Research-Based Learning

What?: What is Research-Based Learning?

A number of terms have been used to describe a practice of teaching that encourages students to actively engage with research. Amongst them are ‘inquiry-based learning’, ‘research-oriented learning’, and ‘research-as-learning’. They are often used synonymously for ‘research-based learning’ (RBL). Problem-based learning (PBL) takes a similar approach and is discussed separately in this toolkit.

According to Healey (2005) research-based learning is one form of learning in the research-teaching nexus in which students are actively involved in the research process.

Research-based learning involves students either learning through research (e.g. by dealing with primary literature) or by doing research themselves.

Healey (2005) suggests a coarse distinction along two dimensions - the amount of student-involvement and the emphasis on content vs. process of research:

Image: Curriculum Design and the Research-Teaching Nexus, re-created from information in Healy (2005).


The classification scheme provides an initial orientation regarding the involvement of students in research. Note, that ‘research-based learning’ here means an active involvement of students in a large part of the research process in the sense that students learn as researchers. Other forms of teaching in the research-teaching nexus may precede and supplement research-based learning.


Video Introduction to RBL

In this video, CREATES contributor Dr. Simon Büchner of University College Freiburg gives a short introduction to RBL as a co-creative teaching and learning approach.



Why?: Why do Research-Based Learning?

Research-based learning is a form of active, student-centered learning. Since active involvement in skill and knowledge acquisition leads to deeper understanding of content and better memorization compared to passive forms of learning, RBL is beneficial for the achievement of long-lasting learning goals (e.g. Michael, 2006). The more actively students are involved in the research (the higher up one moves along the vertical axis in Healey’s scheme) the more it becomes a co-creative practice between students and instructor.

In addition, an important aspect in both, research and teaching is discovery, the relationship between knowledge, knower and come-to know. Researchers are bound to discover something nobody else had found before them; students in an RBL class are bound to discover something that may have been found before, but is new to them. Students develop a special kind of ownership of this self-discovered knowledge in contrast to passively received information. Due to this special kind of ownership the knowledge is more precious to them and they tend to keep it longer.

And most students appreciate education in a research-based way. Jenkins (2004), for example, concludes that “there is clear evidence from a range of studies in different types of institutions of students valuing learning in a research-based environment.”

Which learning objectives or competences does it support?

According to Willison (2010) the following skills can be practiced by students being actively involved in research-based learning:

  • embark on inquiry and determine a need for knowledge and understanding
  • find and generate needed information/data/knowledge using appropriate methods
  • critically evaluate information/data/knowledge and the process of finding and generating them
  • organize the information/data/knowledge that was collected and generated and manage research processes
  • synthesise, analyse, and apply new knowledge
  • communicate knowledge and the processes used to generate it, with an awareness of ethical, social and cultural issues

Phrased differently, the learning goals that students can achieve with RBL are:

  • selecting, summarizing, and integrating previous research
  • working on a research topic independently under supervision
  • choosing an appropriate way of tackling a research problem
  • thinking analytically
  • reflecting and critically assessing one’s own work
  • communicating results effectively

Types of Courses

Different elements of research can be introduced in introductory courses early on in undergraduate education. In practice, this is often done in research-led, research-oriented, and research-tutored forms of learning. In principle it is also possible to throw in the students at the deep end and let them do small research projects in the first year as the author has experienced in his own undergraduate education. However, if you design a research-based course for the first time it is easier to work with students who have already encountered elements of research in other classes and are more advanced. In many institutions research-based classes are taught towards the end of the program when students prepare a thesis or final project.

Different Fields

Since research takes different forms in different disciplines, ranging from, for example, discourse analysis in the social sciences to experimental work in the natural sciences, the research-teaching nexus also comes in different shapes and it is difficult to describe research-based learning as such. However, the above-mentioned learning goals and the practicing of skills can be realized in any field. Any research project (at least any that is not explorative) involves at least a research question, a way of answering it, and a conclusion that is to be drawn.

How?: How should one implement Research-Based Learning?

