What is research-led, practice-driven learning?
Swansea University’s Learning & Teaching strategy outlines the key characteristics of how the institution will deliver on the Swansea Graduate. One of these characteristics is our approach to ‘Research-Led, Practice-Driven’ learning. The aim of this approach is to integrate students into the research and practice community and to inspire them with the opportunities of research and ‘real-working’ practices.
‘Research-led teaching reflects and makes use of the teacher’s disciplinary research to benefit student learning and outcomes.’ (Trowler, P. & Wareham, T. 2008)
The research-led, practice driven approach to learning allows for students to be exposed to the most contemporary thinking in any given subject area. It ensures students can link theoretical knowledge to the practical delivery of their chosen disciplines.
Delivering a ‘research-led, practice-driven’ learning approach can be mutually beneficial for both staff and students. The approach can provide colleagues with evidence the relationship between research and teaching delivery. Additionally, for students, having both a theoretical and practical understanding has benefits for employability.
One challenge in delivering the research-led, practice driven agenda will be ensuring that research activity is intrinsically linked to teaching material and learning outcomes. With a variety of teaching approaches, the ability to link theory to practice may sometimes prove challenging or appear difficult to do so. However, Kinchin & May (2007) outlined:
‘University teaching consists of more than just lecturing (e.g. seminars, tutorials, lab practical, etc.), but there is no evidence to suggest that non-lecture teaching sessions are governed by different basic philosophies’.
How can I ensure my delivery is research-led, practice driven?
‘The most effective research-informed teaching methods must surely be those which best equip students with skills, understandings (or knowledge) and personal attributes that will make them more likely to gain employment and be successful as a trainee lawyer; since most law students at least initially aspire to be practitioners’. (Childs, Firth & De Rijke, 2014).
Fundamentally, when designing teaching delivery, staff should focus on linking the theoretical aspects of a module with the practical skills which will make students employability ready upon graduating. McLinden, Edwards, Garfield and Moron-Garcia (2015), use a traditional 3-year undergraduate programme to identify how the approach can be utilised throughout the student education journey:
1. Learning about the research of others (research-led teaching)
Through this approach you learn about the research findings of others including your tutors. The content will consist largely of staff disseminating their current disciplinary research interests. This approach can provide examples and ways of illustrating ideas, concepts and theories. Some of the teaching may rely on information transmission, for example through lectures or set reading as well as seeking information yourselves about the research of staff in your College/School.
2. Learning about research processes (research-oriented teaching)
In this approach, learning experience emphasise the processes by which knowledge is produced. Examples include learning about, and critiquing, different research methods with reference to research papers, journals, academic text books. Students may be learning about how to undertake their own research within a discipline in preparation, for example, for starting a project or dissertation. Staff may try to engender a research ethos through their teaching, for example, by encouraging students to begin to ‘think as’ researchers, and not simply accept the research findings of others as a given.
3. Learning as researchers (research-based teaching)
In this approach, learning is largely designed around ‘enquiry-based’ activities. Enquiry-based learning can be described as learning that arises through a structured process of enquiry within a supportive environment, designed to promote active engagement with problems and issues; examples include case studies, problem-solving activities, field trips and simulations. Students may find that in this approach both student and lecturer may be participants in the enquiry process, with the lecturer acting as the more experienced ‘partner’.
4. Critiquing others’ research (research-tutored teaching)
In this approach, learning focuses on the critical appraisal of research and moving research forward.
Students will typically participate in small group discussions with or without a lecturer to consider research findings. Examples of this include critical literature reviews and critical discussions about research papers.
5. Enquiring and reflecting on teaching and learning
Students may be involved in other types of ‘research-informed’ teaching approaches as part of their studies. This may include supporting lecturers in undertaking research into their teaching and could involve asking you to reflect on students’ own experiences of learning through a new teaching initiative such as a ‘flipped lecture’ or the use of ‘clickers’ to gather student feedback within a classroom. Tutors may ask students to then provide information about their experiences through a questionnaire, or to participate in an interview, or a student focus group.
Additionally, the University of Plymouth provide a 7 steps to linking research and teaching process which may help guide colleagues through setting up a research-led, practice drive approach and address some of the challenges in delivery.
