Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, No.8, 1366-1370
Published Online December 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
Effective Integration of Teaching and Research in a First Year
Food and Nutrition Course
Russell Keast, Susie Macfarlane, Lynn Riddell
School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Victoria, Australia
Received October 2nd, 2012; revised November 4th, 2012; accepted November 20th, 2012
Previous research has indicated that undergraduate student learning can be enhanced through active in-
volvement in research. Furthermore, creating an academic environment where teaching and research are
intimately linked can facilitate the induction of students into a community of learners where new knowl-
edge is created, explored and critiqued. Scaffolding and supporting student learning via engagement in
authentic research experiences can work to ensure graduating students have the capacity to generate and
investigate important questions that contributes to the development of new knowledge. This paper pre-
sents a case study that outlines curriculum design and pedagogical strategies aimed at integrating teaching
and research within the first year of an undergraduate course. First year Food and Nutrition students were
asked to partake in a research project where they were asked to complete a series of diet and food related
questionnaires, analyse, interpret and critique the resulting data. Students were supported through this
learning activity via small group tutorial support and question and answer sessions within the learning
management system. Anonymous evaluation of the teaching and learning experience was conducted at the
end of the teaching period and the results indicate that the students welcomed the opportunity to engage in
an authentic, research based learning activity. Students’ found the assessment tasks were clearly explained
to them (88% agreeing), and felt well supported in approaching this research based assessment task. Fur-
thermore, the qualitative comments indicated that the students’ found the learning environment to be
meaningful and relevant. This case study indicates that it is possible to effectively incorporate authentic
research experiences within the curriculum of a first year course. The experiential, inquiry based learning
approach used supported the students’ participation in a systematic, rigorous data collection process re-
quired in a structured research environment and blended these requirements with authentic learning of
discipline specific skills and knowledge.
Keywords: Higher Education; Teaching Research Nexus; Student Experience
The Teaching-Research Nexus
The teaching-research nexus is a multi-faceted notion that
holds various meanings and encompasses a range of activities
centred on the interdependence between teaching and research.
These activities are enacted at various sites of the university: 1)
the research conducted by the teaching staff that forms part of
the content of the course. The students’ role here is to act as an
“audience to the research carried out by their [teachers]” (Zam-
orski, 2002); 2) the teaching and learning activities that include
research conducted with and by undergraduate and postgradu-
ate students; 3) teaching staff involvement in the scholarship of
teaching and learning (Prince, Felder, & Brent, 2007). The pres-
sure on universities to increase research output, identify and
market their distinctive approaches to teaching and meet com-
munity demand for graduates who are prepared for challenging
roles in complex workplaces has to lead to a growing focus on
enhancing the teaching-research nexus (Zubrick, Reid, & Ros-
siter, 2001).
Impact of Res e arch on Teaching Q uality
The findings regarding the impact of research on teaching
quality indicate that at both an institutional level and that of an
individual academic, research productivity has no impact on,
and in some cases reduces teaching performance. At the level
of the institution, a longitudinal study by Astin (as cited in
Prince et al., 2007) examining the impact of research on educa-
tional outcomes found a significant negative correlation. Stu-
dents attending more research-oriented institutions experience
higher levels of dissatisfaction and poorer results in most mea-
sures of cognitive and affective development. This finding may
be explained by a lack of alignment between research and tea-
ching activities at an institutional level. Jenkins (2004) observes
that within universities, research and teaching are managed se-
parately, and that policy changes are required to integrate re-
search and teaching goals and activities.
Several reviews undertaken of studies on the relationship be-
tween the level of research activity conducted by an academic
and their teaching effectiveness find no relationship (Feldman,
1987; Hattie & Marsh, 1996; Jenkins, 2004). Research excel-
lence and productivity is independent of teaching excellence:
some academics are highly productive researchers and skilled
teachers, some have mastery in one area and not the other, and
others are weak in both. Two explanations for this finding have
been proposed. One explanation relates to the institutional con-
text: that as eac h activ ity requi res a n almost ful l-time workl oad,
the significant demands on academics’ time necessitate the de-
cision to focus primarily on either research or teaching (Prince
et al., 2007).
