Recognizing the Value of Educational Research

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Wednesday, May 8, 2024
By Tricia Bisoux
Photo by iStock/Flashvector
Two researchers want to persuade more business schools to encourage, support, and reward faculty who conduct rigorous research on teaching and learning.
  • A recent survey shows that research on teaching and learning is not valued at many AACSB-accredited schools across the U.S. and Canada.
  • One reason that business schools might not recognize research on teaching and learning is that the journal quality lists they commonly use to assess faculty intellectual contributions focus primarily on discipline-based scholarship.
  • STEM fields already place equal value on research on teaching and learning within individual disciplines. By following their lead, two Canadian scholars argue, business schools will enrich their students’ learning experiences.    

If business educators were asked to define the purpose of business schools, they likely would emphasize the need to “prepare the next generation of leaders.” But if this is the case, why do so few business schools prioritize research that advances teaching and curricular design?

Researcher Sanobar Siddiqui first explored this question as the subject of her doctoral dissertation. “One of my thesis findings was that the tenure system’s lack of rewards impedes business academics from pursuing research in teaching and learning,” she explains.

Now an assistant professor of accounting at the University of Regina’s Faculty of Business Administration in Canada, Siddiqui wanted to learn why so many business schools do not value research on teaching and learning (RoTL). This response is puzzling, she says, given that Standard 7 of the AACSB Business Accreditation Standards accepts “scholarship of teaching and learning” as documentation to indicate a business school’s teaching effectiveness and impact.

She and Camillo Lento, a professor with the Faculty of Business Administration at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, published a paper on the status of RoTL in the April 2022 edition of the International Journal of Educational Management. The paper’s findings are based on a survey in which Siddiqui and Lento asked educators two questions:

  • How do AACSB-accredited business schools in the U.S. and Canada define “teaching effectiveness,” according to AACSB’s Standard 7?
  • Do these schools consider research on teaching and learning in their promotion and tenure decisions?

This topic is particularly important, says Siddiqui, because business schools serve such diverse student audiences. Moreover, learner success is integral to every business school’s mission. Many of the instructional strategies “that we use in class are not research-informed or evidence-based. Hence, we are shortchanging our students,” she says. “Our teaching needs to catch up with the changes we see in our classroom.”

‘A Last Priority’

Siddiqui and Lento received 78 responses to their survey; in the second phase of their study, they conducted semi-structured interviews with 11 educators in the U.S. and Canada.

Among survey respondents, 42 percent noted that they were “unaware of an explicit teaching effectiveness definition” at their schools, but 58 percent said the policies in place at their schools communicated “an implied definition.” Only one respondent could quote a definition of teaching effectiveness from the school’s website.

Respondents noted a lack of “perceived respect and value” for RoTL, describing this line of scholarship as “a last priority” at their schools. As one educator put it, “Our department does not really care about teaching as long as you are cranking out strong scholarship.”

Schools that consider educational research for tenure and faculty qualification tend to focus on journal quality alone, not on whether published articles are discipline-based.

The good news is that 55 percent of respondents noted that their schools did take RoTL into account when making tenure decisions. Siddiqui and Lento found that these schools have two things in common. First, they focus on journal quality alone for the purposes of tenure and faculty qualification, not on whether faculty’s published articles are discipline-based.

Second, these schools are more likely to consider RoTL when faculty include this work “as part of a larger research plan that includes discipline-based research.” Only faculty following teaching tracks are likely to receive tenure based solely on publications in education-focused journals. 

Additionally, teaching-oriented schools are more likely than research-oriented schools to recognize RoTL. While this makes outward sense, Siddiqui wonders why prolific faculty who produce innovative scholarship on pedagogical issues that are critical to business education cannot “be hired, promoted, and awarded just like discipline-based researchers” at research-oriented institutions.

What Perpetuates the Stigma?

Siddiqui and Lento point to several factors that could be driving the lack of recognition of RoTL among AACSB-accredited schools:

No consensus about teaching quality. Although many individual educational institutions have defined teaching effectiveness based on existing research, business schools have not yet established a shared definition of what constitutes effective teaching. However, the co-authors emphasize, more dedicated research could produce findings that inspire a common language around teaching and learning.

The complex nature of determining teaching quality. Schools often evaluate the quality of faculty’s research by whether the work appears in academic journals that are rated highly by certain journal quality lists. However, they find they cannot use a similar approach to evaluate the quality of faculty’s teaching, says Lento. “The evaluation of teaching effectiveness is much more complex and requires many more sources of information, possibly compiled into a teaching dossier that is unique to an educator.”

A lack of attention in business doctoral programs. Most doctoral programs train young researchers to study topics related to their disciplines of choice. As a result of this early training, RoTL “may come with a stigma as it is outside of traditional discipline-specific research,” Lento says.

Lento admits that the reasons listed above are speculative. He and Siddiqui would like to see other researchers conduct follow-up studies that take deeper dives into the broader stigma surrounding RoTL.

Changing Mindsets, Taking Action

In the meantime, Siddiqui and Lento call on business school administrators and faculty to work together to create a “shared and precise definition of teaching effectiveness.” Educators can start by defining teaching quality within their own institutions.

From there, Siddiqui and Lento say that schools can take any or all the following actions to change mindsets about RoTL:

  • Set appropriate objectives, incentives, and evaluation mechanisms.
  • Create and nurture communities of practice that help like-minded faculty pursue research focused on solving issues they face in their classrooms.
  • Consider weighing education research in peer-reviewed articles more heavily, particularly for faculty in teaching-focused roles.
  • Recognize RoTL for accreditation and tenure and normalize it as a legitimate form of scholarship.
  • Make seed funds available to faculty who pursue RoTL.
  • Give awards and incentives to faculty who use research-informed teaching in their classrooms.
  • Consider hiring tenure-track academics who also are expert educators with an expressed interest in pursuing RoTL. These scholars can investigate and develop “research-informed teaching tools ready to be put into practice in almost any business classroom,” says Siddiqui. This outcome, she emphasizes, is an indication of how RoTL contributes to the advancement of business disciplines.
  • Encourage and teach RoTL in doctoral programs, with the aim of improving and advancing the quality of teaching at business schools.

