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This research is a nationwide census examining the characteristics, experiences and attitudes of education researchers working in Higher Education in the UK. It is funded by the British Educational Research Association (BERA) and forms part of a wider body of work designed to map the current State of the Discipline across the UK.

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Pre-application doctoral communications and gatekeeping in the academic profession

By Sophia Kier-Byfield

About the HE Education Research UK Blog Series
To raise awareness of the HE Education Research Census and contribute to a conversation about HE education research in the UK, this blog series explores a wide range of issues at the forefront of education research today. It includes blogs from colleagues at all career stages, research areas and nations of the UK. Please get in touch if you too would like to contribute.

Before applying for PhD study, aspiring researchers often send approaches or enquiries to university staff. Readers who have applied for a PhD themselves may remember sending that first email to a potential supervisor. Having squeezed one’s background, interests, experience and enthusiasm into a couple of hundred words and attached some files, this intangible representation of a person and their dreams is clicked into the unknown. The hope is that it reaches someone keen, interested and willing to give guidance.

These pre-application doctoral communications (hereafter PADC) are often in the form of emails from applicants to potential supervisors, departmental Programme Officers or Directors of Postgraduate Research, but they may also include video or phone calls, dropping into the office, making an introduction at an academic event, or reaching out via social media. PADC also refers to the passing of emails from applicants between staff members and discussions about their suitability or needs, as well as the communicative function of institutional websites.

Although it is not always a requirement that an application be preceded by contact, the practice can be said to be an unspoken norm in the higher education system in the UK. From the perspective of applicants, the anxiety that is induced by this act of communication and the pressure to get it right is palpable. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, there are numerous YouTube videos offering advice, blog posts suggesting how to tailor the perfect email, forums where applicants discuss strategies, examples of institutional guidance about what supervisors prefer, consultants who offer guidance on social media, and posts where students seek to demystify the process.

From the perspective of staff, PADC is also an important means of establishing relationships with doctoral applicants and making them feel welcome and supported. On the other hand, PADC can be challenging. Keeping up with the volume of communication and deciding where to invest time is an ongoing issue, especially when there are many unsolicited and impersonal emails arriving in staff inboxes. There have also been concerns expressed about the ways in which social categories of difference (e.g., gender, race, sexuality, etc.) may shape the nature of emails prospective supervisors receive, as recent discussions on Twitter have demonstrated.

A study currently underway at University of Warwick’s Education Studies department is seeking to learn more about the pre-application stage of doctoral admissions. Funded by the Research England Enhancing Research Culture Fund and running February-July 2022, the study takes its host institution as a case study and looks holistically at pre-application communications from the perspectives of Directors of Postgraduate Research, Programme Officers and supervisors across faculties. The study is qualitative, using interviews with departmental staff and solicited diaries and focus groups with supervisors to investigate the nature and influence of PADC. The study also includes a review of the departmental webpages at Warwick to discern their level of transparency and a literature review of doctoral admissions, admissions and EDI, and pre-application studies more specifically.

So why is PADC significant for understanding the state of the discipline of Education? The importance is twofold. First, understanding PADC could contribute to diversifying the Education research profession. Studying the pre-application stage is important to find out if there are any barriers to access that occur prior to formal admissions. For instance, research has shown that international applicants rely heavily on pre-application contact as a means of getting information about programmes (Kim & Spencer-Oatey, 2021). Research has also shown that bias against under-represented groups can occur at the pre-application stage and that staff identity influences recruitment (Milkman et al., 2015; Squire, 2020). PADC therefore functions as a form of gatekeeping that enables certain applicants to more confidently progress to the point of formally applying. However, there is general lack of research about the phenomenon of PADC in terms of the different stakeholders, practices and pedagogies involved, where responsibility and power reside, and the influence that it has on admissions decision-making. This is especially the case in the UK where the topic is understudied (Mellors-Bourne et al., 2014).

Second, getting a better understanding of PADC from an Education perspective demonstrates the insights that this disciplinary position can achieve. Whilst scholars in other areas such as Linguistics have studied PADC as texts (Sabet et al., 2021), studying PADC within Education Studies connects it as a phenomenon to ideas of pedagogy, scholarly judgement and academic autonomy. The ability to manage PADC in ways that are fair and sustainable has also likely been affected by the changes and pressures being felt in the university sector, and the study will situate PADS in this broader context. Taking PADC as an object of study in Education is therefore a means of gaining a better understanding of the various actors involved in the doctoral pipeline which eventually shapes the direction and norms of Education research.

The project therefore has direct implications for the discipline of Education, as it will reveal insights into pre-admissions practices and provide suggestions and recommendations for best practice that are drawn from both within and beyond the Social Sciences. Drawing on knowledge about other disciplines and faculties across the university will provide another lens through which to look at doctoral study and research in Education from new perspectives. It also delineates an under-studied area of enquiry for Higher Education research into the often taken for granted institutional practices that influence the make-up of the profession.

Find out more:

Have you had your say yet?
The HE Education Research Census is live. If you engage in any form of education research and/or scholarship, and are a paid employee of a UK university (on any contractual basis), we want to hear from you!

Please click here to visit the survey page:
https://edu-research.uk/

Author

Dr Sophia Kier-Byfield is a research assistant on the “Opening up the Black Box of Pre-application Doctoral Communications” project, working alongside her Warwick team members Dr James Burford, Dr Emily Henderson, Ahmad Akkad and Dr Dangeni. For more information on the project please visit the project website or search for project updates on Twitter at #PADC_project. 

Not Learning from Experience: the decline of a masterly-led teaching profession

By Deborah Outhwaite

About the HE Education Research UK Blog Series
To raise awareness of the HE Education Research Census and contribute to a conversation about HE education research in the UK, this blog series explores a wide range of issues at the forefront of education research today. It includes blogs from colleagues at all career stages, research areas and nations of the UK. Please get in touch if you too would like to contribute.

I have been sharing the details of the link to this research, as I think that in my area of educational leadership particularly, HEI involvement has changed drastically over the last decade or so. I started working in a university research post, part-time, 25 years ago whilst doing my MSc. At that time, we had a newly elected government who believed in the creation of a Masterly-led teaching profession. This led to the creation of (what was) the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) and funding for cohorts of teachers to do part-time Masters in Education. After five years as a Head of Department, and five years as a Head of Faculty, I then wanted to do an EdD, and this was actively encouraged by colleagues in the system. Having taught with university staff from three universities across those teaching years, I thought that I might be better placed to move into an HEI. With two small girls, I got a post that ranged between a 0.5 and a 0.9 across the next few years, whilst I concentrated on my EdD, and threw a third child into the mix! 

