Richard Huggins and Alan Jenkins, with Howard Colley, Margaret Price and David Scurry
‘In view of the central nature of research and teaching in HE, and the almost universal assumption that R benefits T, and the importance of scholarship, it is perhaps surprising how relatively few institutions have specific policies in place to either monitor, or to develop and maximise these beneficial synergies.’ (J. M. Consulting, 2000, p. 16)
‘The teaching/research nexus was addressed only to a limited extent. It was very rare for institutions to make any mention of their research strategy in their learning and teaching strategy, and the potential conflicts or synergies between research and teaching strategies were generally not addressed. Mechanisms through which this nexus might be exploited are not yet articulated. Strengthening the nexus is at present an aspiration rather than a plan.’ (Gibbs, 2001, p. 17)
‘I believe that the main hope for realising a genuinely student centred undergraduate education lies in re-engineering the teaching research nexus.’ (Ramsden, 2004, p.4)
World-wide there is increased interest in how higher education institutions can better ensure effective links between teaching and research, partly to make students ‘stakeholders’ in the research of the university, but also to help staff effectively link what can easily be two totally separate jobs as a ‘teacher’ and as a ‘researcher’. However in many institutions the ‘interdependence between teaching and research’ is but rhetoric – and not in the student and staff experience. Brookes is one of those institutions that has sought to ensure through strategies and policies that such links are sought and achieved. In particular at Brookes, as we moved from three terms to two semesters, all undergraduate and taught postgraduate courses were redesigned and asked to demonstrate through programme specifications ‘how the linkages between research and teaching and learning are realised in the formal curriculum and the wider student experience’. This requirement and indeed the whole Undergraduate Modular Programme (UMP) redesign was overseen by the Redesign Advisory Group, or RAG, which issued three sets of guidance notes to assist course teams in the redesign process. (See www.brookes.ac.uk/smt/spo/RAG_Guidance_Pack_II.html!#twenty)
This requirement has attracted interest by other institutions that are seeking to bring teaching and research together. But was this just another example of mission statement rhetoric or did it have any substance? What were the levers and procedures that worked – and what were those that did not? What are the next steps the University and course teams need to take to ensure that such policies are effective for students and staff? These and other questions are still being worked out in practice by course teams and through University and school policies. Here we present the views of those key members of RAG. Alan Jenkins engaged with them to reflect on what had happened in the redesign process and what had been learned. The following is an edited account of their discussions.
In the title we ask whether this institutional move to link teaching and research through the UMP redesign demonstrates mission statement rhetoric, mission impossible, or mission accomplished? We do not conclude with an explicit answer to those questions, but hope we will stimulate further debate and ask you the reader to draw your own conclusions, based on your own experience.
Howard Colley (HC): Pro Vice-Chancellor for Academic Development and Director of the Semesters Project, Professor of Geology and QAA Institutional Auditor
Richard Huggins (RH): Assistant Dean of the School of Social Sciences and Law, Academic Director for Widening Participation and Chair of the Redesign Advisory Group
Alan Jenkins (AJ): Professor of higher education in the Westminster Institute of Education, Co-author of (2003) Re-shaping Higher Education: Linking Teaching and Research (London: Routledge, Falmer, (see http://www.tandf.co.uk/books )
Margaret Price (MP): Head of Learning and Teaching in the Business School, National Teacher Fellow and Member of RAG
Dave Scurry (DS): Dean of the Undergraduate Modular Programme and Member of RAG
AJ: Could you tell us how in your view this requirement to ‘link teaching and research’ came about, and in particular whether it had any substance or was it what I would call ‘mission statement rhetoric’?
DS: As I remember, it was already one of the strategic priorities of the University that had been developed irrespective of semesterisation. So, part of the process was to make sure the new strategies of the University were incorporated into the undergraduate course redesign.
