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Instr Sci (2008) 36:316 DOI 10.

1007/s11251-007-9019-4

University academics experience of research and its relationship to their experience of teaching
Michael Prosser Elaine Martin Keith Trigwell Paul Ramsden Heather Middleton

Received: 14 April 2006 / Accepted: 14 March 2007 / Published online: 3 May 2007 Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Abstract There has been a growing research debate over the relations between university teaching and research. This paper contributes to that debate by describing the variation in the way university academics experience research, then linking that empirical evidence with previous work to explicate the relations between variation in research, teaching, and understanding of the subject matter being taught. Previous investigations have shown that conceptual change/student-focussed approaches to teaching are associated with clear articulation of the important aspects of the subject matter being taught, how those aspects relate to each other, and how the teacher situates their understanding of the subject matter in the eld as a whole. However, teachers who were unable to explain their understanding of their subject matter in these ways were more likely to experience their teaching as a process of information transfer from a teacher-focussed perspective. Since the characteristics of the rst type of understanding subject matter resemble processes underlying the experience of active researchers, these ndings seemed to justify a more intensive search for evidence of the link between effective university teaching and research. Interviews have been conducted with 37 university teachers who had strong publication and grant success records and who were teaching and researching in similar topic areas. They represent a range of disciplines and universities, and from both the UK and Australia. The study methods and results are described and we conclude that qualitative variation in the

M. Prosser University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong E. Martin Victoria University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia K. Trigwell (&) H. Middleton Institute for Teaching and Learning, University of Sydney, Carslaw Building (F07), Sydney 2006, Australia e-mail: k.trigwell@itl.usyd.edu.au P. Ramsden Higher Education Academy, Heslington, York, UK

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experience of research is related (a) moderately to experience of teaching and (b) strongly to experience of understanding the subject matter. Keywords Researchteaching relations Understanding of subject matter Approaches to teaching Experience of research Experience of teaching

Background Academics often assert that there is a positive relationship between teaching and research (Neumann 1993; Brew and Boud 1995; Rowland 1996; Jenkins et al. 1998; Brew 1999; Quality Assurance Agency 2001). Nevertheless, a substantial body of empirical evidence indicates that there is little or no relation between teaching and research performance (Ramsden and Moses 1992; Hattie and Marsh 1996; Marsh and Hattie 2002). (Although this lack of a statistically signicant relationship is often misinterpreted.1) Recent progress in the eld has focussed on promising theoretical explanations of these puzzling phenomena. Elton (2000) proposed that a positive nexus between teaching and research was achieved through focusing on student learning as a process. He argued that student-centred teaching and learning processes are intrinsically favourable towards a positive nexus, while more traditional teaching methods may at best lead to a positive nexus for the most able students. Glassick and colleagues, drawing on Boyers (1990) attempt to integrate different aspects of academic work through the concept of scholarship, proposed that academics practising the scholarship of teaching experience a symmetry between teaching and research through the common elements of clear goals, adequate preparation, appropriate methods, signicant results, effective publication, and reective critique (Glassick et al. 1997). Martin and Ramsden (2000) similarly maintain that a nexus between teaching and research is embodied in the experience of teaching as making student learning possible. When teaching is experienced as the delivery of information, then research and teaching logically remain in separate compartments. These research developments suggest that academics experiences may form the basis for an explanation of the existence or absence of a link between the discovery of new knowledge and the sharing of existing knowledge. In the study reported here we explore this relationship by examining variations in academics experience of research, how these variations relate to their experience of teaching, and how the relationship between these two experiences is in turn associated with their experiences of understanding their subject matter. The study builds on a substantial body of research about university teaching. In earlier phenomenographic studies, we have constituted six qualitatively different ways (AF) in which teachers experience teaching, and ve qualitatively different ways (AE) in which they experience their understanding of their subject matter (Prosser et al. 2005). For the experience of teaching, the variation ranges from Category A where the act of teaching is teacher-focussed and the intention is to transfer information to the students; to Category C where the act is teacher-focussed, student activity and the intention is for students to acquire the concepts of the discipline; and to Category F, where the act is student-focussed,
1

Such a nding does not argue for the separation of teaching and research. If we separated teaching from research based upon this nding and turned all our best researchers into research only, we would lose half of our best teachers.

