The Student Within - Experiences of a conference on research and teaching

"The main findings of my empirical research are that the relationship between research and teaching at institutional and departmental level is zero." Hatties bold opening statement was certain of generating much debate. Indeed, the closing plenary was characterised by heated argument; with Hattie reiterating his finding; Lewis labelling as a myth, the belief amongst professors of a strong relationship between research and teaching, and Colbeck disbelieving asking for clarification of the definition of research and teaching.

During the time in between, discursive workshops and presentations dwelt upon opening up research to undergraduates, the financial and academic sense or nonsense of having teaching only universities, the need for higher education to serve society as a whole and how research universities (or otherwise) could best meet this need.

A list of quotes from the plenary sessions provides a tantalising glimpse of the colour of opinion and fact.

"Research can be incorporated into the design of educational experience for all students."
"What matters is having access to research rather than the link between research and teaching."
"We need to constitute the relationship between research and teaching..a national debated is needed."
"Good students and PhD students are forces for change."

The Sponsors had hoped for a significant student presence approaching their own Student Unions, the National Union of Students and the National Postgraduate Committee (NPC). I attended the Colloquium as the NPC representative but held back from making this known except during meal times and coffee breaks. The 'whys and wherefores' of this decision add to the debate surrounding the research and teaching nexus.

Firstly, I felt a little overwhelmed in the presence of such august company. "Lecturers and professors are role models for the student people of stature and research" (Mathieu 2004). Secondly, I took my undergraduate degree in the early 1980s and research had never once impacted on my student experience (other than research defined as library searches in the preparation of written assignments). In 2004 such an experience might well be considered obsolete: for as Ramaley pointed out "Research and teaching can be incorporated into the design of educational experiences for all students" (2004). Thirdly, for a post graduate student that there is a connection between research and teaching cannot be obscured. "Research is the central professional endeavour and the focus of academic life" (Rice 2004). Fourthly, Brown (2004) in his keynote speech had stipulated, "It is also cardinal that the Group [the Colloquium] tries to operate on the basis of evidence." Lastly, I found myself almost totally absorbed in listening and learning. However, so as not to disappoint my host, I wrote down a few words to say during the close of the proceedings. These are they.

From a personal perspective, I am surprised at what I have learnt:

  • the importance of introducing research into undergraduate courses
  • the depth of feeling / passion for a proven research and teaching connection
  • a clearer understanding of how a research and teaching connection may contribute to a healthy learning environment.

From a wider student perspective as a fourth year PhD student and Student Union President of a research and teaching institute:

Yes, we see ourselves as customers and expect value for money. Accordingly we expect our evaluation and assessment of our courses and lecturers to count.

Yes, research and researchers are valued. Research projects and publications give the researchers stature. Moreover, they are a resource for us to tap into in furtherance of our educational goals whether it be at Advanced Diploma, Masters or EdD/PhD level.

Yes, teaching is important. Poor teaching and we become disappointed, frustrated and angry.

Yes, we expect a good relationship between research and teaching. A PhD student remarked to me that for researchers research becomes their world such that they are unable to relate to us as human beings and that is sad. A teacher of many years experience and recently awarded her PhD expressed her disappointment at not being short-listed for the post of part-time lecturer. She was told that she did not have enough publications. "This was a pity because researchers are so 'precious' and having teaching experience brings them down to reality."

To conclude, a research and teaching relationship is critical: if we are not to disappoint students and prevent them dropping out or to just do enough to get by. As Brew (2004) aptly puts it: "having time for nothing more than the core nourishment of the university." Research and teaching is critical if students are to be inspired to excel beyond what they thought was personally possible. "Research and teaching motivates, inspires and challenges. It feeds and liberates the soul" (Ramaley 2004).

But then, mindful of Browns stipulation; this is only my personal interpretation of the Colloquium and as such may be viewed as anecdotal and should be distrusted (Van Manen 1990). However, anecdotes are an instrument of qualitative research (Cohen et al 2000), which are used for "laying bare the covered-over meaning" (Van Manen 1990).

References

Brew, A. 2004. The implications at the level of institutions. Unpublished paper given at Research and Teaching: Closing the Divide? An International Colloquium 1719 March.

Brown, R. 2004. Keynote speech. Research and Teaching: Closing the Divide? An International Colloquium 1719 March.

Cohen, L., Manion, L., Morrison, K. 2000. Research Methods in Education. London: RoutlegeFarmer.

Colbeck, C. 2004. The impact of departmental and disciplinary cultures. Unpublished paper given at Research and Teaching: Closing the Divide? An International Colloquium 1719 March.

Mathieu, R. 2004. The implications at the level of institutions. Unpublished paper given at Research and Teaching: Closing the Divide? An International Colloquium 1719 March.

Ramaley, J. 2004. The implications at the level of the national systems. Unpublished paper given at Research and Teaching: Closing the Divide? An International Colloquium 1719 March.

Rice, E. 2004. Keynote speech on policy implications. Research and Teaching: Closing the Divide? An International Colloquium 1719 March.

Van Manen, M. 1990. Researching Lived Experience : Human Science for an Action Sensitive Pedagogy. London Ontario, Canada: The Althouse Press.