Workshop A5

This workshop is delivered in 2 parts:

  1. Intensive enquiry based learning in the Social Sciences: What works? What’s next? Ellis Saxey, Teaching and Learning Centre, London School of Economics and Political Science
  2. Collaborative engagement for MSc research projects Fiona Sweeney, Jane Clarbour, Department of Psychology, University of York

Part 1: Intensive enquiry based learning in the Social Sciences: What works? What’s next?


GROUPS is an optional intensive two-week project at the end of the summer term, facilitated by LSE’s Teaching and Learning Centre. Undergraduate students from across the social sciences are placed in cross-year groups with a supervisor. Each group devises their own research project: choosing the topic, research question and methodology, carrying it out and writing it up. Students
present their papers at a conference on the final Friday.

At present, GROUPS has enormously positive feedback from participants (c.80 each year). The enquiry based learning means students are active participants in knowledge production. GROUPS builds research skills in a more holistic, less ‘recipe book’ fashion. LSE TLC are creating a toolkit in 2018 so other institutions can adopt or adapt the GROUPS model. We are particularly interested in whether the model could transfer to the Arts, Humanities and Natural Sciences.

But we are aware of gaps in the project:

  • Groups work with social science methodologies on issues of public concern, but tend to have little public engagement. The tight timescale means limited opportunity to co-create a research question with communities/organisations, or creatively communicate findings back to research subjects.
  • Although several student groups choose to make contact with relevant academics, engagement with LSE research experts is currently optional.
  • The skills and knowledge that students develop aren’t fed back systematically into students’ formal study.

Attendees’ experience and suggestions would be sought in the post-paper discussion.

Part 2: Collaborative engagement for MSc research projects


The student research project for applied Masters students is often the means to the end goal of the write up of the dissertation, with potential for dissemination of the research findings at conference or potential publication. This discussion paper seeks to demonstrate how the process of collaborative engagement can maximise impact for both the student’s learning experience and
external involvement in the student’s journey to publication of their research project. A network was created bringing together academics from a range of departments at UoY with an interest in crime, offending and mental health. In addition, local practitioners invited to a public lecture held at the university, giving academics and students the opportunity to network with professionals in the field. The proposed research was to be undertaken in a prison setting, with prison staff as participants.

The student was encouraged to put a discussion paper to a professional networking event held at the University of Durham where she presented her proposed project for professional views on potential impact. Advice was provided from the network prior to data collection, facilitating access through professional (prison service) and university ethics committees. A paper was submitted to a peer-reviewed research journal simultaneously to the student’s submission of her dissertation for assessment. This enabled publication of the work prior to graduation, enhancing student confidence and employability. The discussion paper will be presented by the student and will elaborate on her experience of the research journey in relation to collaborative engagement.

Chair’s Report

Workshop Panopto video recording (University of York login required)

Ellis told us about a 2-week project for 70 student volunteers of mixed departments and years. The students work in groups on an enquiry-based learning project to deliver a 3000-word article and a 10’ presentation in a student conference at the end of the final week. There’s a program of workshops, plus supervision meetings, ethics monitoring, and an interim presentation at the end of the first week, followed by data-analysis and write-up in week 2. Projects vary from investigations of gentrification, through to ethnography studies of leisure centre use. There’s very little drop-out (likely due in part to the voluntary nature), and the students very much enjoy the experience. The 2-week format was found to be less intense than an original 1-week model.

Fiona was an MSc student on the ‘16/’17 Applied Forensic Psychology course (on which Jane was course director). The ‘applied’ aspect of the course lends itself to a dissertation that makes use of an applied setting. Fiona’s project centred around collaboration with professionals working in the Prison Service, to gain an insight into operational culture around death, care, and suicide. She was able to present her proposed topic to prison governors, prison officers, mental health nurses, psychologists, and social workers as part of the PORSCH conference, enabling her to gather experiences from delegates. This informed her interview schedule and plan for potential limitations. Attendance at the CrimNet conference also informed her design. Such collaboration enhanced her understanding, improved her insight, and has ultimately led to publication, as well as boosting confidence!

The two presentations were followed by a discussion. Both projects noted the risk of reliance on outside individuals for research, and the value of having a “Plan B”. There was also a reminder that research doesn’t always produce what you wanted it to, but that needn’t be a bad thing! There’s always a way to end on a positive. To end this description on a positive, in both these examples, students were motivated by a desire to develop skills.

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