Butcher, J. and Maunder, R. (2011) Going URB@N: exploring the impact of undergraduate students as pedagogic researchers. Paper presented to: International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (ISSOTL 2011): Transforming the Academy Through the Theory and Practice of SOTL, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, 20-23 October 2011.
In this paper we report the impact of an innovative undergraduate researcher scheme developed by the University of Northampton in England. The URB@N scheme (Undergraduate Research Bursaries at Northampton) was initiated in 2009 to: - Involve students in pedagogic research by providing a research bursary - Facilitate collaborative enquiry between students and academic staff - Stimulate academic staff to conduct pedagogic research by providing resource to support specific projects - Energize the institutional commitment and understanding of pedagogic research URB@N is centrally coordinated and funded, providing a coherent synergy with institutional strategy. The scheme is aimed at academic staff with a pedagogic question to investigate, but without the current resource or support to explore it. URB@N enables a scholarly research project to be developed, conducted and reported on - providing beneficial insights into pedagogy, thus facilitating research-informed practice (Griffiths, 2004). The projects are broad in scope, and the majority of Schools in the university are represented. Student applicants at various stages of their undergraduate degrees are selected to work as paid researchers, often working outside their discipline and sometimes in complementary pairs – impacting positively on the research dynamic. As a teaching-focussed institution which received degree awarding powers in 2006, the University of Northampton is a widening participation university with strong community links, priding itself on fostering a transformational student experience and creating opportunity for diverse student groups. In the current UK HE context, institutions are not only driven to embed a range of indicators of the student learning experience (employability, career development, aspiration-raising), but academic staff are encouraged to develop their scholarship (McKinney, 2006), improve their supervisory skills and build effective working relationships with students. Such drivers reflect prioritised accountability measures such as the Research Assessment Exercise and National Student Survey, as well as imminent changes in HE funding structures. URB@N was developed in this context. Situating our study within the propositions of Healey and Jenkins’ (2009) model of undergraduate engagement in research and inquiry, we explored the impact of URB@N as research-based learning in a pedagogic framework. This paper is presented as a longitudinal mixed method study involving action learning cycles. Evidence from student and staff feedback, quantitative measures of engagement and reflective accounts enable us to report the collective impact of the scheme on staff and students’ knowledge, experience and understanding of scholarship, and offer evidence of institutional transformation. We present evidence showing the impact of: a creative dialogue between academics and students about research; new knowledge construction in ‘taken for granted’ areas; powerful reflections on learning; and the value of authentic data, with student researchers eliciting unique access to learners. As such, we report a credible expansion of scholarly activity by staff and students impacting on the institution as a whole. In exploring the potential of this scheme for institutional transferability, we argue that it presents one way of re-energizing scholarly interest in pedagogy and pedagogic matters and has the potential to facilitate cultural change within an institution, where scholarly impact is encouraged, supported and valued.