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Learning Through Research Part 1

Tomorrow's Research

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Every research university faces the challenge of helping faculty and

students find effective ways of combining research and teaching

responsibilities. Below is Part 1 of a presentation on this very

important topic. It is taken from the keynote address by Ludwig

Huber, Faculty of Education/Obestufen-Kolleg, University of

Beilefeld, 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 Huber looks at the challenges and rationale behind the

learning through research approach. In Part 2 (to appear on

Thursday) he discusses the objections and difficulties presented by

this challenge.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: Learning Through Research: Part 2

Tomorrow's Research


------------------- 1,994 words --------------------


Contribution to Opening Session

25th International Conference on Improving University Learning and


Ludwig Huber

University of Bielefeld



To claim that Learning through Research ought to play an essential

role in higher education indeed means a challenge.

Arguments against it come to mind instantly:

* Isn't modern research the business of highly specialized personnel and


* Don't students nowadays need and want a fast and efficient professional

education, which has nothing to do with learning research or through


* Is not Learning through Research an aim far too ambitious if you

look at the

number of students in today's mass higher education and at the very

heterogeneous and often-insufficient qualifications they bring with them?

Why then pursue such a phantom? Perhaps Learning through Research is

just a German spleen, only to be understood in the German tradition

of thinking about the university.

To make the challenge quite clear:

1.1 The idea is indeed Learning through Research, or participation in

research, or at lease learning situations that get as close as

possible to situations of research. Thereby "research" may be

defined simply with the Oxford Dictionary as the "endeavor to

discover facts by scientific study of a subject, course of critical

investigation" (COD s.v.)

1.2 We talked about more than just "activating the students".

Furthering the learners' own activity and autonomy is the aim of some

other approaches, too, e.g.

- Learner-centered education,

- Student-centered learning,

- Independent learning,

- Problem-based learning and case study,

- Project work or project study.

Learning through research is cognate with these approaches regarding

the general aim; it has something in common with each of them. No

doubt it belongs to the idea of Learning through Research that the

students themselves develop a question or problem of their own that

is interesting to them or has been made interesting to them by the

teacher; insofar it is learner-centered. But this question or

problem should not only be personally meaningful, so as to stimulate

learning (what would be a sufficient criterion for a student-centered

approach), but objectively relevant and unsolved so as to stimulate a

search for new knowledge. (By "new" I mean that the answer or

solution so far would be unknown to students and teachers and could

not be found just by looking over encyclopedias, textbooks or surfing

the Internet.) This search will start from a concrete problem of

case (i.e., it will be problem-based or case-oriented); however, the

learner aims not only for acquiring related knowledge for himself,

but at producing results valuable for others, too. Learning through

research could be a form of independent learning, i.e., self-guided

individual studies away from/without personal teachers, but according

to the old idea of the university, what is meant here is the

community of scholars and students, and what modern requirements call

for is social learning order to develop social abilities in the

students. In any case, science should be experienced as a social


For this reason, the principle of Learning through Research reaches

far beyond creating a learning environment wherein students

individually learn or search for something, and is much to "project

work"; in the end it is however not limited to practical solutions or

products, but may aim at theoretical insights as well.

These aims may also be served if students get involved in greater

research projects of their institute or department (participation in

research) as long as they are not regarded as slaves so to say, but

are invited to grasp and to discuss the larger context of their work.

The important thing about Learning through Research is the experience

- cognitive, emotional and social - of the whole panoply from the

very first ideas or interests over problems, happy findings and

disturbing doubts until, finally and hopefully, insights and

solutions have been found.

1.3 Nevertheless, the claims of Learning through Research relate

Learning through Researcheady to the teaching and learning of

undergraduates, not only of graduates (in the American sense) or of

candidates writing thesis for the final examine (in the German

system). Although, even for them Learning through Research may not

be the general rule, it is at least possible in principle and may

often be the case in reality that their work implies some sort of

research. However, what is to be examined here and today is the

possibility of Learning through Research for undergraduates.

For the sake of a lively discussion, I would like to stress that I

think all students ought to experience an exemplary project of

Learning through Research at least once, and not only students of

universities but also of the polytechnics (or universities of applied

sciences), not only those who will enter a career in the academic

system but also those who go for a highly qualified job elsewhere.


2.1 The idea of the university Learning through Research is but an

alternative wording, perhaps an emphatic one, for a classical

concept of studying which was inherent in the "idea of the

university" as conceived at the beginning of the 19th century and

still is being conjured today (at least in ceremonial speeches). It

was formulated by Humboldt Schieiermacher and others from that

idealistic community in Berlin in a way, which is still fascinating.

The main idea is "Bildung, durch Wissenschaft" or "education through

scientific studies".

Here I hit upon special problems of translation, which require a

short excursion. "Bildung" in the German language stands as a

separate term beside "Erziehung" "education", for an aspect which can

be, but must not always be, implied in the English word "education":

for the development and formation or self-formation of the person by

assimilation, digesting and reflecting his or her experiences of or

in the culture. "Wissenschaften" is the name in German for sciences

and arts, i.e., for the empirical natural and social sciences as well

as for the humanities. If put in the singular the word

"Wissenschaft" is used for the activity of a systematic and

methodical search for truth as it is or should be common for all


The idealistic concept of "education through scientific studies" in

the sense depends upon three prerequisites.

