Integrating Research and Teaching in Practice

Increasingly, the focus of work on the research-teaching nexus is directed not towards determining if there is a correlation between excellent research and teaching performance but on how we can enhance the links between research and teaching activities in practice.

The integrating of research and teaching activities in universities has been informed by a growing demand from employers for problem-solvers with skills to undertake enquiry. In the face of rapid advances and innovation across many fields of knowledge, it is also increasingly important to prepare students to be lifelong learners able to continue to learn after graduation. Increasingly, the focus of work on the research-teaching nexus is directed not towards determining if there is a correlation between excellent research and teaching performance but on how we can enhance the links between research and teaching activities in practice.

teaching can be research-led so that the curriculum is informed by the outcomes of research and the emphasis is on developing students’ understanding of existing research findings;

teaching can be research-oriented where the focus is on the methodological processes of research in the discipline and students learn the practices of enquiry or how new knowledge is created and validated;

teaching can be research-tutored where students are engaged in discussions about existing research findings and practices;

teaching can be research-based where the curriculum is built almost entirely around students undertaking research activities;

teaching can be research-informed where teachers (potentially in collaboration with their students) undertake enquiry into their teaching that, like all scholarly work, ensures teaching is evidence-informed, public, and open to scrutiny by peers;

research can be teaching-influenced where engagement of students in ongoing research can inform the direction, scope, methods and outcomes of a study. This can be particularly relevant when supervising research students where the experience of teaching and research is often blurred, but is also possible in undergraduate teaching contexts.

Healey and Jenkins (2009) have mapped the first four dimensions of research-teaching links summarized above into a widely applied framework for thinking about the curriculum. They argue that research-led and research-oriented curricula respectively emphasize research content and research process but predominantly position students as an audience for disciplinary research.

Research-tutored and research-based curricula similarly focus on research content or process but locate students as participants in research. This framework, however, neglects the last two dimensions of research-informed teaching and teaching-informed research. The dimension of research-informed teaching is often excluded on the basis that it does not exclusively relate to disciplinary research outcomes or production but focuses on scholarly enquiry into the teaching of the discipline. Yet, as well as contributing to a teacher’s understanding of their students’ learning experience, involving students in asking questions about their learning in the context of the discipline can be a powerful way to develop their understanding of how they learn and improve their reflexivity.

The dimension of teaching-influenced research is also often overlooked within institutional models for connecting research and teaching because even advocates of research-teaching links may still prioritize the research function over the teaching function. From this perspective the trajectory of the relationship between research and teaching is exclusively unidirectional: research can inform teaching but teaching does not inform research. Bringing research and teaching closer together, however, can be a reciprocal experience and many teachers recognize, in practice, that research projects benefit from new perspectives generated through student and teacher interactions or student involvement in live research projects. Bringing ongoing research into teaching helps researchers to collect or analyze data, refine conceptual ideas or evaluate methodologies and methods. In addition, skills such as being able to communicate complex ideas to non-specialists essential for teaching can also be re-purposed for disseminating research in ways that enhance its impact.

A rich and challenging curriculum located within the context of an active scholarly university community of both educators and their students ideally should include all these ways of connecting research and teaching. The different ways in which connections are made between research and teaching can be developed progressively over the length of a single module or cumulatively across different modules in a student’s programme of study. In many cases, for example, curricula are planned to gradually introduce students to the existing knowledge base (research-led) and research methods (research-oriented) at the beginning of a module or programme to prepare them to undertake their own independent research projects or dissertations at the end of their programme (research-based). Introducing students to a teacher’s or department’s research outputs can lead students to report an increase in their depth of understanding of the subject and in their enthusiasm in response to a teacher’s passion for their research, as well as prompting student interest in further study (Hajdarpasic et al. 2013). While students also indicated some negative consequences as a result of academic staff prioritizing their research over supporting students, this suggests that research-led approaches that draw on academics’ engagement in research can be important for engaging students with the subject of their studies.

Such research-led curricula, however, also position students as relatively passive recipients of research conducted by experts. Students who experience research in their curricula predominantly in terms of information gathering from lectures and textbooks in this way have been found to align this to an approach to learning that is based on memorization and the reproduction of facts. Therefore, in introducing research content into the curriculum it is important to frame this knowledge in terms of how such research is generated and understood contextually rather than as certainties dictated by the teacher as an authority. Including the research questions and problems that initiate the research and the processes of undertaking the enquiry alongside the outcomes emphasizes research as a discovery process. If we want to support our students to develop their capacity to undertake independent enquiry and share our own experience of enquiry as learning, however, we also need to ensure that we create more opportunities within the curriculum to fulfil the types of engagement that are accounted for in research-tutored and research-based learning activities.

There are several aspects of the learning and teaching experience to consider in relation to the role research can play within undergraduate or taught postgraduate curricula (Visser-Wijnveen et al. 2010; Healey, 2005). In reflecting on how to strengthen the links between research and teaching we need to examine several aspects of the curriculum

Healey and Jenkins (2009) have mapped the first four dimensions of research-teaching links summarized above into a widely applied framework for thinking about the curriculum. They argue that research-led and research-oriented curricula respectively emphasize research content and research process but predominantly position students as an audience for disciplinary research.

