In July I took a trip to Gothenburg to present at the Society for Experimental Biology Annual Meeting, in the SEB+ Section session on the teaching-research nexus. I was very interested in making a contribution here following a piece of work I conducted in 2015-2016 on the links between teaching and research at Newcastle, which is supporting the development of our new Learning, Teaching and Student Experience Strategy.

Prof. Susan Rowland was the first invited speaker presenting on Authentic Large Scale Research Experiences where undergraduate students undertake relevant, discipline-specific research as part of existing practical components of their programmes. This was followed by Dr Katherine Hubbard, who continued with the theme of authenticity illustrating their student conference through which final year undergraduates present their independent research to first and second year students. The attendance of all students allows them to build a research community and provide and receive peer feedback. Students reported increased self-confidence in taking part in this great initiative. Dr John Love presented on behalf of Dr Sara Burton on the challenges, opportunities and next steps for research-led education. This included a discussion on how to incorporate the opportunity for students to experience failure in their programmes – something regularly discussed at our Edubites sessions. I was up next presenting a summary of my findings and how our students perceive the links between teaching and research. I found that whilst overall students valued being taught by research-active academics, they did not base their decision to come to Newcastle on our research activities. Prof. Graham Scott brought the first part of the session to a close by considering whether we should think beyond skills and knowledge when we design research-based learning activities, and ensure a real and authentic learning experience. Undertaking independent field-based research (often in novel environments) increased student motivation and their willingness to engage with research.

Sara presenting

Dr Sara Marsham presenting in the teaching-research nexus SEB+ session (Photo by Simon Callaghan)

The second part of the session continued the theme from the first presentation, with another invited speaker Dr Sara Brownell presenting on CUREs (Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences). This led to much discussion as Sara suggested that to be of benefit to students, CUREs must be novel and the outcomes should be of interest to the wider discipline. Many in the session thought that as long as the work was new to the student and developed their skills as a researcher, it was a significant challenge to expect it to be novel to the discipline in some subject areas. Anne Tierney shifted the focus to the approaches undertaken by teaching-focused and research-focused academics. Anne suggested that teaching-focused academics were more likely to approach research-focused academics about discipline skills than vice versa, and that teaching-focused academics were more likely to go to discipline seminars to upskill their knowledge of current discipline developments. This is something for Newcastle Educators to consider – while we have great engagement with Edubites, do we need to do more to encourage research-focused colleagues to attend?

Other presentations in the session included a lively talk from Dr David Smith who challenged our perceptions of why students sit in particular places in lecture theatres; Dr Dominic Henri on students perceptions of their autonomy, which again raised the issue of giving students space to fail; Prof. Ros Gleadow on work integrated learning, though making the point that as many academics have no idea of what the ‘real’ working environment is like, how can we prepare our students…!?; and Dr Lucy Tallents going rogue and delivering an interactive workshop getting us to think about opportunities for enhancing research-led teaching, and what support might be needed.

The session finished with a discussion led by Graham Scott and Katherine Hubbard on how to take the SEB+ Section forward – do you see anything here, or have your own ideas, for things that you would like to see Newcastle Educators consider?

What next for SEB+

Ideas for how the SEB+ Section can continue to support colleagues (Photo by Katherine Hubbard)

Of course I could not leave Gothenburg without engaging in some important networking!

Can you spot me amongst the crowds? (Photo by Simon Callaghan)

Sara Marsham, July 2017