The Teaching-Research Nexus

In the Considering Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship and Defining Undergraduate Research sections we started to illuminate the reasons why undergraduate research and creative scholarship is an important high-impact learning practice, and began to move towards establishing a framework that we can use to think strategically about undergraduate research in your academic and professional endeavors, as well as in the scholarship, education, and academic research activities occurring at the UO. Now we explore the relationship between teaching and research.

A Brief History

 

As Clark (1997) explains, the contemporary view of teaching and research is that they are incompatible.  This perspective developed during the 1980’s and 1990’s and gained momentum because of two trends in higher education that were representative of a shift in social values and a changing public finance model. The trends can be summarized as (1) a move from elite higher education to mass higher education, and (2) an advancement in research frontiers from simple to increasingly complex knowledge.  The first trend had the obvious effect of bringing more young adults into higher education.  Unlike the students that came to institutions through the elite higher education structure, this new population would require significant teaching at the beginning and intermediate level. Further, a fair assumption was made that this new population would not be prepared to conduct, or contribute to, rigorous research.  The second trend affirmed this assumption, which, along with the factors outlined below, assisted in galvanizing the view that teaching and research are incompatible

Compounding the influence of these two trends was the interplay between their high costs and the shifting public attitude towards higher education funding – one that was not willing to increase spending on higher education in general and an unwilling to invest money in research. These factors resulted in, and continue to foster, a paradoxical mandate for higher education institutions that calls for mass higher education and the continuation of increasingly complex and specialized research initiatives, all while public funding remains static or lowered. One of the outcomes created by the scarcity of resources is a fiscal climate that engenders a culture of accountability, where the impacts of investments must be proven. This culture contributed to the development of evaluation systems that considered teaching and research as separate activities.

Finally, research on how students best learn at the undergraduate level was insufficient and not brought to the scale required  by the influx of students.  Barr and Tagg (1995) describe how undergraduate education was approached through an instruction paradigm that broke down and compartmentalized the educational development of young adults and viewed student learning as a linear process moving from content mastery towards discovery and original research.  This paradigm is conducive to instruction methods that focus on the passive transmission of knowledge and skills through readings and lectures – what may be described as the traditional college classroom.

As a result of all of these factors, the structures and systems for implementing and assessing undergraduate education, instruction, curriculum, research, and performance, are designed and navigated by treating teaching and research as separate activities and measures. It is through this dichotomous framing that the earlier evaluations of the relationship between teaching and research were approached.

Research Evidence on the Teaching-Research Relationship

Inquiry into the type of relationship (positive, negative, zero) that exists between teaching and research is generally thought to be inconclusive.*  Those that claim a positive relationship do so primarily through citing anecdotal evidence that often stems from long held beliefs that the connection is obvious or the principle that good teachers make good researchers.

Those that claim a negative relationship cite studies that oversimplify the relationship by only looking at the superficial outcomes of teaching (teacher reviews) and research (publication, grants awarded) and then searching for a correlation between the activities on only those two factors.  These studies may also have flawed methodology, often posing questions from a framework that assumes a dichotomous relationship.

Hattie and Marsh (1996) conducted a meta-analysis of every available study and came to the conclusion that if a relationship between teaching and research does exist, it is minimally positive and more than likely zero.  It is important to note that the findings of Hattie and Marsh are a result of a re-analysis of the studies mentioned above and requires the same skepticism towards the data. The authors were also careful to note that a zero relationship does not indicate a negative relationship and they went as far to suggest that it should be the goal of every institution to create policies and a culture that increases the opportunity for research and teaching to interact.

*For a comprehensive review of the research evidence on the teaching-research relationship see Alan Jenkins’ 2004 guide to the research evidence on the subject.

Undergraduate Research and Student Learning

Another factor to consider when examining the relationship between teaching and research is the evidence on the impact of research activities on undergraduate student learning.  Unlike the relationship between teaching and research activities being performed by faculty, there is a clear consensus that research, inquiry and discovery have a positive impact on student development and learning.

Research Evidence on Undergraduate Research Activities

Undergraduate research and creative scholarship activities represent one of the stronger examples of a high-impact learning practice that can advance the key characteristics of the University’s mission.  Mentored research, in which students and faculty work together to discover new knowledge, apply it to their discipline, and share it locally, nationally, and globally, is instrumental in helping individuals think analytically, question critically, and discover the enduring joy of inquiry.  Undergraduate research simultaneously strengthens undergraduate education; provides additional outlets for faculty to teach, research, and serve; and fosters the creation of a community of scholars that is essential to the intellectual health of the university.

Undergraduate research is recognized as a high-impact learning practice (Kuh, 2008) by the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) initiative. Students who participate in undergraduate research experience many benefits including increased persistence (Nagda et al., 1998); increased interest in, and pursuit of entrance into, graduate school (Hathaway et al., 2002; Kremer and Bringle, 1990); higher gains in research skills including gathering and analyzing data and speaking effectively (Bauer and Bennett, 2003); and gains in professional advancement, professional development, and personal development (Seymour et al., 2004; Lopatto, 2006). Additionally, undergraduate research has shown to be particularly effective at increasing retention amongst, and opening career pathways for, minority and underrepresented populations (Nagda et al., 1998).

