Rethinking Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: Reframing Our Research Priorities

Jennifer CASE
University of Cape Town, South Africa


The term 'teaching and learning' is ubiquitous in contemporary higher education, yet an examination of contemporary debates suggests a poor conceptualisation of these central activities and the way in which they relate to each other. A long established research programme on teaching and learning shows quantitative correlations between lecturer's approaches to teaching and students' approaches to learning but offers insufficient explanatory theory to allow for a proper understanding of where the value resides in contemporary models of teaching and learning in higher education. This article thus proposes a critical realist reconceptualization of teaching and learning, in which the teaching-learning interaction is shown to be emergent from the activities of teaching and of learning. Support for this position is located in recent work by the higher education scholar Paul Ashwin and also in the sociology of Margaret Archer. Proceeding in this vein, an illustrative analysis is given of the course experiences of ten senior engineering students. Students' descriptions of how the course influenced their learning point to the key role of the lecturer, not only in providing good explanations, but in being accessible and responsive to their questions as they grappled with the course requirements. The article suggests that what is needed to further the research agenda in teaching and learning is more empirical work such as this, aimed at a close-up examination of the teaching-learning interaction as it plays out in courses.

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