MP: Linking teaching and research, and internationalisation of the curriculum were already part of the strategic direction of the University. But in RAG we did also have debates about which of the strategic options we should concentrate on in the UMP redesign.
The move to semesters and the redesign of the UMP: key features and points to note
- The decision to move to semesters was taken in May 2001 and the change was implemented in September 2004.
- Prior to September 2004, the University’s academic year had consisted of three terms, with a summative assessment point at the end of each. A single module in the UMP would be delivered and assessed in one term.
- The key aims of the move to semesters were to revitalise the academic curriculum, to reduce the burden of assessment, to release more of the University’s research potential, and to realise the opportunities provided by a longer summer period.
- These aims were in particular alliance with three of the University’s strategic objectives, namely, to deliver a distinctive and sustainable academic portfolio of the highest quality; to develop research excellence in all academic schools; and to increase the range and volume of knowledge transfer from the University’s research activities and expertise.
- In the process of redesign, the RAG sought to deliver distinctiveness via a number of innovative features.
- One such innovation was the introduction of the ‘Honours element’ to all fields in the UMP. This allows all course teams to identify a number of modules in which students can demonstrate their level of subject knowledge and academic skill in order to determine their Honours classification.
(Gavin Barber, Semesters Project Manager )
DS: In RAG we did try to explain what we meant by ‘linking teaching and research’ and how at undergraduate level these links might be developed, and advised people how they could meet the requirements. I’ve seen most validation documents and attended many meetings, where people have ticked the boxes to show this has been done and explained what they have done.
MP: Within RAG, there was quite a lot of discussion about the fact that there were several strategic priorities and if we asked people to address all of them then we would be on a hiding to nothing, so we did target this one, linking research and teaching, as being a higher priority than others.
HC: In getting course teams to consider key aspects of learning and teaching, which had been identified during the redesign process, we designed a programme specification template that required input on these features. We selected linking teaching and research, internationalisation, and also reflective learning as the key features but there was also greening the curriculum. We decided not give too many priorities to avoid overload!
RH: I think we were trying to come up with a framework that worked at programme level. We were also trying to get colleagues to engage across the board and not just at module level. So the three strategies that were particularly picked out were perhaps more ‘global’ and tied in with other aspects of University activity. The research and teaching link very much related to the fact that the shift to semesters was partly to encourage a greater time for research. We needed to reflect on an opportunity for people to reshape their teaching in ways consistent with their research activities and research aspirations. A significant number of staff were researching in areas that they were perhaps not teaching directly, or as new staff, had inherited module content.
MP: We thought that this link would give our teaching a greater credibility and enhance programmes. We thought links were probably there but not very explicit. We thought that those people who were more committed to research would be motivated to look at curriculum and teaching developments because of this requirement.
HC: The requirement to link teaching and research had real substance. We saw this as a major development. There were people already doing this, but we wanted to make it explicit and maybe pick up on examples of good practice as we went forward. I put together a spreadsheet that showed the different ways that programme areas are linking teaching and research, showing this in more than twenty different ways! The programme specification template just asked staff to explain how they were linking teaching and research and this very open requirement generated a range of answers. Here it is:
This spreadsheet documents the evidence in approved undergraduate programmes of study, of the ways course teams at Brookes have embedded teaching/research links. They represent an analysis of 96 undergraduate programme specifications and illustrate the range of approaches across the University.
