Rethinking final year projects & dissertations

Rethinking final year projects and dissertations

“For the students who are the professionals of the future, developing the ability to investigate problems, make judgments on the basis of sound evidence, take decisions on a rational basis, and understand what they are doing and why is vital. Research and inquiry is not just for those who choose to pursue an academic career. It is central to professional life in the twenty-first century” (Brew, 2007)

Developing and enhancing undergraduate final year projects and dissertations “moves the debate on in a significant way and will help academics leading undergraduate and masters courses to reconceptualise the purpose, design and outcomes of project work in the future. It is, quite simply, a ‘blueprint’ for changing the way we think about dissertations and projects and the potential value these have for developing students’ disciplinary insights, their transferable skills and their role as a partner (and co-producer) in the learning process.” Adam Longcroft (University of East Anglia) 11 May 2015

Final year projects and dissertations (FYPD) are a topic of interest in many countries. In the UK the final year dissertation has traditionally been seen as the gold standard for HE. It provides an excellent training ground for students who wish to continue research at Masters and Doctoral levels, as well as showing evidence of the all-important independence and critical thinking skills emphasised as graduate attributes. Effectively implemented, the outcome from undergraduate dissertations can be highly motivated students effectively empowered as independent self-learners. For many students it provides a transformative experience, yet for others the experience is less inspiring and sometimes quite negative. The traditional dissertation has come under pressure for reform as student participation in higher education has increased, there has been a growth in professional disciplines, and staff-student ratios have deteriorated. Some departments have dropped the dissertation altogether or made it optional, but this could be seen as ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’.

This workshop will explore ways in which we can rethink final year projects and dissertations, while at the same time retaining a significant element of research and inquiry and deliver key graduate attributes. Some departments have introduced separate ‘capstone’ projects in their final year courses either instead of, or in addition to, the dissertation. Such courses are common in North America and Australia. These may take many forms which are innovative in the context of their discipline or institution, and may include group, work-oriented and community-based projects. There can also be novel ways of disseminating the findings – via exhibitions, undergraduate research conferences and other forms of public engagement.

Participants will be encouraged to share their own experiences and practices of engaging students in research and inquiry through dissertations, both traditional and alternative. A set of up to 70 mini case studies from different disciplines and countries will be used to stimulate discussion and participants will be given the opportunity to plan how they might redesign their dissertations.


“Very exciting and inspiring, but also very practical and sensible”
“Very useful and will recommend to colleagues”
“Valuable opportunity to network, discuss and inspire change”
“Lots of group activities and interactivity”
“Generated creative alternative avenues for consideration”
“Workshop style allowed sharing of ideas”
“Enabled us to work together as a disciplinary team”
“Challenging – makes one think”
“Case studies were excellent; lots of useful ideas”
“Excellent handout – new ideas for alternative forms of project in abundance”
“The best thing about the workshop was the inspiring but feasible ideas – from facilitator and colleagues”

Here is a video of the keynote I did at Middlesex University in July 2013 on ‘Rethinking the dissertation’.