This article updates and extends the range of strategies available to increase student engagement with undergraduate research dissemination. It evaluates the ten strategies suggested in 2008 and then extends the range of approaches in an attempt to share the benefits of research communication with a wider range of student researchers. The paper acknowledges the rapid progress that has been made over the last eight years in disseminating undergraduate research and the possibilities for staff to frame these as a structured progression for students.
In 2008 I co-authored an article for BeJLT with Alan Jenkins outlining ten strategies to embed undergraduate research publication in the student learning experience (read it here). The article outlined the incompleteness of the research process as experienced by students where their work is purely targeted at internal curricular assessments, for example the dissertation marked by a supervisor and marker. The paper argued for completion of the research process through the ‘publication’ (in a very broad sense) of student research results. This followed on from recognition of the importance of communication of findings being integral to the research process (Boyer Commission, 1998). The paper outlined ten strategies that would facilitate student engagement with research dissemination. Some focused on staff oriented approaches such as work on embedding opportunities within the curriculum, while others were student oriented approaches such as involving students in the publication process, for example through work as journal reviewers. In both staff and student oriented suggestions the role of technology to extend the variety of publication formats was deemed to be of great importance. The paper suggested a scaffolded approach so that publication opportunities could be linked to each other as stepping stones to progressively greater exposure of research from within classroom settings to extra curricular venues and finally into contexts beyond the institution. This invited paper is an attempt to update the previous publication, to look at whether the ten strategies have been adopted and adapted (or indeed ignored!) and provides a chance to identify additional strategies that are being used to open up opportunities for the communication of research findings by students.
The case for undergraduate research dissemination was initially made on a large scale as part of the call by the Boyer Commission (2008) to American research universities to engage students in the research process, where dissemination was seen as integral to research activity. More recently the case for research dissemination has been restated on account of its benefit to students (for example see Hart, 2012; Hensel, 2012; Kinkead, 2011; Spronken –Smith, et al., 2013; Tatalovic, 2008; Walkington, Edwards-Jones and Gresty, 2013). The desire to widen student participation in research dissemination activities therefore arises from an increasing body of evidence that the benefits to students in terms of communication and other graduate attributes are significant (Walkington and Hill, 2013a,b).
The choice of audience, communication format and the language with which they share their research can give students greater autonomy in the dissemination process (Willison and O’Regan, 2007). Spronken-Smith et al’s (2013) research dissemination framework maps student autonomy alongside the degree of exposure or ‘public-ness’ of the research communication, moving beyond the curriculum, module or department to opportunities which have national and in some cases international reach. The framework can be utilised as either a planning or post hoc reflective framework to prompt consideration of different dissemination opportunities from a student or staff perspective. Presentation to an international audience is not a kite mark for quality research, nor necessarily a better learning experience than presentation within a module. Differing levels of exposure may be appropriate to different students at different times and in different contexts. A piece of research presented at a national conference may result more from the awareness and commitment of a presenter to attend, than a signifier of research excellence.
In North America many institutions have infrastructural support for undergraduate research in the form of funding and administrative support (Kinkead, 2003) which means students are encouraged to make use of the range of dissemination outlets via workshops and other means (Pugh and Schneider, 2012). In his survey of US national undergraduate research programmes, Lopatto (2009) found that external presentations and publications in peer-reviewed journals were relatively uncommon (8% of all examples). Informal dissemination activity, however, would be virtually impossible to quantify.
The benefits of undergraduate research dissemination
The importance of communication as a graduate skill cannot be understated and this is the case in any dissemination context. Walkington and Hill (2013a,b) and Hill and Walkington (2013) have reported the benefits which students gain from presentation at undergraduate research conferences in terms of graduate attributes (research literacy, academic literacy, critical self awareness and digital literacy in particular), employability, empowerment and an incipient sense of belonging to a community of practice. Their research included students taking part in dedicated undergraduate research conferences at departmental, faculty and national level, and also the experience of students attending an international discipline specific academic conference. Findings related to the benefits of communicating complex concepts without recourse to disciplinary language in the cases where multiple disciplines were present. The timing of conferences to allow students to continue refining their ideas before final submission of work was also seen to directly enhance the quality of the final piece from student self reports in interview (ibid).
