How Can Teaching-Focus Institutions Help Their Faculty to Engage in Research?

The question which forms the topic of this piece is of particular interest to institutions who are not just classified as ‘teaching-focus’ but has an embedded culture of teaching. That is, it is ‘felt and understood’ that ‘teaching is our bread and butter’ and is fundamental to institutional identity.

This, however, can be problematic for staff in such an institution who wish to engage in research but remain true to their love for teaching, the culture of the institution and ensure that the students’ experience is not adversely affected. Here then are a few suggestions on how institutions could resolve this seeming dilemma. These must of necessity be pitched at the levels of practicality and policy.

Practical level

Suggestion 1: The institution should adopt a collaborative approach where groups of staff or individuals engage with various aspects of a research project. Groups or individuals could be engaged in the research literature search and review, data collection, data analysis and report writing and presentation. However, for this to work, staff involved must be encouraged to devote a little time every day to the aspect of the research for which they are responsible.

The advantages of a collaborative approach are that it ensures that staff or individuals are not burdened with undertaking all aspects of the research project and also enable them to continue regular teaching involvement.

Suggestion 2: The institution could allow staff to adjust teaching load and methods. For staff wishing to participate, double teaching load during one-quarter so that they have at least one-quarter free for research activities. They could be encouraged to engage in research during the term that teaching is less or during the summer breaks. The staff could also build a teaching library of videos, class activities, and presentations that can be drawn upon if they become unexpectedly overwhelmed by research and related demands.

Strategic level

Suggestion: There is the need to make policy changes to facilitate and encourage research. This may involve restructuring teaching policies to include time for research. Setting a part-time for staff to have research meeting times and to teach reduce hours. In traditional academic roles, this includes 40% research, 40% teaching and 20% service and leadership.

This is a challenging task for the leadership and several factors such as financial resources, availability of faculty and institutional culture must be considered when making such a strategic policy decision. A strong institutional support in the form of leadership, guidance and resource allocation are keys for this to happen.

Base on personal experience, these suggestions worked in various institutions of which I was a part. However, what was critical to their success was the ‘political will’ and fortitude of a few key people in leadership who were willing to wrestle, argue for, implement and evaluate these suggestions. The evaluation process especially proved invaluable. This was so because it was used to improve and tailor the suggestions according to internal and external occurrences.