Independent Research Projects

Independent Research Projects

In the last few years an increasing number of students joining our research programmes are taking this opportunity to undertake Independent Research Projects – IRPs. These research projects take many different forms, but what they all have in common is the need to pose and answer a research question. Examples of these include Extended Project Qualification (EPQ), Extended Essay (EE) for IB, as well as many different projects specific to many educational systems worldwide.

We are able to support the dissertation essay style research question; however individual scientific investigations (in which students design and collect their own data) are more difficult to facilitate given the short amount of time students are present on-site.

It is a great opportunity for a student to witness first-hand many of the aspects of their research question and, in many cases, they will have access to samples of past data-sets for their project. Students may also have the opportunity to talk with the actual scientists involved which will give them a convincing ‘slant’ to the way in which they answer their research question.

Much of the research they will be able to get involved with is specific to their expedition location. The projects that students will come into contact with range from students helping to collect ecological and biodiversity data through to working and learning alongside the scientists where primary data collection by school students is less practical or more difficult.

For success with IRPs, careful planning is needed by the student and a lot of the work will be done prior to their expedition. They will need close guidance from their school supervisor and the scientists in the field need to be briefed so that support can be provided where they can. We have now developed an application system to ensure that the student will be able to undertake (realistically) such a project, that their choice of topic is appropriate to their expedition site, the science staff ‘on-site’ are aware of the project and where practically we can assist in a constructive way before, during and after their expedition.

Example Research Questions

  • ‘How does inter species competition and environmental changes affect the populations of the different species of caiman in the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve?’
  • ‘Comparing how habitat varies on a spatial scale across cloud forest in Cusuco National Park in Honduras.’
  • ‘To what extent will the lionfish (Pterois volitan and Pterois miles) invasion impact the environment of the Utilian coral reef communities and evaluate current management strategies applied in Utila.’
  • ‘What effects do different disturbance levels, both human and abiotic disturbance, have on bird abundance and species richness on Buton Island, Indonesia?’
  • ‘What differences and similarities can be found between primary and secondary rainforests and what may be the causes? Which forest type has the biggest conservation value? ‘
  • ‘How does the establishment of REDD+ scheme in Cusuco National Park (Honduras) affect the conservation of biodiversity and the communities living within and around the national park?’

Qualification Types

Extended Project Equalifications (EPQ's or EP's)

Opwall carries out biodiversity surveys and research work in countries all around the world with a balance between Marine and Terrestrial research.  Participating in this are over 200+ academics from Universities all over the world who are involved in research programmes which students can witness and become involved with.  This results in a vast and varied research environment on which an EPQ student can base their research essay topic.

Many schools are now offering their students the chance to submit further research qualifications such as the Extended Essay Qualification (EPQ) which is now available from an increasing number examining boards (AQA, OCR, Pre-U, WJEC etc).  These qualifications are worth up to 70 extra UCAS points and are designed to support students with their transition to higher education or into the world of work.

The are many similarities between the examination boards and there are many options available to teachers and students but all involve an in-depth study by the student in which they will develop and apply skills creatively and result (for a Science student) in a dissertation or an Investigation.  Student must work independently and largely self-directed  although most schools should provide 120 Guided Learning hours (edexcel).  The EPQ is assessed by producing a research report of 5,000 words and/or a presentation.

Research Qualifications are either a Dissertation style or an Investigation.  Since collecting primary data is more difficult a student’s research question is best suited to the dissertation style e.g. for instance they might be looking at ‘Invasive species are one of the most important threats to biodiversity’ and hopefully they might then have chosen a site where there are examples e.g. South Africa and Chromolaena.

Whilst doing an investigation is not impossible it will not be practical for students to design detailed personal investigations and gather their own data although they can in some circumstances have access to raw data from a project they are involved in.  They will also have the opportunity to gather primary data by talking with the scientists involved.

Getting ideas on what topics are available at each site can be obtained by visiting the Research Qualification topic database and visiting the Opwall Research library.

How does it work?

Once the student has an initial idea he/she needs to email schoolresearchprojects@opwall.com with their interests and initial ideas and contact details so that one of the academic staff working with Opwall can contact them to discuss possible research questions.

This application should be submitted as soon as possible and ideally at least 3 or 4 months BEFORE their expedition date.

Once the student has chosen their research question area they would then be given advice on relevant reading and provided with past data (if available) to study.  The student should submit a brief summary and title for their proposed research question. Their proposal will be responded to by one of the Opwall academic staff and their final version should be submitted well in advance of their departure on their expedition.

Any student using data collected with Operation Wallacea will need to sign an agreement form which will be supplied once plans for their IRP are in place.

