At a first glance, university teaching seems like any other teaching, but a closer analysis shows that university teaching is closely related to research and knowledge development.
For many young persons, the main aim of their studies is to receive a professional title and thus a certain kind of job. This is not so strange, as most of them have been asked since they were small: “What will you be when you grow up?” Since adults ask this question, they suggest that it can be answered, and children form a perception that, on the one hand, you should at an early age decide what you want to “be” when you grow up, and on the other, that it is possible to decide what work you will do as an adult.
Today, however, we know that a certain education does not necessary result in a given job. Our future tasks, to a large extent, depend on the situation in the world and on the general development and change in society. We also know that development happens at a fast rate and that it can be difficult to foresee future needs. The present and future society thus requires education to be structured so as to train students in flexibility, problem solving skills, activity and expertise, which provide a capacity to work regardless of social changes.
Promote free research
University teaching is based on a scientific foundation. According to the University Act, the task of universities is to promote free research and scientific and artistic education, and to provide higher education based on research. Thus, teaching is to be based on research. What does this mean and how does it correspond to the situation described above?
At a first glance, university teaching seems like any other teaching, but a closer analysis shows that university teaching is closely related to research and knowledge development. The research base of the teaching appears in various ways: the staff has a research education and they both do research and teach as part of their activities at the university. The results from the research of the staff and from other related research is conveyed to the students. The students are trained in scientific methods and get a knowledge base for understanding and conducting research, and the they develop this knowledge by participating in research projects and doing independent research. So, there is a living and continuous connection between research and education at the universities. The aim is that the students should learn a scientific way to ask questions and work, a so-called scientific approach to knowledge, phenomena and activities.
In present day society there is hardly any activity that does not require a research base. When big decisions are to be taken in society, the corporate world and everyday life it is routine to either base the decisions directly on research results or to at least compare the suggested solutions to scientific findings.
Politicians refer to research in their attempts to persuade or attract voters; industry involves research in its activities for continued development and success, and motivates its decisions with what research has proven; physically active persons systematically build their bodies according to what science has shown in order to achieve better results; and sectors that care for people, such as medicine and education, are assumed to base their activities on research based knowledge in order not to harm people.
The state of things
In a society that appreciates scientifically based knowledge, each and everyone needs to have the ability to take a scientific approach, regardless of whether they conduct research themselves or make use of the research of others. In order to master everyday life, take a critical stance on information provided, be able to grasp new information and analyse its effects, and to feel comfortable and a part of society, students need to be encouraged to develop a scientific approach to their own existence.
The aim of teaching based on research is thus that students not only learn the state of things, but also to understand why this is so, and whether and how it is possible to influence the way things are. Understanding is here experienced as a higher degree of comprehensive knowledge than simply knowing. Such comprehensive knowledge is the prerequisite for being able to be active and take responsibility for your own activities and the impact these activities might have on society and other people. When research based knowledge is included in your field of activities, you also develop an ability to identify problems, dare to try to solve problems, and actually find solutions to them. When research based teaching combines theory with practice, when research is related to everyday situations and when students get to actively participate in ongoing research, a natural connection between scientific thinking, research and practical activities is created.
For persons who have built their competence through systematic studies with a scientific base, it is natural to hold a positive attitude to lifelong learning, and to continually wish to find out about research results and also personally conduct research in order to further develop their competence. This is the kind of attitude and knowledge that advances our society.