If you consider teaching a class in a research-based format, the first step is to identify students’ needs and assess their existing knowledge about the research process in general and in the particular field or subfield. Based on this you can decide what students should focus on and what skills you want them to acquire and practice most. The Researcher Skill Development Framework (Willison, 2008) provides a categorization scheme that juxtaposes skills to be practiced (on the vertical axis) and the amount of instructor support provided (on the horizontal axis).

Image: Researcher Skill Development Framework (PDF) by Willison & O'Regan. Licensed under Creative Commons 3.0.

One of the assets of research-based teaching is, that you can vary the amount of structure you provide to the students, ranging from prescribed research (basically let students carry out instructions) to self-initiated and self-directed research.

For teaching students how to do research it is helpful to scale it down to three central questions:

  • What do we want to know? (research question)
  • How should we find out? (method or approach)
  • What conclusion can we draw from what we found? (conclusion)

The easiest way to start is providing students with both a question and a way of answering it and let students discuss what conclusion can or cannot be drawn from what they found. This can, for example, be implemented as an exercise in analytical thinking and conclusive reasoning.

If students are a bit more advanced, it is possible to let them develop the research question by themselves and provide a method or vice versa. Even more advanced students, such as those preparing for their final project or thesis, can be asked to carry out a full project including the development of a research question, the selection of a method and the interpretation of their results.



Ways of Knowing

Undergraduate students, 1st semester, Research methods, Learning communities, Leuphana University in Lüneburg

Ways of Knowing is the core methods course in the Studium Individuale, our individualized, liberal education degree, taken in the first semester of study. It responds to the diversity and interdisciplinarity of an individualized degree by covering a breadth of methods using the focal point of an object to investigate throughout the semester. Students work in groups as learning communities supporting each other and covering more ground than they could working individually.

Each student takes a turn applying a different methods to the group's particular object of inquiry. They observe, explore and reveal this object by putting it through a sequence of illuminating actions (e.g. observing, counting, interviewing, interpreting, comparing, etc.), then describe and share their findings to the group. So, if the object was a "bicycle," the student adopting the method of 'counting' may compare the the number of commuters who cycle to work in different cities across Germany. A student in the same group who chose 'interviewing' may design an interview instrument to discern bicycle commuters knowledge of cycling routes in their city, and test the instrument on a few respondents.

This course design shows the strengths and weaknesses of different methods and allows for personal experimentation in a low stakes environment. The idea is that students will find the methods that are interesting and useful to them based on the theme/question of their individualized concentration. They can then pursue methods courses in disciplines or other faculties with a bit of knowledge and experience about them.

It requires a medium (to high) level of student involvement in application of various methods in their first semester. It also requires instructors and perhaps student tutors to work very closely with students in their groups.

Sensation and Perception

Undergraduate students, 2nd and 3rd year, supervisor instigated research, University College Freiburg 

In this introductory class on the psychology of perception, students plan, conduct and analyze the data of an experimental study on sensory perception (or a related field) and present the study including results in a final report. They follow the procedure of an experiment that has been carried out and published before, but they collect their own data and analyze it with respect to a previously developed research question. Different “online labs” provide the means to carry out the study. The goal of the assignment is to get practical experience in planning, conducting, analyzing, interpreting, and presenting a primary research project. In the Researcher Skill Development Framework presented above, the students in this class carry out “supervisor instigated” research (Levels 1-3).

In research on perception and attention there are a number of well-established effects that are easy to replicate for students. All they need is a laptop with internet access, a volunteer to participate in the study, and a quiet place in which they can let the participant do the tasks of the study. Two websites that proved to be useful and easy to use for the students are and Students run the program that provides the tasks in their browser. The software automatically records the data which students later can download and analyze.

The form of assessment can be a research report in which the students provide an introduction presenting literature relevant to their study including the study they replicate. They describe the method and procedure they employ, present the results of their data analysis, provide a section on their conclusion, and, ideally, a part in which they reflect on the process and possible shortcomings of their work. Replicating a study professional researchers did before is particularly useful for students who do a research project for the first time since the research question and the approach are already available and justified and they can focus on the process of data collection and analysis as well as the presentation of their results.

