MARBLE, research driven learning for ‘hungry’ students

Written by  Lucia Geurts Wednesday, 02 June 2010 00:00

Whether it concerns teaching robots to play foot ball, or the influence of European regulations on the citizen, third-year bachelor's students at Maastricht University can pursue this kind of research. The projects noted are two of the 25 projects that have been developed in the last year and a half within the sphere of MARBLE (Maastricht Research Based Learning). This is the result of Maastricht's participation in the Sirius programme, which the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science established to advance excellence in higher education. At the end of 2008 Maastricht University received a Sirius grant of €2 million, which the university matched out of their own coffers.

MARBLE is intended for 'hungry' bachelor's students who want an extra challenge, an intense study programme. They can discover how research works, how interesting it can be, and if research might be something for them in the future. However, there is no pressure for participants to continue on to do a research master's programme. The bachelor's research projects are a mix of didactics and independent research, either alone or in small teams. The students gain insight into methodology and practice presentation skills; they learn how to analyse critically and make connections, and they must think about the social relevance of their research.


Before Sirius, University College Maastricht (UCM) developed the PEERS research programme. Beginning with the first semester of their second year, UCM students could register to do a research project. If it suited them, they could continue with the project throughout the second year, and eventually into the first semester of the third year. PEERS projects can be broadened into a student's Capstone, the final project with which students end their bachelor's programme. The Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience has had a research programme for an even longer time. Both research programmes have served as examples for other faculties.


In 2009 the MARBLE steering group worked hard on conceptualising, setting up, and carrying out such projects as ‘The struggle for the Sint-Pietersberg’, 'Capitals of Culture', 'Vaccinations', and 'Governance of human behaviour in the workplace'. All faculties and UCM have done their part. Several of the projects are interdisciplinary, so that staff and students from various faculties work together.

A good example is 'Beyond the size of artichokes and the shape of cucumbers', led by Mariolina Eliantono, lecturer at the Faculty of Law, and Karolina Pomorska, lecturer at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Students performed research on the influence of European rulemaking on the daily life of citizens and on national politics. They make a case study on a chosen European theme. Ultimately, the case studies are described in a workshop. During a visit to Brussels the students have the opportunity to compare their findings with the vision of the people who work in the relevant European institutes. Although the project is intended, first of all, for students of European Studies and of the European Law School, it is also open to UCM students and to students from the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences.

MARBLE on tour

Students and staff are generally enthusiastic about MARBLE. “It's nice but intense,” says Ellen Bastiaens, project leader of MARBLE since February 1st. “For students, because they can experience another way of working and learning. For staff, because the supervision requires a lot of time.”

In 2009 a good deal of energy was invested in developing projects and in recruiting students. Bastiaens: “We'll continue that this year, but also focus on quality management, financial responsibility, and logistics. We are developing a frame of guidelines in which goals are formulated, which MARBLE and PEERS projects must meet to a certain minimum standard. Each faculty can make their own contribution to this frame work. It's also important that MARBLE becomes better known within the university. We want to organise a conference and visit the faculties.'MARBLE on tour', so to say. This way we hope to pull in more projects and recruit more tutors to supervise students.”

'Leading in learning'

MARBLE can give a boost to the development of education in general at Maastricht University. At a certain point research-based learning should be a permanent part of all bachelor's programmes. Therefore, MARBLE has been incorporated in 'Leading in learning'. In this master plan, various initiatives in the area of educational innovation and optimalisation have been undertaken, through which knowledge and experience can be shared and embedded within the organisation.

Nina Laguda, student European Law School, participant in the artichoke project “The MARBLE project presents a unique chance for me to acquire research skills already during my bachelor phase. I really appreciate the possibility of peer reviewing each essay in the MARBLE tutorial groups. You learn how to deal with criticism effectively and how you can utilize the respective criticism to improve your bachelor essay’s content and structure. The project definitely demands independent and continuous research from its participants. Although the workload can be huge, one positive side-effect of the project is that you naturally develop superior time-management skills.”

Carolin Heubner, student European Studies, participant in the artichoke project “The MARBLE program is perfect for delving further into the logic of doing sound research. As a bachelor student you have approached issues like 'research design' before, but it is not necessarily a prerequisite to attain good grades, so it gets easily neglected. The added value of the MARBLE project is that it trains you to think thoroughly about your steps prior to taking them. It would be nice if the project could last longer. It is very difficult to do field research in such a short amount of time.”

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