  • the orientation of the module or programme aims in relation to research;
  • the role of the teacher in introducing research into teaching;
  • the nature of the learning activities students undertake.

First, we need to consider if the curriculum focuses primarily on presenting research content or on developing student understanding of methodologies and processes. The curriculum may also be oriented towards developing the students’ research dispositions and skills necessary to enable them to pose and investigate research problems themselves. Second, we need to consider the role that the teacher adopts in relation to integrating research into their teaching. A teacher may be positioned as an expert conveying the outcomes of their own research or the research of others in the discipline. If the aim of the module is to induct students into the discipline and support them to adopt appropriate research dispositions or disciplinary research skills, however, the teacher can be a role model and use their research experience to demonstrate to students how to be a researcher. Alternatively, if the curriculum is designed to enable students to undertake their own research independently or in collaboration with their teachers as research assistants, then the teacher will adopt a guiding or partnership role. Finally, the learning activities students are involved in can reflect the different stages of their engagement in research. For example, traditional learning activities such as attending lectures or reading allocated texts can be the basis for students learning about research. Creating opportunities for students to learn in research-like ways through enquiry tasks, small-scale research assignments or participation in live research projects will provide students with authentic research experiences. These different approaches to connecting research and teaching are summarized in Table 6.1.

Table 6.1         Connecting research and teaching in practice


Research-teaching nexus


Teacher role

Typical learning activities

Teaching is research-led

To teach current research, including the research of researcher-teachers

Researcher-teacher as expert

Listen to lectures and read texts that present the outcomes from current research

Teaching is research-oriented

To teach what it means to carry out research in the discipline

Researcher-teacher as role model

Engage in tasks that develop understanding and application of research methodologies, skills and techniques

Teaching is research-tutored

To share and discuss disciplinary research practices and outcomes

Researcher-teacher as mentor

Write, peer review and discuss essays or papers on research topics and processes

Teaching is research-based

To provide authentic research and enquiry experiences

Researcher-teacher as partner

Complete small-scale independent research assignments, collaborate with researchers as research assistants or participate in research placements

Teaching is research-informed

To employ systematic enquiry into learning and teaching to design, carry out and evaluate teaching

Teacher-researcher as developer

Undertake small-scale (collaborative) enquiry into specific learning and teaching activities

Research is teaching-influenced

To develop and enhance research processes and outcomes on the basis of engagement in teaching

Teacher-researcher as learner

Engage students in data collection, analyzing raw data or peer reviewing conference papers or draft journal articles that are emerging out of ongoing or recently completed research

It is useful to critically reflect on how curricula map against the different dimensions of the research-teaching relationship summarized in Table 6.1. For example, how do we deliberately or tacitly position ourselves and our students in relation to the processes of disciplinary knowledge creation and dissemination? It can reveal gaps in our curricula and help focus our attention as educators on including a range of different ways to integrate research and teaching. In particular, it can reveal when we include research-based learning activities that give students opportunities to gain experience in enquiry in disciplinary and professional contexts. These experiences can often be lacking in the curriculum but can develop highly desirable intellectual capacities in students. Engaging students in learning tasks and assessments that are deliberately designed to replicate real-world enquiry experiences helps to foster enquiry skills that are relevant for critical thinking in the discipline as well as for future employment. In the next section we will specifically focus on ways to embed and evaluate enquiry processes when we design new modules. The following list provides suggestions, however, for strengthening the connection between research and teaching in existing curricula.

Include up-to-date research data and debates in the curriculum

Research-based elements of the curriculum can be developed by explicitly including the emerging outcomes of your own or colleagues’ current research in the curriculum in lectures or seminars. Current research debates in the field can also be the focus for case studies or examples. Students can be directed to conference proceedings, abstracts or media reports on current research to engage with different positions and arguments at the cutting edge of the discipline. This helps to illustrate the contextual and contested nature of knowledge creation in the field.

Engage students with the progress of research projects and outcomes

Regularly updated reading lists or course packs that include recent outputs such as conference papers, presentations or journal articles can also provide ways to support student engagement with new research outcomes. Encouraging students to follow your own or colleagues’ research blogs and other social media dissemination activities by linking these to module learning resources will also enable students to access and follow current information on live research projects.

Explore the process of departmental research in practice

Student understanding both of their teachers’ research topics and the ‘messiness’ of the real research process, as part of a research-oriented element of curriculum, can also be developed by getting students to explore their teachers’ experiences of research. Direct students to read some examples of the range of different written outputs from the research of departmental colleagues, such as journal articles, book chapters or grant reports, before conducting an interview about the research with the researcher. Dwyer (2001) used this as an assignment for first-year undergraduate students at the beginning of their programme as a way to familiarize them with their teachers’ research work and begin the process of introducing students to the research culture of the department.

Initiate a student journal club

A journal club format, either integrated into teaching or as an optional complement to the curriculum, is one strategy for facilitating research-tutored elements. Journal clubs provide a space for students to read and evaluate research outputs, get exposed to different perspectives on the research of their teachers and peers and, in healthcare or other professional subjects, consider how they might use research as an evidence-base in practice. suggest that utilizing prompt questions such as, for example, “Was the study well-designed and is it the best way to answer the research question?”, “Can you identify whether the methodology is robust or are there any flaws?” and “Were ethical issues considered?” will support student critical appraisals of published research.