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Surveys have shown that students benefit from the enthusiasm and expertise of faculty who bring their research into the classroom.  The incorporation of research into the classroom can also promote an inquisitive approach to learning and provide a model for critical thinking. But as we know, it can be difficult to bring research into the classroom in disciplines with hierarchical knowledge structures or when the curriculum is highly constrained.  The good news?  Even if you cannot incorporate the content of your research, the scholarship on teaching and learning suggests that introducing students to the process of research can effectively promote learning.   Here are some strategies for different ways of incorporating your research into the classroom:

 

Explain disciplinary standards or techniques

Students often wonder why we insist on details that seem nitpicky:  lab technique, following templates for written work, citing sources in a particular format, etc.  Choose an example from your own research (either a success or a mistake) that illustrates why following those standards are essential to your efficiency, accuracy, or teamwork.  Use photos, screenshots, or stories to show students what it really looks like to do fieldwork, archival research, or work in a research group.

 

Give students an opportunity to think like an anthropologist / biologist / theologian / ____

Choose a relevant and defined problem from your research for students to solve, being sure to balance a challenging question with the appropriate amount of background information.  You might ask students to suggest the possible explanations for a piece of evidence, find a problem in an experimental design, or decode the argument of a dense source. This sort of inquiry-based learning emulates the thinking of the research process.

 

Empower students to question or challenge published work in the discipline

Choose an image, quote, dataset, or graph you uncovered in your own research that seems to contradict a class reading. Ask students to analyze, compare, and draw a conclusion about which interpretation is more convincing. In my experience, students are keen to suggest possible syntheses or additional research questions. Such an activity introduces students to how knowledge is constructed and tested in your discipline.

 

For those of us early in our careers in the classroom, these strategies offer relevant ways to incorporate our work into the classroom, even if our research topics seem narrow or above our students’ levels.  By focusing on the methods of research in our disciplines, we can share our enthusiasm and expertise even when it is not suitable to give an extended lecture on our research content.

 

Further reading: 

Prince, Michael J., Richard M. Felder, and Rebecca Brent. “Does Faculty Research Improve Undergraduate Teaching? An Analysis of Existing and Potential Synergies.” Journal of Engineering Education 96, no. 4 (2007): 283–294.

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