Dynamic Synergy: Teaching and Research at the University of Virginia
"Our intention is that professors shall be of the first order in their respective
lines which can be procured on either side of the Atlantic" Thomas Jefferson
on his vision of the University of Virginia October 29, 1822
Prepared by The Faculty Senate University of Virginia June 2000
Why do we Teach?
Effective Teaching has several important objectives. Among the most vital are:
- Enabling students to attain a deep and comprehensive understanding of the
subjects they are studying.
- Helping students learn how to break down and solve intellectual problems
in a variety of disciplines.
- Developing within these students a keen analytical capacity, and the ability
to articulate their insights with clarity, precision, and conviction.
- Kindling a life-long love of learning and inquiry.
- Preparing students for careers and contributions to society.
Why do we Conduct Research?
Research stimulates intellectual activity and produces new knowledge for the
future. Competition among universities for innovation and research funds is
fierce, and it is essential for a first-rank university to maintain the focus
and discipline necessary for meeting the challenges of a new century. More than
half of all the nation's basic research is conducted at American's research
universities. Research leads to:
- Sustaining economic development and global technological leadership. v
Educating a knowledge-based work force.
- Educating a knowledge-based work force.
- Ensuring continued medical breakthroughs and improving public health.
- Maintaining national security.
- Keeping young minds alive to new ideas.
Why do Teaching and Research Matter?
- Active research keeps the learning process current and alive.
Students who work in classrooms or laboratories with instructors engaged in
scholarly research are not merely passive recipients of "yesterday's wisdom."
They encounter the latest thinking on the subjects they are studying. This is
particularly important in our fast-changing world when intellectual breakthroughs
on all fronts are occurring with increasing speed. Students at the University
of Virginia have the opportunity to learn directly from those who are at the
forefront of new scholarly revelations.
- Instructors conducting active research programs communicate the excitement
and passion of scholarly discovery.
As Carlos M. N. Eire, a recipient of the Board of Trustees Teaching Award in
1990, puts it: "Nothing can quicken the pulse of a class more effectively than
an anecdote or conclusion drawn from the teacher's original research." Many
instructors report that the best teaching takes place when they themselves are
grappling with a new insight, a new text, or a recent scientific breakthrough.
- Instructors engaged in research can more readily convey to their students
the structures and processes of scholarly inquiry itself.
When teachers describe a problem they have confronted in their research, and
outline the ways in which they approach the solution to that problem, students
gain a personal glimpse of the scientific method at work.
- Teachers engaged in research find themselves stimulated by student responses
to their work, and the result is often an original, collaborative project
involving student and teacher together.
Students in biomedical engineering regularly work with clinical and teaching
faculty at the Medical School Together they design, develop, and test new medical
devices and techniques. Fellows in the Medical School conduct research together
with the faculty and learn techniques that translate directly into the clinical
Why do Undergraduate Students Care About Research?
The University of Virginia has many of the best research scholars in the
world on its faculty. Increasingly, this faculty is finding ways in which the
classroom itself becomes a kind of dynamic research laboratory, and the student
assume an active role in the creation of new knowledge.
A representative example is History of the US 403: Digital History and the
American Civil War, a course co-taught by Professor Edward L. Ayers, the Hugh
P. Kelly Professor of History, and William G. Thomas, the Director of the Virginia
Center for Digital History. Students in this course investigate the possibilities
of writing a digital history of the American Civil War. They conduct all the
research in the experience of a wide range of people -- Northern and Southern,
black and white, male and female, soldier and civilian -- in the American Civil
War. They build large Web sites, oversee and execute all the design issues,
and work with technical staff as well as with their professors. The goal of
the class is to create history using the new medium of digital technology which
would nevertheless meet traditional expectations of scholarly excellence and
integrity. Student response has been extremely positive; as one student wrote:
"HIUS 403 was the best academic experience I have had at the University. Not
only was I encouraged to explore a topic that I was interested in, but every
minute challenged me to think about history in a new way.
" Similarly, when asked about his participation in an undergraduate research
project with in quantum mechanics, UVA alumnus Francis Collins, the head of
the Human Genome Project and a major figure in genetics research, replied that
his "most intense experience" as an undergraduate was with that research.
To attend a top research university and to share a classroom or laboratory
with some of the finest scholars in America sparks a fire of enthusiasm which
cannot be replicated elsewhere. Stephanie Lynn Taylor, a recipient of one of
the Faculty Senate Undergraduate Research Awards, evoked the moment when learning
becomes living scholarship as she described her research on an eighteenth-century
French scientist: "I wish I had the academic terminology for that click, that
flaring moment when my interest became forever ignited, when, as they say, I
encountered my biographical subject....But I don't think there is a vocabulary
for that moment."
These are the kinds of moments that the faculty of the University of Virginia
seeks to inspire in students. Having felt that "flaring moment" in their own
programs of scholarly research, they bring their passion and enthusiasm for
intellectual inquiry into the classroom, and they encourage students to embark
upon their own personal voyage of exploration and discovery. Outstanding scholars
not only teach their students at U.va. the most important new things, but it is
their work which is taught to students around the world.
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