Key to abbreviations:
- AH – School of Arts and Humanities,
- BE – School of the Built Environment
- BMS – School of Biological and Molecular Sciences
- BS – Business School,
- HSC – School of Health and Social Care
- SSL – School of Social Sciences and Law,
- Tech – School of Technology,
- WI – Westminster Institute of Education
|1. A learning environment that promotes and values research||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|2. Research-skills module in course||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|3. Research-training embedded in course||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|4. Modules reflect staff research||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|5. Case studies based on staff research||•||•||•||•||•|
|6. Redesigned programmes reflect better the research of staff||•||•|
|7. Modules include details of leading edge research||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|8. Research practised in project/dissertation/independent study/synoptic modules||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|9. Research practised in other honours level modules||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|10. Reference to key research papers in reading lists||•||•||•||•||•|
|11. Guest research lectures by other internal staff and external contributors||•||•||•||•|
|12. Students encouraged to attend research seminars||•||•||•|
|13. Students submit a research proposal which is assessed||•|
|14. Staff encouraged to develop research in their area of teaching||•|
|15. Involvement of students in staff research||•||•||•||•||•||•|
|16. Placement into research- orientated organisation/establishment||•||•||•|
|17. Pedagogic research informs module and programme design||•||•||•||•||•|
|18. Involvement of students in pedagogic research||•|
|19. Peer evaluation and reflection on research by students||•||•|
|20. Research seminar delivered by students|
|21. Students produce journal- style publication/research-style poster display||•|
|22. Internal publication for staff and students which highlights in-house research||•||•||•|
RH: There were also pragmatic reasons for this emphasis. We had to respond to the external agenda, in particular the national qualifications framework and subject benchmarks. (See www.qaa.ac.uk/crntwork/nqf/ewni2001/contents.htm, and www.qaa.ac.uk/crntwork/benchmark/)
We had to demonstrate that our students were exposed to a certain amount of ‘cutting edge knowledge’ – whatever ‘cutting edge knowledge’ is! We chose to interpret it as being ‘research’. In going through a major review we needed to be able to show, certainly at honours level, that there was an articulation between external expectations and the way that course teams linked teaching and research. In the guidance material we pulled in advice and strategies from the FDTL LINK project (Linking Teaching with Research and Consultancy in the Disciplines of Planning, Land and Property Management, and Building) and publicised the issues in a special issue of Teaching News (www.brookes.ac.uk/virtual/NewTF/tn/)
When course teams submitted their programme specifications to RAG for first reading, this was one of the areas we did go back to and ask for more information. And in approval events, it was an area that was discussed a lot but not in all events because it depended to some extent on who was on the panel. But it was a real requirement for RAG and for course teams.
AJ: Well that makes me feel a lot better, partly because I had a hand in getting that requirement into the redesign framework. As you know, Roger Zetter, Marion Temple, and Bridget Durning, from the School of the Built Environment, and myself had been working on the FDTL LINK project on linking teaching and research in Built Environment disciplines. (See www.brookes.ac.uk/schools/planning/LTRC) We had a vague statement in our bid to HEFCE that we would also shape institutional strategies. So we saw the UMP redesign as something to try to influence. We had a meeting with John Perkins, then Pro Vice-Chancellor for Academic Development, and he was readily persuaded to make the link a central requirement. We, and John, also wanted to make the requirement worded in such a way that course teams had great freedom as to how to interpret it. The simple phrase ‘demonstrate how the linkages between research and teaching and learning are realised in the formal curriculum and the wider student experience’ was one we thought was both clear and open to course teams to innovate in ways that they thought would be effective. Our work in LINK had made us much more aware how the characteristics of research in a subject area, for example research-based consultancy and professional practice in the Built Environment subject area, could shape the research that students needed to encounter.
AJ: So you all state that the requirement was real and produced changes on paper – but were they significant, were they ‘deliverable’ or were they just ‘course team rhetoric’ to enable them to get them through the hurdle of course approval?
HC: This was not something that the Senior Management Team or RAG imposed on the University. It reflected what was going on around the University and what we sought to support. So what we did through the programme specification requirements was to make staff think about how they were tackling this linkage between teaching and research. It is one of the areas of the programme specification that most teams have spent quite some time thinking about. The spreadsheet shows that there are over twenty different ways in which staff have suggested that they are linking teaching and research. About a dozen of those are common to nearly all the schools, but there are others that are unique to a particular school. So I really do think it made people think about what they were going to do, or were doing already in a number of instances, and making the approach to linking teaching and research transparent. For me the tricky thing is, now that its written down on paper, how do we demonstrate that the link is happening in practice?
