Your SlideShare is downloading. ×
Developing a research-led culture within post-92 education departments: exploring barriers, problems and potential solutions - Tricia Le Gallais
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in...5

Thanks for flagging this SlideShare!

Oops! An error has occurred.


Saving this for later?

Get the SlideShare app to save on your phone or tablet. Read anywhere, anytime - even offline.

Text the download link to your phone

Standard text messaging rates apply

Developing a research-led culture within post-92 education departments: exploring barriers, problems and potential solutions - Tricia Le Gallais


Published on

Presentation at HEA-funded workshop 'Developing a research-led culture within post-92 education departments'. …

Presentation at HEA-funded workshop 'Developing a research-led culture within post-92 education departments'.

This event will brought together colleagues from across the sector with an interest in research leadership and building a research-led culture. The event facilitated a discussion through which participants could explore/identify key elements that form barriers, as well as those that support, the development of a research-led culture.

This presentation is part of a related blog post that provides an overview of the event:

For further details of the HEA's work on active and experiential learning in the Social Sciences see:

Published in: Education, Technology

  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total Views
On Slideshare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

Report content
Flagged as inappropriate Flag as inappropriate
Flag as inappropriate

Select your reason for flagging this presentation as inappropriate.

No notes for slide


  • 1. Developing a research-led culture within post 92 Education Department A workshop exploring barriers, problems and potential solutions Tricia Le Gallais Birmingham City University HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 1
  • 2. An outline of this workshop  Introduction to the topic  Discussion of the following three key areas, followed by a summary of relevant literature in this field • Barriers to developing a research-led culture (in post 92 Education Departments) • Pressures • Potential solutions  A case study of a post 92 Education Department HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 2
  • 3. Introduction  This workshop aims to facilitate a discussion about the reluctance on the part of a number of academics to engage with both research and academic writing. Whilst much has been written about academics’ experience of teaching, far less time has been assigned to an examination of their perceptions of research and the practice of academic writing in HE institutions.  There are particular difficulties faced by lecturers joining post 1992 universities, where their sense of professional identity as lecturers may well be challenged by the increasing demands placed upon them to conduct and publish research in academic journals in line with REF requirements. HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 3
  • 4. Questions that need answering! What are the key barriers to staff becoming  more research focussed?  more willing to accept the role of researcher and academic writer within their professional identity as lecturers? HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 4
  • 5. Barriers ?  The increasing diversity in the backgrounds of staff entering universities means that one can no longer assume academic staff are ‘automatically both able and willing to write’ (Moore 2003).  Staff hired as lecturers, usually from a successful background as teachers, lawyers, etc., saw teaching as their primary function  (in consequence) people were quite likely to describe themselves as ‘teachers’ or ‘lecturers’. Indeed, there was even some reluctance to identify as an academic (Sikes 2006: 558)  Such staff were also likely to be anxious about their ability to carry out research at the level required….. HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 5
  • 6. …..Barriers?  Staff lacked confidence, especially about having to put their work in the public arena where their managers and colleagues could judge their competence as academic writers  Inadequate appropriate time and space  A lack of clarity in defining which functions have primacy at a specific time (which results in) task confusion and a decrease in satisfaction and productivity. (Macleod 2012:643-4)  A culture unconducive to research with researchers feeling isolated and alone  Mixed messages from managers and colleagues regarding the value of research and academic writing and conflicting demands of teaching, marking administration, research and writing HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 6
  • 7. Mixed messages  ‘The moving goal of what it is to be a ‘proper academic’…leaves staff uncertain about what is valued since ‘espoused and actual values did not seem to match’. (Clegg 2008: 336)  If the impetus is towards research and all the status and brownie points are attached to research then what does that say about teaching? (Sikes: 2006)  … being told that everything I had was worth nothing [because I] didn’t have the publications – really it was gob smacking. (Archer 2008: 390) HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 7
