Elaine Martin

  • Complex coherence in the experience of teaching and research - metaphors of lived experience

    Professor Elaine Martin, Victoria University elane.martin@vu.edu.au 
    Professor Michael Prosser, University of Sydney
    Ms Heather Middleton, University of Sydney
    Ms Gillian Lueckenhausens , LaTrobe University

    Research paper

    Themes: staff development strategies


    This paper takes as its focus academic staff who both teach at the early undergraduate years and are research active in terms of externally funded research. It explores how these academics experience their understanding of their subject matter and how this understanding manifests itself in their experience of teaching and in their experience of research. In particular, the paper explores the extent to which there is a coherence expressed in their experiences of teaching, research and understanding of subject matter when academics work on the academic tasks of teaching and research.


    Drawing upon previous research in which we have shown a complex coherence in the way academics experience their teaching and experience their understanding of subject matter, we hypothesis that there is a relationship between teaching and research but this relationship does mot exist in quantifiable outcomes of teaching and research performance; rather, the relationship lies on their experience of their understanding of their subject matter.


    We have interviewed 29 academic staff about their experiences of teaching, research and understanding of subject matter. We are analysing that data both from a phenomenographic perspective and from a metaphoric perspective. Here we report on the analysis of metaphor.

    Developing the work of Munby, 1986, we argue that metaphor is used in discourse and thinking to help is make sense of a phenomenon, often an abstract phenomenon, by reference to another more concrete and accessible phenomenon on the world. Use of metaphor is tied to our sensory experience of the world and to the structures that underpin that experience in out concrete everyday life. So, we can explore the meaning of teaching research and subject matter to an interviewee, for instance, by attending to the metaphor she, or he, adopts in talking about their research, teaching and subject matter. In brief, metaphor helps us to glimpse the concrete structure that represents the complex experience of the abstract phenomenon.

    We have developed a model to guide metaphoric analysis that helps ensure rigorous examination of interview data by different members of the research team – and indeed those beyond the team.


    The results of systematic adoption of this analysis suggest that across their experiences of teaching and research and understanding of the subject matter there is undoubtedly some variation in the use of metaphor between these three situations, but overall there is a compelling coherence. This supports the findings of coherence across categories of description in previous phenomonographic studies. It also raises questions about how to assist staff in their development as teachers and researchers.