Thursday, July 19, 2007

Research and Teaching

A smart colleague of mine, James Bailey, argues that teaching excellence and research excellence are uncorrelated. Specifically, he cites work that shows that research productivity is not a good predictor of teaching evaluations or peer review. That doesn't particularly surprise me. But I do think there is both reason behind and evidence for the idea that a research environment produces a richer intellectual environment for students.

For starters, those who do research are being kept honest on a regular basis. When one sends a paper off to be refereed or presents a paper at a conference, he is exposing himself to the possibility of getting beaten up intellectually. But if one's ideas can survive scrutiny, and have foundation in evidence (there I am, going all positivist on you), then one is probably reasonably well qualified to teach.

Second, research almost forces one to keep current. I am not saying that everyone needs to print a refereed paper every year--but one every five years is not unreasonable, and would help people stay current (BTW, my mother was an English professor at a "comprehensive" teaching university, and she still managed to crank out an article every now and then. She wasn't particularly rewarded for doing so, it was just important to her.)

Third, I don't think it is an accident that the greatest University in England was home to Newton and Keynes, among others; nor is it an accident that MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Chicago, etc. attract the best motivated and brightest students from all over the world.

So I am curious about what the (likely small number of) people who look at this blog think. Do (did) they get a better classroom experience from faculty who produce research. Or at least from those that produce well-known research?


Anonymous said...

Prof. Green,

Bailey argument feels right. So does yours. However, this seems problematic: "...then one is probably... ...reasonably well qualified to teach." In general, of course, but there seem to be more and more graduates who, upon reaching a certain level, are tempted into involvement with the corporate world. I can't imagine that their teaching begins to suffer when they do this as their is no "chinese wall" between the research and the teaching. I'm currently at a research oriented institution, and I don't remember anyone discussing, ever, this ethical question (at least in a classroom context).

Re: Universities attracting the best and the brightest - yes. But is this a good thing??? We seem to be suffering lately from excessive or accelerating globalization. Keynes and Newton "promoted themselves from within."

Vote: Have to disqualify myself... all faculty have been involved in research, or at least produce papers (?). Best experiences have been from faculty with talent for both research and communication.

Anonymous said...

Here's a good article on teaching in the NYT:

A Conversation With Eric Mazur: Using the 'Beauties of Physics' to Conquer Science Illiteracy

Anonymous said...