Monday, March 28, 2016

Bonus Post: Research in the Classroom

This week in GTC we discussed how to incorporate research into teaching. One thing graduate students (and academics in general) must navigate is their duality as both teachers and researchers. While we may often consider teaching and research as separate entities, there is increasing emphasis on bringing these two facets of academic careers together in order to better serve students, achieve the broader goals of universities and granting institutions, and increase our own productivity.
We first took some time to think about and discuss our answers to these questions: “Is there a relationship between teaching and research? How would you describe that relationship for you personally?” Although our group generally expressed a positive and synergistic relationship between teaching and research for us personally, the truth is that most studies fail to find any significant correlation between a person’s research productivity and effectiveness as a teacher. If the aim is to have researchers bring something special to the classroom gleaned from their activities in that field, we need to do more than just have researchers teach. Instead, we need to consciously create research-led course design.
As a group, we worked together to brainstorm different ways to incorporate research in the classroom and placed them along a continuum (inspired by some of the material in the PowerPoint presentation linked below).  On one hand of the continuum are teacher-focused activities. Here, students are an audience as the instructor shares information about past or ongoing research, in the field in general or in their own lab. This approach is useful for covering required course material without simply presenting material as immutable facts. Instead, this approach emphasizes the process of science and the accumulation of knowledge through research. The other end of the continuum is occupied by student-focused activities, were students themselves are actively engaged in research. These activities include in-class labs, literature projects, and other experiment-based learning exercises where students gain hands on experience formulating and testing hypotheses, synthesizing information, and presenting their results.
How does this all tie in with this quarter’s theme about job preparation and career development? Personally, I have been interested in this topic since I began developing some undergraduate course material incorporating products from my own research—with some success but lots of room for improvement! However, as we have spent time thinking about teaching portfolios and job interviews these last few weeks, it has become apparent that this is a topic every graduate student interested in an academic job should be able to address. Just looking up some common interview questions is evidence of this: “Tell us how research has influenced your teaching“ or “In what ways have you been able to bring the insights of your research into your teaching at the undergraduate level?“ or simply “How will you involve students in your research?” Although the answers to these questions will (and should) be different for each one of us, the benefits are universal; students in inquiry-based courses leave with increased confidence in course material, more positive attitudes towards research, and a higher interest in pursing future research (compared with a “cookbook” course; see Standford example linked below). For us trying to straddle the teaching-research divide, incorporating research into our teaching can increase our own engagement, productivity, and fundability. For instance, well-planned class projects may lead to publishable results and can be incorporated into major grants as evidence of the broader societal reach of our  academic activities.

PowerPoint about a case-study in Ireland incorporating research into the classroom:

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