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student activity and the intention is to change students conceptions. These categories of description form an inclusive hierarchy in which the higher categories (E and F) include elements of the earlier categories, but not vice versa. The research also shows relations between teaching and student learning. In essence, the outcomes of this previous research are that university teachers who approach their teaching with an information transfer and teacher-focussed approach are the teachers whose students have more surface oriented approaches to learning, with lower quality learning outcomes. On the other hand, university teachers who approach their teaching with conceptual change and student-focussed approaches are more likely to be teaching students who adopt deeper approaches to learning and have higher quality learning outcomes (Prosser and Trigwell 1999; Trigwell et al. 1999). In studies of the experience of understanding of subject matter, ve qualitatively different categories were constituted. They ranged from Category A where the focus of the understanding is on the individual internal facts and processes pertaining to the subject matter, to Category E where the subject matter is seen to comprise themes or issues which are problematic, and the focus is on the ways in which the whole is generalised to a high level of abstraction. This qualitative variation in the way academics experienced their understanding of their subject matter was found to be related to their experiences of teaching (Prosser et al. 2005). Student-focussed perspectives on teaching (Categories E and F) were associated with more complex and research-based understandings of subject matter (Categories D and E). In the study described in this paper we replicate this previous study with a new sample, and explore the experience of research, and how it relates to teaching and subject matter. We hypothesise (a) that as previously found, there will be an overlap between the experiences of teaching and understanding of the subject matter (Fig. 1) and (b) in this new research, that experiences of research and of understanding of subject matter will constitute a similar overlap, with relations between research and teaching being near zero (as described by Marsh and Hattie) or small, and mediated by the way academics experience their understanding of their subject matter, as indicated in Fig. 1.

Research

Teaching

Understanding of subject matter

Fig. 1 Hypothesised relations between the experiences of teaching, understanding of subject matter, and research

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Method A total of 37 teachers from the major disciplinary areas (Business, Law, Health Sciences, Humanities, Social Sciences, and Science and Technology) have been interviewed about their experience of understanding of their subject matter, of teaching, and of their research. That sample was selected from among research-active staff (who had research grants or recent publications from their research). The focus of the interviews was upon subject matter selected by the interviewee to be related to an aspect of their research and to one of their areas of teaching. Each teacher was interviewed, in depth, and the interviews were transcribed and analysed rigorously using analytical procedures developed previously for similar phenomenographic studies (Marton 1981). The analysis was conducted in two stages. The aim of the rst stage was to identify the qualitative variation in the experiences of the teaching and understanding of subject matter, as described in these transcripts, using the previously reported categories of description in these areas as a guide. The second stage was focussed on the new phenomenon of the experience of research and involved several sub-stagesan initial identication of a set of categories of description, based upon reading a subset of the full set of transcripts; analysis of the structural relationship between the categories independently of the transcripts; and an iteration between the transcripts and the structural relationship, until a stable set of categories was constituted. These categories were then used to classify all the transcripts, with some subsequent adjustment to the categories and their structure to ensure that they captured the full variation represented in the transcripts. This process, when applied to the experience of research, resulted in the use of a new structural element based on relations between parts and wholes. This structural element was then applied to the descriptions of the experiences of teaching and understanding of the subject matter, resulting in a revision of the categories of description in both those cases. Relations between all three sets of experience (shown in Fig. 1) were investigated. The size and statistical signicance of the relationships were tested using Somers da test of relations between ordinal level data. The size of the relationship is measured directly. A Somers d of more than .70 suggests a strong relationship, .30.70 a moderate relationship, and less than .30 a weak relationship.

Results from present study As in the previous studies we are analysing the transcripts of interviews using both phenomenographic analyses and analyses of metaphor. Here we report only on the phenomenographic analysis. The categories of description of the experience of teaching constituted from our analyses of the 37 interview transcripts are similar to those found in earlier studies (Prosser and Trigwell 1999), as follows. Teaching is experienced as Category A: In this category the act of teaching is teacher-focussed with the intention of transferring information to the students. Subject matter is concrete and taken for granted and seen as independent parts or topics. Category B: In this category the act is teacher-focussed, student activity with the intention of transferring information to students. Subject matter is concrete and taken for granted and seen as a series of related topics or as parts being related to other parts.