Once in the field the students have access to scientists and field biologists who can provide additional knowledge and advice.  Most research-based qualifications are either dissertation style or investigative projects although most of the research programmes  they will be involved in have standardised surveying techniques (needed to compare between sites or over time) so the student will not have the opportunity to design and implement their own survey methodology.  However, on expedition, the student will invariably be involved in contributing data using these standardised methods and they will have the opportunity to have access to larger data sets which they could then use to help answer their research question.

Extended Essay for IB

How EE’s can be linked to Opwall Expeditions

Opwall carries out biodiversity surveys and research work in countries all over the world with a balance between Marine and Terrestrial research.  Participating in this are over 200 academics from universities all over the world who are involved in research programmes which students can witness and become involved with.  This results in a vast and varied research environment which will enable an IB students to base their EE topic around.

IB – Extended Essay Guide

Extended Essay Guide

  • Biology – Essays in biology may be based on data collected by the student through experimentation, survey, microscopic observations, biological drawing, fieldwork or some other appropriate biological approach. Alternatively, essays may be based on data or information obtained from literature, ideally from primary sources, and manipulated or analysed in an original way by the student. Whichever approach is chosen, the student must ensure that sufficient resources, in the form of data and information, can be obtained in order to allow the topic to be effectively researched.
  • Environmental systems and societies – Environmental systems and societies focuses upon the interaction and integration of “natural” environmental systems and human societies. An essay in this subject should likewise focus on this relationship. It should not deal exclusively with ecological processes or with societal activities, but instead should give significant (though not necessarily equal) weight to both these dimensions. A topic should be chosen that allows the student to demonstrate some grasp of how both environmental systems and societies function in the relationship under study. For example, while the environmental systems and societies syllabus includes a study of pure ecological principles, in an extended essay it would have to be explored within the context of some human interaction with the environmental system.
  • Geography – An extended essay in geography provides students with an opportunity to apply a range of skills to produce an independent and in-depth geographical study. The nature of an extended essay in geography is characterized by a spatial emphasis and the application of geographical theory and methodology.

How does it work?

Once the student has an initial idea he/she needs to email schoolresearchprojects@opwall.com with their interests and initial ideas and contact details so that one of the academic staff working with Opwall can contact them to discuss possible research questions. This application should be submitted as soon as possible and ideally at least 3 or 4 months BEFORE their expedition date.

Once the student has chosen their research question area they would then be given advice on relevant reading and provided with past data (if available) to study.  The student should submit a brief summary and title for their proposed research question. Their proposal will be responded to by one of the Opwall academic staff and their final version should be submitted well in advance of their departure on their expedition.

Any student using data collected with Operation Wallacea will need to sign an agreement form which will be supplied once plans for their IRP are in place.

Once in the field the students have access to scientists and field biologists who can provide additional knowledge and advice.  Most research-based qualifications are either dissertation style or investigative projects although most of the research programmes  they will be involved in have standardised surveying techniques (needed to compare between sites or over time) so the student will not have the opportunity to design and implement their own survey methodology.  However, on expedition, the student will invariably be involved in contributing data using these standardised methods and they will have the opportunity to have access to larger data sets which they could then use to help answer their research question.

Other IRP's

Educational systems across the world frequently encourage their students to undertake IRPs and in general they follow a similar format to EPQs and EEs.  Some projects often involve small groups of students working together and the outcome may be a presentation given to the school and their parents after their expedition has returned.  The amount of guidance and help given also varies greatly and much will depend on how prescribed the details are for each project especially if it leads to an exam qualification.  Whatever your system, please make contact with Opwall to see how we can help via schoolresearchprojects@opwall.com

How it works

  • Application Process

    1. Please make an initial enquiry by contacting Dr Roger Poland (Senior Science and Education Advisor) directly via  schoolresearchprojects@opwall.com. He will then make contact to discuss opportunities and any further detail.
    2. You can then discuss these opportunities with your students and we can direct you towards various resources on the Opwall website telling you about current research being carried out at the different sites.
    3. Once a student has an idea of what they would like to study they can contact Dr Roger Poland directly by email and begin to suggest some research titles. This ideally should be done at least 4 or 5 months before they go on their expedition, although this may vary from student to student and reflect their specific situation.
    4. While in the field, students have access to scientists who can provide additional knowledge and advice. Most research-based qualifications are either dissertation essay style or investigative projects. The majority of the research programmes they are involved in have standardised survey techniques, so the student will not have the opportunity to design and implement their own survey methodology. However, the student will be involved in primary data collection using these standardised methods and in many cases have access to larger data sets which they could then use to help answer their research question.  Some students have set-up structured interviews with specific scientists and used their questionnaires as a source of primary data.

