What is pedagogic research?
Pedagogic research is research into the processes and practices of learning, teaching and assessment, which may involve systematic empirical research as well contributions to pedagogic theory. There are overlaps with other forms of scholarship and research: for example, it can be seen in the wider context of educational research, and where it feeds into decision-making and planning there are links to institutional research. Pedagogic research contributes to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) and of course has strong links to reflection on practice, as well as activities like peer-review of teaching and engaging with student feedback. In fact, Felten’s (2013) five principles for good practice in SoTL work (as shown), could easily apply to pedagogic research.
In practice, much pedagogic research is practitioner-led and localised in focus. Often researchers are looking into their own (or peers) teaching and assessment, and the learning experiences of their own students. As such, pedagogic research can also be ‘insider research’ (Trowler, 2014). This means it may be easier to recruit research participants, and the researcher often has a deep understanding of the context and culture in which the research is conducted. However, there are also potential tensions between the practitioner’s professional role (e.g. as a lecturer) and their role as ‘insider researcher’. Clearly, we need to attend to power differentials in our consideration of the ethics of insider research.
Pedagogic research often has multiple aims. It’s not just about contributing to the body of knowledge about a specific pedagogic approach, or the impact this has on student learning. It is often intended to be applied to directly inform the development of policy and practice within the institution (and beyond).
For many HE teachers, the focus and aims of pedagogic research may be different to their disciplinary/subject-based research. It may require developing new research skills, and using new methodologies. Social science research methodologies have dominated pedagogic research, but there is growing interest in learning from other disciplinary approaches to research and how these could be applied. There is huge scope for us to learn from one another, and to explore how approaches could be transferred across contexts and disciplines.
What can pedagogic research offer the sector?
As pedagogic research explores the nature of teaching and student learning, it is intertwined with developments in the practice and policy of teaching and learning locally and (inter)nationally. Pedagogic research can help us understand these developments more deeply, reflect on their potential, and anticipate future impact. There is considerable change across the HE sector at the moment, and pedagogic research is crucial to helping us navigate that change in a scholarly way. It may also help us focus attention on areas where there may be challenges. This is not to suggest these are insurmountable barriers, but areas where considered and critical reflection (and further research!) will help us realise new potential futures for learning and teaching.
With this in mind, the following are proposed as issues for discussion and potential levers for change.
- How can we better articulate the benefits and impact of pedagogic research, both to raise its profile, and to enable it to inform future policy and practice development? Recent research commissioned by the HEA explored how pedagogic research and its impact were framed within the context of the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (Kneale et al, 2016)
- How might we draw together insights and findings from locally conducted pedagogic research to develop greater collective understanding of key learning and teaching challenges?
- How can we encourage the use of a wider range of research methodologies that recognise the contribution of diverse disciplinary approaches, and the potential of new/social media? For example, how might discussions on the New Social Media, New Social Science blogspot relate to pedagogic research?
Felten, P. (2013) Principles of good practice in SoTL. Teaching & Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1 (2013), pp. 121-125
Kneale, P., Cotton, D. and Miller. W. REF 2014: Higher Education Pedagogic Research and Impact. York: HEA.
Trowler, P. (2014) Doing Insider Research in Universities. Doctoral Research into Higher Education Volume 1. CreateSpace Independent Publishing