RH: In the three schools that I did a lot of work with in the redesign, we spent a lot of time talking about how the link was implicit and how it could be brought out more explicitly. As often happens, they were doing a lot already, but didn’t articulate it very transparently, or sometimes even recognise when they were linking teaching and research. But when you have discussions and explore practices, a lot of interesting work comes to light. People would go from having one line in their programme specification, to saying in this module were doing this, and in that module were doing that, and overall were doing this! So I think we had an impact through making clear what people were doing and also through encouraging reflection and clarity of thinking about the things they were doing.
Another point that is quite significant is the increase in research methods and research training that now exists in the undergraduate programme. This may have happened anyway but there are a number of areas where one of the opportunities taken, partly because of the new honours requirements in programmes, is to have more taught research methods courses, and more discussions about research as a process. There are lots of areas that now have freestanding, but integrated, modules on research methods and research in the discipline.
DS: I agree with Richard. In a lot of the validations that I attended the research/teaching link was implicit, and a number of course teams were forced through the approval process to say exactly what they were doing in this area.
MP: I think that many of the best demonstrations of the link were in those modules addressing research methods, and now there are a lot more of those. I am less sure about the difference in the classrooms, to the student experience. At a validation event you can debate the issue and a course team can write something about it, but whether it changes behaviour or encourages staff to make clear to students what that link is remains to be seen. Certainly in the School of Business re-approval prompted more debate about linking teaching and research and differences between the undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. There were quite heated exchanges about it that helped us to also explore the nature of postgraduate and undergraduate teaching. Also within the Business School we had the debate about what research was, and what is consultancy. The national qualifications framework was also a big driver. The issue was there in black and white.
RH: Although we in RAG always saw linking teaching and research as a broadly based issue, in some areas people took the opportunity to redesign courses and create new modules that are much more consistent with their research. History is a good example, where lots of new modules are related to staff research interests. In Social Sciences there were similar trends in some programmes. But there was also quite a vigorous and healthy debate and much concern that such a staff research focus could result in undergraduates receiving diluted core knowledge of their discipline. This is an important debate which we were probably not having prior to the redesign process, about what represents core knowledge, what is the core knowledge that undergraduates should have and how, if at all, does it link to individual staff research interests.
HC: There are also examples of new programmes that reflect broad research interests in disciplines. A good example is Film Studies, which builds on the research interests of a group of staff in Humanities.
AJ: From your discussion, you have given me a clear sense that the redesign did result, if perhaps only as yet on paper, in a more explicit emphasis in the curriculum of students knowing about research by staff at Brookes and in their disciplines. But that is for me still a very limited staff-centred view of linking teaching and research. It does not necessarily put the focus on the students’ understanding of and abilities to do research. (See http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources.asp? process=full_record§ion=generic&id=163 ) Or do you see it differently?
HC: Well, we have recognised a strong emphasis by many course teams on ensuring that students are taught research methods.
DS: Such courses are particularly strong in the sciences, through the Skills for Scientists module for instance.
RH: As well as the focus on linking research and teaching, the other strategic objective in the redesign was a focus on independent learning. The shift to four module credits at honours level has put considerable emphasis on student independent learning. A lot of colleagues see that as linked to encouraging student research, and students working and learning through some kind of research activity. Colleagues worked at recognising what in their discipline was ‘independent learning’ and what was ‘research’ and came up with something that effectively linked those objectives.
DS: Thus in Fine Art, for example, research involves preparing for an exhibition, working on your own, developing a diary, and evaluating your own work. Research is not just about producing dissertations.
RH: Some of the most lively and interesting discussions about theses’ issues came from removing previous requirements that focused on the dissertation at honours level. Brookes had a tendency to see dissertations as the one indication of honours-level work. People could now, however, argue that honours-level achievement could be evidenced by students building a rocket flying to the moon!
