Research-led teaching and the research/teaching nexus

a student smiling

In one of the very first blogs on Teaching Matters, Elizabeth Bomberg wrote ‘It’s time to focus on teaching-research synergies’ and provided a valuable account of how she, and her students, engage with and benefit from research-teaching links.

Research and teaching may sometimes pull in opposite directions in terms of demands on staff time and institutional and external drivers. It is therefore an institutional as well as an individual challenge to promote and sustain such synergy and ensure that research and teaching are not experienced as mutually exclusive activities. With such a vibrant learning community, we are surely up to the challenge.

Indeed, it is learning that most obviously links research and teaching: inquiry is central to both. As researchers, teachers and students we are all engaged in the processes of knowledge production and in the acquisition and application of research related skills. In a knowledge based economy, students will increasingly need to develop and use these skills of information gathering, synthesis, analysis and application, whatever field they are studying and whatever career they enter.

There are different dimensions to research-led learning and the concept defies neat definition. Existing literatures stress an inquiry-based approach as key, with students centrally involved in the learning process. We have already seen excellent examples on Teaching Matters, making visible the diverse ways in which we are engaged in research-led learning, even if the activity is not labeled as such.

Learning in a research mode actively mirrors the research process, whether this is peer review in the context of assessment and feedback (c.f. Susan Rhind’s blog on repositioning assessment and feedback) or a student-led course or project (c.f. Shirley Gray on the PE4C Investigation and Student-Led Research Conference). This demands flexible curricula with multiple modes of research-led learning, building across all years of study and sometimes taking staff and students out of their comfort zones to confront other disciplines, approaches and contexts – learning within and beyond the University.

Research-led learning is also research informed in two ways. First, in the sense of learning about others’ research and knowledge within a discipline (and let’s not forget how useful it is for academics to keep on top of the broader developments in their field through curriculum development and interacting with students). Second, in that teaching and learning practices themselves are informed through applying and contributing to pedagogical research. Staff and students can learn about learning – drawing on up to date and appropriate pedagogies such as online teaching, for example (c.f. Sian Bayne’s blog on the Introduction to Digital Environments for Learning (IDEL) course and staff bursaries).

The integration of teaching and research requires active shaping involving students, staff and management practices. Let’s make visible the multiple ways in which we are already practicing research-led learning. And let’s identify barriers and enablers that will help us to be excellent in research and teaching and learning through embedding research-led learning.

Do let us know about ways in which you are engaging in research-led learning and teaching and what your aspirations are for developing the research/teaching nexus in the future.

Further reading:

Healey, M. 2005. “Linking research and teaching: disciplinary spaces and the role of inquiry-based learning”. In: R. Barnett (Ed.) Reshaping the university: new relationships between research, scholarship and teaching, 67-78. SRHE and Open University Press, McGraw – Hill Education.

Jenkins, A and Healey, M (2005) Institutional strategies to link teaching and research. Higher Education Academy.

Malcolm, M. 2014. “A critical evaluation of recent progress in understanding the role of the research-teaching link in higher education”. Higher Education, 67, 289-301.

Sarah Cunningham-Burley

Sarah Cunningham-Burley is Professor of Medical and Family Sociology, Assistant Principal, Research-led learning and Dean of Molecular, Genetic and Population Health Sciences in the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine. She researches and teaches in a multi-disciplinary environment, bringing social scientific perspectives and methods to understanding and practice in medicine, public health and health and family policy. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and of the Academy of Social Sciences.

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