  • 8. More mixed messages  ‘I don’t think [writing] is valued. ..If I said to someone I can’t attend the meeting because I am writing up an article, that wouldn’t be well received... If you were sitting around writing, you were skiving. ‘ (Murray 2011: 10-11)  Tensions…between those individuals who wish to research and publish, and those who feel the focus of their work should remain on teaching…may impact on departmental peer support for research active staff. (Morss & Murray 2001: 38)  Writing is, perhaps, still seen by many staff to be the province of ‘a select, privileged or elite few’ (Macleod 2012: 641) HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 8
  • 9. And pressures?  Any thoughts on the types of pressures which might cause reluctance to engage in research? HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 9
  • 10. Pressures identified in the literature  Workload – too many primary tasks!  REF – more in a moment!  Own PhD or other studies  Family commitments HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 10
  • 11. THE SHADOW OF THE REF  December 2013, the date for the REF found many academic staff experiencing increasing pressure from their universities to produce the requisite number of published articles.  As mentioned previously, the difficulty for some staff, particularly those in post 1992 universities, is that they may not identify themselves as academic writers or indeed researchers but as educators. HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 11
  • 12. The REF: (dis)encouraging research?  Research into the impact of the REF(RAE) identifies a range of emotions: • I do not agree with the RAE at all…It is divisive and inimitable to good teaching and scholarship. (Sociologist, old university, Harley 2002: 202) • (Kate’s) sum value/worth as a potential academic had been quantified and assessed through the lack of publications on her CV. (Archer 2008: 390) • I am proud to be a teacher but that doesn’t seem to count for much anymore (Sikes 2006: 561)  But there are many others, (especially those in post 1992 HEIs) who feel that research now has a higher profile HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 12
  • 13. Potential solutions?  What strategies have you and your organisation tried and how successful have you been in encouraging a research-led culture? HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 13
  • 14. Strategies tried at other universities  One Day courses on academic writing, how to start writing, how to publish in academic journals – generally thought to be of little real use in challenging and changing attitudes towards research and writing  Writing groups – felt to need considerable support through convenors to oversee and organise and keep up the momentum. Researchers agreed that these could work if the culture was right by creating a sense of common purpose and a shared goals and interests – leading to a community of research practice… (see next slide) HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 14
  • 15. e.g. Setting up writing groups  Inexperienced writers often have a lack of confidence about writing which can lead to a reluctance to start…There has been an agreement on confidentiality (within the writing group) so that people feel they can discuss their fears and weaknesses without fear of them being repeated outside the group. (Lee & Boud 2003: 192)  Our differences are many—gender, rank, discipline, style and genre—but in this time and space, writing is the tie that binds us…There’s a certain energy in the air that helps people be productive and creates a spirit that’s collegial and supportive. We become allies rather than trying to compete with each other. (Elbow and Sorcinelli 2006: 18…22)  …the purpose of having regular discussions at every meeting was to build a community of research practice through writing (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998). (Murray 2002: 3-4) HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 15
  • 16. Further strategies tried at other universities  Research seminars – these were not felt to be enough on their own. They were excellent for reinforcing the place of research in the organisation and in ensuring colleagues knew what was going on in the research field. However, it tended to be the converted who attended  Utilising Containment Theory to ensure staff spent time on the primary task before them rather than attempting to respond to several primary task simultaneously (Macleod 2012)  Writing retreats – these came in various shapes and sizes but generally it was felt that these did the most to engender a research culture where writing was celebrated as a worthwhile and valued activity HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 16
  • 17. e.g. Attending a writing retreat  Being able to become totally engaged in writing was another common theme that participants identified as important. Moore 2003: 336)  I was aware at the writer’s retreat of the frustration, of feeling that you were attempting to achieve something that was very challenging, and I suppose the intensity of the writer’s retreat meant that on a consistent basis you were having to face that frustration over the course of the weekend, whereas in daily practice, instead of facing that frustration, I think I avoid it sometimes. (Lecturer, Macleod 2012: 647)  It was quite a nourishing and supported environment …you used the lunches and coffee breaks to talk about issues that you were working on. It was concentration but relaxation. (ibid., 651) HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 17