Research Evidence on Student Learning

Research on student learning reveals that the methods and settings in which students learn best do not align with the traditional pedagogical approaches and learning structures used in higher education (Guskin, 1994; Barr & Tagg, 1995). Guskin (1994) citing the work of Norman (1993) and Chickering and Gamson (1991), notes that the ideal setting for student learning includes close and engaging relationships between faculty and students with high levels of feedback, classrooms that utilize active learning, opportunities to work with faculty outside of formal classroom settings, and opportunities for students to collaborate with their peers. More recently, the Association of American Colleges & Universities (2007) affirmed these practices through their creation of the Liberal Education & America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative that identified essential learning outcomesprinciples of excellence, and high impact learning practices that stay true to the suggestions outlined above.

Conclusions and Suggestions

Considering the evidence, there are a couple of key conclusions that can be drawn regarding teaching, research, the nexus, and undergraduate education:

  1. The teaching-research relationship is, perhaps unsurprisingly, very complex, and the research evidence regarding their impact on each other is inconclusive at best. As such, the mechanisms that evaluate their relationship need to be more robust in order to better understand the nexus and allow for sound policy and decision making.
  2. Research tells us that involving undergraduate students in research, inquiry, and discovery related activities is considerably effective in helping them learn. And since the trend for mass higher education continues, the costs of attendance surges, and the demand for critical thinkers with collaborative and problem-solving skills increases, reforms in undergraduate education necessitate the inclusion of high impact learning practices.

Moving forward, it is clear that any attempts to find synergy between teaching and research need to be nuanced, involve an understanding and appreciation of disciplinary differences regarding research and teaching, and innovative in utilizing the two activities direct and indirect connections.  A place to begin may be to adopt a new paradigm of research and teaching, one that does not view, think about, plan around, and assess research and teaching as divergent activities. Clark (1997) argues that if a line of separation should be drawn anywhere, it should create a distinction between teaching and learning that is research-based and teaching and learning that is focused on codified material. Doing such will allow for faculty and students to escape what Langford (2014) describes as the “tyranny of content” and instead focus on fostering analytical, critical thinking, and research skills that inspire inquiring minds.  Content mastery will surely follow when students are excited and interested in the subject area and research.

Next – Engaging Undergraduate Students in Research

 

References

Barr, B., & Tagg, J. (1995). From teaching to learning: A new paradigm for undergraduate education. Change, November/December, 13-25.

Bauer, K.W., and Bennett, J.S. (2003). Alumni perceptions used to assess undergraduate research experience.  Journal of Higher Education, 74, 210-230.

Clark, B. R. (1997). The modern integration of research activities with teaching and learning. Journal of Higher Education, 68(3), 242-255.

Guskin, A. E. (1994). Restructuring the role of faculty. Change, 26(5), 16-26.

Hathaway, R.S., Nagda, B.A., and Gregerman, S.R. (2002). The relationship of undergraduate research participation to graduate and professional education pursuit: an empirical study. Journal of College Student Development, 43, 614-631.

Hattie, J., & Marsh, H.W. (1996). The relationship between research and teaching: a meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 66(4), 507-542.

Jenkins, A (2004) A guide to the research evidence on teaching-research relationships. York: Higher Education Academy https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/node/3617

Kremer, J.F., and Bringle, R.G. (1990). The effects of an intensive research experience on the careers of talented undergraduates.  Journal of Research Development Education, 24, 1-5.

Kuh, G.D. (2008). High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter. AAC&U, Washington, D.C.

Langford, J. (2014). Antiquity for Undergraduate Researchers. In I. Crawford, S. E. Orel, & J. O. Shanahan (Eds.), How to Get Started in Arts and Humanities Research with Undergraduates (pp. 12-22). Washington, DC: Council on Undergraduate Research.

Lopatto, D. (2006) Undergraduate research as a catalyst for liberal learning. Peer Review. 8 (1), 22-25.

Nagda, B., Gregerman, S., Jonides, J., von Hippel, W., and Lerner, JS. (1998). Undergraduate Student-Faculty Research Partnerships Affect Student Retention.  Review of Higher Education, 22, 55-72.

Neumann, R., Parry, S. and Becher, T. (2002) Teaching and learning in their disciplinary context, Studies in Higher Education, 27, 405–417.

Robertson, J. (2007). Beyond the ‘research/teaching nexus’: Exploring the complexity of academic experience. Studies in Higher Education, 32(5), 541-556.

Seymour, E., Hunter, A. B., Laursen, S.L., and Deantoni, T. (2004). Establishing the benefits of research experiences for undergraduates in the sciences: First findings from a three-year study. Science Education, 88 (4): 493-534.

Smeby, J. C. (1998). Knowledge production and knowledge transmission. The interaction between research and teaching at universities, Teaching in Higher Education, 3(1), 5-20.