Over on Inside Higher Ed, Kevin Brown has written a great little essay that explains why he teaches, and why teaching is so important. Here’s a sample:
Students do not see much of the work we professors do, nor do administrators or the public. We do our research in our offices, laboratories, homes, or libraries, largely alone; we spend hours reading and preparing lectures, class discussions, exams, and paper assignments that appear effortless; we work on committees that help make our universities and communities stronger; we spend summers reading in our fields or about teaching, working to improve for the coming school year. Much of what we do is unseen, especially by students, yet we do the work to the best of our ability, knowing that the work is important in and of itself.
Take a few moments to read the whole thing. While he may not be speaking for every professor, he expresses an perspective that many educators would agree with.
Using MRI technology, Professor Adrian Owen and Postdoctoral Fellow Lorina Naci have determined that a man in a coma – the result of a serious car accident – is aware of his surroundings and his identity. This is a breakthrough finding that challenges many of the assumptions about “vegetative” patients, and gives hope to their families.
From the Globe and Mail article by James Bradshaw:
“For any number of patients, we think this technique takes communication with them to the next level,” said Dr. Naci, the study’s lead researcher. She described meeting with Mr. Routley’s family to tell them the results of the experiment as “quite emotional,” vindicating their conviction that Mr. Routley isn’t simply “suspended in the middle of nowhere, mentally speaking,” as Dr. Owen put it.
Dr. Owen, a Canada Research Chair, runs a lab at Western that involves many graduate and undergraduate students in this exciting research. This is an incredible opportunity for these students, one that is only possible through a strong connection between teaching and research. When these two things are combined within a university, amazing things happen.
Check out this 2011 interview on TVO’s “The Agenda” where Dr. Owen talks about his work.
According to UofT, “dozens of U of T Engineering students have worked with AeroVelo on the Atlas project over the past few years, in roles ranging from repairing the vehicle after crashes to designing and testing components to actually flying the craft. All the students – members of U of T’s Human-Powered Vehicle Design Team – said that working with AeroVelo was a once in a lifetime experience.”
Check out this video of the team’s record-breaking flight:
Without a strong connection between teaching and research, these kinds of opportunities would simply not exist for Ontario’s students. To help our innovators and explorers achieve great things, we need to make sure teaching and research remain at the heart of our universities.
Over on the Inside Agenda Blog, there is an excellent piece by Emmett Macfarlane, a professor at the University of Waterloo. In it, he explains that there is a need for universities to be innovative, but that the current proposals for change (such as MOOCs or teaching-only institutions) are not the panaceas they are made out to be. Moreover, the currently monologue around university reform ignores the great deal of innovation already occurring within our universities.
Macfarlane also recognizes the importance of keeping research and teaching connected:
But completely divorcing research and teaching runs contrary to the underlining purpose and benefit of universities: we should want our students taught and trained by actively-engaged experts of their respective fields.
The whole piece is very thoughtful, and can be accessed here.
Barry Smit, one of We Teach Ontario’s featured profs, has been named to the Order of Ontario. This honour recognizes Ontarians who have made exceptional contributions to “the arts, law, science, medicine, history, politics, philanthropy and the environment.”
Here is Barry’s We Teach Ontario video:
Students in Barry’s courses are connected to this research in powerful ways. His graduate students travel with him to remote locations to study the impact of climate change directly. Barry uses the case studies, photos, and data gathered through field work to enrich his undergraduate classrooms. Without research, his students would not have access to this real-world context. Students leave his courses with the skills and knowledge they need to make a difference in a changing world.
For his work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Barry was also a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
We Teach Ontario is about how Ontario’s professors connect teaching and research to achieve exceptional results for students and the province. Through his work on climate change, Barry shows just how powerful this connection can be. And, it is nice to see that the Government of Ontario agrees.
A recent OCUFA poll found that 62 per cent of Ontarians think it is “very important” that universities both teach students and do research. In addition 68 per cent believe that the combination of teaching and research is necessary for universities to fulfill their mandates.
Why such strong support for connected teaching and research? Ontarians understand that in order to ensure student success, build strong communities, and contribute to the economic and social vitality of Ontario, universities need professors who both teach and do research. Research ensures that universities are hubs for the latest discoveries, ideas, and innovations, while teaching ensures that this new knowledge is passed to students and members of the community.
Together, research and teaching produces extraordinary results for Ontario. Let’s keep them at the heart of our institutions.
This website is about one simple – but extremely important – thing: the connection between teaching and research at Ontario’s universities. Great university education depends on this connection. It helps students learn the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. It drives innovation, kick-starts economies, and improves the quality of our lives. When professors are able to connect teaching and research, the results are extraordinary.
Some people have suggested that we don’t need university professors to do research, and that it would be cheaper to have teaching-only universities. But taking research away from universities will hurt students, damage graduate programs, and prevent professors from strengthening their communities. In short, universities won’t be able to do what we expect them to do.
We Teach Ontario features five professors who are using teaching and research to excel in the classroom, in the community, and around the world. Watch their stories, and share your favourites with your friends and colleagues on Twitter or Facebook. You can also share your own story of how a professor has made a difference in your life or in your community [link to What’s Your Story?].
Over the coming months, we will be adding additional professor profiles. We will also be using this space to be sharing the latest news and views on teaching and research at Ontario’s universities [link to blog]. Be sure to check back often for new content and new opportunities to get involved.
Thanks for your interest in We Teach Ontario. Together, we can keep teaching and research connected at Ontario’s universities.
A lot is being written about universities these days and much of it paints a rather troubling picture. Some of the more popular arguments were put forward by Margaret Wente—who seems to write the same column about post-secondary education every few months—this weekend: the system is in crisis, it doesn’t sufficiently prepare students for the job market, the quality of teaching has continuously declined, and overpaid, lazy professors are sitting in their ivory towers denying that anything is wrong.