Course Material

Sample RBL Sensation and Perception Instructions

Sample Student Report

Research Methods 1, Research Methods 2, and Research Project

Undergraduate students, 1st year, University College Maastricht

While technically three separate courses (due to the context of the programme), these modules are organized as a single structure. This is possible because students are required to take these courses after one another at a set time within their curriculum (second semester of their first year). The courses are taught year-round. In the Fall Semester, there are around 40 students (3-4 sections) who take the course, and in the Spring Semester there are around 230 students (19-20 sections). The main goal for these introductory courses is to prepare students for future courses in which (empirical) research will be of any relevance. This means that while students are offered some practical skills and knowledge about how to conduct research, a lot of emphasis is also placed on understanding research logics outside of their own discipline and on being able to read, understand, and critique research outcomes from a variety of fields.

Students come into these courses from a highly diverse set of educational and national backgrounds. Some students are already quite well-versed in statistics, others will have done some in-depth qualitative interviewing, others still will already be familiar with ontology and epistemology, or with none of the above. This means that in addition to learning about research approaches, acquiring concrete research skills, and learning to think interdisciplinary, this course also needs to level the playing field between students without alienating those who have a head start on some of the topics.

This is a challenge which has been addressed by giving students a lot of autonomy over their learning, providing space for going beyond the course materials, working with a mix between in-class exercises and Problem-Based Learning within an RBL context, and having students work on topics of their own choosing and in diverse teams. The course starts with a general foundation on different research methodologies (quantitative, qualitative, mixed, and some others such as network analysis and visual methods), research philosophy, interdisciplinary thinking, and basic statistics in Research Methods 1. In other words, getting the basics right. Research Methods 2 then follows by providing a toolbox for students to draw from within the course and afterwards. This entails such things as qualitative interview training, using software to do statistical analyses, and doing a coding / media analysis. During the second part of the course, specialized workshops are also organized for further development of the students (see section below). Research Project, finally, is fully open for the students to conduct their own independent empirical research project as they see fit, using the tools and insights they have learned in the first two installments. This logic is represented in the figure below:

Structure of UCM's Research Methods courses.

Parallel to the foundation > toolbox > application approach described above, the courses also take students through the development of their own research interests, research design, and execution, from start to finish. To get students on board with this, exercises and examples are explicitly aimed at triggering students’ curiosity to see the world around them as filled with potential research questions. The first tutorial, for instance, instead of doing an introduction round between participants, jumps into having students do in-depth interviews with each other, designing and conducting a very short survey amongst the tutorial members, and coding and analyzing their social networks using graph theory. Similarly, all assessments in the course, except for one regular exam at the end of Research Methods 1, are aimed at students finding a topic they are passionate about, figuring out what may be puzzling about that, what are interesting questions to ask, and what are ways of systematically answering those questions.

Research Methods 1 has students developing a research question in great detail. Research Methods 2 has them developing these questions in more fully-fledged project pitches that they present during a poster session in the middle of the period. At that (rather hectic, but fun) poster session all 200+ students bring their printed poster and put it up on a wall or display case in rooms or areas that I have thematically grouped (e.g. ‘psychology’, ‘natural science’, ‘sociology’, ‘student life’, etc.). Students then walk around and find other research ideas that they would be interested in. At the end of the session, they have to have formed teams of around 3 students (drafting across all of the tutorial groups in the course), which they register through an online form. In those teams of 3 students, they will then develop those ideas into a polished research proposal that they submit to their tutor and myself by the end of Research Methods 2. Proposed projects can be about any topic they find interesting, using any methodological approach they wish to use. When necessary, the students or myself find additional expertise, resources, and facilities (such as labs) outside of the course. Shortly after making those teams and deciding on their topic and approach, specialized workshops are organized that are taught by experts in the field and are open also to students outside of the courses (see the section below).

