Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

The Inquiry Network: A Model for Promoting the Teaching-Research Nexus in Higher Education

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

The Inquiry Network: A Model for Promoting the Teaching-Research Nexus in Higher Education

Article excerpt


This article describes McGill University's teaching and learning centre's model for exploring the nexus between teaching and research. The model, which involved the creation of a faculty learning community, the Inquiry Network, was McGill's response to the Boyer Commission's (1998) call to make research-based learning the standard for undergraduates in research-intensive universities. Often, an important aspect of this challenge is that instructor-researchers do not see any link between their research, their teaching, and their undergraduate students' learning, and as expected, this was the case for the members of our learning community. However, working together, the members eventually came to articulate the link in terms of a framework that sets forth a series of learning outcomes for undergraduate courses. These outcomes were not discipline specific, but were clearly related to Boyer's definition of scholarship (1990), which goes beyond the traditional understanding of research as discovery and includes the concepts of integration, application, and teaching. It is in this sense that we will use the terms "research and scholarship" to denote all activities of professional academics in the pursuit of knowledge.

In the article, we first describe the context of our institution, underlining the important support that we received from the administration. We then give a brief introduction to the literature on the teaching-research nexus, followed by a description of the evolution of our faculty learning community, the Inquiry Network, since it created a framework for addressing the nexus. We detail important stages in the development of the community's ideas, in the educational development of the members, and in the expansion of the initiative to the institution as a whole. While we believe that our model could be applicable within all institutions of higher learning, we propose that it may be particularly appropriate for research-intensive universities where the integration of research and teaching is frequently a strategic objective.

McGill University is a research-intensive university in eastern Canada. It has a total student enrolment of approximately 38,000, of whom 27,000 are undergraduates; there are 11 faculties and approximately 1,700 tenured and tenure-stream faculty. The criteria for promotion and tenure address teaching, research, and service; although teaching and research are usually weighted equally, there is still a wide-spread perception that research is first among these equals. There are both university and faculty awards for excellence in teaching and even some awards within individual departments.

There is a well-established centre for teaching and learning, offering a range of services to academic staffand graduate students, including program development, individual consultations, and university-wide workshops. Much of this work is founded on principles implemented in the centre's Course Design and Teaching Workshop (Saroyan & Amundsen, 2004), which values and builds upon participants' expertise in their disciplines - expertise that is usually more closely related to content knowledge and research than to pedagogical content knowledge (L. S. Shulman, 1986). Over the years, the alumni of this workshop have become an important resource for the centre and for the university, serving on innumerable committees and working groups.

Establishing Institutional Support

In recent years, there has been explicit encouragement from the university administration for initiatives to improve the student experience of learning. Among these has been the relocation of the teaching and learning centre to a more central location on campus and an increase in the number of its staffso that it has been able to greatly expand its services and occupy a position of leadership in numerous university-wide initiatives. Within this context, in 2008-2009 the administration mandated the centre to lead an initiative to promote the teaching-research nexus (more information about this initiative can be found at at www. …

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