Reflections on the Relationship of Scholarship to Teaching

Dr. Richard MillerDr. Richard Miller
chair and professor, Department of Psychology

John Henry Newman, in his 1854 essay “The Idea of a University,” suggests that the primary purpose of the university is education: “a place for the communication and circulation of thought,” a place where “one generation forms another.” He contended that to discover and to teach were distinct functions, and that “those who spend their time dispensing existing knowledge are unlikely to have the leisure or energy to acquire new.”

In contrast, D. W. Hamlyn in his commentary titled “The Concept of a University,” proposed that one of the enduring achievements of universities, dating back to the Middle Ages, was the scholarship of discovery: “If learning is to be pursued and if knowledge is to be enlarged, there have to be institutions like universities, which have the double role of pushing back the frontiers of knowledge and of enabling future generations to carry on that process.”

At today’s university the commitment to both scholarship and teaching seems incontrovertible. It is enshrined in mission statements, strategic plans, and promotion and tenure guidelines. This recognition of the university’s dual purpose has led to an unfortunate division between teaching and research—a  division recognized by the meta-analysis of 58 studies conducted by Hattie and Marsh that found no relationship between research productivity and teaching effectiveness. Their recommendation was that universities should aim to increase the circumstances where teaching and research meet.

How can this be done? I would like to suggest three ways, available to us at UNK, to reunite teaching and research. First, let us continue to build upon the idea formulated by Humbolt in 1809 that a teacher does not exit for the sake of the student; both teacher and student have their justification in the common pursuit of knowledge. The involvement of our undergraduate students in the research process is a way of realizing that vision.

Second, let us make a conscious effort to include the products of our research into the course material—as examples of both content and methodology—providing our students with knowledge not yet reflected in dated textbooks. To do this, we must move from a teacher-focused perspective that emphasizes the imparting of knowledge, to a student-focused perspective that encourages the construction of knowledge by the student, where links between what is being taught and research are made explicit. This model embraces what Prosser and Trigwell call a conceptual change approach— a process that actively engages students in the use of a research paradigm in the form of a classroom exercise. This method may involve an entire course, as in problem-based learning or work-based learning, or specific units that lend themselves to the inquiry based approach.

Finally, at UNK we have the opportunity to engage in the scholarship of teaching and learning, an academic endeavor that until recently, many of our colleagues at research oriented institutions could not have undertaken and still attain tenure. Over the past few years, however, the scholarly investigation of teaching and learning has grown in its reputation as a bona fide field of inquiry. For us at the academy, the basis for researchable questions is rooted in everyday experience— the realization that Parker Palmer articulated after 20 years of teaching that he would “never master this baffling vocation.”

Teaching imperfections are grist for our collective mill in formulating hypotheses about pedagogical scholarship. For example, within any discipline, we might examine innovative ways of integrating information that stimulates students’ intellectual curiosity. The innovation could be a new way of combining two topics, a new technology that accelerates learning or makes transfer more probable, or a framework for integrating seemingly diverse concepts.

There are several benefits to integrating research and teaching. A recent study by Demoret found that course engagement, a clear predictor of student achievement, was greatest in lab courses where students engage in research. A second benefit is that it allows us to explain to the broader community, including the parents of our students, why research is an important part of our mission, not undertaken at the expense of teaching, but as a means of enhancing teaching.