While the scholarship of teaching and learning is yet to become a mainstream activity across Ireland, it and the attendant three approaches for integrating research, teaching and learning are becoming more evident across the third level sector. As described by Jenkins and Healey (2005), the integration of research, teaching and learning takes four main forms: Research-led teaching and learning, whereby research findings are used to inform the curriculum; Research-oriented teaching and learning whereby the curriculum emphasises the processes by which knowledge is produced in the field; Research-based teaching and learning whereby students are engaged in authentic research; and Research-informed teaching and learning whereby the curriculum is informed by a systematic inquiry into the teaching and learning process itself. The Irish National Academy for Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (NAIRTL) has encouraged, supported and rewarded efforts by Higher Education staff to engage with this continuum of inquiry into teaching and learning within their academic research, and has achieved this primarily through its Grants Initiative.
A key challenge for NAIRTL is supporting the nascent communities of practice arising from projects supported by the Grants Initiative, and encouraging the dissemination of the resulting tools and new knowledge. NAIRTL has disbursed more than €1.2 million over four years to support 161 projects, two thirds of which are collaborative. The outputs of these projects include the development of innovative teaching tools, the creation of new academic learning communities, and the sharing of new thinking and research on teaching and learning approaches through journal articles, presentations, handbooks and online publications amongst many other examples.
Using three NAIRTL funded projects as case studies, this paper will explore methods to support local good practices to become more mainstream, embedded activities. The paper will include reflections on the particular contexts, institutional and national, for supporting communities of practice and encouraging the dissemination and repurposing of outputs, and will also identify the challenges encountered and lessons learned along the way. Preliminary analysis suggests that growing from local good practice to a national activity requires three elements: (1) small, enthusiastic inter-institutional working groups comprised of key actors/decision makers, (2) well designed work plans with clear deliverables and deadlines, (3) a common purpose/focus, thus encouraging collegiality and the sharing of resources and experiences.