|VOLUME 18||THE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MILWAUKEE | GRADUATE SCHOOL||NUMBER 3|
Introduction: Learning Through Research
From time to time, we have deviated from our normal format in order to devote an issue of Research Profile to a special topic. In years past, we have had special issues on international research and on computing. In this issue, we feature examples of faculty who teach graduate and undergraduate students outside the traditional classroom setting.
In 1993, the Legislative Audit Bureau of the State of Wisconsin released a report that was critical of faculty workloads in the University of Wisconsin System. Chancellor John H. Schroeder responded to this report in an opinion editorial in The Milwaukee Journal, which also appeared in the July 1994 issue of the UWM Report. Chancellor Schroeder indicated that "the audit presents a very narrow and inaccurate view of faculty workloads, and as a result the conclusions it contains are misleading." He stated further that "The LAB report uses figures that seem to indicate an overall decline of average faculty workload . . . In fact, UWM faculty members are working harder and being called upon to do more than faculty were 10 years ago." Referring specifically to graduate education, the Chancellor clarified, "At the graduate level, of course, and particularly at the doctoral level, a considerable amount of student learning occurs outside of formal classroom settings in individual discussions and advising sessions with faculty members. None of this activity is reflected in the kind of quantitative study done in the LAB report."
Faculty workload is not just an issue confined to UWM; it is a national issue in higher education. Many studies have been conducted and articles written about the crisis in undergraduate instruction, often blaming faculty for spending too much time on other activities. This is a complex issue and is not well-explained by the popular press to the public. Faculty members have a wide range of responsibilities including teaching, research and public service. When you interview faculty members, you will find that they do not perceptually separate these various activities as if they were neatly subdivided into discrete areas. Rather, these activities form a seamless continuum rooted in their discipline. Analogies to doctors, lawyers, and ministers have been used to try to explain faculty responsibilities. Just as doctors do not spend all of their time in surgery, or lawyers in the courtroom, or ministers in the pulpit, so too faculty members do not spend all of their time in the classroom. What we have here is an accounting problem. Much of our work is "invisible" to traditional econometric models and is not accounted for in workload assessment. This gives a distorted view of the true workload picture of faculty activity. Hours in the classroom should not be equated with a faculty member's workload.
Time is spent in research, scholarship, creative activity and performance, much of which is preparation for teaching. It is ironic that this continuing scholarship should be blamed for reduced workload defined as classroom instruction. Scholarship and research are an important part of the preparation for teaching. Research informs, enlivens, and pushes teaching to the cutting edge. It is common knowledge that the best baccalaureate colleges are now encouraging faculty scholarship in order to achieve what has always come naturally at research universities.
All of the activities that compose real faculty workload such as research, public service, advising, mentoring, grading, etc. are necessary and complementary to teaching. I would like to go a step further and argue that research in many fields is not just complementary to teaching but is in fact, the embodiment of teaching. While students are prepared by classroom instruction, just as much learning occurs in the research laboratory, in the clinical setting, in the studio, and in the field operation. Graduate and undergraduate students are supervised, and yes, "taught" in these situations by faculty members. Though our university's faculty workload reporting system often gives no official recognition for this work, it comprises a large amount of faculty and student time. Most graduate students will report that the "real learning" occurs during research.
Undergraduate students involved in research, and there are many examples at UWM, report that this experience strongly influenced their career decisions and their desire to go on to graduate school. I am most familiar with my own department, chemistry. Our department prides itself on an outstanding program of undergraduate research, in which 10-20 sutdents a semester work in laboratories on original research problems, learning how to function intelligently and efficiently in modern labs, equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation. Many of these students become quite proficient during their stay in a professor's laboratory and often become co-authors on papers. Those students who enter the job market report that the research enhances thier work experience. Those who go on to graduate school receive highly personal recommendations.
Teaching comes naturally when faculty members are genuinely interested in students. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is a place where integrated undergraduate and graduate education takes place because professors are teaching both undergraduate and graduate students. UWM was fostering a broad program of undergraduate research long before other institutions with more prestigious reputations got their faculty involved in this activity. This learning by doing encourages student-faculty ties, moves students to the forefront of new ideas, and is invaluable to them in making important career decisions.
Faculty members teach the techniques of the discipline, supervise research, review research topics, and provide continuous feedback to students as these students learn about their field of study. Being a chemist, I am most familiar with my catalysis laboratory and my master's and doctoral students. As graduate dean, I know that the same type of activity goes on in other disciplines, from architecture to art, from library and information science to nursing. If you do not think teaching is occurring, just try to "check in on the lab" for a few minutes. As a major professor, you are deluged with questions that take real time to answer properly. These students are hungry for knowledge and the practical experience that only comes from the research setting.
Recently, we conducted a survey of graduate students by interviewing a randomly selected group of 50 students. The information we received was extremely useful. One consistent message was that students thought that they learned as much from conducting research as they learned in the classroom, and most found the research experience to be the most valuable aspect of their time spent in graduate shcool.
My point is simple. At a doctoral research university, you cannot measure faculty productivity simply by contact hours with sutdents in the formal classroom setting, nor can you view research, scholarship, creative activity or community service as opposites to instruction as if these activities were in conflict or exclusive of one another. A wide range of activities enable faculty members to become better teachers and impart the latest knowledge. Research not only does that, but frequently features direct teaching as a strong component. We need to expand our measures of faculty productivity to account more accurately for all of those activities that contribute to the academic enterprise.
In this issue of Research Profile, we have drawn a wide-ranging sample of faculty members who involve graduate and undergraduate students in their research. While not extraordinary to these individuals, this may be a new concept to our readers. I hope that these examples serve to affirm the concept that research is central to the whole program of education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.