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M.H. Camacho1, M. Valcke2, K. Chiluiza3

1Ghent University, Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral, ESPOL (BELGIUM)
2Ghent University (BELGIUM)
3Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral, ESPOL (ECUADOR)
Nowadays, universities have a pronounced interest to link teaching and research. Research into this link has developed rapidly over the last decades, and focused recently on how the teaching-research nexus (TRN) enhances the quality and outcomes of the learning experience for both students and academics As part of this nexus, Research-Based Learning (RBL) involves a curriculum designed around inquiry activities in which students have the opportunity to conduct their own research.

We hypothesize if graduate students involved in a RBL version of a course reflect a higher intention to do research compared to students in a control condition of the same course. We also attempt to determine the impact of course contexts and changes in mediating variables such as autonomous motivation, engagement, perceived behavioural control (self-efficacy), behavioural beliefs, subjective norm and the interaction with age and gender.

A quasi-experimental pretest-posttest design was set up involving 52 students from 6 different programs at a public university. We developed scales building on Bandura’s guidelines to determine self-efficacy (perceived behavioural control), Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behaviour to test the intention to do research along with behavioural beliefs and subjective norm; and Deci and Ryan’s Intrinsic Motivation Inventory to determine autonomous motivation. To measure engagement, we developed a 6-week intervention in which students in the experimental condition worked on RBL assignments whereas students in the control condition worked on TRN activities. All student activities were managed through an online learning management system.

Our results show a clear trend, reflecting how students in a research-based learning version of the course attain slightly higher levels of intention to do research. However these differences are not significant.

There are some explanations for these findings. First of all, the students in the control condition were similarly involved in – though basic – research activities. This might have also boosted their level of intention in doing research especially considering the rather short term set up of the study (6 weeks).

An additional explanation is related to our RBL design and the fact that students of 6 different programs were involved. This resulted in an RBL design that had to comply with the research focus of all 6 programs and as such involved the students in more general research papers or general activities.

The results of the present study – though promising – push a research programme aiming at more in-depth research. Nevertheless, the RBL approach has invoked in the local university setting an innovative way of thinking about the teaching-research nexus. From a focus on a single-course innovation, a focus at a programme level approach of RBL has been put at the centre. This opens avenues for new and promising research endeavours.

Future RBL related research implies setting up qualitative studies to compare the actual experiences of students in both conditions and whether they report differences. In addition, a new study could be set up in a single course setting, while involving a larger number of enrolled students. This is not an easy undertaking given the limited student numbers in advanced engineering courses in the target Ecuadorian University. Building on the limitations as to the quantitative nature of the study, a mixed method design could help developing a richer picture.