Field mission #7 – Research-based learning at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Last June, the seventh flagship initiative of the Strategic Partnership InnovEd4TS was hosted virtually at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin (HU-Berlin). Invited experts from four Circle U. universities and the University of Lisbon met around the flagship initiative HU-Q Programme, a university-wide initiative for research-based learning.

Since the programme started in 2012, Humboldt Universität’s laboratory for innovation in teaching and learning, the bologna.lab, has facilitated 419 Q-Projects for 3,560 student participants from all disciplines.

The HU-Q Programme led by the bologna.lab aims at:

  • strengthening the research-teaching nexus at HU-Berlin, in particular at the undergraduate level.
  • fostering the “shift from teaching to learning” by introducing learning formats that are focused on the construction of knowledge, the active acquisition and development of competencies, rather than traditional “knowledge transmission”.
  • enhancing the quality of teaching by providing training in research-based education to students, researchers and teaching staff leading the student research projects. 

HU-Q Programme is a competitive research opportunities programme which proposes 3 formats targeted at students, junior researchers and researchers:

  • Q-Tutorials student-initiated and led projects for student teams (BA or MA) wishing to pursue their own research project;
  • Q-Teams: for junior researchers (PhD or Postdoc) affiliated to an ongoing research project at HU Berlin or one of its affiliated extramural research institutes;
  • Q-Kollegs for full members of HU’s academic staff who want to conduct a Research-Based Learning project with one (or more) international partners.

All three formats are based on groups of 5 to 15 students working together in small research teams. Staff and students from Humboldt-Universität or one of the 70+ extramural research centres in the Berlin area can apply with an idea for a research project. Calls for applications are launched twice a year and are examined by an interdisciplinary selection committee consisting of senior academics. Students work on the project during one or two semesters, as an elective course.

What is a "field mission" in InnovEd4TS?

The six member universities of the InnovEd4TS Strategic Partnership analyse nine Flagship Initiatives involving transferable skills identified by the InnovEd4TS Advisory Board (see the article The strategic partnership on transferable skills InnovEd4TS finalizes its first stage). In order to explore these initiatives, field missions involving a panel of peer experts from the different universities are being carried out. To support the missions, the “booklet” is a tool used which serves as the basis for group discussion on the transferable skills developed by flagship initiatives.
The field mission is a peer learning exercise where professors leading the Flagship Initiative, peer experts reviewing the initiative, and students participating in it all have the opportunity to meet and learn during a two-day comprehensive virtual visit. The purpose is twofold: for the host to share and get interesting ideas and constructive comments on how to develop the initiative further; for the peer experts in the panel to discover an innovative pedagogical initiative and get inspired to implement similar initiatives or to adapt it to their own context and fields of interest.

Transferable Skills developed in the HU-Q programme

The programme focuses on two transferable skills.

Teamwork: the research projects led by students provide space for collaboration and exchange. The extent to which students work in teams depends on the research topic, the subject discipline and the lead researcher.

Critical thinking: the “Q” of HU-Q programme stands for query, question, quest & qualification: students are encouraged to question their disciplines, develop their own questions (and interests), seek new knowledge and acquire new skills along the way.

What is Research-Based Learning or RBL?

During the visit, the Leads of the HU-Q programme, Wolfgang Deicke and Laura Schilow, provided the experts with solid references and definitions for Research-Based Learning or RBL. “Most, if not all subjects taught at the university have a connection to research and part of university education is to prepare students for research in their discipline”, starts Wolfgang Deicke. “But most of university research training is based on knowledge transmission or the guided development of applied skills”. “Independent research” starts when students are presented with a research problem to solve individually (or in groups) or given the opportunity to develop a research project by themselves. “It is these types of activities that we would class a research-based learning. It is distinct from the other types of research-related teaching in that it requires the students to be more active and engaged in knowledge production. They may not always produce “original” research, but they gain insights and skills that are new to them personally”, explains Laura Schilow. 

Experience the research process with all its challenges

For a semester or a year, students enter the research projects and are guided by a tutor or a “lead” (for teams of students). The programme‘s main aim is to develop students‘ research interest and competencies. The following aspects and the associated transferable skills appear particularly relevant:

  • Experience the research process with all its ups and downs. “Research projects which don’t get finished don’t get published so you don’t know about them. We want to show our students the research process as well, not just the research results”, explains Wolfgang Deicke.
  • Take charge of - and responsibility for – significant parts of the research process both individually and as a team (critical thinking, decision-making, teamwork). “Our concept of research-based learning is based around enabling academic staff to design and provide settings that enable students to take co-ownership of a research topic” (Laura Schilow).
  • Apply and develop research skills individually and as teams (critical thinking, teamwork, science communication).
  • Socializing the participating students into becoming part of a ‘scientific community’.

Training and recognition are keys

Researchers who act as tutors or team leaders for the students enrolled in the HU-Q Programme receive formal training by the bologna.lab and a recognized qualification in research-based education. Q-Tutors and Q-Team Leaders receive training in research-based learning before the start of their project and dedicated didactic support throughout. On completion, they receive a formal certificate in Higher Education Teaching and Learning (accredited by the German Association for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education). 