A second explanation for the lack of association between re-
search and teaching excellence is that the skills and attributes
required to undertake rigorous research are very different to
those required to excel as a university teacher. For example,
Coaldrake and Stedman (1999) propose the dichotomy that re-
search is the generation of new knowledge while teaching is the
transmission of knowledge. However, effective teaching is not
a process of transmission, but rather the facilitation of others’
learning and discovery. Traditional teaching approaches in
which students attend lectures in which they are expected to
passively absorb information then apply this transmitted knowl-
edge through essay or examination have little in common with
the research process involving developing hypotheses to test
open-ended problems characterised by complex, missing or
conflicting information, and producing and defending final re-
sults (Prince et al., 2007). It is therefore unsurprising that teach-
ing approaches consisting of a one-way communication of re-
search findings results has little impact on students’ learning.
This misalignment between the teaching approaches and the
desired learning outcomes may explain the overall lack of evi-
dence of the impact of research on teaching.
Student Engagement and Learning
While there is no evidence that research improves an aca-
demics’ teaching, there is a strong body of evidence that stu-
dents’ learning is enhanced through their involvement in re-
search. Students who undertake research in their undergraduate
studies demonstrate improved retention and attainment, satis-
faction and self-reported improvement in work readiness (Astin,
1994; cited in Prince, Felder, & Brent, 2007). It is also argued
that, with an adequate framework in place, research can im-
prove student engagement and enhance the learning environ-
ment (Brew, 2010; Krause, Arkoudis, & McCulloch, 2008).
Brew (2010), reporting on a two year National Tea ching Fell ow-
ship on enhancing undergraduate students’ engagement throug h
research states this “engages students meaningfully in higher
education and prepares them for a 21st century world of work
in which knowing how to create, inquire and critically evaluate
knowledge is of increasing importance”. Creating a student ex-
perience in which there is integration of teaching and research
also facilitates the induction of students into a community of
learners outlined by the Boyer Commission. The Boyer com-
mission’s view is that a university is an ecosystem made up of
communities of learners, and that teaching and learning should
be explicitly linked within the environment (Boyer, 2000). The
report recommends that universities build a culture that sees
students as inquirers undertaking a journey of discovery. Hi gher
education is seen as a site of exploration and adve nture in whi ch
“every course in an undergraduate curriculum should provide
an opportunity for a student to succeed through discovery-based
methods” (Boyer, 2000). There is thus a strong imperative to
inspire in students the passion and the capacity to generate and
investigate important questions that impact on society. It is
clear however, that there is a need to explore approaches to
achieve this within higher education. In this paper we present a
case study that outlines curriculum design and pedagogical
strategies aimed at the integration of teaching and research to
enhance student engagement and learning.
Disciplinary Variation in the Teaching-Research
There is increasing evidence that definitions and understand-
ings of the teaching-research nexus varies across disciplines
(Jenkins, 2004). This variation is in part determined by disci-
pline-specific conceptualisations and practices of research, teach-
ing and professional identity, and in the range of views regard-
ing the nature of knowledge and ways in which knowledge is
constructed. In the discipline of health sciences, the body of
disciplinary knowledge is built up over time through peer re-
viewed research that critiques, builds on or extends the work of
others. To participate in the community of researchers, a health
science scholar must develop the tools of critical thinking and
scientific analysis.
Engaging the student in the research process is one method to
enhance the student’s ability to critique and challenge current
knowledge. In addition, promoting this link between teaching
and research provides students with the opportunity to experi-
ence being part of a broader community of learners and resear-
chers investigating a body of knowledge. There are clear ad-
vantages in integrating research and teaching within the disci-
pline of food and nutrition. As Rowland reported, teaching in a
discipline area that aims to develop a student’s ability to “cri-
tique [of] matters of fundamental concern in the discipline” and
“actively engage [ing] in research aimed at applying the disci-
pline to a social or technical context” (Rowland, 1996) signifi-
cantly enhances the integration of teaching and research. There
are three ways to think of the interconnect between research
and teaching in the University ecosystem: 1) expert knowledge
passed onto the student (Neumann, 1994), 2) researcher and
student learn together in a form of reciprocal relationship (Ro-
bertson & Bond, 2001) and 3) students learning from the re-
search culture of the laboratory or department (Brew & Boud,
1995). In promoting a link between teaching and research, the
students are being inducted into this community of practice and
are provided with the awareness of and skills for the scholar-
ship of discovery and application.
This paper follows the recommendations of the Boyer Com-
mission whereby research is conceptualised as the Scholarship
of Discovery (Boyer, 2000) with a focus on interpretative un-
derstanding of phenomena impacting on the population cohort.