Research Project, finally, is completely aimed at executing those proposals. The tutorial groups are organized around the research teams they formed and grouped into similar themes and/or methodological approaches. Whenever possible, tutor’s expertise is aligned with those themes and techniques. From day one, the student teams start executing their research project. Throughout project period, they receive peer-support in their tutorial meetings and there are additional sessions organized by myself for assistance with more practical things such as statistics helpdesks, qualitative coding support, and (online) survey design. Project period ends with a conference, where all teams present their research designs and findings. What is perhaps most interesting about Research Project (aside from the outrageous research topics students sometimes come up with), is that many teams end up going beyond what they were taught in Research Methods 1 and 2. They understood the logics for doing research, and have taken this emphasis on why rather than just how to more specific, more advanced, or more exotic methods and techniques that they felt matched best with their particular project. In terms of assessment, what matters is not the relevance of their empirical findings, but how they designed and managed their project. This creates a safe environment within which students can take some risk and make mistakes. This openness to the possibility of failure is imperative in simulating the research process and an important educational component.

Methods Lab

Programme level, students and staff, University College Maastricht

UCM has recently launched the Methods Lab (, which is meant to grow as a center for students and staff to develop their research designs and empirical skills outside and across the various RBL and non-RBL courses we offer. At the moment, the Methods Lab offers five main ways of support:

  1. Helpdesk for students in any course for individual help and advice on their research projects, provided by experts on specific methodological approaches.
  2. Specific tailored support for certain RBL courses, such as Capstone (the UCM thesis), MaRBLe (UCM’s academic research internships programme), ARI (UCM’s applied research internships programme), and the Research Methods courses (see above).
  3. Systematical review of UCM’s curriculum and advice on structuring research skills in the programme.
  4. Workshops organized in periods two and five, which are taught by internal and external experts on specific methodological techniques and approaches. These are partly mandatory for the Research Methods classes, and in this way integrated into the educational programme. They are also open to any and all students and staff who wish to expand their skills.
  5. Advice on applied research done on UCM’s own data, such as evaluations of the semester abroad programme.

Generally, the idea for the Methods Lab is to create a central point where students and (academic and support) staff can go for advice on research methods and techniques, as well as assistance in setting up the details in their research projects. To this end, there are helpdesks, resource materials, seminars, Capstone assistance, workshops, and invited guest speakers. In addition, it serves as a place where the coherence between the different RBL courses can be discussed and improved. Beyond the explicitly RBL courses, we examine the entire UCM curriculum to identify where (specific) research methods are discussed, to what level of detail, and how that connects to other components in the program. For all of these methods and techniques, reference materials are gathered, and events organized, such as specialized workshops.

Beyond these activities, the Methods Lab works towards a stronger research presence within the UCM curriculum, making this more transparent to students and staff. This may in the future take the form of sharing clients between ARI, ThinkTank, and MaRBLe, or setting up unified data gathering projects between Research Methods, MaRBLe, and Capstone. It could also mean stimulating course coordinators to more explicitly discuss and practice the research methodologies in their respective fields and connecting those activities to the materials and events offered by the Methods Centre.

To give an idea of the topics that have so far been discussed in more detail by the Methods Lab, here is a list of the most recent workshops that were organized in the past year:

  • Archival Research
  • Breaching Experiments
  • Data Analysis on R: Data Preparation, Statistical Testing and Visualization on the Software R
  • Design Thinking
  • Ethnography: Hands-On Participant-Observation
  • Experimental Design
  • Focus Groups
  • Intermediate Statistics in SPSS
  • Interviewing 101: Examples from a Real-life Qualitative Research Project
  • Introduction to Survey Experiments for Sensitive Topics
  • STIR – Socio-Technical Integration Research
  • Survey Design
  • Thinking with Materials and Objects
  • Visual Methods: Documentary Film Making


Undergraduate students, 3rd semester or higher, honours programme, University College Maastricht

MaRBLe is a university-wide undergraduate research-based learning program and it stands for Maastricht Research Based Learning project. The way this programme is implemented varies by faculty and department, and UCM has a long experience with this type of course through its predecessor under a different name (‘PEERS’). MaRBLe students at UCM can participate in all MaRBLe activities that are happening university wide, such as conferences and research funding. At its core, MaRBLe at UCM offers a wide range of on-going research projects at the wider Maastricht University that students can apply to become part of for a semester or longer. The aim is that students then become an integral and genuine team member to this research project. Topic span the entire range of the UCM curriculum, from Humanities to Social Science and Science. In some cases, students may also suggest their own original research idea if they find a collaborator / supervisor for their project.

