Staffordshire University Final Year Project

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Staffordshire University Final Year Project

Staffordshire University Final Year Project


a dissertation is an extended piece of research.

5 things you need to know…

Use guidelines from your tutor and/or on Blackboard in conjunction with that specific guidance.

Features of a dissertation/final year project:

  1. An extended piece of detailed work – it is an investigation.
  2. Demonstrates skills in: planning, organising, researching, problem solving, time management as well as oral and written communication skills. Dissertations also demonstrate in-depth subject knowledge.
  3. Use headings, bullet points, and a range of graphical illustrations.
  4. Written in academic style so need to be clear, concise, professional and referenced.
  5. Dissertations have sections, which as a general rule are:
  • Title page
  • Abstract
  • Aims and Objectives – what are you trying to achieve by doing this investigation?
  • Literature Review what is current thinking about this subject?
  • Research Methodology –  what are you going to do to research this subject?
  • Ethical Issues – are there any ethical issues to be considered – eg: how is data going to be kept safe?
  • Findings and Discussion  – from your investigations what have you found out? And what does it mean? Here you present findings (what you have found out from your investigation) and make comments about what those findings mean.
  • Recommendations (if requested) – after doing this investigation and research what do you recommend?
  • References and/or Bibliography
  • Appendices

Previous Projects

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‘Inshoring’ vs. Offshoring: outsourcing for jobs regeneration

Atkins A.S. & Sharp, B. ‘Inshoring’ vs. Offshoring: outsourcing for jobs regeneration in the Stoke on Trent and West Midlands areas

Up-skilling the Skills Lab: Developing Leadership Skills

Boath, L. Up-skilling the Skills Lab:  Developing Leadership Skills with Service Users and Carers.

The requirements to involve service users and carers in all aspects of the design and delivery of the education and training of social work students are well-established.  However, students’ views of the impact of their involvement in the education has not been so well explored.

The experiences of students and service users and carers participating in the Staffordshire University Social Work Skills Lab Programme were explored in this study. Two focus groups were held:  one with first year social work students and one with service users and carers to explore their views.  A service user and a student were involved in all stages of the research from design, though to dissemination. Qualitative analysis identified key themes that were part of the students’ and the service users’ and carers’ experience of the skills lab.  The skills lab was very positively rated overall.  Several recommendations for improvement were suggested will be addressed for future years.

This project embedded active research into the curriculum and offered a structured opportunity for students to practise and develop research skills, through participating in and facilitating focus groups.  The research skills knowledge and outcomes that the students’ developed provided valuable evidence for their practice portfolio and Curriculum Vitae.  The project gave students the opportunity to work closely with service users and carers, to be involved in research design, focus groups, analysing qualitative data, writing for publication and to present their findings to academic staff and peers at an in-house seminar and also to academic and health and social care professionals at a national Higher Education Academy Festival of Learning.

Development of a basic research culture amongst undergraduate Forensic Science

Cassella, J. Development of a basic research culture amongst undergraduate Forensic Science

The focus on research should not simply a matter of the way in which a lecturer’s research informs their teaching; but, rather, on a much broader appreciation of the relationship between teaching and research (Brew, 2001). At the core of this broader approach to the relationship between undergraduate teaching and research is the understanding that undergraduate learning can be enhanced through active engagement in their own research projects, in collaboration with other students and their teachers. The Regional Conference provides the ideal forum for such interaction.

Currently, there is little research being conducted into the field of Forensic Science. This has explicit ramifications when forensic scientists are required to defend protocols and procedures in the witness box in a Courtroom in the United Kingdom.

Research has identified that encouraging undergraduates to be engaged in research projects contributes to the overall research capacity of a Department in a way that is attractive to funding bodies and external assessors of departments’ research culture (Jenkins, 2005). Through initiative such as this project, it is hoped, through time that more research may be generated, and reported in the scientific literature. Such literature will obviate the problems currently experienced in the Courtroom environment by forensic scientists giving evidence .

The aim of the project was to inculcate the research culture further into the minds of forensic science students by empowering them to consider performing their projects not solely as piece of summative assessment, but to consider the act of practical research as part of a research process in which one end point is the preparation, delivery and reflection of a poster or oral presentation in a peer observed and peer assessed environment – the student scientific conference.

