Engaging students through authentic research experiences


  • Ashley Edwards
  • Susan M. Jones
  • Erik Wapstra
  • Alastair M. M. Richardson


Student involvement is vital to engagement, making learning experiences more meaningful, and can be enriched by student-faculty interactions and diversity of learning environments (Smith et al. 2005). Experiential learning, in particular ‘hands on’ opportunities, can enhance undergraduate experiences and engender increased enthusiasm for the subject, as well as confidence on the part of students that they are being adequately prepared for science-related careers or postgraduate study (Gawel and Greengrove 2005). At the same time, quantifying the positive influence of student engagement with learning through authentic research experiences can be difficult (Griffiths 2004). Despite curricula emphasizing student-led enquiry, some students still struggle to find relevance and excitement in their undergraduate courses. Working from the Garnett and Holmes’ (1995) model of how both students and academics can benefit from research, we have designed an incremental suite of learning activities across the three years of the zoology undergraduate curriculum that extends and enhances the student experience. The aims of the program are to extend and challenge our undergraduate students by exposing them to current ‘hot topics’ in zoological research; enhance students’ appreciation of methodology, philosophy and outcomes of scientific research; enthuse students about the exciting research being carried out in zoology in Tasmania and encourage them to think of themselves as the researchers of the future. Here we describe several components of this program (summarised in Figure 1) which have been implemented and evaluated via student feedback.