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Researchteaching relation Table 1 Outcome space for the experience of teaching Intention Strategy Teacher-focussed Teacher activity Information transmission Concept acquisition Conceptual development Conceptual change A Student activity B C, D E F

Student-focussed Student activity

Category C: In this category the act is teacher-focussed, student activity with the intention of students acquiring the concepts of the discipline. Subject matter is a concrete and connected structure of topics with parts being related to other parts. Category D: In this category the act is teacher-focussed, student activity with the intention of students acquiring the concepts of the discipline. Subject matter is a concrete and connected structure within a discipline or eld, with parts being related to a whole (eld). Category E: In this category the act is student-focussed, student activity with the intention of students developing their conceptions. Subject matter is relational as in the relationship between teachers understanding and students experience, it is seen in terms of a whole made up of constituent parts. Category F: In this category the act is student-focussed, student activity with the intention of students changing their conceptions. Subject matter is relational as in the relation between teachers world views and student world views which are open to change, it is seen in terms of wholes related to other wholes. Structurally, the key difference between these experiences of teaching is that Categories AD either focus on parts relating to other parts or parts relating to wholes. Only in Categories E and F is the focus on wholes (either constituted in terms of parts or relating to greater or other wholes). The outcome space showing the structural relations between categories is shown in Table 1. The categories of description of the experience of understanding of subject matter constituted from our analyses of the 37 interview transcripts are also similar to those found in earlier studies (Prosser et al. 2005), as follows.

The understanding of subject matter is experienced as Category A: A series of facts and/or techniques, with an awareness that the subject matter sits within one or more elds of study, but the focus is on the individual internal facts and processes pertaining to the subject matter. Category B: A series of individual concepts or topics; with an awareness that the subject matter sits within one or more elds of study, but the focus is on the individual internal concepts and issues pertaining to the subject matter. Category C: A series of concepts, issues or procedures, which are linked and integrated to form a whole with a coherent structure and meaning; with an awareness that the subject matter sit within one or more elds of study, but the focus is on the internal structure of the subject matter.

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8 Table 2 Outcome space for the experience of understanding the subject matter Referential Structural

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Internal structure of subject Relationship between the subject matter matter and the eld of study Atomistic Linked relational Facts and techniques Concepts, issues and procedures Underpinning theories and conceptions A B C D E Integral relational Extended abstract

Category D: A series of concepts, issues or procedures, which are integral to the formation of a whole with a coherent structure and meaning, with an awareness that the subject matter is structured according to one or more organising principles within a eld (or elds) of study, but the focus is on the internal structure of the subject matter and the way the concepts or procedures are related. Category E: A coherent whole, which is supported by organising theories within one or more broader elds of study; with an awareness the subject matter comprises themes or issues which are problematic, such as a series of debates, but the focus is on the ways in which the whole is generalised to a high level of abstraction. Structurally, the key difference between these categories is that Categories A, B and C focus on parts, while Categories D and E focus on wholes. The outcome space showing the structural relations between categories is shown in Table 2. The categories of description of the experience of research constituted from our analyses of the 37 interview transcripts are reported here for the rst time. Several quotes from the interviews are used to illustrate the categories.

Research is experienced as Category A: a series of projects that do not in themselves extend disciplinary knowledge, but are self-contained. They may draw on disciplinary based knowledge and procedures in order to solve a problem. The object of study is constituted in terms of atomistic or independent parts. In this category the act is to address problems drawing on the eld with the intention of beneting the profession or society, as illustrated below. I got a scholarship from the architects this year, and I investigated a group called Crash in London and while I was there I participated in Architecture Week, which is a big deal in London where a lot of architects donated their services to help Shelter. ...When I came back I was able to convince them that in Architecture Week in Australia we could do what the Brits were doing and they said, Oh, well we can support what youre doing, if you set up a little charitable organization. So ... the Institute of Architects launched, the President did ...this Crash Sydney similar to the UK one, and then two days later the architects, about 50 of them, gave up about half a days work to raise funds for Crash. Now why I think thats important is [they are] helping to project other than the elite image that they have. ... Ive just written another paper for a homelessness magazine called the Underbelly of the Architect