Siddiqui points out that information on the websites of AACSB-accredited schools “are replete with research centers, research chairs and scholars, core research focus areas, research awards, annual research celebration reports, intellectual contributions, and grant-funding awards.”

There is no reason, she says, that schools could not also highlight information about their teaching philosophies, teaching awards, student feedback, educational leadership and professional development, and faculty research on teaching and learning.

Two B-School Perspectives

So far, Siddiqui and Lento’s paper has captured the attention of other like-minded educators in the business school community. This includes Nicola Charwat, associate dean of teaching and learning and senior lecturer of business law and taxation at Monash University’s Monash Business School (MBS) in Caulfield East, Australia.

MBS prioritizes scholarship on teaching and learning (SoTL) where appropriate, she says, through efforts that include identifying quality education-oriented journals and valuing publication in those journals equally to publication in discipline-based journals. The school uses “a consultative process” to identify journals specializing in teaching and learning that are equivalent to discipline-based journals rated as A*, A, B, and C on the quality list compiled by the Australian Business Deans Council.

“We have also instituted a Business Education and Research Group, which has been awarding both practice- and research-output-focused grants to staff for three years,” Charwat says. “Alongside these efforts, of course, there are moves in the university in line with the broader trend of raising the profile of teaching and ensuring its status is on par with other work of the university.”

Educators in STEM disciplines have long recognized educational research in tenure decisions and regularly reward academics who pursue RoTL in their disciplines.

Despite these changes, Charwat notes that the perception remains that accomplishments related to educational research are “somehow lesser” than those related to discipline-related scholarship. Additionally, many faculty remain uncertain about how to approach educational research. In response, MBS has built communities of practice dedicated to teaching and is now working “to increase awareness of and opportunities to undertake SoTL and education research,” Charwat says.

Charwat says that the questions raised in Siddiqui and Lento’s paper are “essential” to business education, and that their article “has prompted us to start exploring the patterns of our own SoTL and education research.” MBS faculty, she adds, might also pursue a similar study focused on AACSB-accredited schools in Australia. 

Another educator who read the article with interest is Martin Lockett, former dean and professor of strategic management at Nottingham University Business School China (NUBS China) in Zhejiang. Lockett explains that NUBS China uses the Academic Journal Guide, which is produced by the Chartered Association of Business Schools (CABS), to support tenure decisions and to classify faculty under AACSB accreditation standards.

But in the CABS guide, only four journals focused on teaching and learning are rated as 3, 4, or 4*, which are the targets that NUBS China uses to qualify faculty as Scholarly Academics under AACSB accreditation or for internal recognition of quality research, Lockett says.

This has led to worry among the school’s teaching-oriented faculty that if they focus on RoTL, they risk being classified as “additional faculty,” unless they can consistently publish in the few education-focused journals listed by CABS. That concern, Lockett says, deters most faculty from pursuing RoTL in any substantial way.

While this scenario is all too common at institutions with research-focused missions, it is not mandated by AACSB accreditation standards, emphasizes Stephanie Bryant, AACSB’s chief accreditation officer. She clarifies that whether a business school considers educational scholarship for the purpose of accreditation or tenure is its choice, based on the parameters it has set for its individual mission. “The standards do not say anywhere, or imply, that educational research is not valued,” Bryant stresses. The devaluation of RoTL, she adds, “is a school perspective.”

Time to ‘Balance the Scales’

The stigma surrounding RoTL at AACSB-accredited business schools could be lifted, say Siddiqui and Lento, if administrators acknowledge the benefits that fostering cultures of teaching and learning bring to all business school stakeholders. These advantages include a wider scope of scholarship and more evidence-based pedagogical tools for faculty, richer learning experiences and better learning outcomes for students, and more well-rounded job candidates for employers.

Educators in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines already know this, says Siddiqui. STEM departments have long recognized educational research in tenure decisions and regularly reward academics who pursue RoTL in their disciplines.

As one example, Siddiqui points to Carl Edwin Wieman, winner of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize in Physics. Wieman established the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at the University of British Columbia in Canada to encourage evidence-based teaching methods focused on improving undergraduate science education. Since its inception, the initiative has hired fellows who are interested in conducting education research, particularly based in the disciplines in which they have earned their doctorates. It also has inspired the creation of teaching materials in science education, a dedicated website, and a sister initiative at the University of Colorado Boulder in the United States.

Business schools, says Siddiqui, could achieve comparable results by raising awareness of the importance of RoTL, disseminating RoTL findings beyond peer-reviewed journals, and driving research-informed teaching methods that advance business education.

This year, the co-authors published a second paper that finds that scholarly and practice academics who developed rigorous research skills in their doctoral programs and who publish discipline-based research are more likely to pursue RoTL research. Here, Siddiqui and Lento more directly call on business school deans to reward and incentivize this line of research by creating communities of practice and expanding their journal ranking frameworks to include relevant peer-reviewed publications.

It is imperative, Siddiqui and Lento argue, that business schools place studies based on classroom settings on equal footing with studies based on corporate settings. “Research on teaching and learning balances the scales,” Siddiqui says, “by utilizing evidence-based, efficient, and effective teaching to foster deep learning amongst diverse student audiences.”

Tricia Bisoux
Editor, AACSB Insights
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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