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Professor Peter Ashworth
I begin with reflections on the issue of the title in the light of recent practical experience. The rest of the session is devoted to discussing a particular way in which pedagogic research can be endowed with a certain rigour while keeping an eye firmly on the goal of improving student learning.
How is the teacher in higher education to focus on change which will be broadly beneficial to students? One of the preconditions for avoiding futile developments (or even developments producing unintended harm) is that alterations are based on a deep understanding of what it is that the teacher's activity is intended to change. Understanding in order to facilitate change, then, is an absolute priority.
It is dangerous to initiate change without an understanding of the actual situation - especially the situation as perceived by the student. Too often developments are based on superficial analyses. In this paper, qualitative approaches to educational research are discussed in the light of the purpose of enriching understanding. I take the reason for their use by teachers to be to gain information about the exceedingly complex human situations with which they are confronted.
The kinds of qualitative methods discussed may be useful in other situations relevant to development, such as assessing the outcome of changes for evaluation purposes. But our focus here is on the elucidation of complex situations so as to understand them better and therefore to be enabled to facilitate beneficial change.