While Research Based Learning (RBL) is not by definition limited to any particular level of education, MaRBLe focuses on the undergraduate level of higher education. As such, it combines two fundamental ideas about learning and research. First, that a research-based approach enhances the learning experience, and second, that research has no inherent characteristic that should confine it to the graduate level only. MaRBLe consists of undergraduate research projects exploring new ways of research based learning. The overall objective of the undergraduate research projects offered at UCM is to prepare students for graduate research by introducing them to relevant knowledge and educating them in relevant skills and experiences. The projects will emphasize the ability to, individually and in collaboration with others, identify and formulate academic problems, and to select and apply relevant research methodology accordingly. In addition to developing skills and knowledge proper, MaRBLe also aims at reinforcing the awareness of how academic work relates to society: how it may respond to trends and issues in society, and how it may initiate new ideas.

Undergraduate research and other modules offered at UCM will mutually affect each other: research topics may evolve out of other courses or projects, just as new topics for such projects may emerge from the undergraduate research projects; undergraduate researchers may become experts to be consulted by ThinkTank or Conference groups (two other RBL courses at UCM). In the MaRBLe program, individual students or small groups of students conduct research under the guidance of a senior researcher employed at Maastricht University. During the project, specific skills will be explained and elaborated on by the MaRBLe supervisor at the appropriate time, such as problem analysis, proposal writing, data collection and analysis, and reporting and presenting results. The MaRBLe undergraduate research projects are designed as one-semester projects, carrying 10 ECTS. As a guideline, MaRBLe students are expected to spend 10 hours per week on average on their project. Students who are interested and who qualify may be allowed to extend their undergraduate research career, by following more than one semester of undergraduate research. MaRBLe students and supervisors have a shared responsibility to make their MaRBLe project a success.

MaRBLe at UCM caters to a very wide range of academic research fields, and needs to accommodate how research is typically conducted in the humanities, the natural sciences, and anything in between. The main objective with any approach, however, is that students authentically become part of the research project or broader research agenda that is being pursued by the supervisor and his/her team (if applicable). Ideally, students genuinely offer a contribution to on-going research, while simultaneously going through a learning experience. For that reason, it assumes that students are contributing in the context of empirical research, where ‘empirical’ can be understood quite broadly depending on the research field. Their contribution should be to original and innovative research. This does not (necessarily) mean that students themselves are tasked with original scientific breakthroughs, but rather that the over-arching project or research agenda they are contributing to is original and innovative.

The course acknowledges that there are many different phases to conducting research, or to developing a research agenda. Each of those phases can offer valuable learning experiences for the students in this course, but they often may need to be assessed differently. In order to facilitate this, we use the framework as outlined below.

As a framework for student research contributions, MaRBLe at UCM distinguishes between five general components in a research project, as shown in the figure below. Each phase is described in a little more detail after that.

Research Phases within UCM MaRBLe.

  1. Generating Questions is often a first and important step in conducting original research, and one that tends to be overlooked in more formal discussions on conducting research. Within UCM MaRBLe, participating in this part of developing research projects is considered a valuable experience for students, and one that they do not get to see very often when reading publications. In practice, and depending on the discipline, this step may involve exploratory empirical research, an extensive literature review, and/or brainstorm sessions within a research team.
  2. Developing Methodology can entail making methodological choices within pre-existing approaches in the field, and/or developing a new approach to fit the topic at hand. In either case, if the project requires thorough and rigorous development and documentation of these choices, then this may be a very valuable experience for students to participate in. Understanding why certain approaches are chosen over others, and defending such choices is often a good learning experience that they cannot always get in other courses.
  3. Gathering Data can entail many different types of activities, such as lab work or experiments in the natural sciences, in-depth interviewing and transcribing, observations, or survey interviews in the social sciences, or archival work in the humanities (and much, much more). This is a crucial component of empirical research, and one where students can often easily offer a helpful resource to the project while gaining a lot of valuable experience.
  4. Analysing Data is a similarly essential step in the process, and can also take many shapes and forms. The intensity of this step for the student will depend on the complexity of the analysis approach and their prior experiences. For any project, though not strictly required, we encourage MaRBLe supervisors to offer a degree of analysis experience to students, even if this is based on tentative data.
  5. Presenting Analyses can take on different degrees of complexity and scope for student contributions in UCM MaRBLe. Some degree of presentation of their work is a given, in that they have to give a final presentation to an audience of their peers at UCM, and produce a poster outlining their plans at the beginning of the semester. These two presentation products are the minimum requirements for students and do not count towards fulfilling this phase fully. Instead, what we mean here is that some projects require or can offer a more extensive research presentation experience to students, such as being involved in writing an article or chapter for submission to a journal or edited volume, preparing a conference poster or presentation, or attending workshops and conferences to present the project.