Staff were supportive of my career trajectory and working in a post-92, I had guaranteed hours, a 90% paid-for doctorate, and TPS. This is, sadly, not the experience of most colleagues who consider building on their school teaching today. Please note my use of language here, it’s not ’leaving teaching’ – it’s sharing fifteen years of classroom experience, leading departments, examining, and writing, to join other – similarly experienced – colleagues to write books, to deliver programmes to help subsequent generations, underpinned by both theory and practice. 

I was extremely lucky to enter HE at a time when that funding, and understanding, existed. We were valued for what we did, and the generation of teachers who enjoyed that funding valued the difference it made to their practice, to their system understanding and to their leadership teams. They put this back in through staying in posts; mentoring PGCE students (with a depth of understanding) and coaching other colleagues on when to become involved in mentoring, coaching, examining, writing and publications. This wasn’t about personal glory, thousands of Twitter followers, and threads on the basics. These days, these threads are often written without any reference to theory or wider knowledge, by those without Masters, much school or examining experience, and they are written as if they are gospel – as opposed to considering the multi-faceted nature of classrooms, individuals, and society, that becomes ever more complex.

What we now see, as the NCSL (which was never perfect) was morphed into the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) and then into the DfE, and was then phased out along with Teaching Schools, and the various phases of Leaders of Education (SLE, LLE, and NLE) is that the aspiration for a Masterly-led profession is long gone.  Various cheaper routes into teaching are actively being encouraged, and the profession is over-worked, under-funded, and not invested in except through shorter, non-theory-based courses that are led by organisations that are deliberately not aligned to HEIs.  What this combination of circumstances has done is to drive the age of leadership teams down and reduces the opportunities for those who have experience of the system to adequately share it, and support it, as a consequence.  So, what has been created (deliberately or otherwise) is a ‘race to the bottom’ where the average school leader is younger, less experienced, and the older staff, driven out, have fewer venues to appropriately share that experience. This creates a range of problems that we are witnessing on the ground – not enough mentors for the Early Career Framework, and older staff, instead of becoming involved in those HEI programmes and sharing their leadership skills, leaving the profession, and robbing it of much of its wider system knowledge. 

The work around precarity of HE recently has been interesting, but precariousness now exists throughout the school-based profession, in the way that it has long been precarious in the Further Education (FE) sector. Many staff may contribute to these programmes, but as opposed to being respected for the depth of knowledge that they have brought, these are not translating into experienced posts in HEIs.  We are all worse off for this and need to find ways of maintaining the wider education system’s policy memory.

Find out more:

Have you had your say yet?
The HE Education Research Census is live. If you engage in any form of education research and/or scholarship, and are a paid employee of a UK university (on any contractual basis), we want to hear from you!

Please click here to visit the survey page:
https://edu-research.uk/

Author

Deborah Outhwaite is the Director of the DTSA and an EdD supervisor at the University of Liverpool. She sits on the APPG for the Teaching Profession. Deborah is a Member of an 11-18 Trust Board, and a former Governor in an 11-18 secondary school. She is Vice-Chair of BELMAS (2020 – 2023). She is also an Associate of Professor Paul Miller, providing research-based CPLD to senior HEI and Business teams through http://www.EducationalEquityServices.com (EES). Deborah has worked with a wide range of HEIs in Educational Leadership and Teacher Education across her career as an External Examiner and Advisor including UCL’s IoE; Warwick; Liverpool; Bath Spa; Leicester; Staffs; and Worcester.

Creating a Platform for All Voices in Education Research – The HE Education Research Census UK 2022

By Jess Brown, University of Warwick, University of Bristol, and Oxford Brookes University

About the HE Education Research UK Blog Series
To raise awareness of the HE Education Research Census and contribute to a conversation about HE education research in the UK, this blog series explores a wide range of issues at the forefront of education research today. It includes blogs from colleagues at all career stages, research areas and nations of the UK. Please get in touch if you too would like to contribute.

The central purpose of the HE Education Research survey is to voice the experiences and perspectives of researchers from across the UK HE community. As a project team it has been enormously important to us to find a way to hear from and understand researchers as individuals and to hear about their relationship to their research, institutions and colleagues. For a large-scale survey, with prominently closed questions, this is not always easy to achieve. We wanted to move away from a methodology that used exclusively closed questions so we can achieve depth and richness as well as breadth within the findings.

To ensure we can meaningfully analyse all responses, we have had to be very selective with the number and focus of open-response questions. We picked three areas which get right to the heart of education research and experiences of colleagues working within the sector. Our open questions ask about:

  • Motivations for doing education research in your area(s) of interest
  • Priority debates and issues for education research and researchers
  • What it is like to be an education researcher in a UK university today

We hope that these areas will resonate with colleagues and create a space where we can collectively make sense of our experience of working in education research. It was crucial to the design of this survey that we were able to understand the lived experiences of researchers from all areas of the UK in a way that could provide rich insight and a deeper level of understanding.

Getting qualitative data, and hearing perspective is one half of the battle. Analysis will be another. We are planning a mixed methods analysis in which we connect comments and reflections to demographic and categorical data to explore how experiences vary by career stage, area of work, and personal characteristics. Understanding of space, place and time will differ between people and temporalities and it is the intricacies of these insights which help to illuminate our understanding of those working in the field and of the research that they are conducting. 

Our analytical process will focus on a combination of deductive and responsive inductive thematic coding, drawing upon key themes from the BERA scoping review (Boyle et al., 2021) while being open to new and emerging issues too. Through the analyses, for example, we hope to better and more thoroughly understand the issues and challenges faced by non-traditional academics, and linked to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), precarious research contracts, and working conditions. We also want to gain more detailed insights into some of the thorny issues surrounding methodological debates, research quality and impact, and the direction the sector is heading.

We have aimed for these questions to contribute to a conversation between the participant and the study, to give researchers the space to unpack their concerns, highlight their ambitions but also to recognize the nuance in the way that different personalities, cultures, individuals and identities experience the broader landscape of education research.

We are humbled by the support we have had in this project. This includes authors for our blog series, the generous advice we have had when designing the survey, and vital contribution of so many colleagues in completing, sharing and promoting the survey. This all adds up – we hope – to create the basis for a vibrant and valuable piece of research – one that can make a real difference to the sector. We want to harness the voice of education researchers. We are optimistic that the findings can empower those tackling pressing problems relating to working conditions; understanding research quality, positioning and purpose; and making sense of education research’s role(s) and potential contribution to a wide range of societal issues.

