An investigation into unit design for developing undergraduate independent learning abilities

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Research and Development in Higher Education Vol. 33 : Reshaping Higher Education

July, 2010, 654 pages
Published by
M. Devlin, J. Nagy and A. Lichtenberg
0 908557 80 9

Many universities aspire to produce graduates who are independent learners. This paper describes explorations into what independent learning means and how it can be developed in practice within the typical resources of a standard undergraduate unit. The paper proposes techniques for advancing students along the path to independent learning and describes how these techniques have been applied in practice, including pragmatic observations on the techniques. Given the absence of clear methods for assessing independent learning, qualitative focus groups were conducted based around questions related to student perceptions of their learning and experience. These perceptions are being explored in an ongoing research investigation into a hybrid content-based/project- based final year undergraduate unit, designed to improve the development of students’ independent learning. Some initial evaluation outcomes are presented and discussed, along with lessons learned in relation to conducting the focus groups. One interesting finding is that students were positive about their learning experience despite the unfamiliar class structure and their recognition of challenging material and strict marking. We conclude by describing how we are approaching our on-going investigation along with some possibilities for future research.

Keywords: independent learning, critical thinking, group project work