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Pedagogical Action Research: Balancing teaching and research in universities


Pedagogical Action Research: Balancing teaching and research in universities Professor Lin Norton June 2010 – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Pedagogical Action Research: Balancing teaching and research in universities

Pedagogical Action Research Balancing teaching
and research in universities
  • Professor Lin Norton

June 2010
  • Why pedagogical action research?
  • Pedagogical action research in the university
  • The role of reflective practice
  • The scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL)
  • A case study from the UK

Pedagogical action research a definition
  • the fundamental purpose of pedagogical action
    research is to systematically investigate ones
    own teaching/learning facilitation practice with
    the dual aim of modifying practice and
    contributing to theoretical knowledge. (Norton
    , 2009)
  • Using a reflective lens to look at some problem
    and then determining a methodical set of steps to
  • that problem and to take action

University context is crucial
  • Unless we take into account the influences that
    are operating on us within the university context
    it is unlikely that carrying out pedagogical
    action research will be as influential as it
    might be
  • University departments are hives of intrigue
    and conspiracy. Trying to reach an understanding
    of issues concerned with teaching and learning,
    therefore, implies getting to grips with a whole
    range of human issues such as the attitude of
    students, the politics within departments and the
    ethos and environment of the institution
  • (Kember, 2000, p.25)

The university context
  • According to Fanghanels (2007) framework, there
    are filters that are fluid and influence the
    choices academics make to privilege certain
    activities over others
  • The micro level (internal predispositions,
    aspirations goals)
  • The meso level (the department, the discipline)
  • The macro level (institution, external factors,
    research teaching nexus)

The micro level Academic identities
  • Why did you come into Higher Education?
  • How would you describe your primary role-
    researcher or teacher?
  • Which do you enjoy the most?
  • Which do you spend the most time on?
  • What does your department/institution expect you
    to do?
  • Why when we have more work than time, do we apply
    to buy ourselves out of teaching?
  • Do academics ever ask to buy themselves out of

Meso level of practice the department
  • Departments and how they are run have a huge
    influence and hold on academics
  • Tacit knowledge thats the way we do things
    around here more powerful than any formal
    mechanisms such as CPD, induction etc, includes
  • norms, discourse and value sets associated with
    assessment, teaching practices, research culture
    as well as daily work practices.
  • Can cause stress for new academics who are trying
    to establish a role identity, professional
    knowledge and competence (Norton et al, in press)

Meso level of practice the discipline
Neumann, Parry Bechers (2002) adaptation of
Biglans (1973) subject classification
Description of quadrants
  • Hard pure knowledge concerned with universals,
    simplification and a quantitative approach.
  • Soft pure knowledge tends to be holistic
    concerned with particulars and is likely to
    favour a qualitative approach
  • Hard applied knowledge derived from hard pure
    knowledge, concerned with applications (i.e.
    mastering the physical environment), aimed at
    products and techniques
  •  Soft applied knowledge derived from soft pure
    knowledge, concerned with enhancing professional
    practice,aimed at protocols and procedures.

Implications for how academics view teaching and
  • Neumann et al findings
  • hard pure and hard applied - strongly committed
    to research and less committed to teaching,
    (generally seen as relatively straightforward and
    unproblematic), collaborative research and
  • soft pure and soft applied - greater emphasis on
    scholarly knowledge that translates readily into
    teaching, more emphasis on individualistic
    enquiry and not so much acceptance of joint

Macro level of practice
  • External factors
  • Globalisation
  • Managerialism
  • Internationalisation
  • Entrepreneurialism
  • Institutional policy particularly relating to
    teaching and research
  • Selection and Promotions policies
  • Resourcing
  • Recognitions and value

