1.2 Other related approaches

Although the term practitioner research has been used here, there are a number of other approaches which have informed much of the practice and theory of practitioner research, and are often used synonymously with it. These are: action research and action learning, and the scholarship of teaching and learning.

The intention here is not to go into great detail about these other approaches but rather to highlight their existence and the fact that practitioner research is just one of several approaches to understanding, refelcting on and improving teaching and learning.

More information on action research and action learning and the scholarship of teaching and learning can be found in the key references section or in the main ‘Where to go for help’ section.

Action research

Practitioner research, as defined here, draws heavily on action research approaches. Although definitions of action research vary greatly, those offered by Carr and Kemmis and Norton provide a good indication of the main features of action research.

"Action research is simply a form of self-reflective enquiry undertaken by participants in social situations in order to improve the rationality and justice of their own practices, their understanding of these practices, and the situations in which the practices are carried out" (Carr and Kemmis, 1986

"The fundamental purpose of action research is to systematically investigate one’s own teaching/learning facilitation practice with the dual aim of modifying practice and contributing to theoretical knowledge" (Norton, 2009, p. xvi)

Key to action research is the action research cycle which is suggested here as a means of structuring your practitioner research.

Action learning

As its name suggests, action learning shares many of the features of action research and is now increasingly recognised and promoted in HE as a means of encouraging teachers to reflect on and improve their own practice. The focus of action learning is that teachers learn with and from each other, and thus is very much a group activity.

The distinction between action research and action learning is sometimes viewed as the distinction between research and learning in general. Kember (2000, p. 35) identifies the outcomes of action learning as "usually confined to the individual or fellow members of the learning group or class". Action research, by contrast, is "more systematic and rigorous, and its outcomes are normally made public".

The point made by Kember is that all action research projects are action learning projects but that not all action learning is action research.

Scholarship of teaching and learning

The scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) is an increasingly widely used term in Higher Education, although excatly what it means in practice is still open to debate.

A useful description of University teachers likely to engage in SoTL activity is provided by Norton, drawing on earlier work by Trigwell et al:

"a readiness to understand teaching by consulting and using the literature on teaching and learning, investigating their own teaching, reflecting on their own teaching (from the perspective of their intentions in teaching) and by communicating their ideas and practices to their peers" (Norton, 2009, p. 38)

Although Trigwell views SoTL very much as teaching practice rather than pedagogic research (Trigwell and Shale, 2004), this description is not a million miles away from either Norton's definition of pedagogical action research, above, or Campbell et al's (2004) earlier definition of practitioner research. Indeed, Norton sees pedagogical action research as a way of "enabling us to engage actively with the theoretical knowledge that underpins the scholarship of teaching and learning" (Norton, 2009, p. 45).

As such, the scholarship of teaching and learning is probably best viewed as a concept which, at the very least, involves practitioner research at some level and for most HE teachers is synomymous with practitioner research.

Last modified: Tuesday, 4 Mar 2014, 16:04