A Personal Story

In my case I relate some of my research on agricultural markets to the teaching of introductory economics. Specifically, some of my published research on wine pricing is employed to better motivate the theory underpinning price determination in economics.  The notion of demand and supply interacting to determine price is a fundamental concept in economics.   In part, the University’s research narrative relates to the wine industry and agriculture and this is an important motivator for looking at specific wine markets.  The research provides further important examples of price determination in economics and demonstrates the importance of the issue to students especially in the context of issues crucially important to regional and rural Australia.

The research also motivates the currency of these issues for students. The examples have specific peculiarities which differentiate them from the general discussion about supply and demand and price determination provided by standard resources such as textbooks. Effectively these specific examples allow us to go beyond standard textbook examples of the demand and supply determinants of price. The specific knowledge gained through this research, highlighting these unique aspects of price determination is communicated to students. It is these peculiarities which establish a strong link between research and teaching and allow us to go beyond standard textbook descriptions. By referring to these and other recent examples in teaching, the student experience is enhanced by bringing price determination issues alive, making them authentic and capturing a better sense of the teacher’s expertise brought about by the teacher’s production of the employed examples.

What’s important about this learning and teaching story?

It appears that the quantitative macro analysis of the data tends to hide potential personal stories which make explicit the importance of the relationship between research activities and teaching. The use of academic research in teaching makes the learning experience more authentic, real-world and personable, all which may better engage student learning to enhance learning outcomes.

There appears to be ongoing critical debate about the so-called teaching-research nexus. Is there a relationship between the teaching activities of academics and their research endeavours? Chersastidtham, Sonnemann and Norton (2013) have summarised the arguments for and against the teaching-research relationship.

Motivations for the existence of a positive relationship where research enhances teaching include: research active staff are better at developing research informed up-to-date curricula; students hold research active staff in high regard and hence are more engaged; researchers are better placed to install critical thinking skills in students; and researchers may better self-reflect on teaching approaches given their research disposition.

In contrast, arguments for a negative link between teaching and research include: researchers have less time and motivation for teaching as most rewards for academics are typically research related; students may be less engaged if they encounter unengaged research academics; research focussed academics may have poorer communication skills unable to explain concepts clearly; and researchers may teach their research interests rather than standard curriculum.

Empirically it appears that some qualitative studies do support the positive relationship between teaching and research, see for example, some views from academics in Robertson and Bond (2001). While student views on the positive relation between teaching and research can be found in Jenkins et al (1998).

In contrast, quantitative studies both internationally and for Australian universities find only a slight positive, zero or negative relationship between teaching and research (see Chersastidtham, Sonnemann and Norton 2013, pp9-10). The Grattan Institute teaching-research analysis (Chersastidtham, Sonnemann and Norton 2013) which makes use of student evaluation surveys including the course experience questionnaire (CEQ) for teaching and the excellence in research for Australian (ERA) rankings for research found that a high-research environment had no effect on student outcomes. This results hold even after allowing for changes in other factors including discipline differences.

It is important to note that the Productivity Commission (2017) recognizes the lack of empirical support for a positive teaching-research link. This recognition may potentially drive future government policy. Unlike coursework teachers however, the Productivity Commission (2017, p41) recognizes the fundamental nature of the teaching-research nexus in higher degrees by research.

The review into higher education provider category standards by Coaldrake (2019) makes the case that even though the teaching research-nexus may be contested there is strong support in the sector for the continuing importance of research in defining a University. In addition to the standard argument for the nexus, Coaldrake (2019, pp30-31) stress the importance of reputational benefits that research focused universities attract; the enhancement of global competitiveness; and ‘it also supports the open-ended, critical, enquiry based learning that is fundamental to university teaching and learning” (p30).

An example and student feedback

An example of the teaching-research nexus is provided by the delivery of the Business Research subject to Masters students. The subject covers the main principles of research design and the major research methods, all with a business focus. For some assessment tasks we require students to read and evaluate published research to assess their understanding of key concepts such as:  what is a research question; how will the research be conducted; how do we know when we have finished the research; the difference between dependent, independent, moderating and mediating variables; hypotheses and their motivation; a conceptual framework; and how variables are measured using multi-item measures.

I typically use my own research papers to assess their knowledge of these fundamental research issues. Recently, co-authored papers on the following topics have been employed: drivers of employee turnover and skill retention; reasons for the use of vocational training; and household adoption of broadband internet technology.

In each case my personal knowledge of the paper’s content is explicitly used to assess and then demonstrate some important concepts in business research. Again the use of these unique research papers from the associated research allows me to customise the assessment tasks beyond generic requirements.  It is this uniqueness with potentially better motivates student learning and outcomes and strengthens the teaching-research nexus.

Some qualitative feedback from students potentially supporting the importance of the teaching-research nexus include:

The use of Eddie’s research work as the first assignment was extremely helpful, and even up until the last assignment I was still referring back to it to make sure my understanding was correct.

Eddie is obviously highly credentialed and passionate about the subject, and was also able to translate his considerable academic knowledge into ‘laymans’ terms.

REFERENCES Chersastidtham, I., Sonnemann, J. & Norton, A. (2013). The teaching-research nexus in higher education. Grattan Institute, Melbourne. Coaldrake, P. (2019). What's in a Name? A Review of the Higher Education Provider Category Standards - Final Report. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra. Jenkins, A., Blackman, T., Lindsay, R. & Paton-Saltzberg, R. (1998). Teaching and research: student perspectives and policy implications. Studies in Higher Education, 23, 127-141. Productivity Commission (2017). University Education, Shifting the Dial: 5 year Productivity Review, Supporting Paper No. 7, Canberra. Robertson, J. & Bond, C.H. (2001). Experiences of the relation between teaching and research: what do academics value? Higher Education Research & Development, 20, 5-19.