Getting on the road with your education research

In this week’s guest blog, Dr Charlotte Chalmers,  Lecturer and Teaching Fellow, within the School of Life Sport and Social Sciences at Edinburgh Napier University, reflects on her recent experiences of developing education research.

During the past year, I have been fortunate enough to travel to India and China as part of our development of joint programmes with overseas partners. These visits (as well as being fascinating) have given me an insight into how Higher Education in the UK (and particularly Scottish education) is viewed by other countries. For example, in China, I visited a city with a medical/nursing college as large as Edinburgh Napier University. Here, in a country not short of specialist teaching expertise, there was great enthusiasm amongst the staff for the opportunities provided by our programmes not only for the cultural exchange, but for the teaching of critical thinking, developing students who take an analytical approach to their subject, and reflect on their practice. This got me thinking about the importance of education research in Higher Education. Perhaps part of the reason why our education system is so valued by our overseas partners is that we adopt that same questioning and analytical approach to our own practice, and continue to investigate what works in education, and why.SAM_0512

Since becoming a Teaching Fellow, I have undertaken several studies into teaching and assessment practice, taking advantage of the funding available via the “teaching development” grants. The questions I have pursued are ones which interest me, they are not likely to bring about an earth shattering discovery of some teaching or assessment method which transforms Higher Education, but progress and change are made up of small steps, and of course it is important to question practice, and to support developments with evidence. Sometimes ideas come from personal experiences of learning, for example, the latest piece of work I undertook was to investigate how the language used in feedback seems to vary according to the medium used. This followed a visit I made to a museum at which I used one of the audio guides, and was really impressed by how much easier it was for me to take on board audio information, compared to reading endless “interpretation boards”. I felt that for students, receiving audio feedback would provide an opportunity to take in information in a different way.

If you decide to go ahead with an application for a TF development grant, you will need to think about the ethics of your study. You must apply to the relevant ethics committee which are found under the Faculty web pages (for example http://www.napier.ac.uk/faculties/health-life-social-sciences/research/ethics/Pages/Ethics-Research-Governance-Committee.aspx) and be given approval before you collect any data, but in order to write your application, you will need to detail what you want to do, how, and why. Understandably, an ethics committee is not going to allow anyone to charge ahead with data collection which has no achievable outcomes, but might upset your student or staff sample in the process.

In applying for a TF grant, it is worth considering the short time frame in which you have to spend the money! Once your application is submitted, and your ethical approval forms are in, there is a wait of a few weeks, so you will lose some of the semester in which you might be planning to collect data. So, plan well in advance, have all your documents ready for submission, and if you make an application in August, you might do your data collection in the second trimester, so long as you use your TF money before the end of June the following year.  Avoid trying to appoint a research assistant to your project, there just isn’t time to go through this process.

So, get started, ask the questions, think about what we do and why, and don’t lose sight of the fact that the approach we take to our own practice is something which we can transmit to our students, both here and overseas.

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