  • 18. Longer term impact of writing retreats  (Staff) made practical changes: writing more frequently for shorter periods of time, prioritising time to write, protecting time to write and using targets to develop a greater sense of focus and achievement. This involved changing how they thought about writing, in terms of demystifying the process of writing for publication, experiencing it as achievable and considering it a valid use of their time (i.e. seeing it as the primary task). (Macleod 2012: 651)  A caveat! The writing retreat has benefits, but it is not a panacea; organisations must be clear about workloads, roles and tasks. While there is evidence that structured retreats have impact, they cannot overcome organisational practices that contribute to lack of clarity about primary tasks and otherwise contribute to anxiety. (ibid., 653) HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 18
  • 19. Case study: creating a supportive research culture at BCU Over the years we have tried a range of strategies to engender a climate conducive to research and academic writing including:  Research seminars where staff and students share their work  Visiting speakers  Taught sessions on, for example, writing for publication And more recently  A Research Café  Writing buddies  and the Writing Retreats HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 19
  • 20. The research café  The research café’s success was immediate and very visible  On average about 20 staff regularly attend, share their research, support each other, enjoy a delightful buffet and leave, hopefully refreshed and inspired about research in the Faculty  It has become a meeting place for staff across the Faculty, where staff celebrate the wide range of research being carried out across ELSS  It has, for me, been a chance to meet ELSS colleagues personally and to encourage more of them to attend the writing retreat HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 20
  • 21. Writing buddies  All you need are approachable people, who are enthusiastic about research and keen to bring on new researchers. It is a really rewarding role!  Sometimes buddying is informal, at other times there is a degree of nudging to bring someone to the point where they realise a buddy could help with their writer’s block, etc. HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 21
  • 22. Our writing retreats  The very first retreat, organised through BCU’s Centre for Research in Education took place over 1.5 days in July 2011 at Woodbrooke Conference Centre.  Since then we have held further retreats at Woodbrooke in July 2012, again for the School of Education  and in 2013 we opened the retreats to the whole Faculty of Education, Law and Social Sciences  The most recent retreat took place in February 2014 with 28 participants. We now run four retreats a year  Opening the retreat to the whole of ELSS staff has facilitated a greater sense of being part of a wider Faculty. Collaborative research links are already taking place across Faculty HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 22
  • 23. So, where does our retreat take place? HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 23
  • 24. The venue is a crucial part of the retreat!  The venue plays an important, indeed vital part in the overall success of the retreat. Colleagues referred particularly to the calming atmosphere and the beauty of the surroundings and to the internal and external space which afforded opportunities to reflect in tranquillity, while walking in the extensive grounds or to relax with colleagues in the lounge or to sit at a laptop in isolation The comments below encapsulate the feelings of all the delegates:  A truly wonderful space and atmosphere in which to work. The staff were most warm and welcoming. Inspiring!  The calm, peace and quiet promoted thinking and engagement. It was excellent.  The grounds offered quiet thinking time away from the structured environment of an office which was much appreciated. HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 24
  • 25. And how does our Writing Retreat work?  Very simply! We advertise across the Faculty asking for expressions of interest.  Both seasoned and new researchers are welcome. Our only expectation is that colleagues come with a clear purpose regarding a research task or perhaps a collaborative project – and at the close of the retreat we ask for evidence of outcomes, such drafting a paper, preparing for a conference, etc…  Our numbers have increased steadily from 15 to the high twenties  Following each retreat we send out evaluation requests, which help us to assess the value of the retreats for both individuals and the Faculty as a whole HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 25
  • 26. The key objectives of our writing retreat  To create an environment for the delegates which offers mental and physical space for them to think without the usual time constraints and to reflect upon potential and actual areas of research.  To provide the right atmosphere and research ethos to enable delegates to set pen to paper, possibly complete a draft for a conference or an article for a journal.  To be a vital step in our efforts to build a sense of community amongst the participating researchers. All too often researchers work in isolation. HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 26