Expectations of university lecturers
Excellent in teaching and learning
Research active
Income generate
Subject expert
Reflective practitioner
Scholarship of learning and teaching
Action research a practical solution
Action research is action-and-research (Dick
2000). Action research combines twin aims in a
single process. Action researchers wish to
improve some aspect of professional practice or
social process, while generating new knowledge at
the same time. Action research is not action for
research (doing something to increase
understanding), nor research for action
(increasing knowledge to be applied later). These
two purposes come together in a single project.
Hughes (2004)
The role of reflective practice in action research
  • Over-used term (Knight,2002)
  • Reflective practice should be seen as systematic,
    active and enabling us to give up what sometimes
    might be our most dearly cherished beliefs about
    teaching and learning

reflective thinking is always more or less
troublesomeit involves willingness to endure a
condition of mental unrest (Dewey, 1910)
Reflection applied to education
  • Work of Donald SchÖn (1983) The reflective
  • SchÖns thinking developed from earlier work with
    Argyris on the distinction between
  • Espoused theories and Theories in use
  • Argyris, C SchÖn, D. (1974) Theory into
    practice. San Francisco Jossey Bass

How does reflective practice link to pedagogical
action research?
  • Action research enables us to reflect on our
    practice systematically (Parker, 1997)
  • Action research enables us to take control of our
    own CPD
  • Action research can help us transform our
    professional perspective
  • Action research is often collaborative and thus
    guards against being too inward looking and
    serving to confirm our previously-held assumptions

The scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL)
  • Contested in the literature and not yet readily
    accepted by the UK sector but its core elements
    are valuable in helping to raise the profile of
    teaching in universities

Boyer argued that the scholarship of teaching
should have its own status and recognition
SOTL- why is it important?
  • SOTL includes both ongoing learning about
    teaching AND the demonstration of teaching
    knowledge ( Kreber Cranton, 2000)
  • SOTL helps to raise the status of teaching,
    enables teachers to teach more knowledgeably and
    provides a framework in which teaching quality
    can be assessed (Trigwell Shale, 2004)
  • SOTL has the potential to bring about significant
    change to how the sector sees the goals and
    purposes of a higher education (Kreber, 2005)

Key elements of scholarship of teaching and
learning (Chalkely 2003)
  1. Keeping abreast of developments in the theory,
    and practice of teaching, particularly in ones
    own discipline or specialist field
  2. Reflecting carefully and critically on ones own
    teaching and on its successes and failures in
    promoting high quality learning
  3. Engaging in pedagogic research so as to help
    provide a firm basis of evidence for the adoption
    or rejection of particular learning and teaching
  4. Contributing to the communication and
    dissemination of good practice in the learning
    and teaching of ones discipline or specialist
  5. Bringing to ones work in teaching and curriculum
    development the same high standards of
    intellectual rigour and peer review which are
    commonplace in research.

The scholarship of teaching whats the problem?
Bass (1999)
  • Bass makes the telling point that one of the
    differences between scholarship (teaching) and
    discipline based research is the way we think
    about the problem

In research the problem is at the heart of the
enquiry process and were proud of it
In teaching, the problem is something we dont
usually want to have and were ashamed of it
Changing the status of the problem
  • In pedagogical action research, this is precisely
    what happens.
  • The teaching problem
  • Psychology students dont use enough journals in
    their essays
  • The research problem translated into a research
  • A multi-layered intervention (librarians input,
    revised formative assessment, exemplars ) will
    increase the use of journals in an essay
  • (Norton, Norton Thomas, 2004)

7 characteristics of action research (Kember,
  1. A social practice (Not decontextualised from
    environment or separating researcher form the
  2. Aimed towards improvement (Essential)
  3. Cyclical (not necessarily simple spirals of
    reflection, acting, planning observing but
    progressive refinements
  4. Systematic enquiry (does not mean soft option)
  5. Reflective (outward not inward)
  6. Participative (guards against making mistaken
    assumptions about ones own practice)
  7. Practitioner determined (driven from own need to

Criticisms of Action research
  • Not proper research as seen in the positivist
    scientific tradition (issues round
    generalisability, validity)
  • Largely un-theorised descriptions of practice

Responding to the criticisms
  • Positivist research is a narrow view where
    experimental design and cause and effect seeking
    is privileged over any other form of enquiry
  • Kember (2000) suggests sensible adaptation and
    fine tuning rather than generalisability and
  • Bartlett Burton (2006) say that action research
    is inevitably unique as its carried out by
    professionals in the context of their own working
    practice. They suggest concept of relatability

