Case Studies of Research Based Curricula in College Based Higher Education (cbhe) Mick Healey

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The Information Systems Development Major of the Bachelor of Applied Information Systems Technology (BAIST) degree program allows for students to interact and work with industry partners in the creation of a solution for a partner’s needs. Students undertake two four month full time paid work experience. The work integrated learning internships make up the entire 4th year of the BAIST degree program. Students combine their technical and managerial skills to develop a scalable enterprise system for a real client. Some students have the option to engage in research work in integrating large system components into a complex organization. They are expected to contribute fully to solving the companies’ problems using IT. We also require students to complete research paper(s) for grading. Along with demonstrations and presentations to stakeholders combined with what the student has learned over the program, this course prepares the students to easily blend into a corporation's context.

Sources: Correspondence with Michelle Ivanochko (;;;;;;

4.9 Inquiry-based learning in the Digital Media & IT (DMIT) program at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) Edmonton, Canada

Inquiry-based learning is an integral component of the Digital Media & IT gaming, programming and business analyst courses. In our advanced 4th semester gaming courses, students working in groups are using a brain computer interface device to explore concepts such as how will this tool change the world of gaming, how we can implement it in current games, what other fields could utilize the tool and building a game using the X-Box platform to show proof of concept. As a class, our business analyst students are working with a zoo to explore building apps for apes, more specifically what games would an ape play, why would they want to interact with the game and if successful could they suffer from gaming addiction as some human do. Working on this project, our students not only research primate cognition, but also how primates relate to humans in their interactions and decisions. In both cases the benefits of using inquiry-based learning was substantial. Other students in the program, as part of a partnership NAIT has with the Alberta Health Services’ Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, have investigated how iPad technology can support disabled patient rehabilitation.

Sources: Correspondence with Michelle Ivanochko (;; 
4.10 An experiment with client defined applied research in a two-year engineering technology program at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) Edmonton, Canada

The two year Electronics Engineering Technology diploma program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) has traditionally included a fourth semester project course. Every student taking this course would identify a project that required them to design, build and demonstrate a microcontroller based product that incorporated several of the major themes taught in the two-year program. Our industry advisory board has been asking for greater development of real-world team work skills in our graduates so they can be effective at applying their technical abilities sooner. Rather than work in isolation on self-defined projects that may or may not have relevance to industry, we wanted to engage students in teams working on client-defined projects that were clearly relevant to industry.

An opportunity arose in 2012 to collaborate with University of Alberta researchers developing a cryogenic bio sample retrieval system. A mechanical gantry robot had been fabricated at the University. We were asked if our students could work on the control system for the robot. We offered the project to our fourth semester students. Volunteers were interviewed by the University researcher and by NAIT faculty. A team of four students was formed along with a NAIT supervisor and a University liaison. The team met with researchers at the University and a challenging but achievable scope of work was defined with deliverables at the end of the semester. The experience of working on a client-driven problem with all of the messy non-text book problems encountered in a real world setting provided excellent skill development for the team. Our student team delivered a solution within the scope of work and the client was very pleased. Based on the pedagogical success of this experiment, we are looking for more opportunities to have our students collaborate with industrial clients.

Sources: Correspondence with Michelle Ivanochko (;
4.11 Undergraduate research experiences for Chemical Technology students at Ivy Tech Community College, Indiana, USA

Ivy Tech Lafayette is a two year college enabling entry to one of Indiana’s four year universities. Chemical Technology is a unique science program in that the Associate of Science is a terminal degree (ie there are no Bachelor, Masters programs in Chemical Technology). Most students prepare for direct entry into the workforce, with some choosing to transfer to four-year institutions. The Chemical Technology curriculum has been designed to maximize the practical experience of students by embedding a long term research project within several of its courses. The project commences in the spring of freshman year when students complete a data-mining assignment on the biosorption of heavy metals from waste water in CHMT 102 (Scientific Computing and Data Analysis). The following fall, those students will then take CHMT 210 (Quantitative Analysis) and CHMT 201 (Spectroscopic Methods) where they will perform one experiment in sample preparation, and one where samples are screened for biosorptive activity. In their last semester, the students enroll in CHMT 204 (Scientific Presenting) where they engage in guided inquiry-based experiments that follow-up the results of their preliminary screening studies from previous studies. In completing this course, students are required to give regular research updates, write progress reports, and create a research poster. All students are required to present their research at an Undergraduate Research Symposium on campus. Some students have elected to present this research at national and regional meeting of the American Chemical Society. As the project evolves, there are plans to incorporate it into other courses.

