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Pedagogic research in HE, Virtual Reading Group

18 Sep 2018 | Professor Sally Bradley Missed the Virtual Reading Group in August? Take a look at “Are there distinctive methodologies for pedagogic research in higher education? “ by Stierer and Anthoniou.

Missed the Virtual Reading Group in August?  Take a look at “Are there distinctive methodologies for pedagogic research in higher education? “ by Stierer and Anthoniou.

This article is from the virtual edition of Teaching in Higher Education : Researching pedagogy and the pedagogy of research.  The paper looks at the distinctiveness of researching pedagogy in HE and raises the issues of researching to deepen understanding of own your teaching practices and improve the quality of teaching.  But many academics ask does HE pedagogic research require a distinct set of skills? The literature focuses on pedagogic research in the schools sector, but there is little explicit regarding researching practice in HE. Indeed, the article notes that the familiar text “Research Methods in Education (Cohen et al, 2000) does not mention HE or adults!

So, is pedagogic research the right term of HE practitioners? 

Is the real issue that research into practice remains local within the discipline, subject specific drawing on discipline methodologies?

There are benefits to exploring your own practice, understanding of “classroom” (in its broadest context) and reflection, which may lead to quality enhancement.  Can a small scale research project morph into a piece of research which can evidence impact, in say REF 2021? 

Ashwin and Trigwell’s (2004) model of the relationship between purpose, process and outcome is a useful guide to the purpose, evidence and application.

Ashwin and Trigwell’s (2004) model of the relationship


This discussion also links to pedagogic research in relation to REF2021 and impact on teaching as raised in Initial decisions on the Research Excellence Framework 2021 (REF 2017/01).  And the Stern Review’s (Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy UK Government, 2016) call for the inclusion of “research leading to major impacts on curricula and /or pedagogy within or across disciplines …” But the question remains how do you move from researching your own practice to REFable publication?

The Stierer and Anthoniou paper continues the debate with a discussion on the distinction between method and methodologies, a familiar discourse for many PhD students.  Methods being the practical approach, tools and techniques, whilst methodologies being the conceptual frameworks.  Quantitative approaches were seen as the dominant methodology at the time of publication (2004), and seen as “conventional” (Stierer and Anthoniou, p279).  In questioning the need for a distinctive HE methodology, the authors give the function of HE in society, the voluntary nature of learners in HE, and the difference in adult learning compared to school based education as some of the reasons for a need of differentiation. But does practitioner focused research lack the theoretical attention needed for a peer reviewed or “REFable” paper?  Is the focus of practitioner research principally based on personal interest or can it be for the greater contribution to public knowledge?

The paper leaves us with the conundrum: diversity within pedagogic research in terms of purpose, context and personnel (practitioner or non-practitioner) means that there is no single standard to apply.  Practicing academic, educationalist or educational researchers will each have different perspectives, alongside the issue of disciplinary culture.  So the argument returns to the issue what is the purpose of the pedagogic research and who is the audience?


Ashwin, P. and Trigwell, K. 2004: Investigating educational development, in Kahn, P. and Baume, D. (eds) Making sense of staff and educational development, 117-131, London: Kogan Page.

Cohen, L., Manion, L. and Morrison, K.,( 2002). Research methods in education. Routledge.

Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy UK Government (2016) Research Excellence Framework review. Last accessed 23/08/2018 Available from

REF2021 (n.d.) Initial decisions on the Research Excellence Framework 2021 (REF 2017/01). Last accessed 23/08/18, available from


Sally is currently the Academic Lead: Professional Learning and Development at Advance HE.

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