Being able to undertake research-led teaching in academia is often seen as the ‘holy grail’ of teaching: the opportunity to integrate both parts of the job and to share with students our latest research findings. However, for a lecturer at the start of his or her career, this approach can seem challenging. Here are some tips on how to genuinely integrate your research with teaching.
What is research-led teaching?
Research-led teaching is a way of teaching a topic or a technique driven by the tutor’s research experience. So it may involve sharing with students your latest research findings or methods. You might devise one session or an entire module based on your own research. It will usually be taught at second or third year level, allowing you to penetrate the topic at some depth.
Advantages of research-led teaching:
Many students come to university wanting to be taught by experts in their field and research-led teaching provides them with this experience. The enthusiastic and more able students among your cohort will be inspired by this approach, often wanting to undertake their own research projects, perhaps doing an undergraduate dissertation with you, or even going on to a masters or PhD.
It will give you the opportunity of showing students the subject area that most interests you, but also allows you to show the trajectory of the development of your field. By demonstrating the latest techniques of research in your area, you are showing them how to be ‘historians’ or ‘sociologists’ or ‘chemists’, rather than mere ‘students’.
Most of the problems will come from students being unused to this approach. Most will have not been exposed to this at school. Departments are also increasingly hostile to the development of modules that rely on the expertise of one person. Instead they prefer to develop modules that can be taught by more than one member of staff to protect against staff sickness or absence problems. However, if you are able to develop your own module based on your research:
- Don’t over-estimate your students’ knowledge. You have been immersed in this topic for months, if not years. They may be completely new to it, so don’t expect too much.
- Relate the specific areas of your own research to the broader module outline and the broader curriculum. Tell students why your subject area is important and how it integrates into the rest of their programme of learning.
- Students may feel uncertain developing subject knowledge that is cutting edge. They are often used to relying on textbooks for their information.
- Students may not have the skills needed to focus on your subject area in depth. For example they may lack language skills, analytical skills or the ability to interpret unfamiliar sources of information.
- Make sure that there are enough resources, for example in the library, for students to engage with the topic.
Despite these words of caution, being able to develop individual sessions or entire modules based on your research area is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a lecturer, so take advantage of the opportunity if offered.