Building good L&T research literature: A modest proposal

Here in Maastricht, we’re having some big discussions. The 1st European Conference on Learning & Teaching in Politics, IR and European Studies might have a long title, but it’s also proving to be an excellent space for stepping outside our usual roles and settings.

Creating space for reflection.

Pace the usual caveats about the dangers of blue-skies-thinking at conferences, I’ve been usefully forced to consider some aspects of my practice and of our broader community of practice.

One issue that we’ve talked about is bringing L&T back to research, and how we publish on this. As was variously noted by delegates, there’s ever more good stuff out there – witness the recently-updated IPED database – but it’s still subject to assorted weaknesses.

Here’s not really the place to get into that in broad terms, but a quick conversation with @chrisgold, @Alison_Statham and Simon Lightfoot over coffee illustrates one of them.

As Chris noted, there’s a distinct lack of long-run data in L&T research: we tend to do something relatively quick with the students we are currently teaching, so the likelihood of cohort effects is that much higher.

That’s probably a reasonable consequence of the multiple pressures we all face, and the relative lack of funding to support bigger research projects: most people do such things off their own bat.

However, if we want to get something that is more robust, and more generalisable, then we need to think about how we can escape such a trap.

An idea for this might be create a network of colleagues, who between them could commit to try and run long-run evaluations of different aspects of L&T. Most simply, that would be with everyone teaching a similar subject area, to improve comparability, but it wouldn’t be essential.

Having a network would have three distinct benefits. Firstly, it would allow for work to be shared out, so no one person had to carry the full burden. Secondly, it would increase sample sizes considerably. And finally, it would give some resilience, should individuals have to drop out.

This last point is particularly pertinent, given the increasingly high rate of institutional change that we are experiencing. I would love it (as might colleagues) if we knew what we were doing for the next five years, but for many it’s more like five months. Hence a network could even some of that out.

That network would need to agree a programme of work: perhaps evaluation of particular pedagogies, either individually or in comparative terms; assessment practices; other elements of student learning or support. Essentially, the full range of classroom-based elements in L&T.

Methodologies for collecting baseline and subsequent data would have to be agreed, perhaps with individuals or groups taking responsibility for particular elements.

Essentially, this would be about facilitating pedagogic research, with opportunities to produce a stream of outputs on both pedagogic factors and on the network itself. Moreover, it would serve to improve sharing of practice between members, especially if there was a presumption of openness to additional members and a publicly-available research protocol.

The problems are probably self-evident, but the central one is finding people to make it happen: Certainly, none of us leapt at the opportunity during our discussion.

So I throw it out to the world for your thoughts. Even if it doesn’t happen, it might stimulate further reflection, and that’s got to be a good thing.