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Posted: January 17, 2008

University of Alberta attempts to balance research and instruction

(Nanowerk News) While undergraduate students may think that the University of Alberta emphasizes research over teaching, those in research say that’s not the case, arguing that good teaching needs good research programs.
University of Alberta (U of A) Vice-President (Research) Lorne Babiuk said that while some newly built University buildings have more research than instructional space, both graduate and undergraduate students still benefit.
He pointed out that while buildings like NINT have no instructional space, the world-class researchers it has attracted benefits students. He explained that research provides all students with the most up-to-date ideas in their field.
“As a student, I would rather have a professor talk to me in [a] lecture about the most recent things that are happening, rather than reading textbooks which are five years out of date,” he said. “When students graduate, they are much more in-tune with what is happening in the world.”
Likewise, Nils Petersen, director-general of NINT, said that both undergraduate and graduate students studying nanotechnology have benefited from NINT’s establishment in June 2006.
“In the undergraduate level, there are now new programs and courses being established that allow students to specialize and get exposure to new fields,” he said. “You’re seeing it at all levels.”
However, Students’ Union Vice-President (Academic) Bobby Samuel said that the University, while setting a research-to-instruction space ratio, hasn’t been able to find a balance between emphasizing research and teaching.
“Both [research and teaching] are beneficial to the University, but overemphasizing one over the other can be hurtful,” he said. “The SU’s concerned about the emphasis on research over teaching. We are a research-intensive university, but not a teaching-intensive university.”
Samuel explained that the large emphasis on research gives professors an incentive to spend more time on research and grant applications than on teaching and lesson plans. He suggested that professors should integrate their research with their classes more effectively to make lectures more interesting for students.
However, despite Samuel’s concerns, Michael Brougham, a second-year graduate student studying nanotechnology, said that many professors who do research in NINT bring their classes into the institute’s research labs to show them what’s being done.
“It brings home the message [about] what the professor is saying in the classroom,” he explained, adding that a major reason he chose to study at the U of A was NINT.
“Once students realize [that] their professor is passionate [about] what he or she is talking about, they’re that much more passionate about the material.”
Doug Horner, provincial Minister for Advanced Education and Technology, said that in the case of nanotechnology, the large potential for Alberta’s economic success in the field is a large factor in funding. However, he added that this also means an emphasis on education.
“It’s not research at the expense of instruction when you consider that graduate students are going to be involved heavily in the research side of this, and researchers are your future instructors.”
Last May, the Alberta government pledged $130 million over five years to nanotechnology with the goal of getting a $20-billion share to the world nanotechnology market by 2020. Additionally, the federal government renewed its funding of NINT’s core research and operations last December, committing $36 million over the next three years.
“You have to strike a balance” between research and teaching, Horner said. “No question about that.
“[But] it makes a lot of sense for Alberta to be looking toward what it could mean for our economy if nanotechnology is developed here.”
Source: The Gateway (Scott Fenwick)
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