WHAT IS a research and discovery activity?

These activities ask students to find and work with sources to learn new things about course content, connect ideas from class to new information, and demonstrate their ability to construct meaning from research. At the end of the activity, students should be able to demonstrate what they learned with a paper, presentation, or other deliverable.

To give students the greatest chance of success with a research and discovery activity, the instructor or instructional team should coach students on how to research effectively and draw conclusions from what they find, encourage connecting new discoveries to information from class, and include stages where students can receive feedback before submitting their final work.


This type of assignment can encourage students to be self-directed learners and push them to learn by becoming experts on a unique topic and sharing that knowledge. Because students must find new information and use their reasoning and critical thinking skills to synthesize it into a coherent understanding of their topic, they can learn and retain more from a well-designed research and discovery activity than they would from receiving explicit instruction on the same topic.  


Due to the time it takes to coach students through a successful research and discovery activity and provide feedback at intermediate stages and on the final product, instructors of large enrollment courses might benefit from assigning fewer of these activities per semester. The grading load can also be reduced by requiring a more concise deliverable, asking students to work collaboratively and submit as a team, and by using a comprehensive rubric that reduces the need to re-write similar feedback for multiple students.


Dr. Erin Bruce, GMS6474 Medical Cardiovascular and Muscle Physiology, Enrollment: 50 students

To help future medical professionals learn to find, interpret, apply, and communicate about medical research, Dr. Bruce asks students in her Medical Cardiovascular and Muscle Physiology course to explore a course topic in more detail three times throughout the semester. In the Functional Genomics Research Assignment, she asks them to write a short essay that answers guiding questions about the underlying causes of diseases, physiological implications, and treatment options. The assignment instructions clearly explain the importance of using reliable and relevant sources and give examples of how to start their research.


Dr. Bruce keeps the grading manageable by setting a 1000 word maximum on each essay and using a rubric that clearly describes what high- and low-quality work looks like for each standard. This allows her to type fewer comments without leaving students confused about why they received their score.  


Alfieri, L. (2010). Does discovery-based instruction enhance learning?(Order No. 3408485). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global; Social Science Premium Collection. (603214604).

Ilhan, A., & Gülersoy, A. E. (2019). Discovery Learning Strategy in Geographical Education: A Sample of Lesson Design. Review of International Geographical Education Online. doi:10.33403/rigeo.672975

Photo by Russ Ward, Unsplash