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Research-Led Learning in Action

Posted on 9 May 2023

The outcomes and lessons learned from an innovative research-led module for final year MChem students in the Department of Chemistry at York has recently been published.

Visual Abstract for JCE article showing a flow diagram starting with chemistry topics, moving to research articles and then to an illuminated light bulb

At its heart, research-led learning is when students are taught subject matter that aligns with the research strengths of the tutor. Linking research and teaching has several advantages in enhancing student learning. Students’ knowledge about a subject can benefit from exposure to the cutting edge of a discipline by helping them see the relevance of the subject.

Launched in 2017, a new research-led online course for all chemistry students in the final year of
their master’s degree at York, was developed by Professor Andrew Parsons and Dr Julia Sarju. Distinctively, this course showcased departmental research by using research papers, published by York researchers, in the areas of atmospheric and environmental, green, inorganic, organic and physical chemistry. The use of research articles was aimed at familiarising students with departmental research and researchers, as well as helping them develop literacy skills and it contextualised the chemical theory covered during lecture courses in earlier years.

The course design and objectives, together with the course outcomes, has been published in a recent Journal of Chemical Education article. The article includes an analysis of student feedback surveys that evaluated different features of the course design, from ‘meet the author’ videos, to discussion forums, and revision checklists.

The development of the course involved contributions from many academic staff, and staff whose research was highlighted reported that they appreciated the benefits of showcasing their research to prospective postgraduates. Undergraduate students cocreated the course materials and informed course development. The project demonstrated the positive impact student partners make in developing course content. This included creating multiple-choice questions for formative assessments, and producing screencasts that introduce the papers, and highlight how to tackle the more challenging concepts in the papers. Dr Julia Sarju noted “I particularly valued working in partnership with creative students who reflected on their own lived experiences as learners to inform the course. Students shared their interpretations of the research articles and highlighted areas that could cause confusion to students”.

Screenshot of Student comprehension video communicating

Reflecting on the paper, Professor Andy Parsons says “One of the positive outcomes of the course has been seeing our students develop an appreciation of research conducted at York, in many more areas and in greater depth, than was once the case”.

The paper is published in the Journal of Chemical Education