How to Blend Teaching and Research

How to Blend Teaching Research

Pedagogical research and I met serendipitously on a pontoon motoring around Little Floyd Lake on a warm summer afternoon two decades ago. A young man sitting across from me, who I had only met that morning, recognized me as the instructor of his online introductory economics class. As it turns out, this young man would play a pivotal role in my introduction to pedagogical research. I will explain in a moment how this student drew me to pedagogical research, but first let’s look at what pedagogical research is, then continue reading to learn how to seamlessly blend pedagogical research and teaching.

What is Pedagogical Research?

There are plenty of definitions, both formal and informal. My personal definition of pedagogical research is that which helps me understand something related to teaching and particularly learning. Often it is referred to as Scholarship of Teaching and Learning; though as you continue learning about the topic, don’t be surprised if you find yourself discussing nuanced differences between the two classifications.

Who Can Do It?

Anyone. This begs the question, who should do it? I would love to answer “everyone” but concede that perhaps pedagogical research is only right for those who would benefit from knowing about learning and those who would benefit from the process of sharing newfound knowledge with others, for altruistic reasons or to add to your research portfolio.

How Do You Do It?

The research process is the research process, whether the research is pedagogical or field specific. Most readers have had a course in and have applied the scientific method. I am not an expert on this subject but nevertheless this is the process as I know it.

  1. Identify the problem and the information you desire. If you can think of a question about learning or teaching and there is a practical means by which to answer it, you have a potential focus for your research.
  2. Investigate the problem until you consider it fully vetted. Examples in this process are, to consider the literature to see if others have addressed this or bounce your idea off colleagues.
  3. Develop a research plan that describes how you will acquire knowledge.
  4. Beta test the idea so you have a relatively firm plan.
  5. Submit your application to the Institutional Review Board.
  6. Conduct the research and, finally, share your findings.

Of course, what steps are included will depend on the question, conditions and other factors too numerous to mention.

My Introduction to Pedagogical Research

Later that afternoon, this young man confided in me that a few of his peers were excelling in the course but were not learning economics. I was intrigued.

The news came at a time when faculty from throughout the university, and beyond, vigorously debated whether online classes were adequately rigorous and held students to the same standard as those taking the course in the traditional style that included physical presence; a discussion that continues today. I realized in that moment my assumption that performance reflected understanding in my online courses had not really been tested.

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Enter pedagogical research!

Each of my online classes included two short papers wherein students demonstrated their understanding of macroeconomic theory by using it to explain current news articles, and this tradition continues today. Grading these papers allows me to assess student understanding and ability to apply course concepts, and also the opportunity to provide positive feedback to encourage students. Read my Celebrating the Good post to learn how I use constructive feedback on papers to improve learning and morale in my courses.

Beyond this glimpse into their ability to apply course content, due to large class sizes, all other assessments were conducted via the publisher’s homework and exam management program. This led me to wonder, were some students completing their exams as a group and others using a bootlegged copy of the test bank as my new informant suggested? And, if so, was their performance a poor representation of their understanding of the material? And, just like that, my research question was born.

The Research Question

I wanted to know whether students in an online version of an economics course learn the material as well as those taking the course with a physical presence. I set out to compare performance not only in classes offered completely online with those offered completely in person, but also with a third group, the hybrid version of my course. In the hybrid version, class periods were offered, and homework completed, online but students were required to be physically present for exams.

The Process

Question mark in hand

Question in hand, I reached out to the Institutional Review Board who classified my project as exempt and set forth in comparing average grades in the relative classes. Although this story is to demonstrate only where the research question originated, to satisfy and reward the curiosity of those reading, I share the results here. The average student taking the class online performed only slightly better than those taking the traditional in-person class, although the difference was significant. Those taking the class online except for in-person exams performed substantially less well than either of the other groups, indicating the average student learning online did not understand the material as well as the average student attending in person.

In hindsight, I could have investigated whether other student-specific factors also influenced relative performance, but what I learned from my quick pedagogical analysis satisfied my intellectual curiosity and motivated me to find ways to improve learning in my online classes.

This pedagogical research I engaged in helped me in another unexpected way in that the subsequent presentations and publications added to my research portfolio. Over the years, my intellectual curiosity for information that would help me improve my classes provided dozens of opportunities to give presentations and publish articles reporting on that pedagogical research. As such, it occurs to me that we have hundreds of faculty who can successfully employ pedagogical research.

Start Your Own Pedagogical Research

If you are interested in pedagogical research, and I suspect that applies to most folks who have read this far, consider joining our Pedagogical Research Faculty Learning Community (FLC) as a mentor or mentee. In this FLC, we will investigate pedagogical research topics and begin the journey of conducting and sharing our research.

To be a mentee, apply now >>
Applications are due October 31, 2021.

I very much hope you will join us!

If you are interested in serving as a mentor, please send me an email indicating such.

I look forward to hearing about your investigations!


About the Author:

Cheryl Wachenheim

Cheryl Wachenheim is a professor in the Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics. She has been teaching at NDSU for twenty-two years, each better than the previous. She has two children.

KeywordsAssessment, Instructional, What is?, OTL Blog   Doc ID131318
OwnerLinda C.GroupIT Knowledge Base
Created2023-09-08 08:49 CDTUpdated2023-09-08 09:20 CDT
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