Opportunities to conduct large scale surveys of this kind do not happen often and we hope that we can capture the environment, nature and state of the space in a way that accurately reflects education research in the UK in 2022. It is a precious and cherished task to find out how education researchers feel about their community, environment and practice and we hope that you will help us by joining the conversation, sharing your views and encouraging others to participate too.

Find out more:

Have you had your say yet?
The HE Education Research Census is live. If you engage in any form of education research and/or scholarship, and are a paid employee of a UK university (on any contractual basis), we want to hear from you!

Please click here to visit the survey page:
https://edu-research.uk/

Author

Jess Brown is a Research Assistant at the University of Warwick and a Research Associate at the University of Bristol. She is a current EdD student at Oxford Brookes University. Her research interests focus predominantly on class, gender and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion practice in institutions. She is particularly interested in how these themes relate to organisational cultures, environments and structures. 

What role is there for university-based teacher educators in an increasingly school-based teacher education system?

By Polly Glegg, UCL Institute of Education

About the HE Education Research UK Blog Series
To raise awareness of the HE Education Research Census and contribute to a conversation about HE education research in the UK, this blog series explores a wide range of issues at the forefront of education research today. It includes blogs from colleagues at all career stages, research areas and nations of the UK. Please get in touch if you too would like to contribute.

The importance of teachers is hardly contentious. Their work is complex and relational, drawing on multi-faceted expertise: they need deep knowledge of learners and learning, of their subject and how to teach it and of teaching as practice, and they need fine professional judgement as they decide how to use their knowledge in practice with each young person they encounter, informed by research and experience. This can be described as having both a ‘practical repertoire’ and a ‘conceptual framework’ for teaching. Like other forms of professional practice, what is observed in teachers’ day-to-day work is the physical manifestation of the rich thought processes that underpin decision-making. This thought process isn’t necessarily evident, even to the expert practitioner themselves, who may not always be able (or need) to articulate fully the conceptual framework underpinning their practice or, indeed, the details of their practical repertoire. Specifically, because it is complex and relational, teachers’ professional judgement can be informed by, but never reduced to, findings from research about ‘what works’ and what constitutes ‘best practice’, or to textbooks of precisely defined ‘moves’ to be reproduced with fidelity. Observing and reproducing what expert teachers do doesn’t account for how expert teachers think. Teacher education curricula should rightly include some content that teachers must ‘know’ and ‘can do’, but always alongside the development of thinking and good judgement. Teaching is thinking and doing, never just doing.

For this reason, initial teacher preparation (ITP) demands careful attention. Teacher educators develop teachers’ practical repertoires and conceptual frameworks. While ITP and teaching are clearly allied activities, the differences between them are crucial and narratives which diminish these differences, and simplify the skilled work of teacher educators, risk lasting damage to teachers and teaching. Teacher education has been described as a ‘second order practice’ in that it involves teaching and learning about the first order practice of teaching itself. The ‘thinking and doing’ of teaching therefore becomes the focus of ITP; the teacher educator’s expertise is in representing this to adult learners in such a way as to both retain and make accessible its glorious complexity.

English ITP is heavily influenced by a policy narrative of current teachers being best placed to teach new teachers, with schools increasingly positioned as leading teacher education. But it makes no sense to assume that ‘first order’ teachers in schools, embedded in and expert at rendering their school subject(s) to young people, are automatically well-placed to undertake the complex work of ITP I’ve just described. Through well-established partnerships, teacher educators in universities and schools have a long history of collaborating so that novice teachers develop practically and conceptually through access to wide-ranging expertise. We might say that, crudely, ITP academics draw predominantly from the research traditions of the academy while school-based colleagues foreground their wisdom of practice, that academics handle the conceptual while the practical is dealt with in schools; but the divide is anything but binary. The expertise of each enriches the other, and the partnership whole is much greater than its parts.

A colleague and I recently presented to teaching school hub leaders involved in delivering the Early Career Framework (ECF), the compulsory induction programme for early career teachers in England. These leaders spend much of their time involved in teacher development. They are smart and committed to their work and I am certain they are expert teachers. I learned much from them about their experiences of the ECF which will inform my ITP work. We offered the leaders some models for working with mentor teachers to think about their roles as teacher educators. One was the idea of first and second order practice; another used the didactic triangle (the relations between teacher/learner/content) to explore the intricacies of educating teachers. These ideas, arising from our work as education academics, were warmly received by the leaders who had not encountered the models previously, just as their input helped us. Our reciprocal professional learning was respectful and enriching. This is why a move to school-led ITP is so limiting: not only because new teachers benefit from university-based teacher educators, whose professional education, communities and resources hone their particular expertise, but because mentor teachers in school do likewise in developing their own roles as expert teacher educators. Because educating teachers isn’t the same as educating young people.

If we want thoughtful, skilled, knowledgeable teachers in our schools they deserve the very best professional education from expert teacher educators, in schools and in universities. Because schools and universities as working and learning environments expose us to different experiences, ideas and communities, we each develop our own, complementary, expertise, which works best in partnership. It is our obligation as professional educators to continue to collaborate, regardless of divisive policy, and to leverage this collective expertise for the benefit of new teachers.

Find out more:

Have you had your say yet?
The HE Education Research Census is live. If you engage in any form of education research and/or scholarship, and are a paid employee of a UK university (on any contractual basis), we want to hear from you!

Please click here to visit the survey page:
https://edu-research.uk/

Author

Polly Glegg is a lecturer in business and economics education at IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society. She is currently researching teacher learning in salaried initial teacher preparation.

Twitter: @pollyglegg

What is the status of Comparative International Education (CIE) in UG Education programmes?

By Leanne Cameron, Rafael Mitchell, Martin Preston and Gurpinder Singh Lalli

About the HE Education Research UK Blog Series
To raise awareness of the HE Education Research Census and contribute to a conversation about HE education research in the UK, this blog series explores a wide range of issues at the forefront of education research today. It includes blogs from colleagues at all career stages, research areas and nations of the UK. Please get in touch if you too would like to contribute.

Education research is a diverse area, encompassing multiple research traditions and foci. Our own particular area of work is in Comparative International Education (CIE). In this blog, we discuss the role and contribution of CIE to education research.

The purported benefits of researching in CIE include “combat[ting] provincialism and ethnocentricity” and promoting reflexivity, intercultural understanding and cooperation (Phillips and Schweisfurth 2014: 25), important qualities in our increasingly interdependent world. For many in the UK, the first time that education is formally encountered as a field of study is at Undergraduate (UG) or at Postgraduate (PG) level, as part of the expanding enrolment in Education Studies degrees (McCulloch and Cowan, 2017) and in a period of significant change across higher education. Yet little is known about the status of CIE within these programmes and the extent to which CIE features as a mandatory or optional component, the geographical coverage, the issues which are addressed, and whose perspectives are included.