    This may all sound very complex and involved but we feel it will enable us to help in the most constructive way possible. Also, it is apparent that each type of project has its own set of parameters influencing how the project should be carried out, so we feel a bespoke approach for each student is the best way forward and hopefully much of this can be carried out by email well before their expedition begins.

    Ultimately it is the responsibility of the school to supervise their IRP students, although Opwall scientists and staff will do their utmost to help.  Any data gathered during an Opwall expedition should only be used within the school or for an exam qualification and any wider use of the data will need permission from the appropriate Opwall scientist.  At the appropriate time we would expect a student to sign an agreement form on how the data is to be used.

    Please do not hesitate to get in touch directly if you have any further questions via schoolresearchprojects@opwall.com.

  • Resources

    One of the most difficult tasks is choosing an appropriate topic and formulating the final wording for an IRP.  Titles can vary from being very specific to tackling much wider issues, but where possible they need to have a close connection to the research being carried out at their expedition site.

    There are a number of Opwall resources which will help in this process although the final title will be the responsibility of the student(s) involved.

    • WRL – Wallace Resource Library: This extensive resource contains 19 datasets and a further 45 mini-tasks based around the research being carried out worldwide and it has been prepared by the actual Opwall scientists involved.  It is a very valuable source of ideas with comprehensive datasets to look at and study. Also, on request you can obtain past-data sets for each country once you have narrowed down your IRP title.
    • Opwall Research Library: This area of the Opwall website contains a comprehensive collection of publications for the research being carried out across Opwall research sites.  Not only is it a great source of ideas but also a valuable place to find relevant scientific papers to back up your research.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who do I contact if I want to do my own Research project?

Consult your teacher or supervisor and email schoolresearchprojects@opwall.com

Can I design and carry out my own personal investigation for my research project?

Unlikely as it is difficult to carry out your own investigations due to time constraints and health and safety issues.

How do I find out what research is being carried out at my expedition site?

Please check out each countries “Objectives” tab or email schoolresearchprojects@opwall.com

When do I have to apply for a research project?

Much will depend on the type of project you are undertaking but you will need to have registered at least 3 or 4 months before you go on your expedition.

Will I have access to past data sets?

There are often past data sets available although this will depend on the site and type of research project you would like to investigate.

Will I be able to communicate with the scientist involved?
Will I have time to carry out my project when I get to my expedition site?

You will be fully involved in many research projects helping to collect data, but you should also have plenty of time to investigate your research title especially if you have registered before and Opwall staff know what you are doing.

Will I be able to publish my research project when I have finished it?

 If it is to be published you will need to sign an agreement form which is available by emailing schoolresearchprojects@opwall.com.

Can I use Opwall data for my research project?

If it is for school or exam purposes you may use the data as long as it is credited to the appropriate source.  If it is to be published you will need more specific permission from Opwall.

Can I design my research project when I get to the expedition site?

You will need to have carried out your preliminary work well before you go on your expedition and hopefully you will have a good idea of what you want to see BEFORE you go.  You may well change your plans although this will be more of a modification than an initial plan!

Will I be able to meet and talk with a scientist about my project when I reach my expedition site?

 In most cases yes especially if Opwall staff and scientists know when you will be on-site and what you are hoping to achieve.

How long will it take me to carry out an IRP?

This will depend on the type of IRP and may well involve 120+ hours of work although most of this will occur before and after your expedition takes place.  These projects are very time consuming and you will need to dedicate sufficient time to do them justice.

Will I need someone from my school to supervise my research project?

Yes, ultimately the school or college are responsible for supervising your IRP.

Can someone from Opwall supervise my project?

This is very unlikely although there will be a member of staff available who knows about your project and they will assist as much as they can.

How much help can I expect when at my research site?

Most projects require an ‘independent’ approach but you can ask as many questions as you wish and most scientists are very keen to help and advise.

Will I have access to a computer when I get to my expedition site?

Most sites will have power to recharge lap-tops  and a place to work but are unlikely to have any spare machines for personal use so bring your own if you want to write-up ypur project whilst on-site.

Will I have access to the internet at my expedition site?

Most sites have very limited access to the Internet so you are unlikely to have access.

Will there be a research library at the site?

Many sites have small research libraries and the majority of scientists will have their own ‘electronic’ versions of key papers and they may be willing to help if asked!

What exactly is primary data?

AQA (A UK Examination Board)  have defined primary data: “Primary data is defined as unmanipulated data, either collected in the field or a raw dataset.“ Our past data sets and data students might collect as part of their expedition research programme is primary data.

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