How does the University embed research-led, practice driven principles?
To ensure that learning is underpinned by the University’s excellence in research, the University expects that:
- All academic staff integrate relevant aspects of current research and practice into the curriculum. In this regard, this should mean that teaching is driven by the latest research in a given subject area and, throughout the learning experience, students are given the opportunity to use this research and teaching in practice/industry-focused scenarios.
- In proposing any new module or new programme, staff should indicate in what ways current research/practice will be included. When proposing a new module or programme, colleagues should address how learning outcomes, and skills development, will be developed in-line with current research in the area.
- College/School staff review and adopt effective practice, where appropriate, and to ensure mechanisms for sharing of effective practice. These can be through Departmental/School channels, learning & teaching committees, highlighting practice with Academic Quality or SALT or through ongoing communication resources such as MS Teams. Colleges/Schools indicate to students, through module information and/or College Handbooks, the ways in which Research-led, practice-driven teaching is embedded into their delivery
The University uses an ‘Integrating Teaching, Research and Professional Practice: A Research-Led, Practice-Driven’ model.
The approach encouraged at Swansea uses the approaches outlined in figure below. The basis for all teaching at Swansea University is that it should be informed and underpinned by current research in the subject area or discipline. The four ‘stages’ of Research-Based, Practice-Driven learning are:
1. Research and/or Practice Informed
Teaching and learning are clearly informed by and founded upon current research and/or practice. This is the minimum requirement for teaching and learning at Swansea University.
2. Research and/or Practice Engaged
Teaching and Learning is based upon the debate, reflection and review of current research and/or practice output, ensuring that students are developing basic skills. Students may engage in projects which require some level of research/practice, which will primarily be focused on skills development.
3. Research and/or Practice Evidenced
Teaching and learning are based upon the results of previous research or current practice requirements, or on lower level directed or independent study. Students would undertake extended projects at undergraduate level, or postgraduate-level study requiring research skills and development.
4. Research and/or Practice Active
Teaching and learning are largely self-directed, with students actively pursuing a research agenda or professional practice at a higher level. Learning will primarily be independent study through postgraduate dissertations or theses.
Teaching and learning activities may involve a mixture of these approaches to ensure the student learning experience is fully rounded, with the acquisition of subject knowledge and the development of research skills and understanding appropriately integrated.
How does the University evaluate the ‘Research-led, practice driven’ approach?
For new programmes, the Programme Approval Committee (PAC) will review the research or practice interaction during approval, and appropriate representation is included within the constitution of PAC to ensure this. In addition, Boards of Studies, Programme Directors and College/School Learning and Teaching Committees should consider these aspects of the curriculum during module and programme review, and several areas of effective practice have been highlighted by External Examiner’s through College/School overview reports.
At all times, the University’s approach should be based around the following key principles, identified by Jenkins, Jenkins, Healy & Zetter (2007):
- Allow for diversity within some subject areas – integrating teaching and research can be impacted by the relative level of research taking place, notably in key STEM subjects.
- Centrality of the individual’s scholarly engagement with her/his subject and how this is brought to the teaching and research setting that mediates the relationship between teaching and research. The relationship between teaching and research should not be tightly controlled.
- Recognition that the relationships between teaching and research are reciprocal.
Are there Swansea University examples of research-led, practice-driven delivery?
There are many examples, across the University, where Schools and Colleges/Schools actively engage in the ‘Research-led, Practice-driven’ agenda.
For example, the University’s College of Human and Health Sciences, as the largest provider of healthcare education in Wales, has established links with the NHS and many other outside bodies. These links ensure both teaching and research is contemporary and meets the needs of both students and employers. As students frequently undertake assessments, whilst working within the industry, it provides a high-quality delivery of the ‘research-led, practice-driven- agenda.
Additionally, course such as the University’s BSc (Hons) Genetics offer the opportunity to spend time undertaking research in industrial or medical laboratories either in the UK or abroad. Therefore, whilst students are developing both academic and professional skills, they are also contributing to their chosen industry and wider community.
Finally, the School of Management, as part of their BSc in Business Management, offer students the opportunity to complete an industry based project. The project, which is set by one of many industry partners, provides students with the opportunity to solve industry-based issues and, through relevant research, their academic skill set.
