Title: ‘The’ nexus or ‘a’ nexus: an analysis of patterns in undergraduate education
Authors: Schouteden, Wendy
Verburgh, An
Elen, Jan #
Issue Date: Sep-2012
Conference: European Conference on Educational Research location:Cadiz date:18- 21 September 2012
Abstract: General description

The relationship between teaching and research touches the core of higher education (Clark, 1997). In the last decade there has been a growing debate about the relation between research and teaching in both university and non-university higher education (Brew, 2006; Elen & Verburgh, 2008; Griffiths, 2004). Pleas for strengthening the link between teaching and research or enhancing the integration of research into teaching are common. Brew (2006), for example, states that the integration of research into teaching can contribute to the development of competencies, such as inquiry skills, which are essential to function in the emerging knowledge society. For non-university higher education, which originally did not have a research mandate and where research is relatively new in comparison to the traditional universities, research might be an even more complex and sensitive issue (Kyvik & Skodvin, 2003).To fully understand the relationship between teaching and research, it is necessary to learn how lecturers conceive research, what they aim at by integrating research into teaching and how they integrate research in their actual educational practices (Brew, 2001; Robertson & Bond, 2001; Rowland, 1996)

This study builds on research about academics’ conceptions of research (e.g. Akerlind, 2008; Brew, 2001; Prosser, Martin, Trigwell, Ramsden, & Middleton, 2008; Visser-Wijnveen, 2009). Brew (2001) interviewed senior researchers in universities and identified four qualitatively different ways in which research is understood: trading, journey, layer and domino variation. These are differentiated according to (a) whether they have an external product orientation or an internal process orientation and (b) the extent to which the researchers’ personal concerns influence their conceptions of research: whether the researchers themselves are in the forefront of their awareness or whether they appear to be incidental to their awareness. Visser-Wijnveen (2009) interviewed by means of metaphors academics about their conceptions of research. She distinguished five categories of research: disclosing patterns, searching for patterns, explaining patterns, pointing out patterns, and creating patterns. These categories are similar to the categories identified by Brew (2001).

A major limitation of these studies is that they are highly individualized and mostly neglect the contextual features within which the different positions are taken. Past research mainly interviewed individual lecturers on their conceptions of research and their attempts to integrate research into teaching. In non-university higher education the situation is different. Lecturers often work in a context that is more negotiated at a group level. The idea of integrating research into teaching is not necessarily the immediate and self-evident consequence of lecturers doing research. The idea often stems from a decision made at the program level. Responsibles decide that for particular reasons research has to get integrated. Given that lecturers have to work within those boundaries, it is extremely interesting to get to know how lecturers alone and as a group deal with the nexus-challenge.
The present study is an attempt to explore this issue in two non-university higher education programs in which research integration into teaching was put forward as an important characteristic of the program.


The study aims at analyzing lecturers’ research conceptions, their interpretation of integrating research into teaching and actual practices of research integration. The present study involved two programs (one from ‘social work’ and another one from ‘teacher education’). With lecturers from each program (separate) focusgroups were organized. Data were collected by focusgroup interviews with an individual drawing activity as opening task. Lecturers received a sheet of paper and were asked to draw “a research activity”. They were told that they would be asked to explain their drawing to the other participants once finished. These explanations allowed the moderator to ask in the remainder of the focusgroup more about the conceptions of research, details of the drawings, etc. In the next phase in the focusgroup categories of drawings were identified. Each category refers to a research activity (or a group of research activities) or to features of research activity. Then participants ranked the categories according to their importance for their students’ careers. The focusgroup concluded with a discussion about their approaches to integrate research in the curriculum. Individual lecturers provided input while at the same time that input was discussed in the group in view of developing common understanding.


Initial analyses of the data reveal interesting patterns. Both similarities and clear differences are retrieved. A diverse set of categories describing ‘research activities’ was identified with most lecturers pointing to (aspects of a) ‘research cycle’. Although lecturers from two very distinct programs were participating, there seems to be some consensus that a recurrent feature of research is that it is the result of a ‘critical attitude’. This feature is regarded to be extremely important for students’ professional career. It is argued that integrating research into teaching will help students to become more critical. This consensus does not result in similar practices with respect to the integration of research into teaching. Lecturers may generally agree that students have to engage in some kind of research activity, the nature of such a research activity is very diverse (going from consulting information (desktop research) over independent gathering of new data (surveying) to developing realia (model building)). Further analyses will indicate whether the conception of research is linked to the approach with respect to the integration of research into teaching.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Instructional Psychology and Technology
# (joint) last author

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