HC: Possibly some areas havent taken it as far as they might have been able. I am particularly thinking about the highly professionally linked areas like Health Care, possibly Real Estate, and one or two others, where there are curriculum requirements prescribed by the professional bodies. Some of the professional bodies are much more interested in vocational or professional skills and competencies, rather than research as we would see it.
AJ: Remind us. What were the key features of the honours requirements?
RH: The honours requirement states that there must be four module credits where a students achievements must be clearly at honours level, as the QAA and other external agencies would define. That does not necessarily mean four separate modules. For example, it could be a quadruple module or two double modules. But it is a significant increase on the previous requirements in which two module credits had to be in the form of a dissertation or synoptic.
At Brookes, we continue not to have modules defined as level 2 or level 3. They are advanced modules. We did, however, establish a requirement that 25% of the work at advanced level, 4 out of 16 modules, was honours-level work. This increase in the honours-level requirement reflected the national qualifications framework requirement for greater independent learning at an advanced level. In the redesign this included student research per se or some other form of advanced learning. We concentrated on student activity and students working within a discipline and taking their understanding forward for themselves.
MP: When the programmes first came into RAG, we had some really interesting discussions about whether the research methods modules were honours level, particularly those in the second year. There were two contrasting positions and the issues were never totally resolved. One point of view was that in order to demonstrate understanding you actually had to use research methods. Therefore activity was needed to follow the research methods modules and this constituted the honours-level work. The other view was that the National Qualifications Framework implies that students must know about research methods, and modules providing this understanding were honours-level modules.
HC: The latter was my position. What is more important, being able to do research on a particular piece of work, or knowing how to do the research? I was arguing that the honours element was knowing how to do the research. That was the key because then you could do it in a range of contexts. But if you didn’t know how to do the research you would never get through to the second stage. So that was the nature of the debate.
AJ: We need to clarify the view of the dissertation in the UMP redesign. Since the early 1960s in the UK, the undergraduate dissertation has been a central way students are supported or required to do some form of research. In its previous modular programme regulations, Brookes required students wanting an honours degree to gain at least two module credits from project, dissertation, or synoptic modules’ and this was pretty universally interpreted as a requirement for students to do a research-based dissertation. The English synoptic module was a rare exception of a programme not having a dissertation requirement. What you seem to have presided over is a move away from the dissertation, and thus perhaps in effect, to break what many saw and still see as the key link between teaching and research.
RH: It is not a move away. The whole point of moving to a more liberal interpretation of what constitutes honours is really the reverse, i.e. to strengthen the links between teaching and research. It is to emphasise that the academic disciplines should be free to chose what is appropriate to measure independent, advanced learning for their students – with due regard to the discipline. With the great range of disciplines and subject areas that we have in the University, from practice-based to highly theoretical and abstract, having a uniform approach to demonstration of honours-level achievement is arbitrary or based on tradition, rather than being sensitive to knowledge development in particular disciplines.
AJ: Give me some examples from the UMP redesign that exemplify your argument.
MP: Within Business as a ‘discipline’ and among staff in the Business School, there are evident tensions and issues to resolve between academic and practitioner perspectives. (See www.brookes.ac.uk/publications/bejlt/volume1issue1/academic/pricefeely04.html.) As a result of the redesign, business students at Brookes now have a choice of the type of research-based learning they undertake. They may still do a ‘traditional’ dissertation, because some business students are taking a more explicitly ‘academic’ route. But we have a lot of students that arent doing business for that reason and we now have a consultancy module which requires research skills to solve business problems. Were also going to run a synoptic, integrating module.