CASE STUDY – SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT
Recognising the educational opportunities and benefits of experiential learning, the Department of Business introduced a two-week student field trip module to Nepal in 2019.
The field trip was led by Dr Cater and Dr Miller, who have significant experiential learning experience and research expertise within Nepal. Working closely with a variety of community based tourism initiatives, in Kathmandu, students were exposed to the potential impacts and challenges of tourism and development in a less developed region.
Additionally, a major component of the field course involved trekking into a region that has been carefully managed to ensure sustainable development and positive contributions to community. Furthermore, students had opportunity to dialogue with protected area managers, residents and guides in mountain regions to examine the challenges of multiple stakeholder engagement. Throughout their learning, students were encouraged to develop their own reflective practice on both their personal development and wider global issues. These are assessed through reflective journals, skills assessments and a research project; the latter is developed in collaboration with local partners to ensure relevance and a degree of reciprocity in the researcher-participant axis.
The University recognised enhanced student learning – and Swansea Graduate contributions – with Dr. Miller winning a teaching excellence award in 2019.
Student feedback included: ‘The opportunity to engage in a field based learning experience was incredible and its value cannot be understated. To step out of the classroom and engage in the real world, especially halfway around the world, was fantastic’.
What role do students play in the research-led, practice-drive agenda?
In line with the University’s commitment to working with students as partners, any approach must include students. By involving students in the research ethos and culture from an early stage, they are better able to understand, develop skills and contribute to the overall research environment, which enables both staff and students to learn alongside one another in the true spirit of partnership. The University should also support and encourage an ‘Apprenticeship’ approach, with the aim of creating programmes where ‘teachers work side by side with students in collaborative investigation…’. (Jenkins, Jenkins, Healey, Zetter, p45).
How will research-led approach impact on teaching delivery?
Monitoring and review at College/School/Subject Area level could take place through several key established points, including PDR meetings, workload planning, Annual Module Review and Programme Review, Peer Observation, applications for research leave, and through the allocation of research resources and equipment.
At each point, academic staff should consider the possible impact (positive or negative) of research on teaching.
Guidance Resources, Further Reading and Directory of Effective Practice for Research-Led, Practice-Driven Learning
- Advance HE Blog guidance and case studies on what research-informed teaching should look like
- Advance HE Webinar on Research-led, Practice driven delivery
- PgCert HE CPD course for Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education teaching
- SU Research Homepage
- UCL Resources for effective practice in Higher Education
- University of Hertfordshire Looking to the future: Research rich and informed teaching
- University of Leicester Research-led teaching case studies
- Brew & Mantini (2017) – Academic perceptions of barriers to implementing research-based experiences
- Journal outlining the potential barriers, and possible solutions, to research-led delivery
- Strengthening the links between research and teaching Education in Practice, Volume 2, No. 1, looking at how to establish stronger links between research and practice
- University of Plymouth 7 steps to linking research & teaching & effective practice guides to linking research and teaching
- Enhancement Themes paper on Research-Teaching links
- University of York, Research-led teaching: The pursuit of excellence ‘Forum’ publication – Issue 44 (Summer 2018)
For more examples, you can visit Academic Quality’s Effective Practice Directory.
Policies & Legislation
- Handling Allegations of Research Misconduct
- Swansea University Research Integrity – Policy Framework
- Learning & Teaching strategy
Childs, P., Firth, N. & de Rijke, H. (2014) ‘The gap between law student career aspirations and employment opportunities’ 48:1 The Law Teacher 51-68
Jenkins, Alan, Jenkins A , Healey M and Zetter R (2007) ‘Linking Research and Teaching in Disciplines and Departments’ York: HE Academy
Kinchin, I. & Hay, D (2007) ‘The myth of the research-led teacher’ Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice Vol. 13, No. 1, February 2007, pp. 43–61
McLinden, M., Edwards, C., Garfield, J., and Moron-Garcia, S. (2015) ‘Strengthening the links between research and teaching: Cultivating student expectations of research-informed teaching approaches’. Education in Practice, Volume 2 (1).
Trowler, P. & Wareham, T. (2008) ‘Tribes, territories, research and teaching: Enhancing the teaching-research nexus’.