Palgrave Teaching and Learning

by Sally Brown (Series Editor)

Researching your own teaching practice

Whereas many university teachers have roles that combine subject research with their teaching, others who teach at higher education level, for example those teaching in Further Education Colleges in the UK and in Community Colleges in the US, may not have conventional research as part of their jobs, and in these cases, pedagogic research can offer golden opportunities for scholarship.

Boyer talks about four kinds of scholarship: the scholarship of discovery of new ideas and interrelationships; the scholarship of application in which, as Boyer suggests, ‘the scholar asks, “How can knowledge be responsibly applied to consequential problems? How can it be helpful to individuals as well as institutions?”’ (1990, p.21); the scholarship of integration whereby scholars give meaning to isolated facts, putting them in perspective, making connections across the disciplines, placing the specialties in a larger context and illuminating data in a revealing way; and the scholarship of teaching, which is particularly germane in this context.

It’s important to focus on scholarship existing in our teaching as much as in any other aspect of our academic work, but our research needs to be as rigorous and as focused as any other kinds of research. As Schön argues, ‘If teaching is to be seen as a form of scholarship, then the practice of teaching must be seen as giving rise to new knowledge’ (1995, p. 31).

Nevertheless, those teaching at university level are normally required to keep meticulous data on aspects of student performance such as their entry qualifications, their marks, their completion rates and other data, and these matched with reflection on innovations, and potentially action research, can result in powerful and highly publishable outputs, as well as information that can shape future developments.

Advice when researching your teaching practice:
  • Seek out a compelling research question, such as ‘What impact does increased or reduced class size have on student performance?’ or ‘What differences can be observed in student group work when process is assessed as well as outcomes?’.
  • Make good use of the published literature in the field when planning innovations, and when refining practices, to avoid reinventing the wheel.
  • Physically or virtually attend conferences and workshops on your selected area of research, so you can get involved in a community of practice interested in similar fields.
  • Seek out a mentor who has published earlier on the topic to gain advice about current thinking and recent work elsewhere.
  • Keep good records and write as you go along, rather than doing the research and then aiming to write it up later.

Useful reading

Boyer, E.L. (1990, reprinted 1997) Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate, San Francisco: Jossey Bass, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Kreber, C. and Cranton, P.A. (2000) Exploring the scholarship of teaching, Journal of Higher Education, 71(4), pp. 476–95.

McGill, I. and Beaty, L. (2001) Action Learning: A guide for professional, management & educational development. Psychology Press.

Schön, D.A. (1995) The new scholarship requires a new epistemology, Change (Nov/Dec), 27(6), pp. 26–34.