Dr. Ute Woelfel, Literature and Languages
Year of activity: 2016/17
In order to improve students’ engagement, support their abilities as independent learners, and increase their feeling of ownership for their academic work, elements of independent research and research dissemination through the creation of research posters were included in a Part 2 module.
- Boost independent learning.
- Nurture research interests.
- Increase feeling of ownership.
- Develop employability skills.
In 2016/17 I introduced a new Part Two module on German National Cinema (GM2CG: 20 credits/ 30 contact hours). The module is intended to give students a general overview of German cinema from the end of World War I to German unification and at the same time allow sustained independent work on themes of interest. In order to increase the engagement with the themes, the independent work is research-oriented demanding from students to reflect their own expectations and aims, their goals for the module and indeed the course, and develop their own interest and approach.
The students were asked in the beginning to pick a period or topic from a list and prepare a presentation. The presentation was not part of the summative assessment but served as a foundation for further research. After the presentation, individual discussions with each student were used to decide which aspect of the theme/topic the student would like to pursue further. After each term, essay surgeries were offered in which students were given the opportunity to discuss the research done so far and decide a concrete research question for their essay (2,500 words/ 30%). The students were then asked to turn the findings of their essays into research posters for dissemination to non-specialist audiences (10%). In order to make sure that students also gain a general understanding of German cinema, a final exam (60%) is scheduled in the summer term.
The inclusion of independent research elements was very successful in that students did engage more than they normally do when given set topics and essay titles. The majority of students found secondary sources, even additional primary sources, and often identified research topics they would like to pursue in the future. Both the essay and the exam marks were above average. The poster challenged students to re-think their academic findings and present them in a new, visually organised, format for interested general audiences; as we used the posters to showcase the students’ work at the University’s Languages Festival, the Visit Days and a Reading Scholars outreach event, a sense of the importance of their work emerged as well as pride in what they had achieved grew. The students understood the relevance of the poster for the development of professional skills.
The module worked well and highlighted most of all the potential our students have and can develop in the right learning environment as well as their willingness to work hard when they are committed. Their engagement with independent research signalled a wish to get active and explore options beyond the set class texts rather than being spoon-fed; there is a clear need for feeling involved, responsible and in charge of work. I was particularly surprised about how much effort students were prepared to put into the presentations despite the fact that they did not count towards the module mark; as they were used as foundation for assessment, students clearly understood their benefit.
The research elements made the module learning and teaching intensive as a good number of office hours and slots during the enhancement weeks were used for individual discussions of research and essay topics; as I want the students to put their research posters to good use as well, additional feedback slots were offered in which I discussed not just marks but ways of improving the posters; students showed great willingness to work even further on their posters just to see them exhibited, despite the fact that any further input would not change the mark.