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This issue of CDTL Brief on Balancing Teaching and Research discusses the delicate relationship between teaching and research and offers tips on how to balance them optimally.

August 2004, Vol. 7, No. 7 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Integrating Research into Teaching
 
Dr Adekunle Olusola Adeyeye
Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering
 

Introduction

It is a popular belief that research enhances teaching, though such a claim is debatable. Given that research is largely a problem-solving process, and one of the aims of teaching in engineering classes is to imbue in the students the ability to solve problems, it is obvious, in this instance that there are strong links between teaching and research.

Research has traditionally been highly valued in academic careers. However, research can indirectly influence teaching negatively if faculty members focus on their research output to the detriment of their teaching activities. As time is a finite resource, faculty members need to strike a fine balance between the time spent on research and teaching. In this article, I shall highlight how I have managed to strike a balance between teaching and research by integrating research into teaching based on my personal experience at NUS.

Integration of Research into Teaching

Balancing teaching and research is a very challenging task. Optimisation of staff time can be achieved if there is explicit management strategy that promotes the interdependence between teaching and research. The effective allocation of time could stimulate a synergistic relationship between teaching and research by enabling staff to engage in a level of scholarship which enhances both activities. The supervision of research students is one such example of how teaching and research can be integrated. Whether time spent supervising students should be classified as teaching activities or research varies between departments and institutions. Here are some advantages of integrating research into teaching:

  • The teacher is able to give accurate and up-to-date information to students with relevant examples rather than second-hand knowledge from textbooks. I know from my own learning experiences that I develop a particular affinity for topics when the teacher is able to draw on their own research experience.

  • The teacher’s research is also beneficial because s/he is forced to articulate their ideas and open them to challenges from students. This could in turn stimulate new research directions.

  • Teaching could be a recruitment platform for attracting the right students with a passion for research. This is especially important in the science and engineering fields where students form the backbone of the research conducted.

Personal Experiences at NUS

It is very easy for new faculty members to get too caught up in their teaching preparations, thus leaving too little time for research. Balancing the time spent on teaching and research is especially difficult when one is handling large classes (>100 students). This is exactly what happened to me after I joined NUS in May 2000. I struggled to balance my time between teaching and research because I was assigned a large class of 380 third-year students to teach a compulsory module, EE3002, “Engineering Mathematics IV”. In wanting to excel in teaching the module, I spent a lot of time developing course materials and reflecting on how they can be presented to the students with varied levels of understanding. Although I enjoyed teaching the module, it was very difficult to strike a balance because the module was not directly related to my research work. After teaching the module for two semesters, it was moved to the mathematics department due to curriculum changes. I have since developed new modules related to my field of research and find it is much easier to strike a balance.

The first module, EE4414 “Magnetic Materials and Devices for Information Storage” I developed is an undergraduate elective course. By bringing my research experience into the classroom, a high level of interaction between the students and myself is promoted. The students had indicated in their feedback that this interaction is highly welcomed and appreciated. The time I spent developing the course materials was reduced significantly compared with the earlier module. My research activities have also benefited as a result of introducing this course because I am now able to attract very good undergraduate students who stay on to do graduate studies at NUS through my passion. Since 2002, I have at least one very good undergraduate student from the class joining my research team every year.

The second module I developed, EE6504 “Nanoscale Engineering” which integrates my research work into teaching, is a graduate level course. Nanotechnology is a broad and interdisciplinary area of research and development that has been growing explosively worldwide in the past few years. This course introduces new concepts and novel issues that arise when describing ultra-small devices. Lectures are interactive and discussion-based, and involve a number of guest lecturers. Students read original research papers and review articles and present seminars on assigned topics of contemporary interest. Students are assessed continuously through components such as term papers, assignments and mid-term tests. Each student is also expected to give a seminar on topics in nanotechnology either proposed by the student or pre-assigned. There is also the peer review component of the assessment where all registered students must participate in grading each student seminar. My research activities have benefited from the student seminar series because some of their findings can be integrated directly into my research.

Conclusion

Teaching and research can complement each other if new ways of managing the relationship are considered. Recognition of the tensions between balancing the time spent on teaching and research can lead to more realistic expectations of staff performance. Other factors such as the stage of career development and the nature of the discipline can significantly affect teaching/research productivity and effectiveness. However, from my experience at NUS, I find that it is possible to integrate research into teaching, thus enhancing productivity.

 
 
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Inside this issue
Strengthening the Teaching-research Nexus
   
Balancing Teaching & Research: The Struggles of a New Assistant Professor
   
My Ride on the MRT: Marriage between Research and Teaching
   
Research/ Writing Groups
   
Integrating Research into Teaching