Teaching/Learning and Research Nexus in Higher Education
Phuong Nga Nguyen
t the Regional Seminar Competition, Cooperation and Change the Academic Profession: Shaping Higher Educations
Contribution to Knowledge and Research
18-19 September 2007 Hangzhou, China
UNESCO Forum on Higher Education, Research and Knowledge Paper produced for the UNESCO Regional Research Seminar for Asia and Pacific
Teaching/learning and Research nexus in Higher Education
Phuong Nga Nguyen Director, Centre for Education Quality Assurance and Research Development, Vietnam National University, Hanoi Vietnam
17-18 September 2007, Hangzho, China
Introduction Globalization in the 21st century accompanied by rapid expansion of the knowledge-based economy from the developed countries to the developing countries has greatly impacted higher education system of every nation. The Asia Pacific Region is where there could be considered to exhibit various positive and negative influences of the knowledge-based economy on higher educations systems with a diversified forms of changes to cope with the demands of the international trends and globalization of higher education. The Asia Pacific Region consists of developed and developing countries with multi-cultures and multi-linguistics. Thus there can be seen differences in the state of national higher education development as well as national government policies towards higher education in the international market mechanism. The market internationalization mechanism coupled with the knowledge-based economy have driven nations and higher educations from a mutual benefit cooperative environment into competitive trends at various directions: top-down and bottom-up that is from international system to within national boundaries and within each university and individual academic staff. However, competition itself would not exist alone without cooperation. They are like a two-sided coin with a dialectic relationship that would enhance each other or cause negative consequences depending on how higher education systems and particularly each university exploit them. Within that current state of the world, this paper focuses on the teaching/learning and research nexus in higher education on the ground that the general roles of higher education are: training (as knowledge economies need skilled human resource), research (higher education conducts both basic and applied research for knowledge economies), innovation, social cultural criticism and repositories of knowledge for society (Altbach, 2007, p.xxi). Additionally, Altbach points out that higher education roles are essential to the knowledge-based economy, or to put it in other words, universities integrate information, training and research. This paper in the first section gives a critical analysis of various concepts of the nexus of teaching/learning and research in the literature available to the author. In the second section, the author discusses the positive relation that brings about benefit to academic staff and students. In section three, drawbacks of the relation are reviewed with comparatively examination of some cases in developed countries with a focus on the Asia Pacific Region. Section four exploits the institutional strategies in enhancing the potential relationship of teaching/learning and research. The analysis in this section also looks at how national government policies toward higher education would promote or inhibit a supportive environment for the maximizing of beneficial relationship of the nexus within higher education institutions. The last part of the paper concludes with some suggestions for enhancing the positive relation and minimizing the negative impact of the teaching/learning and research relationship. Concepts of the teaching/learning and research nexus in higher education In the literature recently, there has been a strong focus on investigation into concepts underlying the notion of teaching and research nexus (Jenkins, 2000; Woodhouse, 2001; Jenkins and Healey, 2005; Trowler and Wareham, 2007). Research findings indicate different assumptions or assertions of the teaching and research nexus.
The term nexus as pointed out by Trowler and Wareham (2007) is referred to in the literature as multiple sorts of linkages and relationships: teaching and research integration, the influence on students doing research, academic staff doing research, teaching and curriculum being informed by contemporary research, contextual research cultures, and so on ... In their current project, Trowler and Wareham (2007, p.3-5) categorized the relationship between teaching and research into seven dimensions in terms of the different uses, benefits and possible dysfunctions of each dimension as follows,
1. Learners do research 2. Teachers do research 3. Teachers and learners research together 4. Research embedded in the curriculum (research influences the what and the how of
curriculum design) 5. Research culture influences teaching and learning 6. The nexus, the university and its environment 7. Teaching and learning influences research
In addition to the description of the seven dimensions of the nexus of teaching and research, Trowler and Wareham (2007, p.6-8) portrayed their points of view on approaches to teaching in association with research approaches/process. For them, the Traditionalism is the teacher-focused approach, in which teaching is information transfer focusing on the discipline requiring rigour and hard thinking, disciplinary focus; there are clear boundaries between research and other activities; Progressivism is student-focused approach in which teaching is viewed as developing students minds in the sense that research-based learning, interpretive inquiry and critical thinking are essentially focused; Social Reconstructionism enables students to look into the dialectic relationship of events in the world so as to change it in the research process of critique and questioning; Enterprise is the teaching approach that equips students with skills to operate in their careers - this approach involves integrative research approach where business and research are closely connected.