Sources: Correspondence with Douglas J. Schauer (;;
4.12 Students undertaking Diploma in Engineering analyse mechanical or electrical engineering design problems and identify possible solutions in final project at Bay of Plenty Polytechnic, New Zealand

Undergraduate students completing the second year of a polytechnic Diploma are required to undertake a semester-long research project as a culmination of their learning. Once the topic is agreed, students research existing solutions, create and trial variants or innovations, then record, assess and refine their processes. Bay of Plenty Polytechnic has strong connections with local industry and national bodies; wherever possible, the projects are guided by jointly developed proposals which address real-world workplace issues. Students are involved in every aspect of the project development and negotiate project parameters, scope, timeframe, resourcing and intended outcomes with both the industry sponsor, and the program teachers. They are required to follow good engineering practice and apply rigor to all phases of the research, according to both industry and academic standards. Reporting occurs at agreed intervals, and includes class presentations and a final, comprehensive written document with complete calculations, technical drawings, photographs, schematics, and graphed results – data included is dependent on the topic investigated. Assessment is again a collaboration between the sponsor organisation and teaching staff. Examples of projects are:

  • An investigation into heat treatments of laser sintered titanium products to create a more elastic, impact resistant product

  • Determining the viability of a wood stove flue heat-exchange system for domestic hot water and/or radiator hydronic systems

As well as research and practical skills, students learn about project management and liaison between stakeholders, and enhance their verbal and written communication skills. For some, the introduction to an industry organisation has led to employment and on-going opportunities.

Sources: Correspondence with Uli Fuerst ( and Mark Hendry (;
4.13 Partnering with local small businesses gives students the opportunity to do laboratory research and work with entrepreneurs at Harold Washington College, Chicago, USA

Through a National Science Foundation grant, students from Harold Washington College, an urban community college in downtown Chicago, IL, are working with a local start-up company, Thermal Conservation Technologies, Inc., to develop and test new products for the vacuum insulation panel market. Currently, two students work full-time during the summer and part-time during the academic year in TCT’s laboratories. The students are co-mentored by a community college science faculty member and the company president. Because the collaboration integrates both academic and commercial aspects, students learn to do fundamental research and transition it into applied engineering aimed at product development. They have also gained an understanding of how scientific research leads to new products and innovations, and how markets drive the need for new research and development from the scientific community. Students present their work in both academic and technical settings, which builds their communication skills. These presentations also showcase how supporting STEM education supports the development of new products for the marketplace and creation of new jobs in the community.

Sources: Correspondence with Thomas Higgins (;;

  1. Interdisciplinary

5.1 Enhancing employability via community challenge research at Blackburn College, UK

The project used the context of employability to introduce an enhanced form of independent learning. Small interdisciplinary teams of tutors and students worked collaboratively to produce work that could benefit their local community. The teaching positions of ‘edupunk’ and ‘anarchogogy’ were put forward to stimulate levels of creativity and innovation. To support these reflections the students were introduced to OERs (open educational resources) and OEP (open educational practices) through a blended learning programme of lectures and seminars.

Community Challenge was designed to give the students the chance to develop some of the more elusive employability attributes frequently mentioned by employers such as “ability to demonstrate an innovative approach, creativity, collaboration and risk taking” (Pegg et al., 2012, 19). The teaching methods facilitated independence by placing the students at the centre of the project with responsibilities for directing the learning and establishing the areas of inquiry. The ‘student as producer’ approach focused the project on social issues and guided participants towards generative learning relationships with their communities.
The focus on employability created a professional learning environment that included two business ‘away days’ at a local conference centre and a programme of webinars and screen recordings. The emphasis on independence caused some confusion and it was challenging keeping the students on track, but the work produced demonstrated high levels of originality and creative thought. Some of the students’ work included poetry, videos, photography and a social enterprise that won the award for 'Student Entrepreneur of the Year' for 2012.
The project was open to all students at UCBC who were taking either foundation or bachelor degrees and in some cases their work was submitted as summative assessment for their course of study. In these cases the students were provided with an alternative assessment question that had been through UCBC’s standard quality assurance process. The open nature of the project meant that other students engaged in order to acquire formative assessment of some of their work for dissertation or research methods.