In expanding our understanding of CIE approaches, we have been working on a project which relates to theories and concepts in CIE education, understands how we might shape better pedagogical practices in higher education, and delves into deeper critical debates on issues and assumptions on decolonial questions. This is the first study of its kind to provide an empirical overview of CIE teaching in UK universities. Progress to date is informing debates and decision-making at UG level and, as we extend the research, a picture of PG courses will also emerge. Following the completion of a report on this study, a broad consensus emerged on the purposes of CIE at UG level, with respect to its ability to support critical thinking by disrupting existing assumptions; its potential to promote multi-cultural awareness and global-mindedness; and its contribution to enhancing students’ overall educational development.

We have also learnt that more research in this area is warranted as the empirical fieldwork in this area is lacking. We therefore invite opportunities for discussion which relate to navigating CIE through doing research with experts in the field and how we might be able to inform future curriculum decisions. We are currently collecting module guides and reading lists for PG Education programmes and would like to encourage your participation as we contact Education departments in universities across the UK.

CIE contributes to key debates on globally-oriented education research and so doing helps strengthen the international profile of education studies.

Find out more:

Have you had your say yet?
The HE Education Research Census is live. If you engage in any form of education research and/or scholarship, and are a paid employee of a UK university (on any contractual basis), we want to hear from you!

Please click here to visit the survey page:
https://edu-research.uk/

Contributors

References

  • McCulloch, G. and Cowan, S. (2017) A social history of educational studies and research, London: Routledge.
  • Phillips, D. and Schweisfurth, M. (2014) Comparative and International Education: An introduction to theory, method and practice, Edinburgh: A&C Black.

Connecting Education Research and Practice: What Works?

By Lee Elliot Major and Steve Higgins

About the HE Education Research UK Blog Series
To raise awareness of the HE Education Research Census and contribute to a conversation about HE education research in the UK, this blog series explores a wide range of issues at the forefront of education research today. It includes blogs from colleagues at all career stages, research areas and nations of the UK. Please get in touch if you too would like to contribute.

Achieving impact

In 2010 we produced a 20-page guide, summarising thousands of studies, to provide teachers with evidence-informed best bets for improving the progress of poorer pupils. It went on to become the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) Teaching and Learning Toolkit. In both the 2014 and 2021 research evaluation framework the toolkit was judged to be a world-leading impact case study. Around 70% of schools in England report using it. Our follow-up What Works? book won a prize. And as Nature magazine recently documented, the toolkit has also been used across the world as Governments try to address stark learning gaps in the post pandemic era.

Told this way, the impact of the toolkit might indicate that evidence-informed policy and practice has been nothing short of a complete success. Yet there is another side to its development that highlights the fundamental challenges that remain for the effective communication of research findings to benefit education practice. These tensions are usefully framed in the model below (Higgins, 2017). We use this to list some questions researchers and teachers need to ask as they aim to work together. The key point is that these can be in tension with each other; addressing one may compromise another.

Model of research application and use

Is it accessible?

The inaccessibility of research is the first stumbling block in efforts to improve links between research and practice. Journal articles are often impenetrable to teachers, and researchers are given scant training (or time) to communicate beyond their narrow discipline.

A critical decision when designing our toolkit was translating average effect sizes for different school approaches into a simple scale of school progress[1]. Without this translation, the guide would have likely ended up as another academic publication gathering dust on a bookshelf. Yet this translation is certainly controversial (e.g. Lortie-Forgues et al., 2021). Researchers need time to consider how best to communicate their research, engaging directly with practitioners, to decide what compromises and assumptions are warranted.

Is it accurate?

This last point also relates to the second key question which is how accurate the research is. We must aspire to use the best knowledge to inform learning. Research produced by university academics, reviewed by other experts, is a good place to start. But what has been found to work in one classroom for one set of teachers and pupils may not apply to others elsewhere in different contexts. Summaries of research inevitably simplify the detail and this may limit how useful such summaries can be.

A weakness of education research is the absence of replication studies to provide universal replicable findings (Perry et al., 2022). In the toolkit we struck a compromise: producing approximate estimates of which school approaches had worked best on average, using meta-analysis. The danger is that these can be interpreted as sure fire conclusions of ‘what works’. Teachers need to understand that it’s never going to be that simple.

Is it actionable?

Providing specific practical steps for teachers to take is challenging for researchers. It’s hard to make strong claims from social science on the exact causal pathways leading to improved learning in the classroom. Research is a messy business with so many human interactions at play.

In our What Works? book we offered overall principles to consider when implementing different strategies. Our Bananarama Principle highlighted that ‘it’s not what you do but the way you do it’ that counts. The challenge is that this applies particularly to the things that have the biggest impact on pupil learning: such as developing metacognition or providing effective feedback in the classroom for example. This related directly to the heterogeneity of effects found in educational meta-analysis.

Is it applicable?

A key question for teachers meanwhile is to what extent research from other fields applies to their particular classroom and curriculum context. They can be bombarded with lots of ‘brain-based learning’ packages presenting bold claims for example. But neuroscience research is not necessarily applicable to the classroom.

Finding a theory that backs up intuition can be useful. A recent fad among teachers is to learn about cognitive load theory (CLT). This suggests we shouldn’t overload children with too much information at once. But teachers have always known this! How do you know that CLT has improved practice? Which particular aspects of CLT might help your pupils?

Is it appropriate?

It is also important to identify whether research is appropriate for the particular teacher and pupils involved. It should meet an identified need or a perceived problem, rather than being plucked at random from successful research findings.

A classic example is shiny iPads, introduced into classrooms because it’s thought that they are good for children, but not for specific learning aims. What education challenges are they seeking to address?

Is it acceptable?

To stand a chance of being successful research findings have to be acceptable to the teachers involved. If the findings conflict with deeply held beliefs about effective practice then they may either be rejected and not tried, or adopted resentfully and set up to fail.

The toolkit confirms that grouping children into different sets by ‘ability’ leads to equivocal academic gains. The progress seen for higher achievers flourishing in the top sets is offset by the damage done to pupils languishing in the bottom classes. Yet this practice remains stubbornly present in secondary schools due to the enduring belief that teaching is more effective and efficient with a narrower range of attainment in a class.

Is it achievable?

Finally, we must ask how achievable impact from evidence-informed practice is given all the tensions highlighted. The story of the toolkit reveals the non-linear, unpredictable, relational, complex and long-term nature of processes that underlie good communication between researchers and teachers.

