As a prelude to next week’s teaching café where research led teaching will be under discussion (see the end of the post for details), LSE senior academic developer Claire Gordon spoke to Jane Hindle about her work on an emerging agenda for research based education
Claire, the work you’ve done on what you call ‘research-based education for a new era’ is part of a forthcoming Higher Education Academy report you’ve written with Dilly Fung, Director of UCL’s Centre for Advancing Learning and Teaching, called Rewarding Educators and Education Leaders in Research-Intensive Universities. Can you give us a quick overview of the report?
Yes. The report basically attempts to answer two questions:
- How are educators and education leaders currently employed, rewarded and regarded in research intensive institutions?
- How and why are these practices changing, and how might they change further to meet the needs of such institutions in the modern era?
As part of our research we interviewed 10 PVCs from across the Russell Group, conducted focus groups with heads of department in research intensive universities and also ran two focus groups with heads of educational development. In addition we conducted a detailed analysis of institutional policies and promotion criteria as well as drawing on an expanding body of educational research in this area. Finally in our report we chose to talk about ‘education’ rather than ‘teaching’ as we think this better encompasses the complexity and breadth of the broader educational mission at institutions of higher education.
How does research based education fit into that bigger picture of reward and leadership?
I’ll answer this in two parts. First, there is the challenge for research intensive universities of rebalancing the relationship between research and education. In recent decades this relationship has become heavily skewed in favour of research – in part a response to the REF/RAE and the bifurcation of the funding of UK higher education contributing to both structural and conceptual divides within these universities. The process of rebalancing is already underway, and in some cases well advanced, including at Imperial College, Exeter and Cardiff for example. Many, though not all, Russell Group institutions have been reviewing their promotion criteria with the intention of moving towards parity of esteem between research and education. Part of this process has involved the development and unpacking of a set of promotion criteria from entry lectureship positions all the way up to professorship which, appropriately, equitably and authentically, reward threshold professionalism, teaching excellence and education leadership alongside other dimensions of the academic role. Fundamentally this means shifting the incentive structure in which academics have operated away from one overwhelmingly geared towards rewarding research excellence. Of course this cannot simply be reduced to adjusting incentive structures. We are in fact talking about complex processes of institutional and cultural change, which depend, among other things, on the particularities of institutional contexts, the positioning of senior leadership and heads of department, and the regular and consistent communication and explanation of changes at every level of the institution.
The second part moves us beyond the question of incentive structures and into the realm of ideas and values. While acknowledging concrete external drivers behind such changes – including the rise in student fees, the increasing importance of the NSS and other ranking data as well as the prospect of the TEF in 2016 – our research suggests that these changes are also being driven by value based orientations/commitments among senior leaders in research intensive universities to raise the importance of education, to re-engage with very important questions about the very nature of higher education, an integral part of which is an interrogation of the particularity of higher education in research intensive universities. This is where the discussion about research based education comes to the fore, in particular the importance of recognising and rewarding the contribution of educators and education leaders at every level of the institution to carrying forward a vision of research based education as well as enabling our students to engage in the ‘business of the university’ and to learn and develop through engaging in processes of knowledge creation.
You talk about the synergies between education and research, by which I think you mean that the practice of each can benefit the other, and that done well, and in institutions where such synergies are able to flourish, the results can deliver more than the sum of the parts – for both academics and students. Do you have any successful illustrations you could share?
It is no coincidence that my co-author is Dilly Fung, Director of the Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching at UCL where she has been instrumental in rolling out the university wide Connected Curriculum initiative and carrying forward UCL’s strategic vision of enabling students to ‘participate in the research process and the creation of knowledge supported by our academic and research staff’. Academics throughout the institution have been asked to engage in a process of curriculum review and development to ensure that students are not only learning about some of the latest research in their field but are learning through actively participating in research and enquiry at all levels of their programme of study.
At LSE there are also a growing number of examples of research-based pedagogy sitting both inside and outside the formal curriculum. In HY118 (Faith, Power and Revolution: Europe and the Wider World, c.1500-c.1800) groups of students choose their own topics from the list of lecture themes and produce a ‘dossier’, a short introductory essay, a glossary of terms, visual materials like maps and a bibliography. In GV314 (Empirical Research in Government) students undertake a practical research project, in the process learning a variety of techniques and issues in the empirical study of political science. On EU457 (Ethnic Diversity and International Society) students undertake a long research essay. They participate in a three hour interactive workshop to develop their research proposals and are mentored through the development of their research project leading up to a poster presentation in a conference in LT06 before writing up the final paper into a long essay.
In LSE100 groups of students also have the opportunity in engage in different aspects of the research process. On the Nationalism module, for instance, students are asked to undertake quantitative and qualitative research to address the question of ‘Is LSE a cosmopolitan community?’ and in the new Crime and Punishment module the students will be carrying out a literature review exploring a particular dimension of the war on drugs such as gender, imprisonment, poverty and inequality with a view to addressing the question of what should be done.
And of course our own LSE GROUPS project has for the past five years enabled undergraduate students to spend the last two weeks of Summer Term engaging in an enquiry based research project in cross-disciplinary, cross-year groups, under a broad theme such as ‘diversity’ or ‘social change’, culminating in a research conference on the final day of the programme.
Finally, do research intensive universities ignore at their peril your recommendation that they investigate ways of exploiting the synergies between research and education? In other words, is research based education the best – possibly the only – way for such universities to thrive?
I think it would be foolhardy to say that research based education is the only way forward for research intensive institutions but the vision we present in our report offers a timely and exciting opportunity to capitalise on their research excellence and to seek to re-solder the links between research and education through embarking on a scholarly, creative exploration of the synergies between them. This will of course take different forms depending on the programme, the discipline and the level of the students. But it would enable academics to connect up the different parts of their roles rather than seeing investment in one dimension as being in a zero sum relationship with another dimension, and to develop partnerships with colleagues and students alike to think creatively about the ways research can inform education and education can inform research. And it would offer students the opportunity to learn in different and exciting ways and to feel authentically a part of a scholarly community. All of us who are involved in the process of education need to engage with this investigation to develop distinctive forms of research based education that are beneficial to students and staff, and in particular to research intensive universities themselves.
I’ll close with a quote from a paper by Mary McAleese, if I may: ‘There is no contradiction between the imperative of good teaching and the imperative of research which critiques, refines, discards and advances human knowledge and understanding.’
This interview reflects the views of Claire Gordon personally, and are not necessarily those of either LSE or of LSE’s Teaching and Learning Centre.
The LSE teaching café on research led teaching takes place on Wednesday 25 November, from 10:00 to 11:00, with breakfast available from 09:30. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to join us.