AJ: Let me push again on what some may see by losing the dissertation requirements and widening what counts as ‘honours’, is in fact a move away from all undergraduate students doing research. I study US higher education because I think there is much there that we can learn, in particular from the undergraduate research programmes that are prominent in many institutions. (See www.solent.ac.uk/ExternalUP/318/alan_jenkin_s_paper__2_.doc)
But in the USA, these programmes tend to be for just a few students, often the most ‘able’ (or affluent), and often those at private institutions. Many undergraduate students, even at top US research universities, do not undertake anything equivalent to the UK dissertation and I think it is because the system is so addicted to and focused on staff research that is divorced from student learning. This should be a warning to us.
Supervising undergraduate research, of course, takes time and resources. So give the readers further examples from the redesign at Brookes, and demonstrate that this learning is at least equivalent in level to a ‘traditional UK dissertation’.
MP: I think its quite difficult to say. You could have a student who does not do a dissertation very well, but does perform very well on a synoptic module or a consultancy module, because they’re required to do slightly different things in slightly different ways. But we, the staff, would reckon that in these different contexts students are demonstrating honours-level skills and knowledge.
DS: What hasn’t happened is that across the board doing a dissertation has been replaced by something else. In the vast majority of programmes the dissertation is still used to demonstrate honours level. What we are doing is widening the forms of research-based learning on some programmes.
RH: Another example of this increased variety is the new expedition module in Geography where, prior to the dissertation, students will go in their vacation time to locations that are linked to staff research interests. Students will carry out research and obtain particular research skills and in effect create a community of research practice around particular research questions. The intent is that many will then further develop this research through their dissertation. So the changes in the UMP around the previous dissertation requirements were really a case of recognising that there may be other things you can include in addition to the dissertation. In some areas of the University, as for example in Fine Art, putting on an exhibition or creating a particular piece of art or other practically-orientated activities are recognised as being more appropriate to measure high level, research-based, disciplinary knowledge.
AJ: Just as in the Research Assessment Exercise, architects can submit building designs as their research, and musicians original compositions.
AJ: Lets shift the discussion to year 1 or level 1. Much of the reform movement in North America to bring teaching and research together has focused on the curriculum (and wider student experience) in years 1 and 2, seeing these years as central to involving students in the research worlds of the University and opening up their awareness of the complexities of knowledge. I am particularly thinking of the immensely influential Boyer Commission (1998) report. But I am also thinking about big curricular changes at some institutions such as McMaster and its current focus on inquiry in introductory courses. (See www.mcmaster.ca/cll/inquiry )
Were these issues at all, and particularly in the context of the University mission to bring teaching and research together, central to the discussions over year 1?
RH: Year 1 is quite interesting. Year 1 has produced some really interesting debates because of the reduction to two compulsory module credits. This has given colleagues a real focus of what is the central knowledge and disciplinary training required in stage 1. From my perspective, the relationship between research and teaching in year 1 has been very much about what is the absolute minimum core disciplinary knowledge and skill requirements that we want our students to have before going into stage 2, and how students are prepared for this more advanced work, which is more clearly linked to staff and disciplinary research interests and research agendas.
MP: The focus on disciplinary knowledge and skills is one way to put it. To me the key is understanding the nature of your discipline. If a student has to understand the nature of their discipline, then they are going to have to know something about the research in the discipline and the way the research is carried out.
AJ: Are you saying it has not been a case of ‘Dammit, we’ve got less time, we’ve got to give you this information and were going to lecture at you and assess you by some unseen exam!’?
MP: Well, I think its different in different disciplines. I think that’s the honest answer. There were course teams that really decided they were going to have a radical rethink of their programmes and thought that if they could only include two compulsory modules, they would have to think of innovative ways of developing both core knowledge and developing appropriate academic skills in stage 1.
RH: In my discipline, Politics, we used to have five basic modules, which was a lot for a small field. To get it down to two, we stripped everything out and went for a thematic approach around concepts and issues. The two compulsory modules operate very much as a core course. Sociology has taken a knowledge- and skills-based approach. So in semester 1, students engage with a series of key issues in Sociology. In semester 2, the focus is on applying that knowledge and developing ‘skills’.
