Bringing research-based learning to new audiences

Professor Helen Walkington

Never too young to do research

Professor Helen Walkington

Professor Helen Walkington has proved that research is not just for academics and postgraduate students, but can also benefit undergraduates and school pupils.

By demonstrating the benefits of following research-based learning strategies for students, teachers and institutions, her work has transformed higher education nationally and internationally, establishing new teaching practices and methods, creating opportunities for students to develop their professional skills, and contributing to the design of curricula.

Research for all

Helen’s research is based on a simple, yet powerful idea: that undergraduate students and even school pupils can be researchers. Working with students, teachers, and higher education institutions, she has shown that following research-based learning strategies makes for a better learning and teaching experience. It also improves students’ confidence, professionalism and employability, and increases teachers and technicians’ pride in their work.

During her earliest investigations, Helen identified that providing students with opportunities to present and publish their work was a key element to the success of research-based learning strategies.

To this end, she established a public, annual, multidisciplinary undergraduate research conference at Oxford Brookes in 2008. She also launched Geoverse, the first national journal for undergraduate research in geography, in 2008. In 2015, she set up the first dedicated public undergraduate research repository, the Get Published! Student Research Collection.

Many higher education institutions across the UK and further afield have since been inspired to create their own student publication opportunities, with many also adopting the Get Published! model.

About Get Published!

Get Published! Conference

Helen Walkington on geography research

Transforming higher education

Helen’s work has transformed the design of curricula and teaching methods, to the extent that technical universities and professional colleges without a research tradition now recognise the need to develop students’ research capabilities to ensure future employability.

Research-based learning has become a core teaching practice for traditional and technical universities across the UK and USA, in Europe, and at Durban University of Technology (DUT) and the University of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa.

In collaboration with Elon University in the United States, Helen created a global training framework for high-impact research mentoring in universities, and established an international database of award-winning research mentors. Her framework is endorsed by the Council on Undergraduate Research and has been used by Advance HE in its work with higher education providers. Her work was also instrumental in establishing the Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS) to provide school students with authentic research experiences.

Helen with academics from the University of KwaZulu, Natal and Durban University of Technology, South Africa.'
Helen (centre) with academics from the University of KwaZulu, Natal and Durban University of Technology, South Africa.

Enhancing students’ experience

She was also part of the steering committee that formed the British Conference of Undergraduate Research and its sister event Posters in Parliament, an annual opportunity to showcase and celebrate British undergraduate research.

This conference provided a model for a subsequent national conference in Australia in 2012, and the first World Congress on Undergraduate Research in Qatar in 2016. In 2018, she gave a speech in front of higher education institutions, charities, and policy makers at an Inside Government conference in the UK on her research and the potential for undergraduate research to develop the UK researcher pipeline.

In 2018, Helen’s contribution to teaching and learning in higher education was recognised with the International Taylor & Francis Award.

“Professor Walkington has transformed the ability of undergraduates to disseminate their research and is enhancing the experiences of thousands of students, educators and researchers. She inspires others by demonstrating the clear link between pedagogic research, learning, and teaching quality enhancement.”

President of the Royal Geographical Society

New perspectives

Helen has revolutionised the design of student conferences, both nationally and internationally, thanks to her discovery that students gain new perspectives on their research from talking to research students outside their discipline. Termed ‘reciprocal elucidation’, this student-led approach is now widely recognised as helping research students prepare for the world of work.

Thanks to Helen’s influence, student conferences are now routinely multidisciplinary, to enable presenting students to benefit from the insight and reflection of their peers.