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rises to the occasion ... they dont all like working for the big end of town because some of the real challenges are at the other end. But because no one ever pays them its very difcult for the profession to do what I do. Category B: The further development of a series of eld-of-study-based concepts, issues or procedures that are linked and integrated coherently. The focus is/maybe on developing a technical mechanism or tool for analysis which already exists or whose parameters are set by others. The object of study is constituted in terms of independent parts that are related to the whole eld. The act is to identify problems from the eld with the intention to add to or expand the eld. Okay. So, how would you say... you mightve answered this already, but how would you say your research relates to the broader eld of study? Yeah, I think Ive pretty well answered it, except to say that this is... nding oscillations in stars like the sun has been a bit of a holy grail for the last ten or fteen years. Ever since people found them in the sun, theyve been trying to nd them in stars like the sun. In fact, I shared an ofce with a PhD student whose project was to do that in the late 80s. And back then the technology wasnt quite good enough. So its a case now that the technology, spurred on largely, I might say, by the desire to nd planets around other stars, is now good enough that we can apply it to measuring these oscillations. So in fact its a very exciting eld for many astronomers because its really taking off right now. So in that sense its a good eld to be in. Category C: The application or development of theory within the boundaries of the eld of study. It involves the use of existing technical mechanisms or analytical tools, but theory development using established theoretical constructs is its focus. The object of study is seen as a whole (eld) that is composed of its constituent parts. The act is to iterate between the problem and the eld with the intention to further develop the eld. Okay, so how does your research relate to the broader eld of study? How does it relate? ... I suppose its fairly mainstream at the moment. I think in terms of conceptual advances that Im joining a large group of people that are in applied ecology doing similar types of work, but the innovative stuff is probably coming out of the basic insect-plant interactions. Thats where I think the real... the really genuinely novel and new things are, whereas some of the wide ecology is really just good quality basic applied ecology. So thats a hard question. Category D: The development and change of understanding about a eld; is open ended and inquiry-focussed. Research creates more questions that have to be answered. It is about developing ideas broader than those contained within the eld of study by bringing together ideas external to the eld of study. The object of study is the whole (eld) and how it is related to other wholes (elds). The act is to constitute the problem from the eld with the intention to change the eld. The following quote illustrates this experience: So, how does that particular piece of research relate to the broader eld of study? Well, I suppose its a contribution to medieval literature in general, in that I am looking at particular medieval texts. Well, obvious things like Chaucer, Piers Plowman, the Middle English romances. I suppose its canonical texts really; texts that are often written about by medievalists, often studied, often anthologised, but also looking at less well known texts as well. So Im trying to broaden the canon of medieval literature by adding in some less well known texts. And I am also talking about the urban economy in ways that havent really been talked about before by, ...

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10 Table 3 Outcome space for the experience of research Referential Structural Internal structure of eld

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Relationship between the eld, parts and other elds

Atomistic Linked relational Integral relational Extended abstract Topic or project Concepts or procedures Development of the eld Change of understanding of the eld A B C D

certainly by medieval literary critics, obviously more so by medieval economic historians, although the historical perspective is often very different from the literary textual perspective. So Im trying to combine that kind of historical economic understanding with the kind of textual analysis thats more common in medieval literature generally. So, I suppose thats where its innovative. Again, there is a clear structural difference between categories, with Categories A and B focussed on parts and C and D on wholes. The outcome space is shown in Table 3. This whole-part structural relationship suggests a logical structure between the sets of categories of description. This structure is summarised in Table 4. Based upon this logical relationship between the categories of description, we hypothesised that this would be manifested in the empirical relationship between the categories, with the two major qualitative divides being between a focus on parts and a focus on parts to wholes; and between a focus on parts to wholes and on wholes. Tables 5, 6, and 7 show the empirical relationships, after classifying each transcript in terms of the categories of description, and aggregating the classications into the 3 3 matrix. (The strength of these relationships (Somers d value) and statistical signicance is given for each set of relations, for the original classications, in the full Tables A1A3 in the appendix.)

