Mario Pinto (l) with PhD student Sankar Mohan

The teaching-learning-research nexus

October 25, 2012

By Mario Pinto, Vice-President, Research

A recent Higher Education Strategy Associates report ranking SFU as one of Canada’s top 10 research universities shows we can play with the big dogs, but it prompts me to caution against being overly preoccupied with a research-only agenda.

The partitioning of teaching and learning versus research into two solitudes is bogus: each sector draws from the other and the interplay is crucial to prepare students for future challenges in national and international settings.

The offices of the Vice-President, Academic (VPA), and Vice-President, Research (VPR), work with the common goal of combining teaching, learning and research to develop critical thought processes in our students.

Nobel Prize-winning chemist Sir Derek Barton once told me, “If you succeed in transferring all of your knowledge to your students, you will have failed.” When students are exposed to new research there is always more to learn and teach.

Knowledge is constantly evolving and exposure to current research allows faculty to present students with a dynamic view of knowledge generation and mobilization. Exposure at the undergraduate level can be from experiential learning in independent study semesters or through research assistantships.

The VPR/VPA undergraduate student research awards are designed to facilitate this kind of student-faculty interaction. But students can also gain research exposure in the classroom. A problem- or casebased study informed by research findings can be an enriching learning experience.

At the graduate level, research experience is paramount and new knowledge is assimilated through teaching and learning. Research on teaching and learning is a notable endeavour and can lead to innovation in teaching modalities. The appointment of faculty champions is the principal driver of SFU’s research reputation and impact. The teaching-learning-research nexus can enrich virtually every academic endeavor. Favourite examples include:

  • Historical research that discourages present-minded interpretations of past events to suit current agendas.
  • Explorations of the links between evolution and cultural imprinting.
  • Investigations into the effect of health disparities on criminal behaviour.
  • Bioinformatics and genomics connections to infectious and chronic diseases.
  • New materials research that generates clean-energy technologies. Pedagogical research that leads to modes of instruction tailored to specific communities.
  • Philosophical research that informs critical thought and ethical behaviour.
  • Particle physics research that helps clarify the origins of the universe.
  • Religious, cultural and ethnicity research that builds tolerant and global citizens.

Such informed discourse will generate the critical thinkers and global citizens of tomorrow.

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