Since 2019, 52 Q-Tutors and 44 Q-Team leaders have successfully completed Certificates in Research-Based Learning. Q-Leads meet monthly to discuss progress and potential issues. 
The role of the tutors is of great importance to guide the students throughout the process, as explains Nadine Heil, former Q-Team Lead in 2020/21 “Students can be lost if there are too many ideas on the table. I had to set borders and find the right balance between creativity and results”. 

Recognition is also key. Q-Tutors receive a paid position as a student teaching assistant for a year, Q-Team leaders a short-term teaching contract and Q-Kolleg organisers travel subsidies for short exchange visits. 

Formative learning for students 

The HU-Q Projects are formative, developmental learning opportunities – students take part voluntarily, out of interest; they receive feedback on the work they produce, but their contributions are not formally assessed or graded. They receive formative “pass” credits if they meet the previously agreed benchmarks for successful participation. Successful student participants receive between 5-10 ECTS credits depending on the scope of their project. Many use these projects to prepare for the BA or MA dissertations.

A win-win situation, inspiring for other research-intensive universities

The HU-Q programme involves a variety of actors for the greatest interest of all. For the institution as a whole, the programme allows some of its ongoing research projects to be more accessible to students and to bring some of its research-only academic staff back into teaching. Projects from the extramural research institutes benefit by gaining additional wo-manpower to investigate aspects of the project they might otherwise have had to neglect due to a lack of resources. In an ideal case, they can use the Q-Teams to identify candidates for future PhD research.

Junior researchers gain training in research-based learning and a first experience in translating their own research into “teaching” and in leading a (student) research group. Last but not least, students benefit by gaining initial experiences in research and by being able to pursue their own research interests.

As an alliance of research-intensive universities, the experts recognise that research-based learning could be integrated into the activities of the Circle U. alliance. Together with a training-of-trainers programme, it could also contribute to improving the pedagogical skills and qualifications of young researchers at the beginning of their academic career.

Leaders of the HU-Q Programme at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin

Wolfgang Deicke is a social scientist by background. He is currently the lead of the bologna.lab, Humboldt-Universität’s laboratory for innovative teaching and learning. Before coming to Humboldt-Universität in 2012, he variedly taught sociology, politics and the history of European thought and society at the (now) University of Northampton, School of Oriental and African Studies in London and Ruskin College, Oxford.In Berlin, he led two research projects on RBL: “ForschenLernen” (2014-18), joint project on the effect participation in research-based learning has on the research competencies of social science student; and “EviG-FL” (2018-20), transfer and training project on evidence-based design of training programmes in research-based learning/undergraduate research.

Laura Schilow
With a background in English and Romance Languages at Leipzig University and in Data Information Science and Cultural Sciences at Humboldt Universität, Laura is the coordinator of the HU-Q Programme and trainer in research-based learning and digital teaching and learning since 2014.


Other HU-Q Participants in the visit

HU-Q project leads (Q-Team leaders and Q-tutors).

  • Ann-Kathrin Katzinski: MA student, Social Sciences, former Q-Tutor  “Tyranny of Intimacy in the Digital Age”, Summer 2020
  • Nadine Heil: Junior Researcher, Institute for Area Studies Africa/Asia (HU Berlin), former Q-Team Lead “Knowledge Construction” Winter 2020/21
  • Viktoriya Kolarova, Researcher, Institute for Transport Research (DLR), Q-Team Lead “User needs in automated traffic”, Summer 2021
  • Sophie Erred, BA student Area Studies Africa/Asia (HU Berlin), participant in both Nadine’s Q-Teams

Peer Experts Panel

After undergraduate studies in law and medicine, Viktoria Nagy majored in modern French literature and linguistics in 2010 both at Eötvös Lóránd University, Budapest, Hungary and Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris. She has been working as a tenured medical English teacher, course manager and coordinator of undergraduate and second step medical English education at Université de Paris since 2016. She has created several interdisciplinary curricula with a learning while doing, action-based approach. Currently, she co-coordinates the implementation of an enlarged PBL-model at the Medical Faculty of Université de Paris.

Carolina Carvalho has a degree in Educational Psychology and a PhD in Education. She is an assistant professor at Instituto de Educação - University of Lisbon since 1993. Her current research and teaching interests are students learning, teacher’s education and higher education pedagogy with the focus on innovation, diversity and inclusion.

Vibe A. Jelsbak works at Aarhus University. She graduated with a Masters of Science (Cand. Scient.) in Biomedicine 1999, and has a Masters degree in ICT and Learning (MIL) from 2012. Her primary interests are integrating professional practice and theoretical knowledge in curriculum. Her interests are thereby related to students’ knowledge, skills and competencies relevant for their future workplace - (and lifelong) learning.

Nathalie Kruyts  has been a pedagogical advisor at the Louvain Learning Lab at Université catholique de Louvain since 2006. Her initial training in agricultural sciences and biological engineering also led her to teach as a guest lecturer at UCLouvain. At the LLL, she coordinates training courses, provides guidance for teachers in their professional development and advises them on the (re)construction of their teaching strategies. Her pedagogical interests lie more in experiential and engaging pedagogies.

Per Gunnar Røe teaches at the Department of Sociology and Human Geography, at the University of Oslo. His academic interest are Urban studies and Urban planning, Surburbanisation, relationship between mobility and urbanism. He has been the Course coordinator and lecturer of various BA, MA and PhD courses.

Published Aug. 17, 2021 2:58 PM - Last modified Nov. 11, 2021 3:03 PM