Research strategy limits teaching of students

November 29, 2002

Students are suffering because universities have failed to take seriously the distorting effects of research on teaching, a top educationist has warned.

Graham Gibbs, director of the Centre for Higher Education Practice based at the Open University, claims in Exchange magazine that the research assessment exercise has contorted departmental life in institutions.

He says departments that are research led often let lecturers off teaching duties because of time pressures and rely on inexperienced postgraduates to take classes.

He says that they also adopt policies that limit students' experience of learning, such as dropping coursework in favour of a single exam; restricting student access to their project and dissertation supervisors; halving the number of seminars while doubling their size; or not marking lab reports.

Professor Gibbs uses his two daughters' undergraduate experience at research universities this year as examples of the quality of teaching students receive.

"Both have experienced late feedback on assignments, very little feedback when it does arrive and, sometimes, no feedback at all," he writes. "The fact that my daughters' lecturers are at the cutting edge of their subject when undertaking their research does not help my daughters that much in relation to the feedback that they don't receive."

Professor Gibbs argues that if there were equal emphasis on research and teaching it might be more positive for students and lecturers. He said:

"The most effective strategy for strengthening the teaching-research nexus is to stop neglecting teaching and to provide more opportunities for lecturers' research strengths to have an impact on teaching, by them actually interacting with students."

He says that institutions also need to recognise and reward teaching.

The Teaching Quality Enhancement Fund national coordination team has published a collection of case studies on how institutions could build reward mechanisms into their learning and teaching strategies.

Exchange is published by the Learning and Teaching Support Network, the Institute for Learning and Teaching, the Joint Information Systems Committee and the National Coordination Team and is distributed free to universities.

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