Real-life research projects improve student engagement and provide reliable data for academics

Sarah Marley*, Alessandro Siani, Stuart Sims

*Corresponding author for this work

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Student engagement can have a positive influence on student success. Many methods exist for fostering engagement but tend to be generic and require tailoring to specific contexts, subjects, and students. In the case of undergraduate science students, practical classes are a popular tool for increasing engagement. However, despite strong potential for improvement via links with “real life” research projects (RLRPs), few academic staff incorporate research participation with teaching activities. This is potentially due to poor time availability and low opinions of students' ability to collect reliable data. This study aims to examine whether involvement with RLRPs can generate reliable scientific data and also act as a motivational tool for engaging tertiary science students. A preexisting core activity for first-year biology and marine biology students was modified to include a short RLRP component. Student-based data collection and a questionnaire about experiences were used to examine the reliability of student-collected data and student perceptions of RLRPs. Results indicated that error rate in student-collected data was minimal. Irrespective of participating in a “normal” practical class or a class with a RLRP component, students collected equally accurate data. However, when the topic aligned specifically with their degree subject, student accuracy was higher. All students surveyed reported high motivation with the idea of RLRP participation, placing high importance on this from an educational and employability perspective. Yet, students were not confident about participating in RLRPs until they had engaged with one, suggesting that introducing such projects into taught sessions early-on may encourage students to seek further opportunities in the future. In conclusion, incorporating RLRPs into the curriculum of undergraduate science courses has considerable potential benefits for both students and academic staff.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere9593
Number of pages15
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 8 Dec 2022


  • higher education
  • practical work
  • real-life research projects
  • student engagement

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