First; it was and is possible to think of it only as long as science

is conceived of not just as technology but also as enlightenment,

i.e., the attempt to bring reason (ratio) into the life and relations

of people.

Second; if science is to educate its students (in the sense of

developing their personality), it only can be the process of doing

science as an open and never ending research, not science which is

taught as the sum of established facts (cf. SCHLEIERMACHER

(1808/1956, S. 238). HUMBOLT defines the task of the university (in

contrast to a secondary school) as well as the activities of the

students as follows:

It is the specialty of universities, that they always treat

science as a

problem not yet fully resolved, and therefore keeps on

researching while

schools have to do with knowledge ready and established and with

learning just this. The interaction between teacher and student (at the

university) is therefore thoroughly changed. For only the

science which

grows from within and can again be implanted in the person forms the

character, too.

Not the stock of transmittable knowledge is the basis for education

in the sense of "Bildung", but searching and finding, problematizing

and insight, wondering and inventing, inquiring and presenting - the

whole way from curiosity for open questions up to results which are

worth communicating to others.

A third prerequisite must be mentioned as well; even the process of

doing science (research) yourself is only "educating" if it is

accomplished by a process of self-critical examination. Humboldt has

thought of three dimensions:

* self-critical thinking with regard to the discipline as a specialized mode

of producing knowledge,

* self-critical examination of the person as thinking, feeling, and judging

with regard to his or her personal experience and development,

* self-critical consciousness with regard to the relevance or

consequences of

science for the community at large.

I each of these dimensions also problems of the sciences today can be

discussed. Such reflections belong to research in a deeper sense.

Thus, if even the possibility of education through scientific studies

is to exist at the university, then experiencing research is a

necessary condition for this.

2.2 Students' demands

Students seem to feel this - at least a relevant part of them.

Whatever I may have to argue against the faults of empirical surveys,

the following results of such surveys among German students make me

stop and think. Among the claims improvements of the conditions of

studying a statement like "more opportunities for participating in

research projects" is considered as 'Very urgent" by 30% of the

students (also at Fachhochschulen/Polytechnics): it is ranked

immediately after "more relation to practice" or "smaller classes"

(cf. Simeaner 1995). Such answers my partly reflect what is supposed

to be socially desired - but not totally so, as an additional

indicator, I take what students (at the university of Bieiefeld,

1996/97) wrote down when they were asked to name teachers for an

award for excellence in teaching. The qualities they mentioned as

merits were for example, if a teacher guided them towards unsolved

questions of research in his discipline, related her teaching to

actual projects and results of research, offered a look into his own

ways of thinking and working as a researcher, stimulated students to

choose a field not yet known to them as a specialty or that she

produced a publication on the theme of their seminar together with

the students in a joint effort.

2.3 Requirements from the occupational system - the employers'

challenges. Traditional ideas and subject's interests of at least a

part of the students may offer good reasons for Learning through

Research, but perhaps they don't suffice to underpin the general

claim for that principle. Further legitimation, however, stems from

developments in the occupational system: such as speed of

innovations, global interdependence and competition, decentralization

of big organizations and lean production - just to drop some cue

words for current issues. Due to these, the employers themselves

more and more demand that graduates from High Education must have

acquired what in German is called "Schlusselqualifikationen" and

elsewhere pops up as key competencies, basic skills, general

qualifications or abilities. Notwithstanding the vagueness of the

terms used the endless variations in the catalogues of such virtues,

the claims resemble each other:

- Broad orientation and overview (or ability to get this quickly)

- Systematic and divergent thinking

- Creativity and (methodical) flexibility

- Endurance and tolerance for ambiguity

- Ability to communicate, to cooperate and to work in teams

- Having leadership skills and ability to bring projects to an end

- Responsibility or willingness to take it

In order to transmit a well-defined body of knowledge of establish

facts and safe methodology, other forms of teaching and learning may

be more efficient than Learning through Research. But, when it comes

to the development of the abilities mentioned above, it becomes much

more difficult to define how on earth they could be taught or

learned. In spite of all the uncertainty regarding the answer: with

this question in mind one certainty has to leave behind traditional

forms of instruction along systematic structures of syllabus-bound

textbooks. What is called for are settings which challenge and

stimulate creativity, complex simulations, individual or group

projects, planned by the students,

participation in the decisions about the curriculum, the course plans

and the organizational context. Personal dispositions and general

abilities as just mentioned all are a kind that could not be taught

in theory only, not be learnt only by receiving. Only those who

practice them can develop or cultivate them: only those who find

themselves in situations where one actually needs them can practice

them. Such learning situations will arise in projects of research or

in processes analogous to them, most of all because the tasks of

structuring the subject matter and responsibly planning and carrying

through the work are not taken away from the students by the teacher

and because the end is open, is certain. The advantages of Learning

through Research for such aims may be difficult to prove empirically,

but it is plausible to assert them from the viewpoint of modern

(constructivist) learning theory (cf. Reinmann-Rothmeier/Mandl 1997).

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