We must acknowledge these uncertainties and the extensive time they take for both academics and practitioners. The danger otherwise is that the endeavour risks becoming a tick-box and ultimately illusory exercise. That would end up benefitting no-one at all.

Lee Elliot Major is Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter; Steve Higgins is Professor of Education at Durham University.


[1] We estimated that a year of progress is about equivalent to one standard deviation.

Find out more:

Have you had your say yet?
The HE Education Research Census is live. If you engage in any form of education research and/or scholarship, and are a paid employee of a UK university (on any contractual basis), we want to hear from you!

Please click here to visit the survey page:
https://edu-research.uk/

Authors

Lee Elliot Major is the country’s first Professor of Social Mobility. Appointed by the University of Exeter to be a global leader in the field, his work is dedicated to improving the prospects of disadvantaged young people. As a Professor of Practice he focuses on research that has direct impact on policy and practice, working closely with schools, universities, employers and policy makers.

Steve Higgins is Professor of Education at Durham University. Before working in higher education, he taught in primary schools in the Northeast where his interest in children’s thinking and learning developed. His research interests include the use of evidence from research to support policy and practice decisions in education, the effective use of digital technologies for learning in schools, understanding how children’s thinking and reasoning develops, and how teachers can be supported in developing the quality of teaching and learning in their classrooms.

Reference and further reading

  • Elliot Major, L. & Higgins, S. (2019). What Works?: Research and evidence for successful teaching. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Higgins, S. (2018), Improving Learning: Meta-analysis of intervention research in education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Higgins, S., Kokotsaki, D. and Coe, R. (2011), ‘Toolkit of strategies to improve learning: Summary for schools spending the Pupil Premium’. London: Sutton Trust. www.cem.org/attachments/1toolkit-summary-final-r-2-.pdf
  • Lortie-Forgues, H., Sio, U. N., & Inglis, M. (2021). How should educational effects be communicated to teachers?. Educational Researcher50(6), 345-354.
  • Perry, T., Morris, R., & Lea, R. (2022). A decade of replication study in education? A mapping review (2011–2020). Educational Research and Evaluation, 27(1-2), 12-34.

Researching the future university

By Adam Matthews, University of Birmingham

About the HE Education Research UK Blog Series
To raise awareness of the HE Education Research Census and contribute to a conversation about HE education research in the UK, this blog series explores a wide range of issues at the forefront of education research today. It includes blogs from colleagues at all career stages, research areas and nations of the UK. Please get in touch if you too would like to contribute.

The idea and purpose of the contemporary university is a key question for policymakers, university leaders and education researchers. In contemporary UK policy terms, debates are centred around access and quality alongside regulation versus free markets (McVitty, 2022). This is under the backdrop of free speech and culture wars playing out on campuses and wider society. For some, widening university access to the ‘masses’ has created a social divide of graduates and non-graduates (Savage, 2015), where policy aligns a degree directly to employment outcomes (Matthews and Kotzee, 2019) creating social division and fostering populist politics (Goodhart, 2017; Barnett, 2019). For education researchers, these are pressing structural, philosophical, policy and practice questions to be tackled.

A more creative and imaginative conceptualisation of the university is needed in the 2020s to tackle unknown futures grounded in research-orientation and enquiry (Matthews, et al 2021) for an educated and participatory democracy (Williams, 2011). Raymond Williams wrote of a Long Revolution to such a democracy in the mid 20th century, whereby increased access to education and knowledge aided by information technologies would further democratise society. Martin Trow (1973), following Williams, described a (not necessarily neat linear transition) move from elite, to mass, to potential universal access to the university and higher education. Technologies were key for Williams and Trow. For them, these were television and radio. Of course, the internet builds on such opportunities for access and interaction today. Caplan (2018) goes as far to say that widespread access to knowledge deems the current university system obsolete.

In looking to the future, we need to assess where we have come from and the path dependency and residual ideas and discourses which have been left behind which continue to act, affect and influence. Building on the work of Nørgård et al (2019) and Trow, I have conceptualised the development of the university as:

  • Mode 1 – Elite Ivory Tower in the Enlightenment period
  • Mode 2 – Mass Factory of neoliberal knowledge economies
  • Mode 3 – Universal Network in a network society

These modes are tentative ways to describe a historical development but also discourses still prevalent in ideas of a university today. Mode 1 is autonomous with freedom of enquiry as knowledge as an end in itself (i.e., Collini, 2012). Mode 2 has developed under the backdrop of a neoliberal knowledge economy with greater Government involvement. The factory analogy sees ‘the masses’ access the once elite and exclusive product of research and teaching with inputs and outputs along the production line.

Marginson (2019) has argued that there have only ever been three great ideas of a university, that of Kant and Humboldt in Germany, Henry Newman in the UK (Mode 1) and Clark Kerr’s description of the US system building upon the ‘strands of history’ (Mode 2) of the European idea of a university as a ‘Multiversity’:

“German intellectualism and American populism were merged in the new university. Pure intellect and raw pragmatism made an unlikely but successful alliance.”

(Kerr, 2001, p.36).

The Mode 3 Networked Universal University then has the potential to remove boundaries (inwards and outwards) with democratic access. Digital technologies, particularly in a post-pandemic world play a part, but the networked university is not purely digital. A technological, deterministic view of the idea of a university has already played out with the failure of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to broaden access to knowledge and qualifications following the hype of the early 2010s. Moreover, part-time access to an undergraduate degree has declined rapidly despite the huge gains and political will of the post-war welfare state (Matthews and Kotzee, 2020). Technologies are not purely tools to be manipulated but are creating complex policy networks in education (Matthews, 2020; Peruzzo, 2022)

The Mode 3 Networked University is networked as part of a Network Society as described by Castells (2000):

“Networks constitute the new social morphology of our societies, and the diffusion of networking logic substantially modifies the operation and outcomes in processes of production, experience, power, and culture. While the networking form of social organization has existed in other times and spaces, the new information technology paradigm provides the material basis for its pervasive expansion throughout the entire social structure.”

(Castells, 2000, p.500)

In line with other large global organisations, university growth (in number and size) and an increased public and private responsibility requires many specialist roles beyond teaching and research. This has led to unbundling, outsourcing and specialist employees as well as partners and service providers. The consumerisation of higher education has grasped such an ideal in unbundling parts of the university. Any consumer will be familiar with unbundling. The package holiday has been broken down into constituent parts (flights, accommodation, excursions, luggage size, meals etc), mobile phone and TV packages are other examples. Wang (1975) said the same could happen to education with teaching, assessment, deadlines and structure and alumni services all as services which you ‘bolt on’ and pay extra for. An example of this is Online Programme Management (OPMs) partnering with universities to not only build courses but also to teach, market and support students (Perotta, 2018). The core of the mode 1 and 2 universities has been teaching and research which is also in danger of being unbundled as research and teaching excellence (REF and TEF) policy converge and contradict (Matthews and Kotzee, 2022).