Based on this framework, students are expected to contribute to at least two of the five phases outlined above. Generally, it would make sense that these would be two consecutive phases, but depending on the project this need not be the case. It is furthermore strongly encouraged that students are involved in as many of these phases of the research as possible, even though some parts may be more emphasized than others. Making it more explicit which components are the most important in the student’s experience makes both selection and assessment more transparent and systematic, so we ask supervisors to outline to the student(s) as well as the MaRBLe coordinators how the student(s) in the project will contribute according to the above simplified schematic.

Below is a sampling of recent projects that were offered in the context of MaRBLe at UCM:

  • The politics of social protection - Who are the undeserving poor?
  • Politics from below: social movements and popular education in the Belgium rustbelt
  • Natural and digital resources - a 'curse' or a 'blessing'?
  • Digital transformation in higher education institutions for sustainable development and circular economy
  • The political economy of sovereign debt crises
  • Neighbourhoods in transition: space, place, gentrification, and social inequality
  • City deal: improving quality of life in Maastricht neighbourhoods
  • Learning from first-generation academics: social inequality and cultural capital at Maastricht University
  • Financial inclusion for sanitation and health in Kenya
  • Immaterial Needs Satisfaction in Work
  • The Neuroscience and Psychology of Health
  • LIP Chat (Chatbot Legal Information Platform)
  • Targeting oncogenic ligand-independent Notch receptor proteolysis with novel GSI's.

Collaborative Research Project

Undergraduate students, 3rd semester or higher, interdisciplinary, scaffolded research, Leuphana University of Lüneburg

This core course of the Studium Individuale is interdisciplinary and requires heavy supervision by a faculty member. It is not an overview of methods, content, or any subject. Students learn to rely on their skills and on seeking out support from others. Scaffolded, regularly revised assignments highlight the cyclical nature of the research process, train students to respond to feedback, and monitor the teams’ progress.

Students work in teams (of 3-6 students, with 4 being the optimal group size) to execute a collaborative research project addressing a question of social significance during the semester. The instructor assists the teams in selecting a suitable topic and in the organization of the research process, but overall the process is led and carried out by the students. The teams work closely with the instructor and/or other experienced researchers, who will help guide and support the research.

The course learning objectives (below) involve both the process of research and the collaborative experience of working in a group to plan and produce a collective output. The goal of the project is to serve the participants’ different academic interests and yet bring together their varying knowledge and skills in a complementary and productive way. While the module does not train students in any particular methods, the instructor or other experienced researchers will advise students on the appropriate and rigorous application of their chosen methods.

“Research” is here understood as the process of responding to a problem of wider relevance by contributing original knowledge to the world. By gaining practical group research experience, students develop many skills – from time management and problem solving, to productive teamwork and the ability to present and justify achievements to a wider audience. With the research project, students take an important step towards making their study experience within the framework of the Studium Individuale more broadly relevant outside the curricular context.

Learning Objectives

Students will experience and participate in each step of the process of designing and executing an original group social research project –from choosing a topic to writing a complete report. More specifically:

  1. Students will develop a specific research question and eventually a corresponding strong thesis statement out of a broader topic of interest.
  2. Students will determine and articulate gaps in existing research through surveying the literature(s) relevant to their topic.
  3. Students will compare the strengths and weaknesses of various methods for answering their particular research question.
  4. Students will select, collect, organize, and analyze original data.
  5. Students will summarize findings and draw generalizations from their data analysis.
  6. Students will collaborate with each other and their instructor (and/or advisor) to efficiently and realistically manage their time and tasks.
  7. Students will reflect on their own experience of the research process.

