Going URB@N: Exploring the Impact of Undergraduate Students as Pedagogic Researchers

May. 15, 2014

Source: Innovations in Education and Teaching International, Vol. 51, No. 2, 142–152, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors have explored the impact of Undergraduate Research Bursaries at Northampton (URB@N) on undergraduate students’ experience of conducting pedagogic research; of acquiring the skills of a nascent researcher; and of working with an academic research leader.

URB@N was initiated in 2009 by a group of pedagogic researchers at Northampton to involve selected students in pedagogic research, providing a bursary for them to work as paid researchers alongside project supervisors. The projects relate to the student experience and/ or learning and teaching matters and should potentially inform academic practice at an individual, departmental or institutional level.

The authors designed a longitudinal mixed method study involving three action learning cycles, each evaluated iteratively annually.
Initially, a range of qualitative data was gathered during and at the end of the 2009 pilot year. Students were asked to write a guided but flexible reflective account of their experience of URB@N when they had completed their projects. Reflective feedback elicited by the researchers from project leaders generated practical perspectives on the impact of the scheme. Supervisors also received informal oral feedback from students about their experience and shared experiences with each other in collaborative meetings.
For the second iterative cycle of URB@N (2010), the authors built in modifications and enhancements to the scheme which arose from analysis of the pilot year evaluations. Oral and written feedback was again collected from project leaders and students.
In the third cycle (2011), the authors accessed qualitative data from a greater range of staff and students. They also issued e-surveys to academic project leaders and URB@N students.


The findings demonstrate the positive impact of the scheme for undergraduate learners.
Students were able to reflect on their own learning and recognise the value obtained from their ‘hands-on’ experience of conducting pedagogic research in partnership with staff. Students articulated both tangible and intangible benefits from their learning and participation in the scheme. Alongside this, they showed strong allegiance to improving the student experience by wanting to share their findings and contribute to enhancing the learning and teaching environment for current and future learners.

In the United Kingdom, universities are driven to embed a range of indicators of the student learning experience and academic staff are encouraged to develop their scholarship, improve their supervisory skills and build effective working relationships with students.
When all universities are seeking efficient ways to enhance the undergraduate experience, the authors argue URB@N is an innovation that, from its deliberately small beginnings, has offered a value-for-money contribution to the enhancement agenda, raising student aspirations in terms of progression and employ-ability, and offering a new model of academic relationships through collaborative pedagogic research.

In exploring the potential of this scheme for institutional transferability, the authors argue that it presents one way of reenergising scholarly interest in pedagogic matters and has the potential to facilitate cultural change in institutions in which scholarly research is encouraged. 

The authors suggest that the impact of URB@N on undergraduate students is powerful:
• By giving undergraduates the confidence to contribute to, and thus enliven, academic debates around research.
• To remodel the research-teaching nexus, providing a new conceptualisation of the relationship between teaching and research.
• To enable undergraduate students to become co-constructors of knowledge, as active participants in research, as authors rather than just passive consumers.

Updated: Oct. 30, 2016