Integrating research and teaching

New video helps share UVic’s expertise

By Courtney Tait

Five years after Quinn Matthews completed Physics 220, he still remembers the day Dr. Michel Lefebvre—the expert physicist teaching the course—brought the concept of special relativity closer to home.

“After a theoretical and mathematical proof of Lorentz’s equations, which form the mathematical basis for special relativity,” says Matthews, “he explained that they were used to design the exact shape of the cyclotron at TRIUMPH, Canada’s national particle physics lab at UBC.”

Lefebvre’s ability to make a complex concept relevant by relating it to his research expertise in particle accelerator design deeply impressed Matthews, now a master’s student in medical physics.

“The integration of research into the curriculum was a major reason I decided to pursue physics,” says Matthews. “I feel I landed in a great field I may not have discovered otherwise.”

Lefebvre is one of three award-winning UVic professors who discuss ways to merge research and teaching in a new video produced by the University of Victoria’s Learning and Teaching Centre (LTC). A collaboration with Office of the Vice-President Research, “Integrating Research and Teaching” also features interviews with political scientist Dr. Amy Verdun and nursing professor and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies Dr. Gweneth Doane.

“Traditionally for professors and instructors, teaching and research are seen to conflict,” says LTC director Teresa Dawson. “If you do research it takes away from your teaching, if you do teaching it takes away from your research. What we’re trying to say is that they actually support each other.”

All three professors emphasize in the video ways their students inform their research process, revealing a natural synergy.

“The questions of students are often some of the best research questions,” says Doane. Her work with students in New Zealand on family health promotion led to co-authoring a text currently used at both the undergrad and graduate level. “Through listening to their stories and questions,” she says, “it became evident what wasn’t being articulated in the literature.”

Verdun—who supplements course readings with works she has authored and often has research collaborators assist in teaching—says, “The more students feel you’re closer to the research material, the more they’ll listen carefully to what you have to say.”

One of the goals emphasized in UVic’s 2007 strategic plan is to ensure the university’s strong research culture is brought into the classroom. Many Canadian universities claim to integrate research and teaching, but, according to Dawson, UVic has a strength in the area that should be shared.

LTC Associate Director Mary Sanseverino presented clips of the video to an enthusiastic audience at the McGraw-Hill Ryerson National Teaching, Learning and Technology conference in Saskatoon last November, prompting discussion from professors across the country.

“It was very well received,” she says. “People really want to know how this is done.”

The 45-minute video will be available for faculty to view in fall 2007. The LTC plans to add clips of it to their website, as well as promoting it at the new faculty orientation and making it a component of future workshops.

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