Students contributing to research

Drawing on students’ opinions and experiences to improve research  
stuxx, Pixabay.com, CC0 1.0
stuxx, Pixabay.com, CC0 1.0

Collaborations between scientists and teachers are slowly becoming the new normal in educational neuroscience research. Following on from the appreciation that educators are best-placed to situate research findings into their classroom practices, there is growing appetite for students to be involved in the creation and application of research related to their learning.

Within the educational neuroscience community, we often speak about the importance of communication and collaboration between researchers and teachers. There is now an increasing sense that students should also be involved in the research process, beyond simply being participants in experiments. If teachers are ideally placed to apply the learning sciences to their teaching, then students are ideally placed to apply the learning sciences to their own studies.

Efforts have already begun in this vein, with many examples of students being taught the science behind learning through books and online resources. However, it is anticipated that students could have a more active role. Rather than passively being taught the best ways to learn, students could help to define research. The focus within educational neuroscience is typically to improve educational outcomes and, while this is important, it may be that students have a different idea of what research should be aiming to achieve.

A collaboration between scientists and students could lead to the creation of a new research agenda, with priorities defined together. While scientists (and teachers) might be keen to find out what will lead to higher academic achievement, students might be more interested in techniques to calm down when stressed in an exam, or the most effective way to study in a noisy home environment, or how to make revision more enjoyable. The collaborative involvement of students in research may lead to a more holistic approach in working towards the goal of improving education.

“Rather than passively being taught the best ways to learn, students could help to define research.”

The parallels between involving teachers in research and involving students in research are not absolute. While educators are the experts in teaching, students are not necessarily the experts in learning. But they do know the situations they are in and challenges they face when trying to learn. Input from students may help scientists to recognise these factors and incorporate them into their research.

Finally, students may have good ideas about how to apply findings from educational neuroscience. Teachers and scientists are unlikely to hear those ideas if the main method of communicating science to students is through one-way interactions where information is imparted on students. Taking the time to talk with students about scientific findings may highlight how students can integrate them into their own learning practices.

“The collaborative involvement of students in research may lead to a more holistic approach in working towards the goal of improving education.”

Deep collaborations of this kind between scientists and students are likely to be challenging to foster. Just as finding participants can be difficult, finding students who want to talk about research will probably be even harder. However, this could be a great opportunity for teacher-researchers to collaborate with their own students, and perhaps co-design research that is mutually beneficial. The involvement of students in research is an exciting way forward for the educational neuroscience community, and will help us to better meet our goals of improving teaching and learning for everyone.

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