Relevance of Research for Teaching

As the posts earlier this week emphasize, research in the Humanities and Social Sciences have improved our ability to analyze society and operate within it. Highlighting more examples of these contributions from Humanities and Social Science scholars is important in detailing the relevance of these fields today. However, another related benefit of research is its contribution to our teaching.

From my own experience, continuing to research makes my courses better. As I refine my ability to analyze the larger human society, I adjust the content and emphases in the courses that I teach to reflect those constantly refined concepts. My ongoing research also provides additional examples of rhetoric about identity claims that help to illustrate these points to my students. These new examples also keep my course material, and thus my presence in the classroom, fresher. If I repeat the same examples year after year, my own engagement with the material lessens, making my presentation stale.

Applying ongoing research to the classroom situation requires attention, both to the topics of research and to the continual revision of courses. The effort, in my experience, has been well worth it, and it enhances the relevance of both my teaching and research.

2 thoughts on “Relevance of Research for Teaching

  1. When I worked at what was then called Southwest Missouri State University, in the late 1990s, they were well ahead of the (as some would say, unfortunate) curve in US higher education. That is, when I came to the University of Alabama in 2001, I was surprised that the presumption that online courses would somehow save the modern University, or the emphasis on assessment and teaching, had not yet reached Tuscaloosa (but, within several years, it eventually did). Back then, “online courses” meant here a PDF of a traditional distance learning booklet that students worked through with a textbook by their side. But back in Springfield, MO, the campus was abuzz with talk of “teaching specialists,” “the scholarship of teaching,” and the notion of measurable outcomes, not to mention a campus-wide initiative to move toward zippy online education. I assume this was all part of SMSU’s effort to carve out a niche for itself in the Missouri education economy (i.e., with legislators who control budgets), since it was not the main state University–since then, they’ve re-branded themselves as Missouri State, in an effort, presumably, to gain a better position at the funding trough. What I always found perplexing was that those whose careers were based on “the scholarship of teaching” didn’t teach any more classes than me, didn’t have more preps per semester, and didn’t teach more different courses than I did. If they were specialists in teaching, you’d think they would, no? That is to say, emphasizing the scholarship of teaching always struck me as a strategic move since it freed colleagues from having the publish much at all, for they could periodically write something on pedagogy or attend a teaching workshop and then opt for the “teaching specialist” box on some annual activity report. Case closed. The problems here, of course, are many. What do we teach but the products of other people’s research? That is, the one-sided emphasis on research that we see in so many places within the university (we refer to it as a “teaching load” for a reason, no?)–as if teaching holds you back from your truly important work–is hardly corrected by an equally one-sided emphasis on teaching. Inverting the ladder doesn’t solve many problems, though it does change who’s at the front of the pack. As you state in your post, Steven, teaching and research are two sides of the same coin, inasmuch as they inform each other/are self-supporting–especially in my case where I don’t have the luxury of assuming that even colleagues are starting with the same set of assumptions as I am. In this case, learning effective ways of representing a position, in conversation with students, has (I think) greatly helped my writing, and my research interests, though seemingly far from the undergraduate classroom, have regularly informed my teaching. So I too don’t buy those who think these are two separate activities.

    1. My research, including what I am doing on sabbatical right now, is challenging how I plan to present things in courses next semester. That connection enlivens the classroom considerably, in my experience.