Adapting undergraduate research projects

Undergraduates often find their research projects the most enjoyable and rewarding part of their degree, and with teaching taking place remotely for many students in the current academic year, planning is important to ensure their projects are viable.

Pedagogical guidance

As access to conventional archives, libraries, and laboratories is likely to be unreliable in this academic year you might want to help your students design a research project that can take advantage of digital collections. A wealth of resources and data have been digitised and made available in recent months and the Bodleian now provides access to an even wider range of databases; try checking the subject LibGuides as a starting point. Students may need more help finding alternative materials or methodologies and need to be reminded that they may have to spend more time finding materials than they would have done in more normal contexts. Thinking about how they might redesign their research project to collect data remotely can be a useful way to develop additional research skills. For example, designing a citizen science project or exploring adaptations to protocols and equipment that would enable remote data collection.

Once students have begun research and writing it is important to maintain regular contact with them and clearly communicate expectations and deadlines throughout the research and writing process. A clear timetable will be particularly helpful for students who are self-isolating or are not in Oxford who will likely be more removed from the rhythms of the academic year.

Providing written feedback on digital drafts that can be e-mailed can be complemented by face to face or remote tutorials to discuss the development of the research and writing. Feedback should clearly explain what needs to be done and should avoid ambiguous comments such as ‘strengthen the argument’ or ‘more analysis needed’. Feeding forward with clear tasks for future drafts can help students identify what they need to focus on as they continue to research, write and edit.

Teams or other platforms make moving face to face teaching to a remote setting fairly straightforward, but it is important to remember that in Trinity term 2020 staff and students found remote teaching more tiring so you might want to consider shorter more frequent sessions. More frequent contact can help students stick to a plan and to meet the various deadlines you might set, as well as helping them feel less isolated.

Facilitating peer teaching through a group works-in-progress session can help students to think about their own research through a variety of lenses and to problem-solve together. Such sessions could be run remotely through Teams, allowing students to share screens and ask questions using the chat function.

You might also find Inclusive and flexible tutorials and Adapting Undergraduate Laboratory Teaching helpful. Undergraduate research teams might also benefit from consulting the Template for adapting lab-based postgraduate research projects.

Technical guidance

Canvas and Microsoft Teams (often referred to as MS Teams or simply Teams) provide you with the functionality you need to effectively support undergraduate research projects flexibly and inclusively.  

Canvas allows you to create structured content and resources for students to access as well as a means contacting students and receiving draft work using the assignment tool. Feedback on draft work can be given using the Canvas built-in ‘SpeedGrader’ functionality. This allows you to give feedback in the form of annotations placed on the digital document, as well as typed and audio/video feedback. Draft submissions can also be run through Turnitin to check for correct referencing and any potential plagiarism. Forums can be set up to have asynchronous discussions on a topic. Students will probably already be familiar with Canvas as their course will have a presence there.

Teams provides live conferencing with audio, video and screen sharing. The chat functionality is good for informal discussions.

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Resources for flexible and inclusive teaching