Integrating teaching and research

Contact: Andrew Mearman
University of the West of England, Bristol
Published December 2006

It is often difficult to strike the correct balance between teaching and research and to integrate the two. However, it is possible: one's research can be affected by one's teaching. For instance, it is often true that having to teach a concept forces one to understand it better than before; it is at this point that an anomaly in the theory or evidence appears as a research avenue. It is also beneficial when one can introduce one's own research into the teaching process. It is beneficial, because the research brings alive the subject under study, not least because the enthusiasm of the tutor transmits to the students. Of course, the extent to which one can introduce research findings into teaching is limited by the focus of one's research: it may only be applicable to upper level undergraduate or postgraduate modules. I have four main research interests: the philosophy and methodology of economics; the teaching of economics; economics and the environment; and economics and sport. I have been fortunate to be able to introduce significant amounts of my research into my teaching.

One of my main interests is how economists think. That manifests in my teaching in many ways. For example, I encourage students to think comparatively about problems, to contrast views, and to reach positions of their own. At this point, my research interests on thinking and on teaching overlap to affect curriculum and assessment design. I assess students in a variety of ways, taking into account different ways of thinking. I stress verbal as well as technical skills. I make students aware of their use of language. This is most easy to do at postgraduate level, wherein the students can examine the arguments behind such an approach, but it is also valuable to undergraduates.

Aside from that philosophical work and its affects on my teaching are more traditional ways of introducing research into teaching. My own work on mixing of methods in economics illuminates discussion on choice of methods for research. I use these as case studies with which to teach to postgraduate research methods students. Similarly, my own use of questionnaires in research can be used to demonstrate some of the principles of those methods, as well as their pitfalls. Finally, the results from those studies can affect teaching. For example, my research into sports participation indicates strongly that no one economic theory of behaviour can explain the decision to participate in sport. I use that research to illustrate the problems of single theories; and to discuss the economics of choice. If sport participation seems to be affected by a broad range of factors including price, age, social group, and physiological and psychological drivers, students can be asked how useful a single theory of rational choice is to explaining behaviour. That is a useful exercise in critical thought and in understanding models and modelling.

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