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  • Developing and enhancing undergraduate final-year projects and dissertations

    A National Teaching Fellowship Scheme project publication Mick Healey, Laura Lannin, Arran Stibbe and James Derounian July 2013

  • Contents Section Page

    Foreword by Professor Stephanie Marshall 3

    The authors 4

    Acknowledgements 5

    Executive summary 6

    1. The rationale for diversifying final-year projects and dissertations 8 2. Student as producer and the key dimensions of final-year projects and

    dissertations 19 3. Characteristics of final-year projects and dissertations and alternative

    possibilities 27 4. Preparation in earlier years of programme 32 5. Engagement with community groups and employers 40 6. Assessment 50 7. Supervising and advising 59 8. Celebrating and disseminating 68 9. Conclusions and recommendations 73

    References 77

    Appendix 1 - List of case studies by discipline 89

    Comments by readers 93


  • Foreword by Professor Stephanie Marshall

    Universities should treat learning as not yet wholly solved problems and hence always in research mode.

    (Humboldt 1970, quoted by Elton 2005, 110)

    This quote taken from Humboldt over 200 years ago at the University of Berlins founding emphasises his commitment to the inter-relatedness of teaching and research, and is still apposite today. What is higher education for, if it is not about assisting learners to make sense of the complexity of the world in which they live? It follows that a curriculum which integrates the knowledge and learning students glean from further studies, with engagement with local and global challenges and issues, better prepares students for lifelong learning. And, at a time when skills for employability is of growing concern, a more integrative approach to the curriculum is being explored globally. This is where final-year projects, dissertations and capstone projects are so important in assisting the process of engaging students in knowledge creation. This book, which is the result of a National Teaching Fellowship Scheme (NTFS) project undertaken by Mick Healey, Laura Lannin, Arran Stibbe and James Derounian from 2010 to 2012, explores how to engage students in the production of knowledge. It is unique in that it draws on global case studies, and presents a framework for assuring that students completing an undergraduate degree irrespective of the diversity of programme, institution or mode of study are better equipped to make sense of, and apply, their undergraduate learning through the teaching research nexus. The book is rigorous, drawing upon the full range of recent literature. Through its case study approach, with over 70 exemplars drawn from across the world, it will be of exceptional value to the reader. I commend this excellent book to all higher education teachers grappling with the purpose, organisation, facilitation and possible modes of evidencing best practice in the delivery of learning.

    Professor Stephanie Marshall Deputy Chief Executive (Research and Policy) Higher Education Academy


  • The authors

    Mick Healey is a higher education consultant and researcher and emeritus professor at the University of Gloucestershire, UK. He is also an honorary professor at the University of Queensland, an adjunct professor at Macquarie University, Sydney, 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 and to be made a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. In 2013 he received a SEDA@20 Legacy Award for Disciplinary Development. He is often asked to act as an advisor to projects, universities and national governments on aspects of teaching and learning in higher education. Mick is an experienced presenter. Since 1995 he has given approx. 500 educational workshops, seminars and conferences. He has written and edited over 150 papers, chapters, books and guides. Further information is available from his website: Laura Lannin is the higher education programme manager at the Museum of London. Prior to this she worked as a research assistant on the Rethinking final-year projects and dissertations project at the University of Gloucestershire. She has also worked as a researcher for the Centre for Active Learning and on several projects at the University, including the Community flood archive and Enhancement through storytelling project. Arran Stibbe is a reader in ecological linguistics at the University of Gloucestershire. He was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship in 2009 and a fellowship of the Centre for Active Learning in 2008. He has published widely in the areas of both discourse analysis and ecological education and was editor of The handbook of sustainability literacy: Skills for a changing world, which brought together 50 educators to reflect on the skills that students need to face the challenges of the 21st century. His latest book, Animals erased: Discourse, ecology and reconnection with the natural world, was published in 2012. James Derounian is a National Teaching Fellow and principal lecturer in community engagement and governance at the University of Gloucestershire. James' teaching, action research and consultancy relate to active and blended learning approaches, local governance, rural social issues and community engagement. He is an experienced external examiner. James has undertaken consultancies for international (Romanian Historic Monuments' Commission), national (Carnegie UK Trust) and local (Oxfordshire Rural Community Council) organisations. He is particularly skilled at facilitating learning for part-time, mature and distance learning students. James has been selected and trained by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (2012) to undertake independent assessments of community-generated neighbourhood plans across England. He publishes articles regularly for the Guardian newspaper on higher education and localism


  • Acknowledgements

    The project on which this publication is based was undertaken as part of the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme (NTFS) project strand initiative funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England with matched funding from the University of Gloucestershire and managed by the Higher Education Academy between 2010 and 2012 (Healey et al. 2012). The other team members were Susan Bray, John Deane, Stephen Hill, Jim Keane and Claire Simmons. The Higher Education Academy kindly agreed to make this book available on its website. We are indebted to colleagues from around the world who provided us with details of their final-year projects and dissertations, and members of our International Advisory Panel who helped us think through the issues. We are particularly grateful to Alan Jenkins (Oxford Brookes), who accompanied us on our journey from helping us formulate the initial idea for the project right through to providing a critical commentary on the text of this publication. We are also very grateful to Arshad Ahmad (Concordia, Canada), Janis Bailey (Griffith, Australia), Angela Brew (Macquarie, Australia), Peter Felten (Elon, USA), Karen Gresty (Plymouth, UK), Didi Griffioen (VU University Amsterdam, Netherlands), Andy Hagyard (Lincoln, UK), Stuart Hampton-Reeves (Central Lancashire, UK), Ruth Healey (Chester, UK), Bettie Higgs (Cork, Ireland), Stephen Hill (Gloucestershire, UK), Stephen Jackson (QAA, UK), Nicki Lee (Victoria, Australia), Martin Luck (Nottingham, UK), Kris Mason OConnor (Gloucestershire, UK), Kelly Matthews (Queensland, Australia), Mike Neary (Lincoln, UK), Rachel Spronken-Smith (Otago, New Zealand), and Malcolm Todd (Leeds Metropolitan, UK), who made helpful and constructive comments on a draft of this book.


  • Executive summary

    Over the last decade, the use of projects and dissertations in university curricula has been seen as

    increasingly important (Marshall 2009, 150).

    I cannot think of anything more unfair than to treat all students as if they are the same, when they so manifestly are not (Elton 2000, 1).

    Final-year projects and dissertations (FYPD) undertaken by students at the end of their Bachelor degree courses are a topic of current interest in many countries. It is timely to reassert the importance of FYPD and to rethink their role in the curriculum as the context of higher education changes. For example, the number of students in higher education has expanded, students are coming from a wider range of backgrounds, and the challenges that humanity is facing in the 21st century are increasingly complex and inter-disciplinary. In addition, the development of MOOCs (massive open online courses) could lead to more of the content of degrees being delivered online, leaving universities to add value by focusing on student-centred activities where face-to-face tuition is needed, such as FYPD. Similarly, in discussions about providing more holistic learning experiences, the role of FYPD as the capstone of Bachelor degrees is likely to be of growing significance as a key way of delivering programme-learning outcomes and research-informed teaching. Our argument is that all undergraduate students should undertake a FYPD, and while valuing the traditional Bachelor dissertation, which in the UK is typically an 8-12,000 word independent piece of disciplinary academic research, additional options should be available. These may differ in their conception, function, organisation, location, and nature of outputs. With increasing student numbers, widening diversity of motiva


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