Students report numerous benefits from publication in undergraduate research journals including creating models of good practice for other students to follow, enhancing their curriculum vitae and increasing confidence (Gresty and Edwards-Jones, 2012b; Walkington, 2008, 2012; Walkington, et al., 2011). Successful authors gain recognition that stimulates the desire for further dialogue about research and further publication experience (Walkington, 2011). Significant readerships have been created by some journals with over 40,000 full-access text requests recorded for articles from the Plymouth e-journals, some articles being accessed over 1,000 times (Walkington, Edwards-Jones and Gresty, 2013). Bioscience horizons, through the publishing house Oxford Journals, generated 65,000 full text downloads in 2013 alone (Luck, et al, 2014). With the journal web page being accessed by people in almost 200 territories and 64 different higher education institutions being represented amongst the published papers (ibid) the impact of undergraduate research in the biosciences is certainly highly significant.
The challenge therefore is to seek to share the benefits amongst a wider group of students to enhance the student experience on a broader scale while retaining quality outputs. Beyond journals and conferences, students can become experts (Walkington and Hill, 2013a) and use their research findings to inform citizens and policy makers, providing data for evidence based decision making (Morrow and Tobin, 2012) and regional consortia can evolve from sharing the findings across institutions within particular disciplinary areas (e.g. Kuwata, et al 2012).
Exposure of research and the public domain
A multiplicity of forms of research dissemination exist including: blogs and video logs, online conferences , client presentations, simulations, exhibitions, displays, poster and paper presentations, wikis, trail guides, web pages, journals and books. This article maintains the stance of the previous paper that research publication can be for all students, so long as publication is interpreted in its broadest sense and not simply as writing journal articles. The 2008 paper interpreted publication as ‘to put into the public domain’ (Walkington and Jenkins, 2008, page 2 of 15, paragraph 4). The public domain therefore implies a setting in which access to a broad audience is feasible. Research dissemination opportunities can therefore be created in informal as well as formal settings. Publications may exist only temporarily (online work can be easily removed), and as a result of growth in online environments for dissemination activity the degree of exposure to different audiences can be subtly controlled through the use of search terms making discoverability an important issue. The amount of student autonomy within the research design itself, the format in which the research work is made available and the level of (individual, tutor, and institutional) gate-keeping that has led to its release into the ‘public domain’.
In retrospect one could easily contest this notion of the ‘public domain’ as it implies a step change in audience scale. However, there are settings in which undergraduate research partaken within a module / course is carried out for an external client such as an architectural live project for a town council or school. The school or town council are public entities but the research is unlikely to be accessed by a wider public. Similarly, there are instances where taking undergraduate research posters or presentations to another University as part of a national or international conference for undergraduate research is not truly public as the audience is controlled through academic structures.
It should also be noted that for academics, research dissemination does not always take place as a final product, some dissemination is carried out in the formative research stages, for example, when proposals are debated or data has been generated but the interpretation of that data is still open to influence through interaction with peers. For students the most common form of research dissemination is via an assessed piece of work, so tutor guidance and frameworks are evident. However, other dissemination can take place beyond the curriculum, such as with journal articles written on the basis of an independent piece of research and often finally published some time after the degree has been awarded.
Conferences on undergraduate research
In the relatively short space of time since 2008 there has been a proliferation of research dissemination opportunities at a range of levels. In the UK students have the opportunity to present their ‘Posters in Parliament’ and through the British Conference of Undergraduate research (BCUR) to share their research with a multidisciplinary, multi institutional audience, in the BCUR events so far this has also had international participation. BCUR began in 2011 when Stuart Hampton-Reeves and colleagues at the University of Central Lancashire hosted the first national conference with a mix of poster and paper sessions. Since then it has been hosted at Warwick (BCUR 2012), Plymouth (2013) and takes place in April 2014 in Nottingham. Through the creation of a multi-institution steering committee it has become an established event in many university calendars. BCUR’s development was modeled on the long established National Conference on Undergraduate research (NCUR) in the United States and following its success Australia hosted its first National event (ACUR) in 2012.
