Planting the seeds of inquiry:
Engaging faculty in promoting the teaching-research nexus
Marcy Slapcoff, dik Harris, Eva Dobler, Teaching and Learning Services, McGill University, 2012
In 2008, the University gave TLS a mandate to promote the teachingresearch nexus at the undergraduate level. We decided to focus on
coursework, and started a cross-disciplinary faculty learning community in
2009 whose members explore ways to enhance students’ understanding of
research/scholarship. With our guidance, the members of the community
•collectively set goals;
•developed a common language to bridge disciplinary differences;
•shared ownership of the development process;
•developed their own framework of learning outcomes and demonstrated;
their effectiveness by applying them to their own courses; and
•presented the results of their work to the University.
The process we adopted could serve as a model for other institutions
interested in promoting the teaching-research nexus. Likewise, the
framework of learning outcomes could be a useful starting point for faculty
members to use to enhance their students’ understanding of
Focus on Learning
Faculty members often do not perceive any link between their
undergraduate teaching and their research. It was therefore crucial to find a
definition of the teaching-research nexus that would resonate with them.
We chose to focus on the role of learning and scholarship (Boyer, 1990)
since "Learning (....) is the vital link between research and teaching. It is a
shared process in these two enterprises (…) it is the process whereby an
individual teacher – researcher, student, learner – comes to know” (Brew
and Boud, 1995).
Restricting the scope of the teaching-research nexus to coursework also
built on the existing expertise of our teaching and learning centre.
Theoretical Framework & Examples
In view of the focus on student learning, the work of Healey (2005) provided
an effective theoretical framework.
The framework provided a definition of the teaching-research nexus, and
gave legitimacy to our initiative among our core audience – university
professors whose first steps in any research project would include a survey
of the relevant literature and a definition of terms.
In addition to a framework, we provided examples of undergraduate
courses, described in the literature, where instructors had successfully
introduced students to research/scholarship. In addition, we developed
home grown examples from a range of disciplines, and these seemed to
resonate well with our faculty members. Some of these examples are
viewable in the documentary series “Sowing the Seeds of Inquiry.”
Critical Steps: Year 1
Learning Outcomes
Discussions leading Inquiry Network members to:
•Understand the “need to reflect upon their own ways of understanding
subject matter and consider the implications of this for the ways in which
they teach and bring their students into a relationship with that subject
matter” (Prosser, Martin, Trigwell, Ramsden and Middleton, 2008).
•Develop a common language for discussing teaching and research.
•Apply the categories of the Healey framework to real situations and
therefore to wrestle with their meaning.
•Revise the Healey framework to better reflect their own understanding of
the teaching-research nexus.
The group's twofold mandate is to:
•encourage members to examine their teaching practice to determine how
to better integrate research/scholarship and teaching, and
•propose to the University how to promote the teaching-research nexus in
ways that would benefit undergraduate student learning.
1.In terms of knowledge, students need to develop an awareness that
knowledge is dynamic, not static.
2.In terms of methodological skills, students need to become familiar with
the methods used to gather, organize, analyze, interpret, and evaluate data
and source material.
3.In order to develop advanced critical thinking skills, students need to learn
how to use discussion and writing not only as mechanisms for reporting on
work, but as processes to help them develop and communicate their
Figure 1: Revised Healey Framework for the Nexus. Adapted from Healey (2005).
Discussing research
Students discuss and/or
write about research.
Doing research
Students do research (lowkey, original or not).
Learning about research
Developing research skills PROCESSES AND
Students learn about
Students develop research
research by listening,
skills by doing something
reading, and/or observing.
and (ideally) receiving
feedback to improve.
Instructors are encouraged to use the framework as a springboard for
discussion and to modify the outcomes to better reflect their particular
instructional needs and shared conceptions of the teaching-research nexus.
If used by departments and Faculties, this framework could also provide a
foundation for the design and sequencing of curricula such that students
have acquired experience in all three areas on completing a given program.
Launching Year 2
Year 2 began with a slight increase in membership and representation from
a broader range of disciplines.
To facilitate a smooth start, an workshop was held to:
•introduce basic course design principles (Saroyan & Amundsen, 2004);
•define the teaching-research nexus, review its importance for the
institution, describe the past work of the Inquiry Network.
As a result:
•Members began to use terms from the educational literature to describe
their academic work, thus allowing improved communication across
disciplinary boundaries.
•A group identity formed: Members became more familiar with each other's
teaching contexts and disciplinary homes. They were enthused about
working together and contributing their perspectives.
Critical Steps: Years 2 and 3
•Developing of a framework of learning outcomes to reflect aspects of
research/scholarship in any discipline. Instructors can use these outcomes
to define what they want students to learn about research/scholarship within
their courses.
•Writing of a report summarizing the group’s activities.
•Outreach to the broader community: members of Board of Governors,
Senate, staff, students and particularly, other faculty. This was done via
presentations and workshops.
Faculty Learning Community
Our faculty learning community, the Inquiry Network, began as 12
instructors from across the University, together with 2 facilitators from TLS
and a graduate-student assistant.
The framework has three categories that summarize how students can
deepen their understanding of research:
What is Essential?
The framework for learning outcomes because:
•it incorporates the essentials for embedding research/scholarship in
undergraduate coursework;
•it contains examples that faculty members can use to design aspects of
their courses to incorporate research, regardless of class size, level and
•it is open to modification, so that future groups can create new outcomes,
based on the existing set.
The collaborative process because:
•participants’ expertise and identities as scholars in their own disciplines are
•a common language is introduced to facilitate conversations across
disciplinary boundaries;
•a theoretical framework resonates with participants who are accustomed to
a research environment;
•participants are supported in developing their own approach to linking
teaching and research.
Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate, Stanford,
CA: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Brew, A. & Boud, D. (1995). Teaching and research: Establishing the vital link with
learning', Higher Education, 29, 261-73.
Healey, M. (2005). Linking research and teaching: Exploring disciplinary spaces and the
role of inquiry-based teaching. In Barnett, R. (Ed.), Reshaping the University: new
relationships between research, scholarship and teaching (pp. 67-78). Maidenhead:
McGraw-Hill/Open University Press.
Prosser, M., Martin, E., Trigwell, K., Ramsden, P. and Middleton H., (2008). University
academics’ experience of research and its relationship to their experience of
teaching. Instructional Science, 36, 3-16.
Saroyan, A. & Amundsen, C. (Eds.). (2004). Rethinking Teaching in Higher Education.
Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Acknowledgements: The authors wish to thank the members of the Inquiry Network: Chris Barrett,
Chemistry; Richard Chromik, Mining and Materials Engineering; Isabelle Cossette, Music Research; Jaye
Ellis, Law and McGill School of Environment; Kathleen M. Fallon, Sociology; Megan Fitzgibbons, McGill
Library; dik Harris, Physics; Terry Hébert, Pharmacology and Therapeutics; Sue Laver, The McGill Writing
Centre; George McCourt, McGill School of Environment; Peter Radziszewski, Mechanical Engineering; Dave
Ragsdale, Neurology and Neurosurgery; Annie Savard, Integrated Studies in Education; Mariela Tovar,
Teaching and Learning Services

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