One of the areas that we had hoped to push forward but didn’t was, having reduced the disciplinary burden on the students in stage 1, to open up opportunities for a broader and more liberal curriculum experience. Perhaps it was too radical an idea, but the opportunity was there for stage 1 to be very much an introduction to learning at university level that could then be followed at stage 2 by more specific disciplinary practice. That has happened in some areas and it can be returned to in the future.
HC: The opportunity exists, although its probably not as explicit in the curriculum as we might want, to ensure that students develop the various learning and research skills that they will need for the rest of the course. Although we have not fully resolved this yet, the thinking is that there will be opportunities through Personal Development Planning (PDP) to ensure that by the time students progress from stage 1 they will have the necessary skills and capabilities they need to for further personal development. For example, in Biological and Molecular Sciences, there is ‘Skills for Scientists’, a stage 1 module where the basic skills that the students require to be able to do research in the sciences will be delivered. Other subject areas have similar approaches.
AJ: I think readers will have gained a sense of what of this mission accomplished, but give us briefly your sense of what was achieved with respect to linking teaching and research through the redesign of the undergraduate modular programme.
MP: The most concrete evidence is the research methods modules. Although there was a lot of useful debate, other outcomes depended a lot on membership of the validation panels. But there are now across the University strong examples on paper of modules on research methods.
DS: For me, it was colleagues being more explicit about what they do. Going to the various meetings we discovered all sorts of things that were going on that we never knew of before. And if I did not know, then the students probably had no idea either. Also, important issues have become part of local discussions and debate in subject areas and not just in University-wide policy discussions.
RH: I agree and, although there is still the issue of how it is translated into the classroom, the links between research and teaching are now visible in student handbooks. People have worked hard and invested time to develop explicit links. It has changed the language we use – it has become part of a lexicon of discussions. And the links are clearly there in the modules developed for honours level.
I think there have been some major achievements. People are actually asking themselves and each other how they can equip students to succeed within a research-focused curriculum. There may still be a long way to go, though, in making it work.
HC: I would emphasise achievements in developing independent learning and the very clear articulation of that at honours level. We can now demonstrate what we believe is honours level study at Oxford Brookes. Its about research and independent learning, about how a student is equipped to go out in the world, be it the commercial or academic world, and be ready to take on challenges requiring advanced research skills.
AJ: So what has not yet been achieved and what are the limitations of what has been achieved?
MP: I think there are still limitations in terms of people not fully believing the importance of the links at undergraduate level. This is perhaps, in part, because resource constraints limit the number of advanced modules we can make available. So not all staff have been able to get a specialist module in the programme in their own research area. But it is also a question of changing our thinking. Some people are not yet convinced, particularly if they teach both postgraduate and undergraduate courses. They focus on linking teaching and research at the postgraduate-level but don’t necessarily bring that approach to their undergraduate teaching.
DS: Yes, I think there are some cases where the work to develop the links has been fairly nominal. So one of our jobs in the University will be to make sure that good practice and good examples are promulgated, so that people who have made only a superficial attempt are encouraged by what others have managed to do.
HC: We have a lot written down on paper and we believe that is what is happening. In a year or two it will be important to go back and collect examples of good practice that can be disseminated across the University. There is further work to be done once programmes are up and running and the modules that we’ve been talking about start to have an impact on students.
At the end of the day, we want to link teaching and research to benefit our students. If we want to actually measure the effectiveness of our approaches, then we have to ask the students themselves and, in due course, alumni and employers.
RH: One thing that applies generally to this whole process of redesign, is that it has to be kept going as a developmental process. One of the real fears that we always had is that what has been done becomes an end point, while in many ways it is actually a starting point. We have had a good discussion. We have developed ideas on paper. What matters now is how they are taken into classrooms. What matters is how we keep issues live and how we make sure that all staff, including new members of staff, contribute to further development. How can we sustain change and development as a vital part of the culture?