Taking inspiration from the US ‘Posters on the Hill’ event in Washington DC [The Hill referring to capitol hill], ‘Posters in Parliament’ (hosted by UCLAN) was initiated in 2013 and takes undergraduate research into the public domain with ministers and members of the public able to access the latest student research selected by participating universities. Whilst fewer universities are able to participate (due to space restrictions) than at the national conference, the audience is not solely academic, so the skills which students develop in sharing their research findings are different to those developed when the audience is composed of students and staff, themselves engaged in research.
Journals for undergraduate research
Developments in terms of written research dissemination opportunities have been growing in the US where Katkin (2003) reported that approximately one third of US institutions had at least one campus journal for undergraduate researchers. In 2008 we reported ten dedicated undergraduate research journals in the UK, three of which were multi-institutional collaborations: Bioscience horizons (Luck and Park, 2012; Luck et al, 2014), GEOverse (Walkington, 2008; 2014) and Reinvention (Foster-Ogg and Hanley, 2012). Eight were discipline specific with a scientific focus whereas Reinvention and Diffusion accepted work from a range of disciplines. Four of the ten journals are now archived, highlighting the problem of the poor sustainability of journals where they rely on short term funding, a single academic advocate or are not subsequently embedded in institutional structures. However, new journals are developing constantly. The Student Researcher at Trinity St Davids is the first in Wales and The Plymouth Student Scientist (Gresty and Edwards-Jones, 2012a,b) has inspired two further journals at Plymouth University in Education (The Plymouth Student Educator) and in Health and Social work (The Plymouth Student Journal of Health and Social Work). Ideate at Essex is for sociologists and runs in a similar way to the Plymouth Student scientist where no reformatting of work submitted for assessment is required. Ideate’s message is to achieve 80% or more in an assignment and it can be published in the original format. The Journal of Undergraduate Science and Technology (JUST) at Exeter is the first journal to be initiated by students. There are currently many more undergraduate research journals under development, predominantly in the form of institutional showcases, rather than with a disciplinary focus.
Progress on the ten suggested strategies
Walkington and Jenkins (2008) suggested ten strategies for broadening participation in research dissemination for undergraduate students. The strategies focussed on involving students (undergraduates and postgraduates) with the publication process, the embedding of research dissemination into the curriculum in a variety of ways and the broadening of definitions of research and the way it is communicated. Walkington, Edwards-Jones and Gresty (2013) suggested further strategies, specifically relating to maximising student engagement with undergraduate research journals to disseminate research work. This article critically evaluates the suggested range of strategies that can be successfully employed to encourage wider engagement with undergraduate research dissemination of all types and explores how these might lead to quality enhancement of the student experience.
GEOverse is a national level journal of undergraduate research in Geography. In an attempt to embed the authoring of journal articles into the curriculum at the four institutions in which GEOverse was initially piloted (Oxford Brookes University; Queen Mary, University of London; University of Gloucestershire and the University of Reading) each institution made curriculum modifications. ‘Examinations were replaced with coursework in the form of a journal article at two of the institutions, the form of a coursework assignment was altered to allow the submission of a group review article at a further institution and at another university, team-based fieldwork opportunities were created to allow collaborative writing of a journal article’ (Walkington, Edwards-Jones and Gresty, 2013: 26). Curriculum development like this can enhance the authenticity of assessments (Knight and Yorke, 2003) for students.
The use of digital technology to create online repositories with the ability to host video, sound files, and so on has widened the forms of publication available to student researchers. Similarly the different definitions of what counts as research in a discipline allow students in creative disciplines to move away from text based dissemination formats to events such as national competitions and product launches (Spronken Smith, et al, 2013).
Student articles have become the basis of teaching, learning and even assessment resources as the results of publication have been built into the curriculum (for example see Dellinger and Walkington, 2012; Karkowski, Hutchinson and Howell 2012). Staff use the articles in classes as part of sessions on academic writing and honours project choices. However, with a broad interpretation of research it is possible to ask students to do mini lectures on case studies of their own interest related to lecture topics. Based on secondary research this is a strategy that can be used to initiate research dissemination activity from year 1.
There are a variety of roles open to undergraduate students who wish to be involved in the publication process. For example, trained postgraduate journal reviewers report developing critical skills which enhance their own academic writing, and wanting to create a forum for learning for undergraduates (Walkington, 2008; 2014) and similarly students who help to manage events like undergraduate conferences and journals gain experience.Most dedicated undergraduate research journalsinclude students as editors or editorial panel members and reviewers. At conferences students help manage the event itself, taking responsibility for chairing sessions, running plenaries and engaging in evaluation, all of which help them realise the employability benefits of undergraduate research.