In addition, given that the case study outlined in this paper oc-
curs within an undergraduate food and nutrition program with
an applied nature, the research therefore may also be considered
to encompass the Scholarship of Application (Boyer, 2000).
Teachin g R esearch
The incorporation of research into the undergraduate curri-
culum should begin early to develop students’ discipline-spe-
cific cognitive skills and establish an effective learning environ-
ment (Krause et al., 2008). The level of engagement of students
in the learning process is a guide to the extent of learning that
can be achieved, and an emphasis on research processes and
problems may encourage engagement and stimulate learning.
Learning can be enhanced by higher order thinking, and An-
derson and Krathwohl (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001) extended
Bloom’s taxonomy to six levels of thinking that progress from
a surface to a deeper approach: remembering; understanding;
applying; analysing; evaluating; creating. In order to promote
higher order thinking and therefore enhance learning, students
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 1367
must become active in the learning process, and one potential
approach t o enco ura ge hi g her lea rni ng skill s i s to d evel op cur -
riculum incorporating research which develops inquiry based
First Year Transition to Higher Education
Students new to a university environment may have only
experienced surface approaches to learning at secondary school,
and the transition to deeper learning may be unfamiliar and
therefore difficult for some university students. Indeed, one
study found that two thirds of students surveyed believed sec-
ondary school did not did not prepare them for University
learning environment (McInnis, James, & Hartley, 2000). The
university environment places more responsibility on the stu-
dent to complete assessment tasks, readings, attend lectures and
lab se ssions indepe ndent of superv ision. Those who adapt qu ic k ly
to the new environment will thrive, while those who fail to
adapt may struggle and become disengaged with the University
learning environment. One third of first year students were not
performing as well as they expected at University, and almost
50% of 1st year students agreed that it was difficult to motivate
themselves to study (McInnis et al., 2000). One of the issues for
the teacher is to engage students early in the trimester, so they
are motivated to undertake independent hours of study required
to succeed.
The case study outlined in this paper guided food and nutri-
tion students to undertake a research project involving the rig-
orous collection, analysis and evaluation of scientific data. The
relevance and importance of the information was enhanced by
designing a task in which students analysed their own diet or
food behaviours and then reflected on why, when, where and
with whom they eat. Thus the learning environment was imme-
diately relevant to them. Given that a student’s approach to
learning will be determined by the learning context and as-
sessment activity (Laurillard, 1997), this higher order thinking
approach to conducting nutritional research is likely to increase
learning quality (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001).
This paper outlines the integration of teaching and research
within students’ learning experience in a food and nutrition
course. The aim of the project is to embed the development of
research skills, knowledge and attitudes into the curriculum to
enhance student engagement and learning. An experiential, in-
quiry based learning approach was implemented, in which stu-
dents collected, analysed and interpreted research data using
rigorous research methodology and an ethical and scientific ap-
First year University students enrolled in a Food and Nutri-
tion course undertake the compulsory unit “Food: Nutrition,
Culture and Innovation” in their first trimester. As this is one of
the first units completed during their undergraduate degree,
students’ knowledge of food and nutrition is assumed to be at a
level equivalent to that of a consumer. This unit was designed
to provide a basic understanding of what and why we eat and
implications for diet-related disease. As part of their assessment
for this unit students are asked to complete three dietary re-
search questionnaires with themselves as subjects. The ques-
tionnaires used in this assessment task are all frequently used in
nutrition research and are of appropriate rigor for investigating
food related behaviours and dietary intake. The aim of the as-
signment was to examine individual diet and food behaviours.
Data collection was completed using systematic research tech-
niques including 2 day diet diaries, a food behaviours ques-
tionnaire, and a food variety score questionnaire (Savige, Hsu-
Hage, & Wahlqvist, 1997). During small group teaching ses-
sions, each student was taught how to accurately complete the
dietary analysis tools, with the tutors modelling the detail a re-
searcher provides to a subject participating in research of this
kind. This served two purposes, to demonstrate the proper me-
thods for completion to ensure students developed a sound
grasp of the process of administering dietary tools, and also to
ensure the integrity of the data collected. The students then col-
lected data on their own diet and eating related behaviours and
additional questions were managed through the unit website on
the University Learning Management System.
To complete the major assignment, students addressed fifteen
questions specifically designed to foster an in-depth understand-
ing of why they, as individuals, consume the foods they do. In
order to answer these questions, students were required to ana-
lyse and interpret their own dietary and food behaviours data.