Discussion and conclusion Tables 57 show sets of relations that are consistent with two of the hypothesised empirical relationships. Strong relations are found between the experience of understanding of
Table 4 Structural relationship between the categories of the three sets of experience Categories Structure Focus on parts Parts Parts to Parts Experience of research Experience of understanding subject matter Experience of teaching A A A B B, C Focus on parts to wholes Parts to Wholes Focus on wholes Wholes to Parts C D E Wholes to Wholes D E F

B C D

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Table 5 Aggregation of classied transcripts, showing relationship between experience of research and experience of understanding subject matter (see also Table A1) Experience of understanding subject matter Experience of research A A/B B B/C C C/D D Total

Parts, parts to parts A, B parts, parts to parts C, C/D parts to wholes D, E wholes to parts & wholes Total 4 1 0 5

Parts to wholes 4 11 3 18

Wholes to parts & wholes 0 2 12 14 8 14 15 37

Table 6 Aggregation of classied transcripts, showing relationship between experience of teaching and experience of understanding subject matter (see also Table A2) Experience of teaching Experience of understanding of subject matter A B C C/D D E Total

Parts, parts to parts A, A/B, B, C parts, parts to parts D, D/E parts to wholes 6 2

Parts to wholes 2 10 2 14

Wholes to parts & wholes 0 2 13 15 8 14 15 37

E, E/F, F wholes to parts & wholes 0 Total 8

subject matter and research (Somers d = .709, Table A1) and moderately strong relations between the experience of understanding of subject matter and teaching (Somers d = .672, Table A2). Moderate relations are found between the experiences of teaching and research (Somers d = .471, Table A3), and this is a stronger relationship than hypothesised using the literature, as shown diagrammatically by the overlap in Fig. 2. In the introduction to this paper, we raised the issue of the puzzling result, that academics claim a relationship between their teaching and their research, but the empirical evidence to date suggests otherwise. Drawing upon our previous research, we approached this study with the view that the relationship might be more in the way teaching and research are experienced, and that the relationship may be mediated through the experience of understanding subject matter. Rather than including in our sample both research- and non-research-active staffas is the case in most previous studies (for example Marsh and Hattie 2002, where no mediating effects were found)we decided to focus, in the rst instance, on research-active staff only, and on the qualitative variation in the ways they experienced their research, subject matter and teaching. In our empirically derived categories of description, we found a key structural relationship that is consistent with the empirical relationship between the categories. The results suggest that there is an underlying structure in the way research-active staff experience research, subject matter and teaching. They describe an underlying focus on

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Table 7 Aggregation of classied transcripts, showing relationship between experience of research and experience of teaching (see also Table A3) Experience of teaching Experience of research A A/B B B/C C C/D D Total

Parts, parts to parts A, A/B, B, C parts, parts to parts D, D/E parts to wholes E, E/F, F wholes to parts & wholes Total 3 2 0 5

Parts to wholes 5 8 5 18

Wholes to parts & wholes 0 4 10 14 8 14 15 37

Research

Teaching

Understanding of subject matter

Fig. 2 Observed relations between experience of research, teaching and understanding of subject matter shown diagrammatically as degree of overlapping variables (compare with hypothesised relations in Fig. 1)

parts, on parts to wholes or on wholes, with a focus on wholes being related to more student-focussed/conceptual change and development approaches to teaching, rather than more information transmission and teacher-focussed approaches. Given that student-focused/conceptual change approaches are associated with higher quality outcomes of learning than information transmission and teacher-focussed approaches (Trigwell et al. 1999), the issue for us is not that academic staff are active or not active researchers, but whether those that are active are focussed more on overall conceptual understanding and development rather than just on individual isolated problems. In their study of researchteaching relations, Marsh and Hattie (2002) observed that the correlation between teaching effectiveness and research productivity was still effectively zero, even when research-inactive staff were excluded from the analysis. However, the suggestion from this study of research-active staff (and based on only 37 cases, this is no more than a suggestion) is that it is the focus on wholesthe overall conceptualisation of