Source: Correspondence with Philip Johnson (;
5.2 Theme-based Interdisciplinary research at Harold Washington College, Chicago, USA

Harold Washington College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago piloted an interdisciplinary undergraduate research project during the spring and summer semesters of 2013. City Colleges offer a wide range of access programmes including academic programs enabling transfer to four year colleges.

The focus of the research was the Chicago Waterways. Faculty members in Art, Biology, Chemistry, English, Library Science and Physical Sciences (Geology) and the Vice President of Academic Affairs worked with 17 community college students. Each faculty member worked with 2-3 students to do independent research about the Chicago Waterways. These students were either in their second or third semester and were nominated by the seven faculty members who participated. There were not specific criteria for selection (grade point average, semesters competed, etc.). The main criteria were students who showed passion for the subject matter and interest in participating.
Seventeen Harold Washington College students conducted research related to art, biology, chemistry, English and more for the Chicago Waterways Research Project. This interdisciplinary research learning community spent two semesters researching and learning about the Chicago River together. The students were guided in their research projects by faculty members in a variety of disciplines and learned how to conduct research in those different academic areas. This two-semester project culminated with a poster session where each student presented their final reports to faculty, staff and the college community.
In addition to doing the independent research with their faculty members, the entire group of students, faculty, and administrator met weekly in a variety of learning opportunities. Each of the faculty members presented a lecture and research based on their past experience and expertise. Several guest lecturers from other City Colleges and area research universities were invited to present as well. The group also received lectures from area non-profit organizations including The Friends of Chicago River and together visited linked museums and organisations,
This pilot project has demonstrated that having an interdisciplinary, thematic approach coupled with structure weekly meetings, provided an engaging way for students to learn from a variety of discipline-specific perspectives, in an efficient and scalable way. The model is scalable because it leverages the experience of each faculty member to be used for the entire group and the weekly meetings are organized for all for all of the students so that each faculty member is only responsible for one session per term. This provides more time for the faculty member to mentor the student on the independent research projects. The administrator handles all logistical issues, created an email listserv for easy communication, and also updates the Web site. Based on the success of this pilot, plans are underway to institutionalize undergraduate research at The City Colleges of Chicago. The faculty and administrator on the project have reached out to faculty leadership across the District and will present their model at the District Faculty Development Week in August. In addition to the thematic learning community undergraduate model, Faculty will develop a standalone undergraduate research course that can be coupled with other general education courses to integrate research in other courses as well.

Sources: Correspondence with Margaret Martyn (;;;
5.3 Developing research led ability to discuss concepts in the training, welfare and husbandry of horses at Hadlow College, Tonbridge, Kent, UK

This activity formed the major part of a year two module at Hadlow College. The students were a FdSc/BSc group who were co-taught in a module called ‘Stresses in the Sports Horse’ and the activity followed the development of journal reading, evaluation and a developing understanding of critical thinking skills in related modules. It allowed students to develop their ability to discuss and debate topics which may have been outside of their respective experience and experiences so that they could present a cogent argument, listen to others and develop points raised in preparation for careers in the equine industry where they may need to challenge long held beliefs, practices and traditions in favour of the use of new scientific understanding.

The module was organised so that each week was a discussion led activity. The students were provided with a statement at the end of one week and asked to research it using peer reviewed information and then come back and discuss it the following week. An example of a weekly topic would be: “Horses that are stable kept develop vices and behavioural problems over and above those that are paddock kept”. The summative assessment topic was “…. never before have there been so many riders, such good quality riding horses, such fantastic organisation and capital available for funding in the equestrian sports as there are today. If we could only manage to train and test all horses according to old, time-proven and animal-friendly principals, our sport will become the most beautiful of all” (Heuschmann 2009, 125). This allowed for many of the module outcomes to be addressed.

