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Issue 25, June 2007  

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The constructive power of research
In student learning, and in our learning
Kathryn Bartimote-Aufflick, Pharmacy Education Unit
(formerly in the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources)

For me, a spirit of generosity prompts persistence in learning which in turn gives rise to the motivation to teach (or share that learning). To teach is to learn. That is, as the expression of your learning collides with the thoughts of others, each arrives at an altered state of knowing, all the while recognising that the beauty of these "knowings" or meanings is different for each individual.

Why the separation between research and teaching? "Both are concerned with the act of learning" (Brew & Boud, 1995), and indeed learning may be thought of as the main business of a university and inclusive of both research and teaching (Zamorski, 2002). Both have identifiable outputs - it's merely that the measurement of these has become separated, leading to an estrangement in focus. This is illustrated in Hattie and Marsh's (1996) finding that for an individual academic there is no significant correlation between research output and teaching quality. However, Hattie and Marsh themselves hope that their study will lead to university policy that improves this relationship and "increases the circumstances in which teaching and research have occasion to meet, and to provide rewards& for demonstrations of the integration of teaching and research" (1996, p. 533).

The interaction of research and teaching is evident in three states: student exposure to relevant research (completed or being completed by someone else); student participation in current research; and the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL - investigations by teachers into learning and teaching). These groupings have emerged in interviews of academic staff in the work of Brew (2006), Zamorski (2002), and others.

Having argued for an increasing intimacy of research and teaching, the remainder of this article is devoted to considering how research can enhance student learning, and some issues associated with research of teaching. The mood is intentionally reflective.

Research enhancing learning
Brew (2006, p. 40) refers collectively to student exposure to and student participation in research as "research-enhanced teaching", the base level of which is exposing students to research findings, perhaps in lecture content or in assignment reference lists. The next level consists of students being involved in what Brew calls "research tasters" (2006, p. 52), which are research activities (often conducted in collaboration with fellow students) that give exposure to one or more skills, processes or facets of the whole research process. And finally, research-enhanced teaching nirvana is reached where students and academic staff collaborate on whole research projects that matter (that is, are publishable or are supported by funding outside of the teaching budget). I give examples of all three levels from my undergraduate teaching of applied statistics below.

An example of exposure to research
Year 1 students form their own groups to research a statistical analysis technique of their (guided) choice to present to the whole class. The project is very structured in that progress is monitored via draft documents and meetings with each group. Elements of peer review and self reflection are also included. I now see that each group of students is mentored in the art of teaching (and learning).

By containing research activity within units of study we are trusting that students will put together the full picture of research themselves (and also collate and organise knowledge from a range of sub-disciplines). Perhaps some do, but perhaps some do not, as Zamorski (2002) reports: "the complete research process was often invisible to students and [they had a] partial picture..." (p. 426).

A "research taster" example
A joint assignment on the growth of market vegetables under a variety of sowing regimes in two Year 2 units (applied statistics and crop science) creates a space for students to make these linkages. The research elements of experimental design, field work, laboratory analysis of plant and soil samples, and data analysis, are each led by the most appropriate teacher from either unit. A single report encompassing the whole research project is produced by the students, and applicable elements assessed by the relevant teachers. Unfortunately the quality of this project is reduced by the limited literature review informing the work, practical constraints on the experimental layout, unreliable data resulting from measurements by a large number of students, and the limited scope. However it is a step closer to the optimal research-enhanced learning situation of students and staff working on a full length of research project worthy of dissemination.

An example of collaborative research
Perhaps closer to the ideal is the Agriculture Faculty's Year 4 research project which constitutes half of the work of that year for all students. The student chooses a project in their area of interest and completes it with guidance from two supervisors. Depending on the research program in the sub-discipline and available funding, a student's project may be contrived especially for them, or contribute to a larger existing research project (often funded externally). A common assessment regime consists of: an initial oral presentation outlining their planned project; a literature review in the style of a journal review paper; a poster of research findings; an oral presentation of research findings; and finally, a journal style research paper (along with the revised literature review).