McCowan (2017) reminds university leaders, administrators and academics to not unbundle so much that we see the end of the university as we know it.

“Universities—and all educational institutions—must respond to changing circumstances outside, but that does not mean accepting all forms of change whatever their value, and relinquishing their role also as agents and shapers of society.”

(McCowan, 2017, p.746)

In Mode 2, Kerr described the development and growth of the university as it brought its product (knowledge) to the market:

“Knowledge is now central to society. It is wanted, even demanded, by more people and more institutions than ever before. The university as producer, wholesaler and retailer of knowledge cannot escape service. Knowledge, today, is for everybody’s sake.”

(Kerr, 2001, p.86)

While Mode 2 might still be the dominant culture of UK Universities (Matthews, 2021) a Mode 3 Networked University is emerging which will be shaped by a variety of actors (including technologies) – the question for future research, policy and practice is what is deemed to be the role and activities of the university, the network of actors involved and how these complex networks enact the future idea of the university. A challenge for those researching and working in higher education is the complexity of the university in mode 3 and how to tackle the pressing structural, philosophical and policy issues as well as the lived experience of students, academics, professional staff, leadership, employers, and the growing list of actors networked within and beyond the university.

Find out more:

Have you had your say yet?
The HE Education Research Census is live. If you engage in any form of education research and/or scholarship, and are a paid employee of a UK university (on any contractual basis), we want to hear from you!

Please click here to visit the survey page:
https://edu-research.uk/

Author

Adam Matthews is a Lecturer in Education, Technology and Society at the University of Birmingham. Adam works across both Engineering and Physical Sciences and Social Sciences at the University. This allows for interdisciplinary working in both teaching and research. Adam’s academic background and training is in the Social Sciences and research interests focus on the intersection of education, technology and society with the idea of a university as one of his main research interests.

References

  • Barnett, R. (2019). University Challenge: Division, Discourse and Democracy. Postdigital Science and Education, 1(2), 283–287. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-019-00044-z
  • Caplan, B. D. (2018). The case against education: Why the education system is a waste of time and money. Princeton University Press.
  • Collini, S. (2012). WHAT ARE UNIVERSITIES FOR? Penguin Books.
  • Goodhart, D. (2017). The road to somewhere: The populist revolt and the future of politics. Hurst & Company.
  • Kerr, C. (2001). The uses of the university (5th ed). Harvard University Press.
  • Marginson, S. (2019). The Kantian University: Worldwide triumph and growing insecurity. Australian Universities’ Review, 61(1), 12.
  • Matthews, A. (2020). Sociotechnical imaginaries in the present and future university: A corpus-assisted discourse analysis of UK higher education texts. Learning, Media and Technology, 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2021.1864398
  • Matthews, A. (2021). HUMANS, HIGHER EDUCATION AND TECHNOLOGY – A CORPUS-ASSISTED DISCOURSE AND GENEALOGICAL ANALYSIS OF THE IDEA OF A UNIVERSITY [University of Birmingham]. https://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/11764/
  • Matthews, A., & Kotzee, B. (2019). The rhetoric of the UK higher education Teaching Excellence Framework: A corpus-assisted discourse analysis of TEF2 provider statements. Educational Review, 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131911.2019.1666796
  • Matthews, A., & Kotzee, B. (2020). UK university part-time higher education: A corpus-assisted discourse analysis of undergraduate prospectuses. Higher Education Research & Development, 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2020.1713730
  • Matthews, A., & Kotzee, B. (2022). Bundled or unbundled? A multi‐text corpus‐assisted discourse analysis of the relationship between teaching and research in UK universities. British Educational Research Journal, berj.3783. https://doi.org/10.1002/berj.3783
  • Matthews, A. M., McLinden, M., & Greenway, C. (2021). Rising to the pedagogical challenges of the Fourth Industrial Age in the university of the future: An integrated model of scholarship. Higher Education Pedagogies, 6(1), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/23752696.2020.1866440
  • McCowan, T. (2017). Higher education, unbundling, and the end of the university as we know it. Oxford Review of Education, 43(6), 733–748. https://doi.org/10.1080/03054985.2017.1343712
  • McVitty, D. (2022). In the Augar response ministers are trying for a third way between capping opportunity or letting the HE market run amok. Wonkhe. https://wonkhe.com/blogs/ministers-are-trying-for-a-third-way-between-capping-opportunity-or-letting-the-he-market-run-amok/
  • Nørgård, R. T., Mor, Y., & Bengtsen, S. S. E. (2019). Networked Learning in, for, and with the World. In A. Littlejohn, J. Jaldemark, E. Vrieling-Teunter, & F. Nijland (Eds.), Networked Professional Learning (pp. 71–88). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-18030-0_5
  • Perrotta, C. (2018). Digital Learning in the UK: Sociological Reflections on an Unequal Marketplace. Social Sciences, 7(10), 170. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7100170
  • Peruzzo, F., Ball, S. J., & Grimaldi, E. (2022). Peopling the crowded education state: Heterarchical spaces, EdTech markets and new modes of governing during the COVID-19 pandemic. International Journal of Educational Research, 114, 102006. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijer.2022.102006
  • Savage, M. (2015). Social class in the 21st century. Pelican, an imprint of Penguin Books.
  • Trow, M. (1973). Problems in the Transition from Elite to Mass Higher Education.
  • Williams, R. (2011). The long revolution. Parthian.

Up the creek without a paddle? Perhaps a subject association can help.

By Caroline Lewis, University of Wales Trinity St David, Chair of BESA

About the HE Education Research UK Blog Series
To raise awareness of the HE Education Research Census and contribute to a conversation about HE education research in the UK, this blog series explores a wide range of issues at the forefront of education research today. It includes blogs from colleagues at all career stages, research areas and nations of the UK. Please get in touch if you too would like to contribute.

My first encounter with the British Education Studies Association (BESA) was in 2006 where, I, as a reasonably early career academic, was asked to attend the second annual conference for the association as an information gathering exercise for our newly developed Education Studies provision. As a relatively young discipline, Education Studies at the time was still something of an anomaly within the social sciences and as I had not attended an academic conference before, so arrived with an open mind and a keen interest to learn as much as I could, particularly about becoming a researcher myself.

During those two days of the conference the enthusiasm of those who attended was palpable, in the presentations, the social spaces as well as the obligatory pub visit. It began for me, a long-term fascination with the association and a profound respect for what BESA were trying to foster: a community of academics and researchers, committed to further understanding and supporting education.

