The role of research in university teaching: A comparison of Chinese and Dutch teachers
The main interest of this research concerns the beliefs and perceptions of Chinese and Dutch university teachers regarding the role of research in university teaching, and how these beliefs and perceptions can be explained by their cultural, institutional and individual background characteristics.
- 2011 - 2014
- dr. Claire (Yanjuan) Hu - PhD candidate
- prof.dr. N. Verloop and prof.dr. K. van Veen - supervisors
- dr. R.M. van der Rijst - co-supervisor
During the past decades, programmes and projects which strive to involve higher education students in research have flourished, in both Western and non-Western countries, and at both research intensive universities and at universities of applied sciences, or so-called polytechnics, Fachhochschulen, and vocational higher education institutions.
The arising question is how to engage undergraduate students in research, and thus how to redefine the role of research in teaching today. In doing this, this research is especially dedicated to understanding how university teachers, as the most direct stakeholders, contemplate on the role of research in their ongoing teaching.
We therefore examined the role of research in university teaching in an Eastern country, namely China, and a Western country, namely the Netherlands, related to the very different educational traditions, but also different socio-economic conditions between the two countries.
In this research, we examined the beliefs and perceptions of Chinese and Dutch university teachers regarding the role of research in university teaching, and how these beliefs and perceptions can be explained by their cultural, institutional and individual background characteristics.
Two studies — using quantitative and qualitative methods, respectively — were conducted to answer the central research question.
The survey study was designed to provide an overview of the beliefs regarding the role research should play in their teaching and their perceptions of the role research actually plays in their teaching of Chinese and Dutch university teachers. We also explored how those beliefs and perceptions relate to the cultural, institutional and individual background characteristics of the teachers.
The interview study was designed to describe a concrete picture of the actual practices of Chinese and Dutch university teachers in relation to the role of research in teaching, for which the supervision of the master’s thesis is chosen. The interview study asked about the goals and approaches to integrate research into teaching (i.e., intended learning outcomes and support provided by the supervisors for completing a master’s thesis).
Results and conclusions
More alike than different
It was surprising to find the Chinese and Dutch teachers to be more alike than different. Both groups highly valued a role research should play in the teaching of higher education students, and particularly valued the fostering of a critical stance on the part of students. Both groups showed a major gap between their beliefs and the perceived actual integration research into their own teaching practices, and a number of individual and institutional factors were found to have contributed to this gap.
The Chinese and Dutch teachers further resembled each other with regard to what they considered core learning outcomes for the supervision of a master’s thesis (i.e., the mastery of such research competencies as academic writing skills, understanding the entire research process, development of a critical disposition and independent research). Both groups provided tangible support related to specific tasks and the learning content, and intangible support related to the invisible learning environment. Both groups provided a range of teacher-directed (e.g., lecture, teacher modelling) and student-directed (e.g., posing questions to students, give student tasks) support in the supervision.
Despite these widespread similarities, some intriguing differences were also found between the Chinese and Dutch university teachers. For instance, the interview findings showed the Chinese supervisors of master’s theses to be more explicit on the assessment and control of student process, and largely aimed at the attainment of competencies which can better prepare the student for a future career. In contrast, the Dutch supervisors frequently mentioned providing emotional support and posing questions to students as ways to monitor student process, and aimed at fostering student interest in research and student well-being.
The different stakeholders (managers, policy makers and university teachers) in the integration of research into higher education teaching should be encouraged to enter into a dialogue with each other to address the ideal-actual gap and thus the factors constraining the integration of research into higher education teaching.
The learning outcomes and support strategies reported in the supervision of master’s thesis provide available options for teachers to cope with the integration of research into different types of university teaching.
The similarities and differences found between the Chinese and Dutch supervisors of master’s theses can be helpful for supervisors with the education of international students. Supervisors need not adapt their actual supervision to the specific cultural backgrounds of their students, but knowledge of these general similarities and differences can certainly help them to identify student strengths and difficulties, and clarify latent expectations to promote maximal student learning in the end.
Foto: Adam Berry / Getty Images News / Getty Images / Universal Images Group
Hu, Y., van der Rijst, R. M., van Veen, K., & Verloop, N. (in press). ‘
And never the two shall meet’? Comparing Chinese and Dutch university teachers about the role of research in teaching.
Higher Education. doi: 10.1007/s10734-014-9734-0.
Sympos ia and individual paper presentations
Hu, Y., van der Rijst, R. M., van Veen, K., & Verloop, N. (2012, December 11). Chinese and Dutch university teachers’ beliefs about the role of research in their teaching. Paper presented at the Newer Researchers Conference of Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE), New port, UK.
Hu, Y., van der Rijst, R. M., van Veen, K., & Verloop, N. (2013, August 26-31). How research and teaching are related in master thesis supervision? Comparing Chinese and Dutch supervisors. Paper presented at the Junior Researchers (JURE) pre-conference, Munich, Germany; also poster presented at the European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI) conference, Munich, Germany.