• Author(s): Dr Holly Smith
  • Title: Relationships between Teaching and Research
  • Subject: HE - Education
  • Keywords: UKOER, UKPSF, OMAC, CPD4HE, research-teaching relationship, research-led, research-based, research-informed, research-oriented teaching, scholarship of teaching, higher education
  • Language(s): English
  • Material type(s): Text
  • File format(s): ZIP, HTML, PDF, DOC
  • File size: Various
  • Publish Date: 31 October 2011
  • Licence: CC-BY-NC-SA



There is a simplistic view that research involves knowledge production and teaching involves knowledge transmission, and that these are discrete activities. In this view the relationship between teaching and research is limited to the outcomes of research forming the content of teaching. Hattie & Marsh (1996) published an oft-cited meta-analysis which found a very small positive relationship between quantifiable performance in teaching and research. This could lead to the conclusion that there is not really much relationship between research and teaching at all. However, I believe that this does not reflect the complex reality of academic work in any discipline, and runs the risk of creating two antagonistic activities. As most academics are involved in both teaching and research, finding ways to integrate them more effectively is essential as we come under more and more pressure to increase ‘productivity’ in both teaching and research.Many authors have set out much richer ways to conceptualise the ‘research teaching nexus’ as it is sometimes called, including Ernst Boyer, Angela Brew, Stephen Rowland, Mick Healey and Alan Jenkins, a selection of whose work you will find in the annotated bibliography in this resource. It is worth noting that different authors take very different approaches, and you will find some more relevant to your own context than others.

Boyer (1990, 1994) set out a new conceptual framework for thinking about academic work as scholarship. Boyer suggested that scholarship shouldn’t be limited to what he called the ‘scholarship of discovery’. Boyer set out a typology of scholarship:

  • Scholarship of Discovery
  • Scholarship of Integration
  • Scholarship of Application
  • Scholarship of Teaching

Boyer’s work has created a whole movement around the ‘scholarship of teaching’; which he describes as advancing and applying knowledge about teaching and learning. This conceptualisation dismantles the distinction between teaching and research as, for example, an activity like writing a textbook involves the scholarship of integration; synthesising existing knowledge. Writing a textbook would be hard to classify as teaching (as it might not directly involve any students) or research (as it might not involve saying anything entirely new) but it absolutely is scholarly, academic work. For the author of the textbook, the process of writing it could inform both their teaching and their research.

Griffiths (2004) defined a number of different models of the research-teaching nexus as follows:

  • Teaching can be research-led in the sense that the curriculum is structured around subject content, and the content selected is directly based on the specialist research interests of teaching staff; teaching is based on a traditional ‘information transmission' model; the emphasis is on understanding research findings rather than research processes; little attempt is made to capture the two-way benefits of the research teaching relationship.
  • Teaching can be research-oriented in the sense that the curriculum places emphasis as much on understanding the processes by which knowledge is produced in the field as on learning the codified knowledge that has been achieved; careful attention is given to the teaching of inquiry skills and on acquiring a ‘research ethos’; the research experiences of the teaching staff are brought to bear in a more diffuse way.
  • Teaching can be research-based in the sense that the curriculum is largely designed around inquiry–based activities, rather than on the acquisition of subject content; the experiences of staff in processes of inquiry are highly integrated into the student learning activities; the division of roles between teacher and student is minimized; the scope for two-way interactions between research and teaching is deliberately exploited.
  • Teaching can be research-informed in the sense that it draws consciously on systematic inquiry into the teaching and learning process itself.

Griffiths (2004) p722

I would like to argue for what Griffiths (2004) call the 'research-based' model. If you see yourself primarily as a disciplinary researcher, it is fruitful to explore what unites your own learning through your research with your students’ learning through your teaching. Griffiths’ ‘research-based’ teaching attempts to make student learning more research-like, through enquiry. Rowland (2006) has described how enquiry reintegrates teaching and research through a love of one’s subject. A consequence of an approach based on enquiry is that academics have greater solidarity with students who are engaged with the same project, but are simply less experienced. Teaching based on enquiry requires a reorientation towards one’s students, who become co-constructors of disciplinary knowledge. This is challenging to the existing power structures of the academy, and the social structures of departments can support or undermine this shift. There may also be disciplinary differences; disciplines where knowledge is organised hierarchically may be less willing to acknowledge the potential original contribution of undergraduates, while simultaneously having a strong tradition of experimental or project work which exemplifies an enquiry-based approach. Disciplines where knowledge is constructed in a more iterative way may be theoretically open to the possibility of a new interpretation offered by undergraduate students, but in practice can use very traditional assessments, such as essays in unseen exams, which only require the regurgitation of existing knowledge.

This conceptualisation is what Simons & Elen (2007) call the ‘idealistic approach’ drawing on Humboldt to argue that a distinction between teaching and learning only makes sense where a teacher can transmit a fixed and accepted body of true knowledge. Academics are involved in research, where all knowledge is provisional. Thus in this conception the research process becomes the curriculum.

In these activities I ask you to engage with the question of how research and teaching relate in your own discipline. By engaging with different ways of thinking about the relationship between teaching and research, I hope it will help you to think through how they relate in your current practice, and how you want them to relate in your future practice. This invites further questions on what your purposes are in teaching; are you trying to develop the next Nobel Prize winner in your discipline, or prepare the next generation of skilful practitioners in your profession? You may have multiple purposes, but considering if your curriculum is fit for purpose requires clarity about your purposes and a shared sense of purpose with colleagues in your department.


Creative Commons Licence
Relationships between Teaching and Research by Dr Holly Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Based on a work at www.ucl.ac.uk.

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