According to some University of East Anglia lecturers in Zamorski's (2002) study, academic staff members see these projects as the culmination of three and a half years of supporting coursework (an illustration of the "linear progression of maturation& from 'acquisition of knowledge' to 'beginning the creation of knowledge'". Regrettably some students have a poor research experience for reasons such as a lack of resources to perform a meaningful investigation, limited access to busy supervisors, or through being incapable of independent work (particularly amongst the lower achieving students). Also, very few of the drafted journal papers are published (for various reasons, including: insufficient quality, lack of student motivation, lack of staff time) and so, in my mind, the research process remains somewhat incomplete for the majority of students.

The question of admitting undergraduates to our research ranks
In aiming to have undergraduate students research alongside academic staff, I believe we will need to address the issue of intellectual property rights, the quality of the research undertaken, and our own attitudes to inclusion. In tackling the first issue I use the definition that "undergraduate research is an inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate that makes an original, intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline" (Council on Undergraduate Research, 2003, cited in Brew, 2006, p. 90). Considering two examples from Brew's book – that of Hasok Chang (2005, cited in Brew, 2006, p. 90) at University College London who is collating several years of student research on the history of chlorine into a published book, and that of Amanda Warren-Smith and colleagues from the University of Sydney (cited in Brew, 2006, p. 87) publishing on horse behaviour and horse fitness research based data collected by students – I am prompted to wonder what level of contribution could result in a student being a co-author on these publications? Are their contributions not deemed sufficiently scholarly to warrant movement from the acknowledgements section to the list of authors? In the case of Zamorski's (2002) paper, cited frequently in this article, she is the sole author reporting the results of a project which involved considerable input from a co-director of the project and 12 student researchers. The student researchers were paid to "collaborate on the research design, on construction of the interview schedule, on early analysis work, and in some of the dissemination and presentation activities" (p. 413), as well as conduct eight interviews each, transcribe these and summarise them, and self-interview. Even at this heightened level of involvement, are we still limited in our thinking of what students are capable of and how far students are trusted to engage in research (Brew, 2006) and its dissemination? Increased emphasis on formal undergraduate research schemes, such as the summer scholarships offered by the University of Sydney, may enable the setting of parameters for student engagement in research and recognition of outputs.

My second concern regarding the full integration of undergraduate students into research communities is in design of studies. I note particularly the limited reliability (and defensibility) of data collected by large numbers of students, such as in two University of Sydney cases reported by Brew (2006) of equine research (mentioned previously), and the collection of fungal spores throughout the Sydney region by 1000 first-year biology students. The associated error in the multiplicity of measurements by different people must be quite considerable and potentially unacceptable.

Finally in pursuing integration of undergraduate students into our research communities, we need to be mindful of our attitudes and actions. I offer my own reaction to the statement: "a number of students reported that they had been told by their tutors that they could not do 'proper' research until the PhD nor attend research seminars, which were only open to post graduate students" (Zamorski, 2002, p. 416). The scribbled note to self was "oh, that's sad". Later, however, I realized it had never occurred to me to invite undergraduate students along to local research seminars, even though I had often thought it fantastic that my friend studying undergraduate linguistics regularly attends linguistics research seminars (albeit a little shyly). Is this a display of hypocrisy, or just ignorance?

Let us now (take a deep breath and) turn away from research-enhanced teaching to instead focus on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL). Hutchings and define the scholarship of teaching as the investigation by teachers of "questions related to student learning& and [doing] so with an eye not only to improving their own classroom but of advancing practice beyond it" (1999, p. 13).

The scholarship of teaching and learning
Carolin Kreber challenges us to think beyond what has been achieved by the scholarship of teaching movement, that is, "having made teaching more visible, scholarly or professional"; and "increasing& knowledge about how students learn and how best to facilitate their learning" (2005, p. 402). She provides an argument for the scholarship of teaching to become a catalyst for change in curricula, university goals, and in society at large. Kreber's new university goals result in students who are well versed in self-management, personal autonomy and social responsibility (from the broader mantra of lifelong learning) – elements of which have been embraced in the University of Sydney's Generic Attributes of its Graduates policy (The University of Sydney, 2004).