This project aimed to develop and allow a clear paradigm to be built into the support of the final year Undergraduate project process in which students could work diligently to produce robust research which had as one additional benefit – the Conference presentation.

“Value added” included allowing students the opportunity to practice giving presentations in front of their peer group and indeed academic staff from their home and regional Universities. Students would also have valuable Curriculum Vitae material to assist them in obtaining their first post-graduate job.

Groundwork for a pedagogic database thematising contemporary fine art

Coulter-Smith, G. Groundwork for a pedagogic database thematising contemporary fine art practice

Developing Enquiry-based E-Learning for Field Work

Harris, T and Boast, R. Developing Enquiry-based E-Learning for Field Work in Geography (Level 1).

The use of both specialist and generic computing software is well embedded into teaching curricula. Over the last decade geographers have started to use mobile digital media devices (MDMD) to deliver teaching, especially field work, in new and innovative ways. Delivering teaching materials through MDM has created a number of problems. Geography lecturers at Staffordshire University have used MDMD not as tools to deliver learning and teaching materials, but as tools for the students to use in data gathering. This approach has been embedded throughout the curriculum and a preliminary evaluation of the effectiveness of this project has been undertaken. Initial findings are that students are generally receptive to using MDMD, but surprisingly the more subject specific tools are less favoured. The paper concluded that more research needs to be done, but that in a rapidly changing world of MDMD it is very difficult to keep up with the pace of change.

Harris, T.D. and Boast, R. Incorporating IT and Multi-Media Activity Into Field-Based Undergraduate Research: Geography at Staffordshire University (PDF, file size: 55.18KB) . Educational Futures Volume 3(2).

Classic Glacial Landforms: The Deglaciation of Glen Etive

Harris, T.D. and Tweed, F.S. Classic Glacial Landforms: The Deglaciation of Glen Etive, South-West Scottish Highlands

Educational research advocates that students use ‘discovery methods’ in small groups, working on specific problems, leading to students deriving a sense of ownership and involvement in their own learning. The discipline of physical geography has a knowledge base that is strongly driven by scientific investigation in the field. Fieldwork in geography provides the ideal opportunity to engage with research-oriented tasks, but typically focuses upon selecting and using appropriate data collection techniques; is often staff-led and lacks the opportunity for in-depth analysis of a subject.

The allocation of resources to fieldwork for a whole year group seldom permits topic specific, research-led learning in a field environment. The assessment of fieldwork activity usually revolves around written reports or seminars, whilst output in the form of academic papers, books or conference presentations is not typical. Thus undergraduate students rarely have the opportunity to engage with the full process of research (as understood by academic practitioners) outside the final year project. This paper reports upon an experiment designed to produce research output through teaching, altering an existing classroom-based module called ‘Glacial Processes, Landforms and Landscapes’ (GPLL). The module and associated learning outcomes are used to a) facilitate knowledge acquisition through field-based inquiry and b) contribute towards the development of research, through undergraduate study.

The undergraduate element of the project focused upon a specific field area, Glen Etive in the Scottish Highlands. The wide variety of landforms and sediments in Glen Etive are under-reported in the literature, and these provided an opportunity for students to research and construct a narrative of deglaciation in the area. In composing that narrative, students a) acquired knowledge appropriate to the learning outcomes of GPLL and b) contributed directly to subject-based research in the form of a field guide to the area.

The project also assessed student performance and reaction to the delivery of the module, facilitating staff reflection upon learning and teaching methodology. Both the learning outcomes and assessment strategies were essentially unchanged for the module and thus it was possible to evaluate the effectiveness of inquiry-based teaching.

Analysis of student performance data, module feedback data and project-specific questionnaire data shows that students engaged enthusiastically with the research project and had developed a deeper, more reflective learning style. No apparent improvement or weakening in performance or module satisfaction was discernible in a module normally rated very highly by students, and in which performance is consistently good.

The project concludes that engaging students in active field-based research does alter their learning style, and enables staff to re-engage with the research process through teaching, but that the process requires appropriate funding that could only be achieved through sacrificing funding to other areas of the curriculum.

