, 22/6/11

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