The whole group were divided into ‘virtuous circles’ for this activity where 5-6 would be seated in a circle of chairs and 2-3 would then be standing outside the circle. Only those inside the circle could contribute to the discussion and if those outside the circle wanted to contribute they had to tap another student ‘out’ and take their place to make their point. This allowed students who were more reflective to not feel unduly ‘forced’ into discussion, those who were more verbal would tap more often (a limit was sometimes imposed so they had to really choose the right moment to use a ‘tap’). The final assessment was also based on this activity alongside a written reflection of their part in the discussion. Both elements were assessed and guidance was given on how to reflect actively using the Ghaye model (2010). This module scored the highest for student satisfaction (94% - 81% last year) and the overall mark was also increased from a mean last year of 62% to 66% this year.

Sources: Correspondence with Stuart Atwood (;

6 Institutional
6.1 HE student research conference at Newcastle College, UK

Newcastle College is committed to valuing and celebrating student scholarship. The institution recognises that a large proportion of our students enrol pre-equipped with a high level of knowledge derived from experience in employment. The vocational nature of our HE provision ensures that students produce final projects and dissertations which have the potential to inform or enhance industry practice.


Discussions with students indicated that they often perceived their research to be of minimal interest to a wider audience and, in a few instances, failed to recognise the value of research skills for their future progression plans. Newcastle College has therefore established a dedicated HE Student Conference, which will showcase and celebrate undergraduate years 2 and 3 (levels 6 and 7) student research from across the institution. The event has been organised as a collaborative endeavour by staff from the HE Directorate and a student organising panel representing a range of disciplines. Student representation ensured that the event has been shaped to meet their expectations. Placement students enrolled on our FdA Events Management programme were also involved in assisting with planning for the event.


The HE Student Conference in 2013 was held shortly before the Graduation Ceremonies. The event featured academic papers, performances and poster presentations. Particular highlights included the launch of the business student-led Seven Bridges Management Journal (see Case study 2.3) and a presentation by two students who were recently awarded a £25,000 start-up loan to fund their theatre company. Pre-HE Level 3 students were invited to attend in order to enhance their understanding of the College’s HE offer. Some of their FE students who hope to progress to HE were involved in photographing and filming the event to gain further experience of professional practice. It is hoped that the HE Student Conference will become an annual event.

Sources: Jonathan Eaton;

6.2 Librarians support development of research skills with foundation degree students at University of Sunderland, UK

University library staff collaborated with a college lecturer on a pilot project at Bishop Auckland College, a franchise college, to develop two online workshops with foundation degree students taking courses in Education & Health and Health & Social Care. The students study part-time and are working in vocational settings which link closely with the course content and objectives. As such, they have practical experience in solving complex problems. The workshops were designed to draw upon this experience and help to forge the link between work and study.

Using Vyew, the online collaborative web conferencing tool (, online rooms were created to embed problem based activities which would align with the curriculum. The features of Vyew encourage active learning and participation by providing an interactive whiteboard, editing tools, instant chat and virtual sticky notes which can be used to provide instant feedback. The rooms remained available following the live session for reference and to promote further learning.
The first workshop focused on in-depth exploration of research topics and finding relevant information sources. Three activities were designed, the first of which used a mind-mapping tool to help identify keywords and themes in chosen topics. The second activity involved the identification of appropriate tools to find sources and then searching for literature in four key areas of theory, professional practice, academic research and legislation/policy.
The focus of the second workshop was on how the information sources could be effectively used in assignments. Three further activities were designed; the first applying a range of critical questions to one of the sources; the second, an exercise in defining plagiarism, leading to the third activity on paraphrasing and summarising. Groups were given an extract from an article and asked to highlight key points, then write a brief summary in their own words.
Evaluation of the project is ongoing but initial feedback has led to adoption of the workshops for the 2013/14 academic year by all partnership FE colleges who run one of the two programmes.

Source: Stevenson and Young (2013)

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