A conceptual theory of a phenomenon could be an ever-lasting debate, and has hardly ever been tested empirically, an agreement or an understanding of the nexus of teaching and research would not be researched otherwise. Furthermore, to the knowledge of this author and the literature available, researchers in the field seemed to explore the connection between teaching and research, but not the nature of the nexus in association with teaching and learning as two terms (actions) used interchangeably. During the last three decades of the 20th century, in response to students needs and the development of the developed world, academic staffs shifted their teaching method from teacher-centre approach into learners-centre approach as described by Trowler and Wareham above (the terms are loosely different in the wording but meaning the same). Furthermore, in parallel with the rapid development of knowledge-based economy, the learners-centre approach has been exploited and applied in a broader sense. Thus teaching at higher education institutions means more than facilitating learning environment where academic staff and students are working together; teaching and learning are interwoven towards the needs of students and the demands/challenges of the knowledge based economy. On the basics of that ground, this paper attempts to analyse the relationship of teaching/learning and research at a broader angle. The seven dimensions of the nexus which was categorized by Trowler and Wareham (2007) are now suggested to be classified into 5 variables. For the analysis in this paper, these five variables are mapped together to form one continuum of
development. The starting point of this Continuum is the exhibits of the relationship of teachers role and students; the process stage is the active involvements and interactions of teachers and students, the outcomes are the university research culture, the university and its contributions. The relationship is much of dialectic materialism or causal interrelationships described in Figure 1 bellow:
Figure 1. The Continuum of the Teaching/Learning and Research nexus
This causal inter-relationship Continuum constitutes of five variables: 1. Teacher doing research, 2. Students doing research, 3. Teachers and students researching/working together, 4. University research culture and 5. University and its contributions. The author assumes that the causal linkage of the five variables would result in both positive and negative impacts on academic staff (teachers), and students (post-graduates and undergraduates) that consequently lead to benefits and drawbacks to the university in particular, the local communities, and the involvement of the university itself in the development of the national knowledge-based economy. The positive relationship between teaching/learning and research
1. Teachers doing research
2. Students doing research
3. Teachers & students
4. University research culture
5. University & its local contributions
What to do to enhance positive relationship between research and teaching/learning has been one of the most concerns in the developed countries since the last two decades of the 20th century. As developing countries entering the 21st century, with their recognition of the competition of the knowledge-based economy globally and internationally, this concern has also attracted the attention of not only their higher education systems but also the governments. Generally, in developed countries it is a common thinking that post-graduate students experience more or less the benefit of research-teaching/learning links, whether or not their enrolments are in research programs or coursework at a research university or at a comprehensive one. This common thinking is rooted in the university research environment for post-graduate students in which academic staffs and post graduate students are involved in researching together: students as research or teaching assistants and teachers as supervisors critically discuss/examine disciplinary issues and/or conduct research together. However, this positive relationship has highly been seen in higher education institutions in the developed countries in North America, Europe as well as those in Asia Pacific Region like Australia, New Zealand, Japan. In comparison with higher education institutions in USA and in Europe, those forms of positive relationship are not often found in the post graduate courses at higher education institutions in the developing countries like Thailand, Vietnam , let alone the undergraduate courses. Given the different conditions that help reveal the positive relationship, the paper puts its analysis in the higher education institution in the developed countries worldwide with a reference to higher education institutions in Asia Pacific Region and what lessons/experiences higher education institutions in developing countries can gain. On the examination of Variable 1 Teacher doing research in the Continuum above, the paper shares the concepts of the literature in the field (Jenkins, 2005; Trowler and Wareham, 2007) that normally the curriculum designed on the exploitation of the teachers research skills/experiences and research findings, thus help reinforce teachers professional research activities, critical thinking and passion for teaching and researching. This curriculum design approach results in the positive impact on Variable 2 Students doing research. This is interpreted as learning activities are research-based learning approach in which students develop theoretical concepts and research skills, and community practices. This analysis is illustrated by a number of case studies in English speaking countries where the economy is developed, such as UK, Australia and New Zealand (Woodhouse, 2001; Jenkins and Healey, 2005; Baldwin, 2005). Based on their research findings in UK, Jenkins and Healey (2005) stated that there are potential values of staff research to student learning, however, the benefit would not be gained automatically, but needs to be constructed systematically into the curriculum and nurtured by the department/university strategies and investment. At Melbourne University (Baldwin, 2005), the teaching/learning research nexus is built in several ways. Concerning Variable 1 and Variable 2 mentioned above, academic staffs, based on their personal research, design courses and learning activities around contemporary research issues, bring in research passion together with latest research in the field into the classroom teaching/learning context for evidence-based decisions; the value of the research findings is enhance in the contextual teaching/learning environment; students step by step get familiar with research based learning approach, ambiguity and mistakes in research, and unconsciously being infused with the university research culture so as to develop their research skills. The benefits students gained is that they become familiar with the nature of research and get to know the new discovery and/or knowledge created.
The higher level of the Continuum is the involvement of both teachers and students in collaborative research represented by Variable 3 Teachers and students researching/working together. Students, having gone through the first two stages (variable 1 and variable 2), being equipped with some research knowledge and skills, involve in departmental research projects as research assistants (post graduates), and/or small-scale research activities like assignments (undergraduates) (Baldwin, 2005; Jenkins and Healey, 2005; Trowler and Wareham, 2007). It is noted that participation of undergraduate students in research is much different than that of post-graduates; it would be beneficial to involve undergraduates in working in research teams with the supervision of academic staff or research assistants. Teacher-student cooperative relationship developments that promote motivational environment for teaching/learning and doing research and students research skills including critical and creative thinking, challenging events, etc. are reinforced. The outcomes for the highest level of the Continuum are Variable 4 and Variable 5; in this level of the Continuum both academic staffs and students (postgraduates as well as undergraduates) embedded in the university research culture, go beyond the university boundaries so that knowledge transfer takes place in various forms: knowledge and skills-training for industries, consultations for local communities and business enterprises, conducting projects addressing needs and problems of the society. Consequently, the institutions reputation and its roles have...