Group Assignments Portfolio

Short group assignments handed once per month are the central focus of this course throughout the semester. Each assignment asks the group to revise earlier questions and respond to new ones. Earlier on these are preliminary: "Why is this topic interesting?" "Which literatures deal with this topic?" Later in the semester, these ask to describe the process of data collection and analysis, etc. Supervisor feedback is intensive both in written comments, class discussion, and in team/supervisor meetings about once per month.

Assignments 1-3 and part of 4 are submitted as a portfolio that demonstrates the research process along with the final report. As each assignment builds on the one before it, the portfolio will document the revision of the answers to each prompt and will account for 25% of the final mark. All assignments should be written in simple, jargon-free language that a smart sixteen-year-old student could understand. If students must use a specialized term, they must clearly define it. Include the questions/prompts in the assignment.

The group assignments serve as the basis discussions in our class sessions. One or two students from each group act as the discussion ‘lead’ for each session (aside from the very first one). The ‘lead’ prepares by becoming very familiar with the group assignment under discussion that week. They should expect to:

  1. speak informally about the stage of the project (2-3 minutes)
  2. bring up a few key successes, issues, problems, and/or questions. Do not hesitate to discuss where the group may be struggling; sessions are a great time to work out problems.
  3. And feel free to bring visuals or other materials to aid in the group discussion.

Important: Though one (or two) people from the group will be the designated ‘lead(s)’, everyone should participate in the discussion each week and be prepared to speak to their individual contributions to the research thus far.


It’s almost entirely student-instigated, but because it’s collaborative, they do not have the pressure and isolation of working on a bachelor’s thesis, for example. The supervisor can give a lot of attention and feedback to each project because they are working in teams, so they have only 4 or 5 projects to comment on instead of 25 individual student research papers. It's a great way for students to learn about the research process and to demystify it for them. Students end the course feeling prepared to begin their bachelor’s thesis.

Required resources/Potential issues

Teachers need a lot of time to give feedback and supervise each team sufficiently to support them. Giving feedback before each class meeting means a quick turn around, probably of one week or less. Five teams in a class of 25 students means that it can be difficult to find time to meet with each group each month.

The interdisciplinary nature of the course means that students often must make use of other campus resources: methods centers, other professors/teachers, etc., as the teacher cannot be an expert on all the methods that the students may employ or subjects they address.


Sample Collaborative Research Project Syllabus and Instructions

Other Materials

Models of Engaged Teaching and Learning (MELT) at University of Adelaide offers sample materials from many different disciplines and presentations on research skill development.

Special Issue on RBL in Zeitschrift für Hochschulentwicklung [Deutsch]: Bd. 15 Nr. 2 (2020): Forschendes Lernen im Spannungsfeld von Wissenschaftsorientierung und Berufsbezug, Jg. 15 / Nr. 2 (Juni 2020) Harald A. Mieg & Peter Tremp (Hrsg.)


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Healey, M. (2005). Linking research and teaching exploring disciplinary spaces and the role of inquiry-based learning. In R. Barnett (ed.), Reshaping the university: New relationships between research, scholarship and teaching (pp. 67-78). Berkshire: McGraw-Hill

Jenkins, A. (2004). A guide to the research evidence on teaching-research relations. York: Higher Education Academy.

Michael, J. (2006). Where’s the evidence that active learning works?. Advances in Physiology Education, 30(4), 159-167.

Mieg, H. A. (2019). Inquiry-Based Learning–Undergraduate Research. Springer.

Rowland, S. (2005). Intellectual love and the link between teaching and research. In R. Barnett (ed.), Reshaping the university: New relationships between research, scholarship and teaching (pp. 92-102). Berkshire: McGraw-Hill

Willison, J., & O’Regan, K. (2007). Commonly known, commonly not known, totally unknown: a framework for students becoming researchers. Higher Education Research & Development, 26(4), 393-409.

Willison, J. and O’Regan, K. (2008). The Researcher Skill Development Framework. Accessed from

Willison, J. (2010). Development of all students’ research skill becomes a knowledge society. AISHE-J: The All Ireland Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 2(1).