Flying high: active learning helps to craft research proposals

As a researcher developer working with new M.Res and Ph.D students I know there is often a sense of struggle for students when faced with crafting a coherent research proposal. At Masaryk University, Ivana Rapošová’s approach detailed in a recent book chapter helps students to create their own research proposal as a ‘flying carpet’ designed to “carry students safely through their entire research project”.

Acknowledging that active learning approaches have not traditionally been used when supporting students with research proposals in Sociology, Rapošová and colleagues took an opportunity to revise a course open to both undergraduate and graduate students. They introduced more opportunity for interaction, peer discussion and creativity while underpinning this with learning opportunities regarding the structure and writing styles common to research proposals.

These interventions were assessed through both quantitative and qualitative approaches with the aim of capturing both student and staff perspectives. Rapošová wanted to identify if this approach led to student engagement and the development of high quality research proposals. Student feedback indicated positive engagement with the process, with students valuing interactions with the lecturing staff and their peers. The need to be flexible and responsive to individual needs emerged from the staff’s observations and reflection-in-action during the active learning sessions. An assessment of submitted research proposals suggested the course had led to the creation of high quality research proposals, with students applying their learning from the course.

Students however still struggled with developing a coherent thread to their research proposals. Rapošová suggests a greater emphasis on supporting students with a synthesis of the respective parts of a research proposal, and has introduced peer feedback on coherency in subsequent iterations. Developing these skills of synthesis and integration of complex ideas during the proposal stage should support students when later faced with articulating their own ideas and findings when writing their dissertation or thesis.

This weaving of skill development through different active learning approaches provides academics a ‘flying carpet’ of their own, to help transport students across threshold concepts. Although this project was situated in a taught programme, I can also see how this approach could be used with students transitioning to a research degree, helping them too, to get off to a flying start with their research.

Dr. Gráinne Barkess
Leader of Researcher Development
Edinburgh Napier University


Early Career Academics’ Reflection on Learning to Teach in Central Europe

SEDA is publishing an open access book online, with a chapter released on its website every fortnight.  Each time a chapter is released it will be accompanied by a blog post published on SEDA WordPress. The book is called Early Career Academics’ Reflections on Learning to Teach in Central Europe, edited by Gabriela Pleschová and Agnes Simon. This book contains case studies by participants of a new educational development programme who redesigned their course sessions to apply student-centred approaches, using innovative teaching methods and stimulate good learning.

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