Responding to the criticisms (2)
  • Bartlett Burton (2006) argue that the
    description of practice can often actually
    constitute the data
  • Cotton Griffiths (2007) in framing descriptive
    accounts we have to draw on the theoretical in
    order to make our research accessible and
    meaningful to those we disseminate it to.
  • In order to be action research rather than
    curriculum development or reflective practice- it
    must be subject to peer scrutiny and review. Its
    critical questioning and appraisal that makes it

The methodological-cum-organizational problem
(Lindsay et al, 2002)
  • Managers rarely use pedagogical evidence so
    while academic staff can and do make changes
    within their own courses, the chances of
    influencing institutional policy in learning and
    teaching are modest, but practical principles can
  • Choose research studies that are directly
    relevant to your institutions policies
  • Design studies where evidence is compelling as
    possible (often quantitative)
  • Present your findings to as many committees as

The action research process an easy step by
step approach
  • Identifying a problem/paradox/ issue/difficulty
  • Thinking of ways to tackle the problem
  • Doing it
  • Evaluating it
  • Modifying future teaching.
    Norton (2001)

An example of action research and its effects on
practice in a PBL context (Norton 2004)
  • Context 3rd year Counselling Psychology module
  • Psychology Applied Learning Scenarios (PALS) a
    text-based hypothetical vignette which can be
    used in a wide variety of learning and assessment
    situations to engage psychology students in
    holistic and relational learning and to prepare
    them for the world of work either as
    psychologists or as professional practitioners
    with psychological expertise
  • Available at http//

PALS as assessment technique the difference
between curriculum development and action research
  • Cycle 1 PALS used in examinations (Curriculum
  • Cycle 2 PALS used in course work essay worth 70
    (Curriculum development)
  • Cycle 3 PALS used in course work essay and the
    essay feedback checklist (action research)
  • Cycle 4 PALS as the heart of the course
    (action research)

Cycle 3 using ITDEM
  • Identifying the problem Students asked to
    evaluate two theories of their choice to a PALS
    were relying on description rather than
  • Thinking of ways to tackle the problem Give
    explicit assessment criteria
  • Doing it Use the essay feedback checklist
  • Evaluating it Research matching tutor and
    student ratings, interviews with staff,
    questionnaires with students (Norton et al 2002)
  • Modifying future practice Cycle 4

Cycle 4 using ITDEM
  • Identifying the problem too much focus on
    assessment criteria raised students anxieties
    encouraged a strategic approach
  • Thinking of ways of tackling it
    reconceptualising assessment criteria as learning
    criteria (LOs)
  • Doing it through PALS group presentation and
  • Evaluating it Research analysis of essays and
    student feedback ( Norton, 2004)
  • Modifying future practice Students needed
    earlier feedback on presentations to help with
    the essay task

Pedagogical action research as an intensity
spectrum (adapted from Kember 2006)
Reflection Action research Action
research on L T on LT which
contributes to theory
Seminar Refereed Journal paper
conference paper paper
Turning teaching problems into pedagogical action
  • Why are students not attending my lectures?
  • Why dont students read?
  • What can I do to enthuse my students?
  • What can I do to help students become more
    analytical in their writing?
  • How can I help students to link theory with their
  • What is going wrong in my seminars when my
    students dont speak?
  • Why wont students use the library?
  • Why are retention and progression rates falling?
  • What can I do to make my lecturing style more

Pedagogical Action Research, reflective practice
and SOTL killing three birds with one stone
  1. Carrying out research on your own teaching and/or
    on your students learning is interwoven with
    being a reflective practitioner.
  2. Pedagogical action research is an empowering form
    of CPD, particularly in engaging with the
    scholarship of learning and teaching (SOTL)
  3. Pedagogical action research needs to be
    disseminated and open to public scrutiny through
    peer reviewed conference papers and journal

Growing a pedagogical action research network a
case study
  • PAR established in 2001, and then became part of
    the University Learning and Teaching strategy
    (2002-05) with government funding to support its
  • monthly meetings on annual institutional theme
  • giving support to small-scale PAR projects
  • annual PAR symposium
  • Now a recognized research group of the University
  • http//
  • PRIME in house journal
  • http//
  • Biennial Pedagogical Research in Higher Education
    conference (PRHE) http//