Negotiating the teaching-research divide

Teaching and learning should be treated and valued equally with research to ensure advancements in the broader aims of academia.

The view emerged during a panel discussion on the scholarship of teaching and learning, or SOTL, at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s 10th annual Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Conference held in Durban, South Africa from 20-22 September.

University of KwaZulu-Natal Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning Professor Renuka Vithal argued that it was “singularly unhelpful” to separate the two concepts of teaching/learning and research as neither could flourish without the support of the other.

University of Johannesburg Chair in Teaching and Learning Professor Brenda Leibowitz said while not every faculty member should be driven by publishing their work, there should be a balance between “only” teaching and “only” research.

Stanford University Emeritus Professor of Education Lee Shulman said not all teaching and learning scholarship had to end in peer review publications. There was merit, he said, in “brown bag Friday” discussions among colleagues that informally distributed knowledge and advanced education at the same time.

Shulman argued for a greater understanding of how people learnt to teach. While there were differences in how biology and mathematics were taught, the essence was the same when viewed as a study of putting knowledge back into the teaching process.

University of Cape Town Professor of Academic Development Jennifer Case said that universally academics faced similar pressures around whether or not to publish their work; how to decolonise the curriculum; how to produce employable graduates; and how not to deliver boring lectures. She said SOTL was ideally suited to address these issues globally and in the South African context.

“As academics, we must work on ideas and bring those concepts together to ensure our knowledge is disseminated among the community and hearing different voices is core to the work we undertake,” Case said.

On the issue of transformation, Vithal said the fact that students were currently demanding the decolonisation of the curriculum highlighted the degree to which the issue of relevance had not been tackled. The situation demanded that every academic reflect on his or her curricula and how to make the necessary changes, she said.

Pointing to the capacity of SOTL to assist universities to deal with change, Leibowitz said: “Decolonisation is a no-brainer, and if we are to understand our students and the environment in which they are functioning, SOTL is the mechanism by which to ask the questions, look for solutions and be vulnerable.”