Linking research and learning for impact: students as change agents

About the project

Research priorities are increasingly focused on finding solutions to real-world problems that require interdisciplinary working. At the same time, teaching priorities have also shifted to be more research-led and experiential in nature, offering students the opportunity to engage with real-world problems too. Both of these movements are occurring at a time when there is increased scrutiny on the impact academic research has in a variety of domains. This provides us with the ideal opportunity to more closely align research, teaching and impact interests: by developing courses and activities which provide students with the opportunity to learn as genuine changes agents, it might be possible to help the university to build capacity to extend and embed the impact of university research more widely.

Project summary and key findings

This ESRC funded project examines the hypothesis above in more detail, by surveying and investigating the key design features and attributes of existing courses and activities that connect research and student learning, and which interface with the wider community. Primary data was collected between October 2017 and April 2018 from 12 different courses, located in nine different Schools across the University of Edinburgh. A second period of investigation and data collection to follow up on some of the emergent themes uncovered is currently ongoing. This page will be updated when the study is complete, but three key early findings are as follows:

  1. There is actually a greater range and variety of courses currently available which successfully integrate student learning, academic research, and impact than previously thought. This provides a useful platform for making the value of these activities more explicit to students, staff, the university, and external partners. At the same time, this highlights the need to increase the visibility of these approaches at a local level, and encourage more practice sharing between colleagues across the University.
  2. In addition, it uncovers a clear typology of course designs, which can help guide the development of resources to promote and support further uptake of these approaches across disciplines and to other institutions. This working typology consists of at least three different models (Outreach, Vertically-Integrated, and Short Placement-Small Group), each of which comes with their own benefits and challenges. It is hoped that this discovery can usefully inform curriculum design in future.
  3. Most importantly, it also identifies some of the different routes or mechanisms by which these learning activities are capable of helping staff, students, and external partners to realise impact – in both the short and long-term.

Team members

Hannah Cornish

Andy Cross

Jon Turner