HC: We could write this into the annual review, but I think it would be better to try and organise something that is more developmental. Perhaps we could institute an annual day or even a week like the ‘Alternative Teaching Weeks’ we used to have. There are various ways of doing it, but I would prefer it be something developmental and contributing to the enhancement of the student experience, not focused on producing more paperwork at an annual review.
AJ: On the basis of your experience of this process what advice would you give to other institutions starting a process of institutional change to bring teaching and research together? And I am sure what you say will still be relevant to Brookes.
RH: I think that I would encourage them to think quite strongly about mechanisms and the balance between guidance, encouragement, support, and requirements. Think very carefully about guidance and support and how to make sure that what appears in programmes can be sustained.
MP: I would have to think about the relationships between the principles, the central directions, and issues you want to progress, and the mechanisms for taking these forward. In RAG and across the University we had some very interesting debates, but I think we werent quite sure how to achieve the key changes, to get our the principles into practice. I know we don’t want to get lost here in the arguments about the benefits of semesterisation, but one of the big problems we had in engaging people with linking teaching and research was that many were very resistant to the whole idea of semesterisation. They did not want to engage with the process at all.
DS: I would say don’t try to do everything at once. Give ideas for consideration. Run some pilots. Get some enthusiastic departments or groups of staff to see how things might work. Spread good practice from there. don’t get things muddled with other things that people might be resistant to or feel are too much.
RH: Dave is right, but I think it is a question of balance. One of the reasons we did what we did was to utilise the opportunity for change which semesterisation gave us. If we had disaggregated the changes, we might have had the problem that some people would not engage. For example, if they were not very interested in research or saw it as not particularly important to make relevant to students, they would not get involved. With such a large-scale structural change, there was an ideal opportunity to throw things up in the air and try to reflect the needs and aspirations of groups and individuals at a range of levels. There was a chance to say, ‘Look, there are real advantages of doing this particular thing now, irrespective of the framework in which its being done, and we must grasp the opportunity’. I think we needed to make more of that approach at an institutional level, to promote the opportunities and benefits of change. I think we were aware of that excitement early on in the RAG group. We wanted to make something really exciting out of the structural changes. Whether we communicated our own enthusiasm or sustained it or have vehicles to sustain it.?
MP: One of the things we got right was to say that this could be a radical change, that we were setting out a framework and guidance in which disciplinary differences and different approaches to the way learning and teaching developed could be accommodated. There were lots of great ideas out there which could be accommodated.
HC: I think in a major curriculum development project like this, you need a core team to develop ideas and to push them along and in this case it was the RAG. But you also need to engage with other key people around the University, particularly the programme leaders in the academic schools. I think we didn’t do enough of that in the early stages to really engage with them and win them over. I think we got the core group working well, creating ideas, but maybe there should have been more dialogue at the next level down, with the programme leaders, at an earlier stage. Too much was left to the revalidation process and the expectation that staff would engage in detail with the guidance packs produced by RAG. RAG did engage with course teams at the revalidation stage but by then the emphasis was on meeting requirements and the opportunities to consider developmental issues was limited. But overall we all achieved much – particularly many of the course teams in the way that they have designed their curricula.
AJ: Whatever we all think of semesterisation, we should recognise that internationally there will be considerable interest in what has been attempted and achieved at Brookes to bring teaching and research together. I do think that at times , staff – including some senior staff – don’t realise what has been achieved in this area . The task is now to ensure the impact on student learning is effective. While I am concerned whether the research strategies at School and University level are clearly articulating with and supporting this process. But that raises another issue: its called the RAE .But I am realistically hopeful of changes to national research and teaching policies that will help to link teaching and research www.dfes.gov.uk/hegateway/hereform/heresearchforum/index.cfm – and Brookes through the processes described in this article has played a key role in providing the evidence that it can be done.
Thank you all.
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