Further strategies for maximising student engagement in research dissemination
The ten suggested strategies of Walkington and Jenkins (2008) were used as a framework against which to critically reflect on the extent to which the strategies were adopted in the processes of five undergraduate research journals covering a range of disciplines (Walkington, Edwards-Jones and Gresty, 2013). As a result of this mapping, the authors were able to identify further more subtle strategies that they were using to try to widen participation in dissemination and involvement with the journals. The additional strategies were proposed for increasing student engagement specifically with journals, so have been modified below to be inclusive of wider forms of research dissemination.
Building a culture where students want to participate and expect to be involvedis important for sustaining the supply and quality of research outputs. Conferences and annual exhibitions quickly become embedded in a university culture and become part of the calendar. Journals can become embedded in the format of curriculum assessments. When students see their peers benefiting from these opportunities it sets expectations and motivates others. Displaying student work via blogs which are used to showcase work to the following year’s cohort is an excellent way to motivate, set expectations and entice students to participate.
Timing is very important. Ensuring students submit their work before leaving the institution allows for subsequent dialogue and revisions. It is easy for new graduates to stop engaging once they are in full time employment. Timing is also important because each university has its own calendar so tying into dialogic events such as exhibitions and conferences, which allow dissemination to have a formative function, is difficult at national level. Learning enhancements deriving from formative events can improve student dissertations which are then summatively assessed (Walkington and Hill, 2013b). Universities are increasingly tying their own activities into national events such as BCUR and Posters in Parliament, in some cases using attendance as a reward for excellence, or conversely using the opportunity for students to gain feedback on ideas during the research process, which is ultimately of value to their assessed work.
Ensuring that the publication format can accommodate a large volume of submissions is important because it allows rapid publication of submitted work if there is sufficient work that merits it, rather than time consuming selection procedures or staggered publication of outputs. Where articles are archived online a much greater range of publications with clear search facilities allow people to find work that they are interested in. Having a greater diversity of work published increases the appeal and usefulness for learners in the future so long as it is discoverable (e.g. via online searches).
Inviting submissions from partner colleges and pre-honours students has been successful for the Plymouth journals who have published articles by foundation degree students from their affiliated partner colleges (Edwards-Jones, pers comm.). In this situation the difference in level must be acknowledged as final year work will be of a different standard to foundation level, but both are being recognised at a relevant standard.
Allowing co-production with staff and/or peersis a way of supporting a wider group of students. Reinvention, Bioscience Horizons and The Plymouth Student Scientist (TPSS) all accept research which is published collaboratively with staff in addition to articles authored only by students.
Using a creative commons licence to allow the student to retain the copyright to their work means that they can submit their work elsewhere as well, or in a different format. This is especially important for online materials, even a photo can be regarded as a research output and it is important that students learn about intellectual property and correct referencing, plagiarism and copyright law as part of a scholarly approach.
Involving all members of the university community in marketing undergraduate research outputs to new and prospective students.Whether it is an annual exhibition, journal, magazine, blog or poster session academic staff, support staff, students and alumni can be involved as delegates, readers, event managers, organisers, in marketing and as commentators.
This paper has updated progress on implementing ten strategies first proposed in 2008 and has added further strategies, predominantly base don those used for increasing student engagement with undergraduate research journals (Walkington, Edwards-Jones and Gresty, 2013). The suggestions derive from a belief that the benefits of research communication for a wider range of student researchers can enhance the quality of the student learning experience and can provide competencies of relevance to future employment. The paper has demonstrated the rapid progress that has been made over the last eight years in disseminating undergraduate research formally through conferences and journals at institutional and national level. It has focused on the possibilities for staff to frame these as a structured progression for students, but the next step will be for students themselves to take ownership for shaping the dissemination of their research.
I would like to acknowledge the researchers with whom I have collaborated on previous publications (Jennifer Hill, Andrew Edwards-Jones and Karen Gresty) whose ideas and inputs have helped shape the thinking in this article. I would also like to thank Alan Jenkins, the co-author of the original paper who has helped to promote undergraduate research and its dissemination in the UK in particular, but also internationally.
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