Over the years, this focus on supporting research, and particularly for those in the early part of their career has been a fundamental feature of what BESA do. At the annual conference we have hosted specific early career researchers’ days as a prelude to the main conference and we have welcomed students and researchers at all stages in their academic journey into the BESA family. We have offered student bursaries for our conferences as well as expert mentoring to those wishing to submit articles to our peer-reviewed journals. All of this is aimed at building that academic community that those working in the field of education can benefit from as an extended professional network.

There can be no doubt that education research is invaluable for us within higher education, it informs our teaching philosophy and pedagogy, but we do not and should not have to make this journey alone. Often, academia can seem like a lonely and isolated place, if one is to heed the cries emanating from social media platforms from researchers and academics across the globe trying to seek out other like-minded individuals amongst a tsunami of voices from all directions. Recently within the UK, the recent Research Excellence Framework results have highlighted the significance with which research output is valued for higher education institutions. It has brought a range of emotions to all concerned – some positive, and some negative – before we re-set and efforts are then directed to the next entry round and the circle of academic life continues.

Even for those who are primarily practitioners within the field of education, the expectation to engage in research and scholarship is becoming increasingly prevalent. The question is, therefore, how can we engage effectively with the research agenda and what support is there that exists for our subject specialisms in particular? We may be highly involved within our own institutions, but no university is an island, and no academic need feel castaway on the metaphorical distant shores alone.

This is where subject associations can help, by providing that outlet for scholarship which nurtures those professional networks that can help research and researcher development can be invaluable for members. One of the ambitions of BESA is ‘to foster networks and impact upon national debates and discourses regarding education policy and practice’ (About BESA – BESA | British Education Studies Association – Supporting research in Education Studies)., and over the years, the scholarly community of the association has resulted in a range of collaborative opportunities for members. This has been through publications of books chapters and edited volumes, journal articles, proposals for new academic texts, and BESA members have also actively contributed to the development of the QAA Benchmark Statements for Education Studies. Our annual conference has sown the seeds of many academic ventures and hopefully, many more to come.

For me, at this moment in time as Chair of BESA, I look forward to helping fellow travellers traverse the choppy seas of academia in a time where we need to develop a sense of community more than ever. If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that we need not be alone. Research and scholarly activity are important, they drive us, and our disciplines forward, but this is not a solo venture by any means. Especially for those at the start of their journey, it can sometimes feel overwhelming and not knowing which direction to set your sail to can be daunting. This is where a subject association can help, not only will it help provide that map and compass (should you need it), but you may also find some fellow sailors willing to lend an oar too!

By Caroline Lewis, University of Wales Trinity St David, Chair of BESA

Find out more:

Have you had your say yet?
The HE Education Research Census is live. If you engage in any form of education research and/or scholarship, and are a paid employee of a UK university (on any contractual basis), we want to hear from you!

Please click here to visit the survey page:
https://edu-research.uk/

Author

Caroline Lewis is a Senior Lecturer and Assistant Academic Director for Childhood and Education at UWTSD. She currently leads the MA Education Studies and PGCE (PCET) programmes and also teaches on the BA Education Studies programmes. She is an executive member of BESA and is currently Vice-Chair of the association. She is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a member of the End Child Poverty (Wales) steering group.

Follow Caroline on Twitter:          @Caroline_ALewis

Supporting doctoral students and early career researchers in journal peer review in educational research: Issues and suggestions (Part 2)

By Sin Wang Chong, the University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Part 2 of 2 Click here for Part 1 of 2

About the HE Education Research UK Blog Series
To raise awareness of the HE Education Research Census and contribute to a conversation about HE education research in the UK, this blog series explores a wide range of issues at the forefront of education research today. It includes blogs from colleagues at all career stages, research areas and nations of the UK. Please get in touch if you too would like to contribute.

In Part 1, I surveyed the landscape of journal peer review in educational research and underscored the importance of involving junior researchers. Am I suggesting that everyone can be a journal peer reviewer? No, people need training. Am I de-valuing the contributions of expert reviewers? No, what I am suggesting is a reallocation or expansion of their expertise to train the next generation of peer reviewers. We, as an academic community, need to provide opportunities to doctoral students and early career researchers to grow and blossom as journal peer reviewers. To me, serving as peer reviewers is the best way for junior researchers to gain hands-on experience and an insider’s perspective to peer review.

Creating pedagogic moments in journal peer review: Some suggestions

One way to do it is to invite doctoral students and early career researchers to sit on journal editorial boards. I know some journals offer “internships” to junior researchers, providing them with the opportunity to review for the journal. Language Teaching published by Cambridge University Press, for example, has an annual essay writing competition opened to doctoral students and early career researchers. The winner will be offered a place on the editorial board of the journal for a year, providing them with hands-on experience of peer reviewing.

My other suggestion is to have doctoral students and early career researchers serve as a regular peer reviewer (not ad-hoc reviewer), sometimes called the College of Reviewers. These novice peer reviewers receive regular invitations from the same journal, helping them get acquainted with the standards of the journal, and the practice and culture of peer review of the journal. It is not enough to simply invite doctoral students and early career researchers to review; journal editors and experienced reviewers need to provide mentorship opportunities. For example, some journals, such as Advancing Scholarship and Research in Higher Education, adopt a collaborative peer review model, where a group of reviewers, comprising the new and experienced, meet to discuss a manuscript. Elsewhere, I proposed the creation of an additional position on the journal editorial board that focuses on mentoring new peer reviewers for the journal (Chong, 2021). This experienced researcher would co-review with new peer reviewers, providing guidance and support throughout the process of writing up an evaluation report.

A third initiative that I am proposing is to create a repository of doctoral students and early career researchers with a range of expertise in educational research topics and methodologies who are willing to serve as journal peer reviewers. Additional information such as their research backgrounds, reviewing experiences, and sample publications will also be uploaded to the repository. Training will be provided to the peer reviewers who register on the repository, and if they complete the training, this will also be indicated on the system. The repository will be shared with editors of educational research journals who will indicate whether they would be willing to invite a certain number of doctoral students and early career researchers on the repository to review for their journals every year. I also plan to create badges (an idea similar to the open science badges awarded to journals) for these journals who participate in this initiative to show on their websites that they are actively supporting and including doctoral students and early career researchers in their peer review process. I am hoping to begin the consultation and planning phase of this idea later this year. Opinions from journal editors, publishers, and early career researchers will be sought. In preparation for this initiative, several events are being planned. These include a summer school on journal peer review focusing on responding to and providing feedback, and peer review retreats for participants to discuss in small groups about how to respond to peer review feedback they receive or to provide feedback on a manuscript that they are invited to review.

