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R=T?: Creating a dialogue between research and teaching

By Irrum Ali, on 23 November 2015

UCL R=T?Tuesday 17 November saw the UCL Centre for Advancing Learning and Teaching (UCL CALT) launch ‘R=T?’, a forum to explore how teaching and research can best be brought together and valued.

UCL President & Provost Professor Michael Arthur introduced the event, noting how research and teaching have always been close partners. He commented how they work together to ensure learners feel a valued part of their academic institution; students often express a keen interest in working with their inspirational teachers and researchers.

Professor Arthur also expressed how fundamentally important taking learners through the research-based approach is: it enables them to realise their full potential by helping them to understand how knowledge is created, as well as core attributes such as team work, problem solving, critical thinking and communication skills. A research-based education, he stressed, equips our students with what they need to be contributory members of society: an idea that is at the heart of the UCL 2034 strategy.

Following this, Dr Vincent Tong, Principal Teaching Fellow (Connected Curriculum) at UCL CALT and the lead on the R=T initiative, explained how the launch of the dialogue and associated masterclasses are designed to enable staff and students to share ideas, initiatives and solutions to bring research and teaching closer together, and to have further impact at UCL and beyond. He also highlighted his own experience in leading an Earth science research consortium, which reinforced how crucial partnerships can be.

Professor Anthony Smith, Vice-Provost (Education & Student Affairs), then introduced the panel and asked what linking research and teaching means to them:

Professor Martin Oliver (UCL Institute of Education): “As researchers, we are all still learners. We also have well-established ways of learning from each other, e.g. through peer review. There is a risk that overplaying differences between students and researchers can create a false dichotomy. Also, we face a new regulatory framework for teaching. With research, we have ways of making claims about the excellence of our work, for example in terms of citations or impact. As yet, we lack this kind of language for talking about our teaching. If we don’t find good ways of creating such a language, the risk is that someone will do it for us.”

Professor David d’Avray (UCL History): “At the moment, teaching equals research minus scholarship. It is normal for students to be ahead of research: in my own experience, I bring in research and explain concepts to my students, and often they are faster to adopt new approaches and question things than some researchers who sometimes just accept things on the basis of set formulas.”

Professor Mark Miodownik (UCL Institute of Making): “We seem to say that you can’t have ideas until you learn things (for example, undergraduates have to wait until undertaking a PhD to explore new concepts), but harnessing ideas at the start is worthwhile. The UCL Institute of Making gives equal opportunity to undergraduates and professors to encourage interdisciplinarity in a research and collaborative environment. Not only are they learning and teaching with one another, support systems such as UCL Advances back up the idea that innovation at any level is possible.”

Professor Elizabeth Shephard (UCL Biosciences): “In UCL Biosciences, it is about inspiring students. Initially we must teach them a skill-set, so that they can do their own research, although this means it might take a bit longer to bring them into active research. Initiatives such as ‘meet your lecturer’ give learners a chance to see behind the scenes, and research projects such as the ones undertaken by second year undergraduates means they learn key skills early and are prepared to undertake research by end of the undergraduate year.”

Wahida Samie (UCLU Education & Campaigns Officer): “Many students see research as integral part of UCL and find research embedded into their teaching as an engaging part of how they learn, especially if it is their lecturer’s own research. Research skills prepare you, as a learner, for the future and can be used in any profession. It is also unique in encouraging independent learning in a new and interesting way.”

Professor David Price, Vice-Provost (Research): “The UCL research strategy talks about leadership and this can be found in a joined up approach to teaching and research. An integral part of research is passing on knowledge to the next generation and having a pedagogical impact. Jeremy Bentham was quoted as saying, “education is the key to reform,” and that can’t be done without bringing research and teaching together in the knowledge-creation process.”

The audience was then broken up into four groups, with participants encouraged to listen to a postgraduate teaching assistant interview one of the panellists. The teaching assistants were:

• Agathe Ribéreau-Gayon (Forensic anthropology)
• Frances Brill (Geography)
• Joseph Telfer (Management)
• Sabrina Peters (Urban sustainability and resilience)

There was an opportunity for questions from the floor and for sharing expertise, concerns and benefits with each other. The dialogue created with colleagues across the campus started, and continues, through Twitter and the hashtag ‘#RequalsT’.

The teaching assistants will write up their experience and publish book chapters on research-based education from their unique student-researcher-teacher’s perspectives.

Keep updated with the Twitter accounts: @UCLRequalsT, @UCLConnectedC and @UCL_teaching.

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