The Integration of Research Experiences in Programs of Academic
And Clinical Preparation
Robert L. Ringel, Ph.D.
I wish to share a vision for an approach to the preparation of our field’s future clinicians, teachers, and investigators. This view posits that students, in partnership with the faculty, learn the scientific method of thought through participation in an experiential and inquiry-based process of discovery. Through this interactive approach, we may envision students coming to value the reinforcing relationship of discovery, pedagogy and clinical service.
Underlying this vision is a commitment by our discipline’s faculty to provide students with discovery-based learning experiences. I suggest that research is an integral part of education and promotes a process of experiential learning. To this end, faculty engage students as participants in activities which pique their curiosity and inspire learning. In turn, students develop an enthusiasm and a foundation for life-long learning based on the ability to think critically, exercise creativity, and make connections between different experiences.
Playwright Tom Stoppard tells about the great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein who asked a friend:
“’Tell me, why do people always say that it was natural for men
assume that the sun went around the earth rather than that the
earth was rotating?’ His friend said, ‘Well, obviously it just looks as
if the sun is going around the earth.’ To which the philosopher
replied, ‘Well, what would it have looked like if it has looked as if
the earth was rotating?’”
To this anecdote, the neurologist-author Harold Klawans adds:
“The answer is obvious. It would look the way it does look, for that
is how it is and how it appears. It is formulating the question that is
Our vision must embrace the belief that learning to ask the right question is the starting point for the development of the creative intellect.
While the requisite technical skills may change, the process by which students approach problems need not. This particularly important given that the ability to access, interpret, and synthesize information may well serve as the primary transforming factor in the advancement of knowledge. The application of discovery-based learning enhances one’s understanding of issues well beyond those of a technical nature.
Our universities hold a unique position in education as places where both knowledge is discovered and extended. Thus, responsibility for integrating research and education rests heavily on these institutions. The importance of this role was noted by Ernest Boyer in Scholarship Reconsidered, “…inspired teaching keeps the flow of scholarship alive. …teaching at its best means not only transmitting knowledge but transforming and extending it as well” (emphasis added).
Thus, our long-term goals are likely to be best served by institutionalizing activities, which significantly enhance a commitment to the integration of research and education. This involves the expansion of programs which: 1) formally incorporate these thrusts into the goals and mission of the academic curriculum; 2) formulate policies and procedures which promote the integration of research, teaching and clinical practice; 3) establish mechanisms for allocating resources to support such initiatives; 4) develop review and accreditation processes which explicitly assess progress on these initiatives; and 5) reinforce both faculty and students for excelling in these endeavors.
To achieve these broadly stated goals I respectfully suggest that
our university based educational programs devote special attention to:
Critical to assessing the outcomes and impacts of academic programs is the identification of factors, which contribute to student intellectual growth. A value-added approach to such a process of classification leads us to concentrate first and foremost on our students, and particularly on learning outcomes that transcend a solid grounding in the principles and knowledge bases of their respective disciplines. As such, integration efforts should be aimed at helping students attain a high level of competence in the physical, life and cognitive sciences. The success of our efforts may be measured by assessing certain “student outcomes” however it must be recognized that these outcomes are only possible through faculty commitment to remain at the cutting edge of their disciplines while simultaneously embracing the importance of pedagogy. It requires faculty to bring the excitement, processes, and results of research into the classroom and clinical setting, and in turn allow their research to be transformed by these interactions. Also implicit in these activities is the support of an educational environment, which provides an easy flow of communication between discovery and instruction. As a profession we would do well to champion integration efforts which are designed to prepare:
As we contemplate the future of higher education in our current global high technology society we must be ready to deal with change. We are continually asked to be flexible in the way we work with ideas, people and things. Our students ask that we help them achieve their academic and professional goals and that we provide them with the foundation upon which they may develop a life full of enriched learning experiences. To provide our students with the confidence to manage change, we must build into our academic programs attitudes, knowledge, and skills which are likely to transcend the limited time we have them under our daily supervision in the classroom, laboratory or clinic setting. This, I suggest, can be achieved only by encouraging our students to ask the correct questions and by helping them to create the means by which good answers are forthcoming. At the minimum we owe students the effort and courage to study our curriculum and to make those modifications which are necessary to prepare them for fulfilling careers in the communication sciences and disorders.