Alongside these ambitions for student lifelong learning, I would propose that the scholarship of teaching and learning is the demonstration of lifelong learning by teachers, and that this lifelong learning is an agent for change – change in the individual academic; change in dissemination practices of the education research community; and change at the institutional level.

Facilitating my concentration on change in the individual teacher is a model developed by Kreber and Cranton (2000) which is a 3 x 3 matrix representing nine components of the scholarship of teaching with three overarching levels of knowledge – instructional, pedagogical, and curricula – with three levels of reflection as sub-elements of each. The authors give a table of example "indicators" or demonstrable outputs of the nine components. An inventory of my own outputs of SOTL highlighted a gap in the area of development of pedagogical (or theoretical) knowledge, the "most difficult knowledge to develop" (Kreber & Cranton, 2000), however I feel pleased with my progress. To date, I have spent 13 years developing a level of expertise in the discipline of applied statistics through various learning experiences as a student, consultant, teacher and researcher. Conversely, my involvement in SOTL pursuits has been much shorter (only 4 years).

In encouraging more teachers to investigate their teaching and students' learning I recognize that entry into the arena of SOTL from a discipline outside education (or the social sciences generally) can be challenging. But in time, with learning opportunity, support, and by being included in the community of established education researchers (regardless of discipline), my belief is that those with education research as their second discipline will be able to make considerable theoretical contributions to knowledge.

The second change I notice being produced through the lifelong learning associated with SOTL is an alteration in dissemination practices of the education research community. Jo McKenzie (2006) argues that "dissemination of teaching and learning innovations should be about making it possible for others to learn to adapt and implement innovations in their own contexts" (p. 1) and advocates an evangelism of SOTL outcomes and products rather than "passive dissemination focused on academic publications and websites" (p. 2). In this way a learner-oriented approach to dissemination is taken and she draws parallels between this approach and that of student-focused teaching.

The third change, that at the institutional level, is at work in our own university with research into the relationship between research and teaching contributing to the establishment of the Research-Enhanced Learning and Teaching policy (The University of Sydney, 2006).

In summary then, I have argued in support of the strengthening of the relationship between research and teaching and considered the part I have played (and can play) in this. The most promising aid to relational fortification is the principle of inclusiveness – by heeding Brew's (2006) insistent focus on "inclusive scholarly knowledge-building communities" (particularly in the approaches to research-enhanced teaching), and my own observations about the value of embracing discipline-based academics into the education research community.

This article's initial form was that of an essay for a unit within the Master of Education. I thank Amy Cruickshanks, Mark Aufflick, Angela Brew and Kim McShane for their editorial comments.

Brew, A. (2006). Research and teaching: Beyond the divide. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Brew, A., & Boud, D. (1995). Teaching and research: Establishing the vital link with learning. Higher Education, 29(3), 261-273.

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

Hutchings, P., & Shulman, L. S. (1999). The scholarship of teaching: New elaborations, new developments. Change, 31(5), 10-15.

Kreber, C. (2005). Charting a critical course on the scholarship of university teaching movement. Studies in Higher Education, 30(4), 389-405.

Kreber, C., & Cranton, P. A. (2000). Exploring the scholarship of teaching. Journal of Higher Education, 71(4), 476-495.

McKenzie, J. (2006). Variation in ways of experiencing the dissemination of teaching and learning innovations and ways of experiencing teaching: similarities, differences and implications for improving learning. Paper presented at the Improved Student Learning Symposium, Bath, UK.

The University of Sydney. (2004). Graduate attributes of graduates of the University of Sydney. Retrieved June 15, 2007, from

The University of Sydney. (2006). Research-Enhanced Learning and Teaching. Retrieved June 15, 2007.

Zamorski, B. (2002). Research-led teaching and learning in higher education: a case. Teaching in Higher Education, 7(4), 411-427.

Kathryn Bartimote-Aufflick is an Associate Lecturer (Education) in the Pharmacy Education Unit, Faculty of Pharmacy.

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