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Case Studies, Decolonising the curriculum, News

For research-richer or poorer

Bristol is a research-led university, and our Education Strategy positions us in terms of a research-rich curriculum. Within and far beyond the institution, research-led terms are seen as both engaging and problematic. As we embark on emboldening what Bristol means by a research-engaged education, this blog takes an external view of some of the thorny matters we need to grapple with to ensure that UoB creates a research-rich learning environment for the long-term.

We will ensure that programmes are research-rich, intellectually challenging and internationally relevant and meet the highest academic standards, thereby ensuring that all students experience a culture of research and the excitement of discovery.

Education Strategy

Who can teach a research-rich curriculum?

There is sometimes an assumption that only researchers can undertake research-led teaching, but this is untrue. Anyone who teaches can deliver a research-rich curriculum, by staying up to date on relevant disciplinary research and finding appropriate ways to embed it. This can be as simple as updating bibliographies in handbooks, to refreshing reading in seminars, or replicating experiments in the lab. More advanced ways of enhancing how students engage with research in their studies is through whole-curriculum design, including assessments. BILT have collated case studies on research-rich teaching, but we are actively looking for more, so get in touch to share your practice!

What limits are we placing on research-richness by design?

An issue that can affect all degree programmes is the managerial balance between staff planning and teaching expertise. Prof Ruth Holliday (Leeds) warns that if units do not rely on a particular individual to teach, they can be stripped of their research-richness. Dr Vanessa Heggie echoes this point, citing the cognitive dissonance of global specialist experts that teach generic courses. A recent study supports the drive for continuing to provide specialist courses, as they result in improved student success (in contexts where both staff and students are motivated, and there is a high degree of skills transfer that improves students’ ability to succeed in their assessments).

Does research-culture support research-rich teaching?

Durham academic Dr David Petts asks why grant proposals never ask how research will be translated into teaching, pointing out “if I make an ‘education pack’ for schools, that’s “impact” – but if I make one for my own students, it doesn’t count”. It’s a keen observation that UK-wide research culture does not in fact value research-rich teaching directly. This is a prompt for every member of staff at UoB to think about how they are personally influencing research culture locally and through their engagement with research-partners and publishers. An individual member of staff may not be able to make a big difference, but a collective voice chorusing for recognition of the value of research-informed teaching could be impactful.

How can we enhance research-rich teaching through intersectional approaches?                                             

Research-led teaching is also informed by efforts to decolonise the curriculum, as highlighted by UoB academic Dr Foluke I Adebisi, speaking on the resistance decolonising teaching. BILT have developed a suite of resources on decolonising the curriculum in response to these provocations: https://bristol.ac.uk/bilt/our-work-and-who-we-are/themes/decolonising-the-curriculum/.

Dr Alix Dietzel asks What about lived experience teaching? which is tied to decolonising the curriculum but also extends to the need to respect equality, diversity and inclusion not just about what is taught, but who is doing the teaching. We can also ask what voices, epistemologies, practices, ideologies and world views are included in our teaching, and to what degree that they are included. Such questions can be integrated into reflective learning practice and critical thinking exercises that develop broad awareness and understanding while enhancing core skills.

Next steps

  • We encourage all staff to get in touch with BILT and work with us to support student-led cross-faculty research activities, such as the BILT Student Journal and the BILT Festival of Student Research. Find out more here: http://bristol.ac.uk/bilt/our-work-and-who-we-are/themes/students-as-researchers/
  • Share your practice! It might take an hour of your time to write some notes about how you embed research into your teaching and learning practice, but your case study could inspire others into the future – don’t be shy! Email bilt-info@bristol.ac.uk.

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