Harris, T.D. &  Tweed, F. (2010): A Research-Led, Inquiry-Based Learning Experiment: Classic Landforms of Deglaciation, Glen Etive, Scottish Highlands (PDF, file size: 401.22KB) , Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 34:4, 511-528


Applied Personnel and Development and the ‘Teaching-Research Nexus’

Hollings, A. & Rimmer, J. Applied Personnel and Development and the ‘Teaching-Research Nexus’: Bridging the Gap in Professional Research Development

Expectations and perceptions of a particular group of Chinese MBA students

Huang, Y. and Jenkins, W. Expectations and perceptions of a particular group of Chinese MBA students and graduates

Students are not always completely aware of the longer term benefits of the postgraduate experience when they enrol on courses; it is therefore important to understand how students value qualifications not only when they study for them but how they perceive the value of the study after graduation. The philosophy of TQM (Oakland, 1999) emphasises that products should be “fit for purpose” and herefore, course designers and deliverers should take into account the needs of the students. It is also important that providers design courses on the basis of the value that they give to those who take those courses in the short and the long term. Research in consumer services suggests that there is a gap between perceptions of quality of service between service managers, service providers, and service consumers (Zeithaml et alia). So we also argue that there is the possibility that there is a gap between students’ perceptions, teachers’ perceptions and University managers’ perceptions of the benefits of educational programmes, especially when the consumer and the delivery system occupy different cultural environments (Malhotra et al., 2005). It is therefore useful and important for course designers and deliverers to gain deeper insights into the strengths and weaknesses of educational products as perceived by purchasers of those products.

This project uses the concept of human capital as its theoretical basis. From the work of Useem and Karabel (1986), Baruch et al. (2005) have developed a model for evaluating the capital that graduates receive from pursuing management postgraduate and undergraduate degrees. They suggest that obtaining a management degree can add value to graduates by endowing them with five kinds of human capital: 1) scholastic capital which is mainly the theoretical knowledge obtained from one’s studies, 2) social capital gained by developing key links/networks with relevant people, 3) cultural capital “developed through the value people within society place on symbols of status” (p.54), 4) inner-value capital developed by self-awareness, and 5) market-value capital as evidenced by enhanced earning potential.

The research seeks to develop an understanding of the pre-arrival expectations that students have of their postgraduate management programmes, what knowledge and skills the students have actually acquired during their study and to what extent the graduates can apply the knowledge and skills in their own social contexts after graduation.

Impact and Perceptions of Enquiry-Based Learning

Hughes, A. & Davies, P.

  1. Pedagogic Research Project – Impact of Enquiry-Based Learning
    2. Longitudinal Pedagogic Research Project – Student Perceptions of Research-Informed Teaching

This project investigates the current extent and impact of enquiry-based teaching on student learning at Staffordshire University. They are three-year projects which comprise evaluation in two specific areas:
1. An pedagogic investigation of the current extent and impact on student learning of enquiry-based learning in order to:
(i) Identify and compare dedicated enquiry-based modules within current programmes within the university;
(ii) Identify student outcomes from enquiry-based learning;
(iii) Review the impact of teaching on student outcomes in enquiry-based learning and any changes to practice over the term of the study.

  1. An investigation of students’ perceptions of research-informed teaching.

The aim of these projects is (i) to provide the University with a critical review of its provision for enquiry-based learning in the context of research-informed teaching, and to facilitate the spread of interesting practice and thinking across the University, and (ii) to provide opportunities for colleagues involved in planning and teaching modules that have a strong element of enquiry-focused teaching to compare course planning, practice of teaching, and assessment of outcomes with regard to the development of students’ abilities in relation to enquiry. Outcomes of such comparisons might provide a stimulus or even in some cases a template for revising some aspects of current practice.

Using both qualitative and quantitative methods (semi structured interviews, critical reasoning tests and questionnaires assessing epistemological beliefs) data is being collected from module leaders and students from six key modules within the University that are making a significant contribution to students’ enquiry skills.  The projects began in September 2006 and are due to complete at the end of 2009.

