Teaching and Research: Mutually supporting, inseparable, or unrelated streams of work?

Part II of II

L. E. Olson

I have always subscribed to the conventional wisdom that teaching and research are mutually supporting activities, and recently had the opportunity to review the results of research designed to examine the relationship between research productivity and teaching effectiveness. For those of you who want "just the facts", the overall conclusion is... there is none! For those who would like more details, please read on.

The logical arguments supporting the contention that research should contribute to teaching and teaching to research have always seemed rather self-evident to me; arguments such as: "teachers who are active researchers are more likely to be on the cutting edge of their discipline", or "teachers who are involved in research are more likely to be at the forefront of their discipline", or "teachers discussing their own research provide a sense of excitement about the results and how they fit into the larger picture", or "active researchers are more effective at instilling an actively critical approach to understanding complex research findings", or "teaching forces clarification of the big picture", or "teaching helps identify critical gaps in the literature", or "teaching and research are similar in that they involve common values, such as rationality that should be mutually reinforcing?"1 They all seemed so self-evident, in fact, that I simply didn?t question whether there was any evidence to support the contention or consider the policy implications if the "self-evident" evidence didn't exist.

I was surprised to learn that a meta-analysis of 58 studies designed to examine the relationship between teaching and research revealed that there was simply no relationship between the two constructs.2 It was informative to review the reasoning underlying the various theories of how teaching and research should be related, which ranged from predictions of a negative relationship based on time, personality, or rewards considerations to predictions of a positive relationship based on conventional wisdom or a logic that both activities required the same abilities (perseverance, dedication, hard work, creativity, critical analysis etc.) to predictions of no relationship based on personality traits, funding models, or the consideration of research and teaching as unrelated enterprises. Yet the "no relationship" conclusion was the overall winner. Additional studies examined potential intervening variables, such as knowledge, ability, organizational skills etc.; however there was no evidence to support these various models either.

So, where does the conclusion that "the likelihood that research productivity actually benefits teaching is extremely small or that the two, for all practical purposes are essentially unrelated" (Feldman, as quoted by Hattie and Marsh), leave us? For me, the most salient take-home messages from reviewing these papers were the following:

  • When making hiring or promotion decisions, the evidence of teaching effectiveness and the evidence of research productivity are different and must be examined and considered separately. A productive research record can not be used to draw conclusions regarding teaching effectiveness and visa versa.
  • Most graduate programs teach research skills adequately; therefore if you want people to be productive researchers, providing adequate time for research is a critical element for success. Conversely, if you want people to be effective teachers, they must be taught the specific skills. Providing time alone will not improve teaching effectiveness, because most graduate programs do not instill these skills effectively. Yet, there is only so much time in a day; and the results suggest that researchers who work at teaching tend to capture the additional time from their "personal" time.
  • It will take more than simply altering the rewards structure to improve teaching effectiveness. Motivation and student feedback are insufficient if you can?t access specific strategies designed to improve specific deficiencies in teaching technique.
  • Measures of teaching effectiveness exist, as judged from this research, which begs the question of how we can best use these data to improve teaching in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

1 Marsh, H. W. and J. Hattie. The Relation Between Research Productivity and Teaching Effectiveness. Complementary, Antagonist, or Independent Constructs? J. Higher. Ed. 73:603-641, 2002.

2 Hattie, J. and H. W. Marsh. The Relationship Between Research and Teaching: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research. 66:507-542, 1996.