Learning as a researcher: University of Portsmouth

Stock image elderly person with phone

Research-Based Learning module

The University of Portsmouth wanted to use a specific unit to develop transferable skills in students (teamwork, problem solving, communication skills). However, this was not proving effective. For example, in the team work exercises students tended to work alone and pull their efforts together at the end rather than working together as a team throughout.

Following work by Professor Sherria Hoskins on complex learning, the University introduced a 20-credit, optional, Level 5 Research Based Learning (RBL) module to sit alongside their study where students apply for research jobs advertised by staff. Roles included delivering and evaluating randomised controls in schools and exploring elderly adults’ spatial visualisation in relation to their ability to use a prototype automated phone service.

On average about 50 students a year now take this module and staff are incentivised via a small research bursary for every post they offer and fill. Assessment is through a learning portfolio in which students provide evidence that they have achieved learning outcomes.

The University evaluated the RBL module after its first year by collecting qualitative feedback from staff and students.  This revealed the development of respectful and mutually beneficial relationships between staff and students, which contributed to continued research partnerships and transformational learning beyond the life of the module.  Shared staff and student peer reviewed journal articles have resulted from some projects too, demonstrating this to be an authentic research exercise, one that has now been expanded into Level 6. The RBL unit has also been adopted as a whole university unit – as an elective – and has been broadened out to include more than just research experiences.

Chris Thomas, like many students, embraced this research opportunity. He said: “It was probably the best experience I could have received for my career. . . it’s about creativity, persistence, and patience. These are traits which you cannot express in any other way except through working with your peers.”


Griffiths, R. (2004). ‘Knowledge Production and the Research-Teaching Nexus: The Case of Built Environment Disciplines’. Studies in Higher Education. 29 (6) 709-26

Healey, M. (2005). ‘Linking Research and Teaching: Exploring Disciplinary Spaces and the Role of Inquiry-Based Learning’. In R. Barnett (ed) Reshaping the University: New Relationships between Research, Scholarship and Teaching McGraw Hill/Open University Press, pp67-78

Hoskins, S. & Mitchell, J. (2015). ‘Innovative Pedagogies Series: Research-based Learning, Taking it a Step Further’. Higher Education Academy. https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/sherria_hoskins_final.pdf [Accessed: 23/8/16]

University of Bedfordshire (2010). ‘Guide No9: A Guide to Research Informed Teaching (RIT) and Research Informed Learning (RIL)’. https://www.beds.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/273772/Guide-9-A-Guide-to-Research-Informed-Teaching-and-Research-Informed-Learning.pdf [Accessed: 23/8/16]

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