Below is Part 2 of the address on Learning Through Research, taken
from the keynote address by Ludwig Huber, University of Bielefeld,
Bielefeld, Germany given at the 25th International Conference on The
University of the Future and the Future of Universities:
Learner-Centered Universities for the New Millennium, Johann Wolfgang
Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany 17-20 July 2000.
In Part 1 (Msg. # 286) Huber looked at the challenges and rationale
behind the learning through research approach. In this concluding
part, he discusses the objections and difficulties presented by this
UP NEXT: Learning by Critique
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LEARNING THROUGH RESEARCH - Part 2
3.0 OBJECTIONS AND DIFFICULTIES
Of course there are serious objections and difficulties standing
against such advantages.
3.1 First objection - in view of modern research Modern research has
thus left far behind Humboldt's image of science that neither his
famous principle of the unity of research and teaching nor the idea
Learning through Research holds true any longer. Given insufficient
qualifications and all too little spare time students, it is said,
have no chance of getting anywhere near the real research projects
neither in the humanities (large scale editions, long-time historical
projects oder complicated linguistic analyses nor by any means in the
natural sciences where advanced research requires highly specialized
experts or even teams of such, big laboratories, expensive apparatus
etc. and takes place in a context of international competition (cf.
Neuweiler 1997). For the scientists teaching would be but a
diversion from such research, and for students only a diversion from
what they really have to learn.
Three replies to this:
First: Paradigms of research vary from one to another. I cannot
dwell on my favorite subject, "disciplinary cultures" here (cf.
instead Becher 1989; Becher/Huber 1990, 1991, 1998). But if one
realizes these differences, e.g., along Becher's matrix of hard and
soft, pure and applied disciplines (Becher 1987, p.289), one is bound
to see: for the teachers in each discipline different ways are open
of linking research and teaching, and for the students therefore
different opportunities present themselves to watch research in
process, to observe it as such and even to participate in it in some
way. I think it is not too bold to guess that research in the
humanities concerned with the cultural and social practices and
products of people and often using hermeneutical methodology rather
than in the natural sciences is open for the exchange of
interpretations and participation by non-specialists, i.e., also by
students, and at the same time does more profit in terms of what they
are able to contribute to different perspectives, experiences and
arguments without depending on expensive technology. The same is
also partly true for the social sciences where smaller research
projects as a teaching device ("Lehrforschung") can indeed start to
analyze new problems and produce original results. And then: even in
engineering softer technology is a Learning through Researcheady
approachable by students. We shall
see examples of both later.
Second: Not all research has to be necessarily top research, and is
not so in reality either. The term research is not limited to
projects in mega-institutes working at the so called cutting edge of
research and striving to discover 24 hours earlier than rivals
worldwide something new patentable or deserving THE Nobel Prize.
Rather, the term also
comprises what Thomas Kuhn called "normal science", i.e., manifold
inquires, studies, experiments, etc., which apply available
methodology, perhaps somewhat modified, to constantly changing
objects and produce new knowledge with regard to them or reexamine
old theories about them. For Learning through Research as "learning"
it is sufficient that students experience or participate in such
Third: Concerning the objection that research is a long-time business
it is important to differentiate the research process with regard to
its phases. Typically, it proceeds in roughly the following steps:
- Developing questions/ideas
- Examining the state of the art/available information
- Defining the actual problem
- Designing a project plan, choosing methods, instruments etc.
- Carrying through the investigations/the experiments etc.
- Evaluating, interpreting, reflecting the findings
- Formulating, presenting, explaining the results
(Of course these steps are interrelated or may be iterated) For the
sake of Learning through Research students would a Learning through
Researcheady profit if they were involved in some of these phases or
at least invited to discuss them, even if they did not have the
resources to carry out projects themselves: the main thing is that
they are put in a position to grasp concept as a whole and to
problematize some of its elements or aspects.
3.2 Second objection - in view of the organization of teaching and
learning After all that has been said here about Learning through
Research it seems to require complicated arrangements, difficult to
organize, and incalculable demands on time and energy of both
teachers and students - and all this with an open end and certain
learning effects. Therefore, this model is unfit for modern mass
higher education, because the institutions have to compete in terms
of efficiency in teaching, and because most students look for just
this, for efficient training for the professions through the safest
methods. This objection touches upon real problems but holds up if
one totally subscribes to its underlying assumptions.
Three replies to this:
First: Universities have (or ought to have) more far-reaching goals.
If they really claim to be more than just higher level vocational
schools for other sectors of the system, they have to create at least
the preconditions so that a part of the students can have the
opportunity to discover science as a way of life and work for
themselves - and who those students will be cannot be identified in
Second: Even if one accepts vocational training or education for the
professions as the main purpose, these today, as mentioned above,
require general abilities, which students can develop only if
challenged by complex learning situations. Risks of failure or loss
of time, if they occur, are but the price to be paid for this.
Third: The claim is not that courses of study should be designed
totally according to the model of Learning through Research. We talk
of at least one exemplary experience of such a process in each of
them so that in some students the wish may be awakened to continue
research work, in others the preference of such methods of work also
in learning, and in all of them the idea of necessary personal growth
in such general abilities. In this sense a project of Learning
through Research would be analogous to a practical (course) in
industry or administration or another social area, which for similar
reasons is an -often-obligatory - part of many courses of studies.
Lets strive for at least one practical experience of research - if
possible, more - in each course of study, as early as possible.
References available on request.
Professor Dr. Ludwig Huber
Faculty of Education/Obestufen-Kolleg, University of Beilefeld
Universitatssr. 15 D 33615 Beilefeld
El. ++ 495211062862 Fax ++495211062967