The intended outcomes for students of this task were threefold:
1) to understand how to analyse and interpret dietary data 2) to
gain self realisation about their own dietary habits, and 3) to
provide an authentic the learning experience whereby students
gain a practical understanding of the complexity of dietary
research methodology, the problems that participants may ex-
perience when completing diet diaries, food variety scores and
food behaviour questionnaires and the subsequent impact on
data analysis and interpretation.
Sample questions from the Food Habits Assignment
Look at your answers for questions 14 - 22 (Food Behaviour
Questionnaire). Of the answers you have given, please explain
which ONE has the most influence on your diet. For example,
does your ethnicity determine the type of food you eat, or you
living arrangements, or your age etc…. Please explain your
answer (100 words, 6 marks).
Do you think people who identify with a culture other than
your own living in Australia would have similar eating patterns
to you? Please explain (100 words, 6 marks).
The student assignments were graded and handed back to
students, at which point students were also provided with a
plain language statement and asked if they would consent to
allowing their de-identified class data to be utilised for research
purposes. Students were aware they could freely choose not to
sign the consent form, in which case their data were not used in
any research. This study was approved by the University’s Hu-
man Research Ethics Committee.
Student evaluation of the unit Food: Nutrition, culture and
innovation, was carried out by the Deakin University official
“Student Evaluation of Teaching and Units’ (SETU) process.
All information entered by students was anonymous and group
level quantitative data are publically available. Student com-
ments were collated and these qualitative data are made avail-
able to the Chair of the unit after exam results are released. Re-
lease of the qualitative data for this publication has been ap-
proved by the University’s Human Research Ethics Committee.
Results and Discussion
A total of 76 students of 118 (64%) voluntarily completed
the anonymous student evaluation of teaching units (SETU) at
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
the completion of the unit. Table 1 shows results of the student
evaluation survey of the unit. In general, the assignment and
related pedagogy was well received by the majority of 1st year
students. The data indicates that that the great majority of stu-
dents agreed the assessment tasks were clear (88%). This find-
ing indicates that undertaking an assessment task that incorpo-
rates the learning and application of rigorous research method-
ologies did not result in any significant confusion or anxiety
within the student cohort. While one student commented that
only one 2 hour tute needed for the assignment”, the majority
of student evaluations were favourable and the comments and
data indicate most students were pleased to utilise the small
group teaching to aide their understanding of the dietary tools
and assignment.
The fact that there was only the one major assignment was
great. It was well managed by the staff and time was given to
help students to understand” (SETU comment).
Transition Pedagogy
In general, in a university learning environment, many aca-
demic staff expect that students are self-motivated to complete
the tasks they have been assigned. However, it is also important
to acknowledge that the transition from secondary to tertiary
education can be difficult one for many students. It was there-
fore important to ensure that students had maximum engage-
ment with the topic, and the necessary scaffolding and support
to develop the research skills required to complete the assign-
ment effectively. In order to provide direction and support this
transition to the university environment in which learning is
more self-directed, a series of small group tutorials were held in
the initial stages of the assignment. In these sessions students
were instructed on how to complete the dietary information re-
quired, given examples of problems that may arise, and how to
complete the questionnaires successfully. Students could go
away and practice completing the forms to collect the data, then
in the next small group meeting ask questions to assist them
complete the assignment successfully.
Student Engagement and Authentic Learning
Student engagement and authentic learning are enhanced
when the learning activity or assessment tasks are significant
research questions or tasks that have genuine impact or value
for the discipline or the individual involved (Bauer & Bennett,
2003). In this case the data collected and analysed by the stu-
dents; was determined to be of significant value to the disci-
pline by providing insight into a unique, novel nutrition ques-
tion as assessed via peer-review and publication in a leading
nutrition research journal (Riddell, Ang, Keast, & Hunter 2011).
Furthermore, the authenticity of the learning was facilitated by
using each individual as their own source of unique data. As
every student selected the food and nutrition course, they are
Table 1.
Assessment of teaching in 1st year unit using 5-point scale.
Question 1-Strongly disa gree
5-Strongly agree % Agree
The assessment tasks were clear 4.3 88
The teaching st aff gave helpful feedba ck 3.8 68
The workload was manageable 4.4 92
Was this unit wel l taught 4 74
likely to have an inherent interest in food and nutrition, and
each student has a set of unique food behaviours. During the
data analysis phase of the assignment the students (also subjects)
were encouraged to be reflective about their individual behav-
iours through a series of questions they answered. This ap-
proach provided a catalyst to inquiry as students could learn
about their own dietary patterns and behaviours, which encou-
raged student engagement in the assignment (Kingsland, 1996).
