Friday, 25 October 2013

Rethinking the dissertation: avoiding throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

KEYNOTE WORKSHOP by Professor Mick Healey (University of Gloucestershire) presented at the Research-Teaching Practice in Wales Conference, 9th September 2013, at the University of Wales, Gregynog Hall. Edited by Professor Simon Haslett.

“For the students who are the professionals of the future, developing the ability to investigate problems, make judgments on the basis of sound evidence, take decisions on a rational basis, and understand what they are doing and why is vital.  Research and inquiry is not just for those who choose to pursue an academic career.  It is central to professional life in the twenty-first century” (Brew, 2007).

Prof Mick Healey keynote workshop
Prof Mick Healey keynote
Final year projects and dissertations (FYPD) are a topic of interest in many countries.  In the UK the final year dissertation has traditionally been seen as the gold standard for HE. It provides an excellent training ground for students who wish to continue research at Masters and Doctoral levels, as well as showing evidence of the all-important independence and critical thinking skills emphasised as graduate attributes. Effectively implemented, the outcome from undergraduate dissertations can be highly motivated students effectively empowered as independent self-learners.  For many students it provides a transformative experience, yet for others the experience is less inspiring and sometimes quite negative. The traditional dissertation has come under pressure for reform as student participation in higher education has increased, there has been a growth in professional disciplines, and staff-student ratios have deteriorated. Some departments have dropped the dissertation altogether or made it optional, but this could be seen as ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’.

Prof Mick Healey - keynote workshop
Prof Healey and some workshop participants
This interactive presentation explored ways in which we can rethink the dissertation, while at the same time retaining a significant element of research and inquiry and deliver key graduate attributes. Our argument is that a more flexible approach is needed in the form, function and assessment of final year projects and dissertations to meet the needs of all students. These may include group, work-oriented and community-based projects. There can also be novel ways of disseminating the findings – via exhibitions, undergraduate research conferences and other forms of public engagement. Preparation for the dissertation needs to begin from the day students enter the university.

Prof Healey showed this following Youtube video at the end of his presentation.

Selected references on topic:
  1. 2005 Linking research and teaching exploring disciplinary spaces and the role of inquiry-based learning, in Barnett, R (ed) Reshaping the university: new relationships between research, scholarship and teaching McGraw-Hill/Open University Press, 67-78.
  2. 2005 Linking research and teaching to benefit student learning, Journal of Geography in Higher Education 29(2), 183-201.
  3. 2007 Linking teaching and research in departments and disciplines. York: The Higher Education Academy (Jenkins A, Healey M and Zetter R) 96pp 
  4. 2009 Developing undergraduate research and inquiry. York: HE Academy (Healey M and Jenkins A) 152pp 
  5. 2010 The research-teaching nexus: A case study of students’ awareness, experiences and perceptions of research, Innovations in Education and Teaching International 47(2), 235-246 (Healey M, Jordan F, Pell B and Short C) 
  6. 2011 Rethinking the dissertation, The Guardian 28th June
  7. 2012 Research-led or research-based undergraduate curricula, in Chalmers, D and Hunt, L (eds) Preparing to teach in universities: An evidence-based approach. Camberwell, Victoria, Australia: Acer pp128-144 (Jenkins A and Healey M) 
  8. 2013 Developing and enhancing undergraduate final year projects and dissertations. York: HE Academy (Healey M, Lannin L, Stibbe A and Derounian J)
Professor Healey is a HE Consultant and Researcher and Emeritus Professor at the University of Gloucestershire, UK.  Until 2010 he was Director of the Centre for Active Learning, a nationally funded Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at the University of Gloucestershire, UK. He is an adjunct Professor at Macquarie University, Australia and a Visiting Professor at the University of South Wales.  He was one of the first people in the UK to be awarded a National Teaching Fellowship (NTF) and to be made a Principal Fellow of the HE Academy. Earlier this year he won a SEDA@20 Legacy Award. Mick is an experienced presenter. Since 1995 he has given around 500 educational workshops, seminars and conference presentations. He has written and edited around 150 papers, chapters, books and guides on various aspects of teaching and learning in HE. He is often asked to act as an advisor to projects, universities and national governments on aspects of teaching and learning in HE. He recently completed being the director of a NTF two year funded project on ‘‘Rethinking Final Year Projects and Dissertations: Creative Honours and Capstone Projects”.  He presented and co-facilitated the All Wales Research-Teaching Nexus Action Set Event ‘Strategies for strengthening teaching and research links in Wales’ at Gregynog in 2009.

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