• Improving Student Learning Theory and Practice - 10 Years on

    Title: Implementing and managing change and innovation

    Author(s): 1.John Bradbeer, 2.Glynis Cousin, 3.Mick Healey and 4.Alan Jenkins
    Institution(s): 1.University of Portsmouth, 2.University of Coventry, 3.University of Gloucestershire and 4.Oxford Brookes University
    Session: Research seminar  

    Two of the more significant developments in higher education research and development since the first ISL Symposium have been the growth in interest in the scholarship of teaching, especially staff researching their own teaching (Healey 2000) and renewed interest in discipline-based approaches (eg Rust 2001; Healey and Jenkins 2002). Our proposal links these trends and focuses on the development of pedagogic research capacity within disciplinary contexts.

    There has been emphasis in higher education internationally on the need for developments in learning and teaching to be supported by evidence-based practice. Recent national and institutional initiatives in the United Kingdom have followed this line. Nonetheless, the need to enhance the capacity of teachers to research their own practice is recognised as a key challenge in promoting pedagogic research in higher education. While UK initiatives such as the Economic and Social Research Council's Research Capacity Building Network and Phase III of the Teaching and Learning Research Project to build research capacity in the post-compulsory education sector, may affect individual teachers, the wider impacts on disciplines and HEIs may be less direct.

    Most educational research is generic in character, but to develop the capacity of academics to research their own teaching practices, this must be embedded in specific disciplines. It is in their discipline that academics have their principal communities of practice (Wenger 1998). Interest in discipline-based approaches to educational research is international, with the Carnegie Academy for the Advancement of Teaching in the United States and various innovations in Australia prominent. In the UK, the twenty-four Subject Centres of the Learning and Teaching Support Network are actively supporting educational research.

    In mid-2001, the Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences National Subject Centre launched a programme to build the capacity of the three disciplines to undertake research into learning and teaching. It brings together specialist educational researchers and discipline-based teachers, most having little previous experience of educational research. The principal aims of the programme are to link the personal development of academics as practitioner-researchers in education and to enhance the capacity of the disciplines as a whole to conduct and evaluate pedagogic research. The programme focuses on fieldwork. This is a central and common feature of learning and teaching in all three disciplines and as yet relatively under-researched as a practice. Five projects emerged from two workshops facilitated by our educational research consultants. All these project teams contain members from each of the disciplines. Common to all the projects is the theoretical framework of constructive alignment (Biggs 1999).

    Our presentation will briefly outline the methods used to research the building of pedagogic research capacity among the participants. Then we plan to offer some provisional answers to our questions about how and in what ways we have succeeded in helping to build pedagogic research capacity in the three disciplines. We already see greater confidence and enhanced enthusiasm for pedagogic research among the participants. We want to share these and other anticipated findings with ISL delegates. We hope to generate a discussion about the various ways to develop and measure educational research capacity in disciplines and to explore some of the issues in transferring our approach to other disciplines and to other national HE systems.


    Biggs, J (1999) Teaching for Quality Learning at University. Buckingham: Open University Press.

    Healey, M (2000) Developing the scholarship of teaching in higher education: a discipline-based approach. Higher Education Research and Development 19 (2) 169-187.

    Healey, M & Jenkins, A (2002, forthcoming) Discipline-based educational development; in MacDonald, R & Eggins, H (editors) The Scholarship of Academic Development. Buckingham: Open University Press.

    Rust, C (editor) (2000) Improving Student Learning through the Disciplines: Proceedings of the 7th International Symposium on Student Learning. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development: Oxford Brookes University.

    Wenger, E (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.