John Sweet

  • Research led: pedagogy lost or found?

    John Sweet, Cardiff University, UK

    Session 3f, Tuesday 10.10

    Conceptual paper

    Themes addressed:

    • Teaching methods
    • Institutional strategies

    Universities that would consider themselves research orientated like to use the term research-led in their learning and teaching strategies, but are usually fairly unclear about what it means. Have they discovered a new pedagogy or is the roller coaster of research ways, making further inroads into the classroom?

    This paper opens out for discussion some of the current opinions from advocates of the term. But what of its academic foundations? Clarity is sought for the development of the model through an analysis of Brew's (2001) inquiry into academic contexts called ‘The Nature of Research’. Despite Brew's refreshingly wide ranging characterisation of research it is difficult to see how research led teaching is predominantly research derived. An alternative search is made into teacher perceptions in higher education by Pratt (1998), characterising teacher perceptions of transmission, development, apprenticeship, nurturing and social reform. Pratt's model uses just three variables of teacher, students, and content where with different placement of context and emphasis five perceptions are produced. However, it is possible to conceive of a further research perception, but this may more easily define something that could be called teacher led research.

    We can stop for a moment and consider if research led teaching is a more local phenomenon in terms of voicing and actions upon certain disciplines, with other institutions just copying the words – to fill in the meaning later. Are they creating new pedagogy or are they helping to keep values and concepts of a pedagogy well out at arm's length?

    There seems little support from the scholarship literature for the research led concept, for that would advocate fusion of learning and teaching and research into concepts which define something more akin to “inquiry led”. Although Brew mentions how spaces in higher education are contested it is only with a more social constructivist positioning by Bruffee (1993) that the relative positioning of teacher practitioners’ and researchers’ positions of power and tensions within the discipline can be seen. He describes how the teacher practitioner does represent to the student current practice within a discipline. The researcher meanwhile is not primarily functioning at the centre of the discipline but by the nature of researching at the edge; at the boundaries of the discipline, helping to expand and redefine it. Despite his peripheral placement the researcher, with considerable panache, takes the head and leadership of the discipline.

    If Pratt's model is recast to include within it a discipline boundary and researcher as well as the usual population of teacher, student and content, a fascinating commonality of position is afforded the researcher pushing out at the boundary and students pushing in at the boundary taking the same spatial sites within the discipline. The major thrust of this paper is to explore these relationships and potential positive outcomes but also to place the whole enterprise of research led teaching into its political context and to draw attention to what else is missing in the Pratt model of teachers’ perceptions.


    • Brew A (2001) The Nature of Research: Inquiry in academic contexts. London: RoutledgeFalmer.
    • Bruffee KA (1993) Collaborative Learning: Higher Education, Interdependence, and the Authority of Knowledge. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.
    • Pratt DD (1998). Five Perspectives on Teaching in Adult and Higher Education. Malabar, Florida: Krieger Publishing.