I began university like many other students, with little knowledge of what research is or the processes behind it. Yet, almost three years later, I graduated having conducted my own independent research project. This was a huge milestone in my journey towards becoming an independent researcher but at the time I couldn’t see how I’d suddenly gained the skills to carry out my own research project. Having begun a Masters degree, I’ve had time to reflect on my experience and can compare my new course with the way I was taught at undergraduate level. I’m finding the jump between undergraduate and postgraduate study isn’t as difficult as I’d anticipated because my degree prepared me for the kind of research postgraduates undertake. After some digging, I’ve found one of the most effective ways to support student research is through a pedagogical approach called ‘flipped teaching’, which is a term many students might not recognise but an approach they’re likely to come across at university as it’s becoming an increasingly popular method.
Flipped teaching comes under the umbrella of active learning, which places the student partially in control of their own teaching. Flipped teaching reverses the more traditional method of learning that sees a teacher deliver material in class, commonly through lectures at university, followed by homework which students work through by themselves. In flipped teaching, students will first learn material by themselves and later apply this information in class through discussion, group work and problem solving. The classroom then becomes an interactive space that centres student experience and knowledge as students come to class prepared with their own understanding of a topic and gain the perspective of their peers.
Being exposed to other students’ ideas encourages the view that students are co-researchers, as opposed to believing they are in class to just absorb the lecturer’s knowledge. Flipped teaching also pushes students to begin thinking like researchers: analysing and evaluating their ideas and those of their classmates.
Putting students in the mindset of researchers means flipped teaching better prepares us for assessments which, in turn, helps students meet the Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) of their module. While flipped teaching can improve the effectiveness of assessment, it also encourages students to enjoy the process of research and think of it as more than a means of assessment because it becomes an interactive, creative process.
Though undergraduates will likely have less research experience than postgraduates, flipped approaches are particularly valuable at undergraduate level as the aim is to build students’ confidence and introducing independent research from the get-go is a great way to do this. Many courses achieve this by incorporating flipped approaches into their teaching. For example, students may have a lecture and then be asked to complete preparatory tasks to discuss in seminars, workshops or lab sessions. These tasks can range in form and difficulty depending on level and discipline, so flipped teaching can easily be adjusted to suit different needs.
With the move to blended learning, it’s more important than ever to encourage active approaches to promote student engagement because in-person teaching is now particularly precious to us. It may be most beneficial to deliver lecture material online so in-person classes promote discussion and interaction. This way, students can get the most out of their experience and develop into the confident researchers that university courses are designed to produce.