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subject matterthat is associated with quality of teaching. It is not how active one is as a researcher, but what form of activity the research focus is on. On the other hand, it may be that the non-research-active academics who, through scholarship within their discipline, are able to keep a focus on the developing overall conceptualisation of their subject matter, may also experience their teaching from a more student-focussed/conceptual change perspective. This suggests that it is not the quantity of research that is associated with quality of teaching, but how scholarship in the discipline or profession is maintained and developed that is important. This may apply equally to non-research-active as well as to researchactive academic staff. We have previously suggested that university teachers need to reect upon their own ways of understanding subject matter and consider the implications of this for the ways in which they teach and bring their students into a relationship with that subject matter. What is their understanding of subject matter? Does it focus on parts rather than wholes and what is the effect of this on their students learning? And just as teachers can not develop as effective concept development teachers without developing their understanding of the subject matter they teach, so staff developers can not develop an understanding of their area of expertise without similar reection. To see the development of university teachers as being only about the development of teaching skills and competencies might be likened to a teacher who focusses only on parts of the subject matter. Skills may be a part, but only a small part, of the complex eld that we expect university teachers to explore and map. The challenge, for staff developers is to develop insight into the whole of a university teachers awareness and to then help them to look beyond this awareness. In so doing we will be helping them to see their own subject matter in a more complex and holistic way and to similarly help their students to develop. To do less is to focus on bits and parts and to undervalue the complex dynamic challenge of university teaching. The study highlighted in this paper is making a start at addressing a very complex area of education, and as a single study it has limitations in terms of answering questions about relations between teaching and research. First, it focusses on research active university teachers who taught in an area that they were researching. We make no claims other than for this restricted group of staff. We do, however suggest that this group can offer us a window into their awareness of connections between teaching and research that for so long have been intuitively asserted but which previous research has not been able to nd. In our future research we aim to explore the experience of teachers who are not active researchers. Second, because of our smallish sample we have not been able to explore disciplinary differences observed in other studies (Rowland 1996; Robertson and Bond 2001; Smeby 1998). Disciplinary characteristics may account for variation in the frequency of the reported relations for some of the categories of description. In conclusion we note that the strength of the relations between experience of research and experience of teaching found in this study is less than those between teaching and understanding subject matter on the one hand, and research and understanding subject matter on the other, but the relations are never-the-less there, and are moderate in statistical terms.
Acknowledgments The study described in this paper was supported by funding from the Australian Research Council.

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Appendix
Table A1 Relationship between experience of research and experience of understanding of subject matter based on highest classication of individual transcripts Experience of understanding subject matter Experience of research A (Parts) A/B B (Parts to wholes) B/C C (Wholes to parts) C/D D (Wholes to wholes) Total

A (Parts) B (Parts to parts) C (Parts to wholes) C/D D (Wholes to parts) E (Wholes to wholes) Total

1 2 1

1 4 7 1 1 2 2 1 5 1 1 3 3 8 2 2 4 2 2

2 6 11 3 7 8 37

13

Somersd = .709, p < .001

Table A2 Relationship between experience of understanding of subject matter and experience of teaching based on highest classication of individual transcripts Experience of teaching Experience of understanding of subject matter A (Parts) B (Parts to parts) C (Parts to wholes) C/D D (Wholes to parts) E (Wholes to wholes) 0 2 4 1 1 4 2 3 1 6 1 1 2 6 11 3 7 3 1 3 8 2 1 1 1 5 1 6 7 1 9 2 4 37 Total

A (Parts) A/B B (Parts to parts) C (Parts to parts) C/D D (Parts to wholes) D/E E (Wholes to parts) E/F F (Wholes to wholes) Total

Somersd = .672, p < .001

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Table A3 Relationship between experience of research and experience of teaching based on highest classication of individual transcripts Experience of teaching Experience of research A (Parts) A/B B (Parts to wholes) B/C C (Wholes to parts) C/D D (Wholes to wholes) 0 1 1 1 3 1 3 2 3 1 1 1 4 1 13 5 1 1 1 8 4 2 2 2 1 1 1 4 3 1 1 2 5 1 6 7 1 9 2 4 37 Total

A (Parts) A/B B (Parts to parts) C (Parts to parts) C/D D (Parts to wholes) D/E E (Wholes to parts) E/F F (Wholes to wholes) Total

Somersd = .471, p < .001

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