Using three dimensional models of strategy to encourage students

Jenkins, W. Using three dimensional models of strategy to encourage students to emulate more closely the critical thinking behaviours of professional researchers

Negotiated Placements:…Extending Opportunities for Self -Initiated Learning

Lemon, L. & Davies, T. Negotiated Placements: Undergraduate Fine Art Study: Extending Opportunities for Self -Initiated Learning

This report presents the findings of the Case Study analysis of 13 students (2007) and 17 students (2008), colleagues in their respective placements and contextual data related to these placements (proposals, written assignments, evaluations, and interviews. The specific intention of these case studies was to complement the quantitative data collected through performance indicators such as credit points for the modules or degree classification of the students who completed this module option and by studying the implementation process (placements) as close to the ground as possible. We aimed, through analysis and synthesis of documentary and interview data to identify the key issues and related learning points for all stakeholders. The case study framework reflected three dimensions of design and delivery:

Management and co-ordination (Quantity of service provided by module coordinators and placement mentors)

  • Staffing and Resources
  • Student Access

Specific topics explored in some detail included:

  • The process of involving outside agencies with placements
  • The extent of engagement in partnerships – in terms of both initial planning activity and ongoing development
  • The extent to which placements facilitate proposals (project success/evaluation)
  • Engaging different audiences.

Threshold Concepts and Assessment in Economics

 Mangan, J. Threshold Concepts and Assessment in Economics

The objectives of the project were to: encourage and facilitate the development in students of the deep learning approach achieved by professional researchers; devise assessment tasks that reflect ways in which knowledge is created and evaluated in economics; and follow the principle of ‘constructive alignment’ to develop students’ understanding of knowledge creation and evaluation in economics through developing the assessment process.

The project first extended the previous work in economics on Threshold Concepts by considering the consequences for assessment criteria and hence the implications for examination questions.   It then used an analysis of examination scripts to examine the qualitative differences between students’ understanding of flows of income in the whole economy. Our major interest lies in the usefulness of ‘threshold concepts’ as a way of interpreting these differences in ways of understanding. Threshold concepts (Meyer and Land 2003) have been proposed as concepts that transform and integrate previous learning with the effect that a new way of thinking is opened up. As such they offer a way of interpreting differences in students’ conceptions at a more prosaic level. That is, any transformation or integration that threshold concepts generate should be observable in the different ways that more basic phenomena are understood. We analyse the revealed variation in conceptions of flows of income in the economy and conclude that the threshold concepts approach provides a plausible interpretation. This is important for teaching because threshold concepts  potentially create considerable challenges for teachers and learners that need to be understood by both if the process of learning and teaching is to avoid slipping into create an appearance of understanding that has not been developed.

Students design and perform a group experimental project

Merry, S., Orsmond, P. & Skingsley,D. Students design and perform a group experimental project as assessment of the module SHS80228-2 Biomedical Analysis

The Impact of Culture on writing Literature Reviews

Mills, S. The Impact of Culture on writing Literature Reviews

This project involved examining issues which arose from an independent study module taken by Master’s level computing students, virtually all of whom are international. Through semi-structured interviews, the project has found that many students have been taught through a Confucian rather than Socratic approach to education and so have not experienced analytical and synthesising skills previously. The lack of an adequate English language base has also played a part in compounding difficulties for international students. These findings mirror the literature with possible solutions being devoting a module to these skills (which already happens at Staffordshire University) and giving more general support to students participating major cultural changes.


An evaluation of the effectiveness of video in developing ecological research

Mitchell, P. An evaluation of the effectiveness of video in developing ecological research and consultancy skills in biological science students

Enquiring Minds: Strategies for the Design and Use of Enquiry Tasks

Puttick, K., Spence,J., Rhonda Hammond-Sharlot, R & Wood, D. Enquiring Minds: Strategies for the Design and Use of Enquiry Tasks that Promote the Law Teaching-Research Nexus, Cross-Disciplinary and Comparative Law Studies, and Effective Deployment and Assessment of Students’ Enquiry Skills at Level 3/H Level.

