Why is a leaf green? How to change an assessment to an inquiry
Students come to university with things in their heads that they want to know. Chances are they are doing a particular unit of study with some questions about the subject they would like to know the answers to. Why not arrange for them to investigate their questions? Even first year students can engage in a simple inquiry of relevance to the subject.
So, for example, one biology lecturer I was talking to said that one of his first-year students asked: “Why is a leaf green?” This is a good basis for an internet search. You could set the assignment up so that students have to write a report distinguishing “good evidence” and “poor evidence”. Alternatively, the students could do a critical bibliographical review. Each student could investigate their own question.
Importantly, you need to frame the assessment as an inquiry; to make it clear to the students that what they are doing in terms of research: e.g. learning to distinguish good and poor evidence; writing critically; carrying out a bibliographical search, etc. Make sure you link this explicitly to what researchers do so that students know why they are being asked to engage in this activity.
First year Pharmacy students individually develop an interview schedule to be used to interview a friend or relative who has experienced a significant ‘health event’ in their life. Material from the lectures, a book of readings and tutorial class discussions are used to formulate the interview schedule” (University of Sydney, Australia).
“Students are presented with an article from a popular magazine such as New Scientist. They research the original article on which this popularised version is based and write a report on the way the media has presented the research. They may contact the original author(s) to explore their perceptions of how their research has been represented by the media” (University of Plymouth, UK).
“First year students of classical mythology, carry out research on a god or goddess and write a Homeric Hymn to it. They are required to research what a Homeric Hymn is and they have to demonstrate the results of their research both of ideas about the god or goddess and about the nature of the Homeric Hymn in the Hymn that they write. Appropriate footnotes have to be included”. (University of Sydney, Australia).
This article was first published in a series of posts presenting 10 simple ways you can adjust your units, or parts of your units, to develop students’ research skills and competencies, which you can adapt to suit your particular context. You can read the original post from Professor Angela Brew here. Or, if you want to read more about what research undergraduates are doing, read Angela Brew’s recent article in Campus Morning Mail.