Conclusion

It is of paramount importance that we consider the developmental affordances of peer review for doctoral students and early career researchers in educational research. It is not my intention to downplay the value of “expertise” and “experience”; instead, this piece is an invitation for us to ponder on what “peers” means in “peer review”, and how we can create space and opportunities for junior researchers to make our journal peer review model sustainable and inclusive.

By Sin Wang Chong, the University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Part 2 of 2 Click here for Part 1 of 2

Find out more:

Have you had your say yet?
The HE Education Research Census is live. If you engage in any form of education research and/or scholarship, and are a paid employee of a UK university (on any contractual basis), we want to hear from you!

Please click here to visit the survey page:
https://edu-research.uk/

Author

Dr. Sin-Wang Chong (SFHEA) is a Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in Language Education at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Sin-Wang is Associate Editor of two international refereed journals, Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching (Taylor & Francis) and Higher Education Research & Development (Taylor & Francis). Sin-Wang serves on the governing councils of British Educational Research Association and British Association for Applied Linguistics.

Together with Shannon Mason (Nagasaki University), Sin-Wang founded Scholarly Peers, a platform for supporting doctoral students and early career researchers in journal peer review. Scholarly Peers includes a public Twitter account (@Scholarly_Peers), a website containing a podcast series and a blog, and holds regular events on journal peer review.

References

Chong, S. W. (2021). Improving peer-review by developing reviewers’ feedback literacy. Learned Publishing, 34(3), 461-467.

Supporting doctoral students and early career researchers in journal peer review in educational research: Issues and suggestions (Part 1)

By Sin Wang Chong, the University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Part 1 of 2 Click here for Part 2 of 2

About the HE Education Research UK Blog Series
To raise awareness of the HE Education Research Census and contribute to a conversation about HE education research in the UK, this blog series explores a wide range of issues at the forefront of education research today. It includes blogs from colleagues at all career stages, research areas and nations of the UK. Please get in touch if you too would like to contribute.

Journal peer review is not a topic unfamiliar to doctoral students and early career researchers in educational research. With the prevalence of the “publish-or-perish” culture in academia, researchers’ performance is gauged largely on the quality of publications they produce. An indicator of “quality” in publications is whether the outputs are published in international, peer-reviewed journals. In the discipline of Education, publications in journals indexed in the Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) (i.e., journals with an Impact Factor) are highly valued by universities. Journals indexed in SSCI usually employ a rigorous peer review mechanism to ensure that published research is original and methodologically sound. To most, peer review is a process of checking the quality of manuscripts, implying a hierarchical relationship between peer reviewers and authors. Peer reviewers are often viewed as experts in the area, giving authoritative feedback to authors, who are expected to take up most, if not all, of the suggestions.           

Problematising the current state of peer review in educational research journals

The conception that peer reviewers are gatekeepers of academic journals and experts raises several problems, including limiting participation of doctoral students and early career researchers in the process. First, since peer reviewers are positioned as “experts”, journals prefer to invite experienced and senior researchers who have had a well-established track record of publications in a particular substantive area or using a specific method(ology). Doctoral students and early career researchers are often an “afterthought”; sometimes, junior researchers are invited to review because the original peer reviewer becomes unavailable or in some cases, they are recommended by the original peer reviewer, who is their supervisor.

Viewing peer reviewers as gatekeepers ensures that participants in the review process are insiders, who are acculturated to and aware of the norms and practices of academic publishing. Nevertheless, doctoral students and early career researchers rarely have the chance to get hold of such tacit knowledge because journal peer review is usually not included as part of the doctoral training programme offered by universities. It is surprising to see a lot of university-based initiatives supporting academic writing (e.g., writing retreats) but not preparing doctoral students and early career researchers to navigate the journal peer review process as authors and reviewers. In Chong (2021), I observed that most peer review training resources are provided by international publishers, but they mainly focus narrowly on knowledge building (e.g., what are the stages of peer review?); there is an inadequate coverage on skills-based and community-based approaches to peer review training. In other words, rarely are doctoral students and early career researchers offered opportunities to practise what they know, including reviewing actual manuscripts and receiving feedback on the feedback they provide to the authors. In a collaborative autoethnography that I co-authored with Shannon Mason, both of us felt unsupported and unprepared when we were invited to review. We were unsure of what we should and should not comment on and the expectations from the journal (Chong & Mason, 2021); we were also perplexed about the format and structure of a peer review report (Mason & Chong, 2022). Likewise, doctoral students and early career researchers who receive feedback from reviewers for the first time may be confused by conflicting comments by different reviewers and the conventions of responding to reviewers’ comments.

Conceptualising peer reviewers as experts restricts the number of researchers that are “qualified” to be invited. As a journal editor myself, like many others, I find it increasingly difficult to find suitable peer reviewers, especially during the pandemic. It is not uncommon to send out a dozen invitations before receiving a positive response. It is a “lose-lose” situation: when we continue to reinforce the mindset that only experienced and senior researchers can be journal peer reviewers, it impedes and delays the whole process of peer review because seasoned researchers can only review so much, given their other professional commitments. At the same time, it is a loss to doctoral students and early career researchers because they are rarely given the opportunity to build their confidence in review.

Conclusion

What I am suggesting is that, while the peer reviewing model may be “tried-and-tested” to serve its gatekeeping function, it is not conducive to preparing young researchers to be active contributors and actors in the journal peer review process. Much can be done, if we think creatively and from the perspective of the next generation of educational researchers, to make our journal peer review process more inclusive – one that provides a chance for novice researchers to learn, participate, and shine. I will be discussing some suggestions in the second part of my blog post.

By Sin Wang Chong, the University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Part 1 of 2 Click here for Part 2 of 2

Find out more:

Have you had your say yet?
The HE Education Research Census is live. If you engage in any form of education research and/or scholarship, and are a paid employee of a UK university (on any contractual basis), we want to hear from you!

Please click here to visit the survey page:
https://edu-research.uk/

Author

Dr. Sin-Wang Chong (SFHEA) is a Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in Language Education at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Sin-Wang is Associate Editor of two international refereed journals, Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching (Taylor & Francis) and Higher Education Research & Development (Taylor & Francis). Sin-Wang serves on the governing councils of British Educational Research Association and British Association for Applied Linguistics.

Together with Shannon Mason (Nagasaki University), Sin-Wang founded Scholarly Peers, a platform for supporting doctoral students and early career researchers in journal peer review. Scholarly Peers includes a public Twitter account (@Scholarly_Peers), a website containing a podcast series and a blog, and holds regular events on journal peer review.

References