The project will research current practice and developments in the design, use, and assessment of enquiry tasks in the Law curriculum. Project results will inform a survey of approaches being taken by Law providers in this area of skills, including modes of assessing students. After an initial literature and practice review, the research will focus on two types of enquiry at Level 3/H:

  • Small-scale enquiry tasksfor tutorials and other small-group activities: and evidence of enquiry preceding small-group activities like presentations, briefings, mini-moots (Type A)
  • Larger-scale tasksundertaken by final-year Law students, including work for coursework assignments; final-year LLB dissertations; GDL 8th Subject projects (Type B).

Type B extends to enquiry tasks undertaken in collaboration with lecturers, for example production of articles for publication; and projects undertaken by Law students which is cross-disciplinary, or has comparative law elements. [1] This part of the project will also draw on the results of a pilot study People, Diversity and Work – a part of the project to inform the scope for thematic projects by Level 3 students that promote the teaching-research nexus and advance other Research Informed Teaching (RiT) objectives. See below, and ‘Nature of Collaborations’.

The survey will have a number of applications. Among other things, it will assist staff when designing enquiry and enquiry-related aspects of teaching and learning activities for the first time, or when modifying the content of modules in which enquiry skills are developed. It will also assist quality assurance systems, including award reviews, when enquiry and enquiry-related skills are being considered. Project results will also add to the general body of knowledge of RiT work, particularly around formative and formal assessment of skills in the Law area. In terms of substantive outputs, the project will highlight the innovative work and examples of good practice on which our External Examiners already comment; but will also generate further opportunities to showcase what our Level 3 students can do, in the ways other SU Faculties do this in relation to student work, and staff-student collaborations. [2]

A paper based on this project and presented by Chris Harrison, Alison Pope, Keith Puttick & Geoff Walton, entitled Enquiring Minds & Information Literacy: Infiltrating the Curriculum and Challenging the Assessment Agenda.

[1]Typically, Criminal Law projects straddling Law and Criminology; Employment dissertations with HRM, TU, or Psychology elements; Social Welfare Law work with Advice Studies; and projects requiring comparisons between UK and other systems’ law. Eg three of our French and Spanish students taking Employment/TU & Discrimination modules have done excellent work with comparative elements assisted by studies at home universities (Lille, Bilbao, and Murcia).

[2]In Staffordshire University, as in other institutions, students’ work is routinely showcased by other Faculties to illustrate students’ participation in the research as well as teaching and learning missions. It assists recruitment, and promotes graduate employability. TheFaculty of Computing, Engineering and Technology, for example, has run a successful graduate show (‘GradEx’) for the last ten years, featuring work done by Level 3 students in their Final Year Project, linking it to their placement experience or joint projects with staff. As they say, such showcasing ‘gives a feel for the breadth of opportunities our degrees lead to and how dynamic, keen and diverse our students are. Each year a number of our students have offers of employment as a result of involvement in GradEx.’ (StaffsBrief, 5 March 2008).

Podcasting as a supplementary teaching aid for off-campus distance learners

Skerratt, G. Podcasting as a supplementary teaching aid for off-campus distance learners

The project is designed to assess the benefits to off-campus distance learning students when using small, downloadable audio files as a supplement to the (mainly) text-based, web-resource ‘intensive’ learning and teaching associated with many of our postgraduate sustainability/environment e- learning awards.  At the time the project began, this approach was relatively new, but it has rapidly grown in popularity [see reported experiences, for example the Sounds Good project (Leeds Met.) , the  IMPALA project (Leicester). There is also an example at Macworld  Aggregator sites such as The Education Podcast Network act as repositories linking to freely available material on the web. However, the evidence of benefit specifically to off-campus  learners who have to rely mainly on text-based means of communication has not been investigated.

I decided to focus the project on the provision of mp3 voice files as a way of providing feedback to students on their summative assessments.  Assessments are set and submitted using the Blackboard content management system and then retrieved from the digital dropbox.  After reviewing each of the manuscripts they are graded and annotated. Historically, an individual email has then been sent to each student containing their feedback – a rather long-winded process for one who isn’t a touch typist.

