Wednesday, 4 December 2013

A hand-picked group of students is getting a hand-up into the world of research and international collaboration while still undergraduates.Nine students recently attended the Australasian Conference for Undergraduate Research (ACUR) in Sydney and met their ‘global classmates' from Otago University for the first time.

They had been collaborating with them online as they researched teaching and learning issues during the first semester.

The Undergraduate Learning and Teaching Research Internship Scheme (ULTRIS) was developed in 2009 by Professor Sally Sandover, Academic Director, Educational Strategies Office, and Associate Professor Lee Partridge from the Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning. Dr Wayne McGowan is a co-supervisor on the project.

The Matariki Network was the logical next stop to expanding the program, and the Matariki Undergraduate Research Network (MURN) was born.

"The first ULTRIS students completed a semester of research of significant value to UWA, and learned valuable skills along the way," Professor Sandover said. "Adding the global connection last year was a bonus."

The students, who are given a scholarship of $3,000 so they can spend their own time on their projects, without needing to take on outside work, were not the only ones to learn from the MURN collaboration.

"We learned a lot," Professor Sandover said. "Technology often failed, time zone differences were really difficult (we were working with Durham and Queens universities in UK and Canada, as well as Otago in New Zealand), and different semesters also made it hard for the students to get together online.

"But we know that students actually learn more from their individual supervisors, and, while interaction with their peers is icing on the top, it doesn't have to be synchronised.

"The global classroom doesn't mean you have to sit together at the same time. It means something far broader: to be able to communicate with each other about a topic and discuss your projects through other platforms enriched the students' research."

Professor Sandover and A/Professor Partridge wondered if they were asking too much of the students.

"But when we saw them at the conference in Sydney, we knew it had been a success," Professor Sandover said. "They have now all presented at an academic conference as well as at a UWA research colloquium; they have published papers in our online journal and presented at ACUR.

"Their research skills and the work they produced was equivalent to Honours level."

She said they had followed the undergraduate students who had taken part in ULTRIS over the past five years and more than 70 per cent of them were now doing a higher degree by research. "Some are studying law or medicine or have jobs in institutional research.

"So, by and large, ULTRIS and MURN provide a fertile ground for research."

One of the UWA participants, Patrick Vu, won a prize at ACUR for his project on the impact of online courses on international students' preferences for UWA.

The students will present their findings to the relevant areas at UWA, including the International Centre.


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