I just found the subject info interesting which really he l ped
because then I wanted to do the assignments and study for it etc.
I liked how it relate d to my life and I could take aspects and
implement them into my every day life, which made it more
interesting and effective” (SETU comment).
However, being required to complete an assignment that re-
quired introspection and good reflective practice was not appre-
ciated by some students.
I think the questions are too easy and based on personal
experiences and opinions it is hard to mark fairly for each per-
son. Al so the word count was too restricted, trying to keep to
the word count shouldnt be part of the challenge in getting a
good mark, it should just be an indicator of how in depth you
need to go” (SETU comment).
While this comment was isolated and did not appear to accu-
rately reflect what the students in general thought of the as-
sessment, it did raise an interesting point regarding feedback
given, and as each student’s answer to the questions would vary,
consistent quality feedback was difficult to manage across the
class as a whole. One student commented they did not like the
feedback, although no additional detail was given. Table 1
shows a score of 3.8 with 68% of students agreeing feedback
was helpful. The result was lower than expected, and indicates
the need to improve this aspect of the assignment. The key
criteria for feedback was to give credit when students exhibited
sound reflective practice and analysis of their own dietary pat-
terns, it did not matter if a diet consisted of hot dogs, beer,
chips and chocolate. If the student could discuss their diet and
behaviours in a logical reflective manner examining why they
ate the way they di d (more depth than “because I like it”), th en
the student would do well. It was not possible to give markers
ideal answers for the questions, but they were provided with
guidelines and example answers and the detail of feedback that
students should expect.
The assignment was a major portion of the overall assess-
ment of the unit, accounting for 40% of the final grade. Stu-
dents were required to dedicate significant time to adequately
complete the dietary tools and the subsequent analysis and in-
terpretation. The significant time commitment required from
students was matched by the significant weighting in terms of
assessment proportion data. A large majority of students (92%)
believed that the workload was manageable. Data presented in
Table 1 indicates that students were positive about the unit;
furthermore the following comments reflect the general senti-
ment about the 1st year unit.
It gave me an understanding of food as a whole new thing,
rather than something that is consumed.”
I liked the prac, and also the assignment was very interest-
Incredibly important foundation subject to nutrition and
understanding food choices.”
The food habits assignment was very interesting to record
our diets” (SETU comments).
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 1369
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
Academic Outcomes
While it was a significant task, it was deemed successful and
the framework is in place for subsequent years.
Looking back I still find it hard to believe how successful
the project has been. There is a natural fit between teaching
and research and one which we can grow over the coming
years” (Academic).
The results of this project integrating research into the under-
graduate curriculum has enriched the research skills and knowl-
edge of undergraduate students, and in addition served to induct
them into the scientific community.
The aim of this project was to effectively integrate disciple-
nary teaching and learning with research. This integration was
achieved through the combining of students’ roles as both re-
search subjects and students in an undergraduate unit. We were
able to integrate students’ participation in a systematic, rigorous
data collection process required in a structured research envi-
ronment with authentic learning of discipline specific skills and
knowledge including dietary assessment and understanding why
humans choose to eat the foods they do. Discipline specific in-
tegration of teaching and research were accomplished by align-
ing the learning outcomes with the learning activities associated
with addressing a specific research question. Students were mo-
tivated and challenged by the process of participating actively
in the discovery and generation of knowledge, rather than
solely reading other’s knowledge in journals or textbooks. The
authenticity of the task was enhanced through the focus of the
research being the students themselves, ensuring that both the
research processes and the findi ngs were particularly me an ing ful
and relevant to the students. This authentic learning supported
students’ engagement with and attainment of research skills,
culture and practice.
The majority of University academics have dual roles con-
sisting of both teaching and maintaining an active research pro-
gram. For many staff teaching at the undergraduate level, these
roles remain quite distinct. Undergraduate students also expe-
rience this lack of integration of research practice in their lear-
ning, where their only research related activity is to search for
and report on the findings of research conducted by others. The
undergraduate learning experience outlined in this paper estab-
lishes an integrating experience whereby lecturers and students
collaborate in authentic, discipline specific enquiry and knowl-
edge creation.
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