For this project, MP3 feedback files are recorded using Audacity software and the files are then stored on a University server. A direct link (URL) to this file is then emailed to the appropriate student with some contextualising information.  The student is prevented from browsing to any folder other than the one that contains their personal feedback.  The original method of attaching the mp3 file to the email as an attachment proved unworkable as, occasionally, the file size would exceed that which Blackboard was prepared to accept or the students over-bloated inbox was prepared to receive.

During the early part of the project, in the email containing the link, I asked for a response to the following – this paragraph featuring within the body text of the outbound email containing the feedback link:

"I’m very interested in knowing whether you like this method of receiving feedback, and whether you prefer it to receiving a written email containing my comments.  Do you think it is a more intimate means of commenting on your assignment?  Was it sufficiently easy for you to download and/or play the sound file attachment?”

From the 28 responses received, and a few of these are duplicates arising from separate responses to different feedback from the same student, 25 (89%) indicated that they preferred  the audio file method of receiving feedback [rather than email comments] and 3 said that they preferred written feedback.

Generally the students on these postgraduate e-learning modules very much prefer receiving audio feedback for their summative assessments. They open the file soon after receiving it and listen to the content, usually saving the link for future reference. At this stage they do not see added value in including video with the audio [although this can be further tested by checking preferences after actually sending video feedback. Given a choice in the matter, students are still interested in receiving written comments but, on balance, if audio feedback is faster to produce then it has to be the preferred method.

Investigation and development of two intelligent demonstrators for final-year and MSc students

Yu, H & Warne,S. Investigation and development of two intelligent demonstrators for final-year and MSc students

Using information literacy as a means of promoting the research process

Walton, G. and Barker, J. Using information literacy as a means of promoting the research process in Level 1 students

Engaging students in study skills material is a difficult challenge on HE sport related courses. Using virtual learning environments (VLE’s) such as Blackboard as a teaching aid has prompted practitioners to determine the efficacy of new strategies (e.g., problem-solving and Online Collaborative Learning – OCL) to facilitate the learning experience as recommended by Goodyear (2001). Information literacy and e-learning research shows it is possible to engage students in detailed aspects of a subject when the appropriate tasks (involving active, scaffolded and reflective learning), settings (within a subject module) and assessments (with evaluation and reflection) are used (Walton et al, 2007).

OCL enables students to produce written material, captured online and made available to all learners. Access can be gained any time and participation is equal (enabling students who would not normally take part in face-to-face discussion an alternative way of contributing).

The efficacy of OCL in HE was examined by Research informed Teaching funded research on a level 1 core Effective Learning Information and Communication Skills (ELICS) and its successor module Research & Professional Development (RPD) at a UK university. Initial research focussed on:

  1. A one hour face-to-face workshop including:
    Identifying information needs to solve a problem-based assignment
    Learning to use e-resources to find information
  2. Three OCL activities which took place over five weeks. Two focused on evaluating web sites and one on APA referencing.

This novel delivery was given to an experimental group and their outputs were measured against a control group.

In the ‘evaluating web sites’ online discussion students developed criteria which they later used to evaluate web sites for an assignment. Discussion Board output was summarised into handout format. In the APA exercise students analysed examples of information resources and cited them to APA standard. Discourse was managed following Salmon’s (2002) guidelines.

Student engagement was measured through qualitative data such as interviews and focus groups and through quantitative data such as assessed work.  Results clearly showed that students gained a new level of sophistication regarding their ability to talk and write about evaluating information.  Assessed work showed that they were statistically significantly more able to evaluate their assessed work than a control group.

The second round of research focused on using this OCL model to deliver peer assessment and the student discourse it generated.  This round represented the final milestone for the project.  The high level of tutor and student engagement is evidenced in the high number and quality of online postings made.  Tutors reported that students’ final written assignment improved significantly.  Further detailed analysis of this data is currently underway.

It is clear that online learning opportunities enhance the student experience.  It is our argument that OCL is the ‘holy grail’ in student participation not just another fad.  These learning opportunities, where students work in small groups and can complete in a relatively short time, appear to successfully engage students in the subject under investigation.  Finally, it is our view that there is potential to assess online discourse itself instead of, or as well as, students’ essays.


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