Designing a project

  • A good starting point is to clarify why you want to conduct this research. It might be to:

    • determine the effectiveness of a particular intervention
    • find out how students are learning
    • identify improvements that could be made
    • satisfy audit requirements
    • demonstrate value to stakeholders
    • produce advice and guidelines for colleagues

    Do you have a burning question, or perhaps a general sense of unease about some aspect of the staff or student experience? Are there some issues which have been identified in student feedback which need further exploration? Do you want to investigate how your discipline can best respond to its particular challenges or evaluate the effect of some recent teaching innovation?

    You can download a Word template for scoping a pedagogic research project (Word doc 38KB), created for the eL@b e-learning special interest group.

    Here are four ways to access your discipline specific pedagogic research literature:

    1. Search the collection of online journals which Brookes subscribes to using your discipline and 'teaching' and/or 'learning' as keywords.
    2. Check the website of your Higher Education Academy subject centre. Do they publish their own journal? What kind of reports have they produced for your discipline?
    3. Read reports from pedagogic research projects funded in your discipline
    4. Check out the SNAS Online Database. This describes itself as “Short and snappy resource lists of discipline-specific and generic resources to provide a starting point for new academic staff.”

    As well as accessing primary research, you might want to find review of literature and practice. These are often produced by professional organisations, such as Syntheses of evidence based practice published by the Higher Education Academy.

    If you conduct a literature review as a starting point, consider publishing it.

    Another possible starting point is identifying stakeholders and the questions of interest to them. The following grid might be helpful.

    Stakeholder in this project are Priorities for this group are likely to be The questions of most interest to this group are therefore:
    The senior management team Demonstrable effects of the project on students’ performance.
    The impact on institutional resources.
    What improvements are seen in students’ performance in class and assessed work?
    What impact has the project on staff time?
    How does the project impact on use of classroom and library spaces?

    The University Research Ethics Committee (UREC) has provided some guidance on pedagogic research and ethics, downloadable from the UREC ethical information and procedures webpages.

    See also, DeVita, G. & Smallbone, T. (2005) Pedagogic research and ethics: some pointers for pedagogic researchers. Brookes eJournal of Learning and Teaching, 1 (2) at

    Ramsden, P. (2003) Learning to Teach in Higher Education. Ch. 11. Evaluating the quality of higher education.

    Harvey, J. (1998) (ed.) Evaluation cookbook: a practical guide to evaluation methods for lecturers

    Angelo, T.A. and Cross, K.P. (1993) Classroom Assessment Techniques A Handbook for College Teachers. San Francisco, Ca.: Jossey-Bass Inc.

    Getting started in pedagogical research: a guide for the physical sciences. A practice guide produced by the HEA Subject Centre for Physical Sciences