  • 27. During the retreat  Formal ‘taught’ sessions as requested  Flexible spaces to work in  Informal meeting and buddying opportunities  Regular breaks with everything laid on We have observed a gradual change from colleagues working on their own research within a supportive environment to one where staff are identifying those with expertise in different areas and utilising the retreat to draw on that expertise – it is becoming a community of researchers of its own accord HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 27
  • 28. Regular breaks and superb meals - all part of the cherishing! HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 28
  • 29. AIM: To creating an environment for the delegates which offers mental and physical space Delegates’ comments:  The calm, peace and quiet promoted thinking and engagement. It was excellent. The grounds offered quiet thinking time away from a structured environment of an office which was much appreciated.  The atmosphere is ideal for the retreat. The tranquility is amazing and just what a ‘space-to-research- starved soul’ needs.  I can't think of how you could make this a more appropriate venue. It gets everything right. A peaceful, reflective space. Same again please! HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 29
  • 30. Working alongside fellow researchers HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 30
  • 31. AIM: To provide the right atmosphere and research ethos to enable delegates to set pen to paper Delegates’ comments:  I needed to make peer reviewer changes to my draft article. I managed to achieve a great deal by making recommended changes and working on the comments.  I revised two presentations and made a 'to do' list! I started a conference paper for later on in the year.  I pulled together the first draft of an article drawing on a previous research project. ..I'd been putting this off as it seemed a luxury to dedicate time to writing articles and I was convinced it would take a least a week to pull all the data together. The environment was obviously conducive to writing for me and had a positive impact. HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 31
  • 32. Varied study spaces HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 32
  • 33. HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 33
  • 34. AIM: To engender a sense of supportive fellowship amongst those present Delegates’ comments:  I did not really believe that I had research suitable for working up into a journal article, until I discussed my ideas at the writing retreat.  I had the opportunity to work for many hours with my writing buddy and was able to resolve issues and answer questions.  Whereas in the university time is always so precious with teaching time going on, within the relaxed environment this was much easier to have constructive and critical conversations.  Being part of a learning/research community is of huge personal significance and enables me to engage in a profound and meaningful way with research practice. HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 34
  • 35. Staff and students working together HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 35
  • 36. AIM: To be a vital step in our efforts to build a sense of community amongst the participating researchers. Delegates’ comments:  (The retreat was) a worthwhile opportunity that allows you the chance to think outside of the fast pace of university space and speak with those who, ordinarily, you may not get the opportunity to speak to.  (It offered) the opportunity for collegial exchange, stimulating discussion and time for reflection. This retreat embeds research into the calendar rather than it being something done in time left over from managerial time and teaching.  The writing awaydays have proved once again to be a research haven, encouraging reflection, sharing resources and reinforcing a real sense of community amongst those fortunate enough to be there.HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 36
  • 37. Sense of community HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 37
  • 38. The value of attendance at the retreat as described by delegates What came across very strongly from delegates was that they felt valued by the university, their managers and the Education Department.  I feel that I am valued and that the constraints of my day job are recognised.  It is a valuable opportunity to put time aside. When working full time there are other pressures that sometimes mean research get put on the 'back burner'. The retreat validates what we are doing and means we can be focused.  I feel a valued member of a team and enjoy the opportunity to have a dialogue with members of the early childhood research team whom I normally only see in corridors or at formal meetings when they are busy and stressed.  I really valued being asked to go on the writing retreat as it allowed me to completely focus on my writing without any other intrusions.HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 38
  • 39. Some key reflections about the retreat  The venue is a vital component of the writing retreat  The importance of time away from desks, emails, etc., is reinforced through the mental and physical space of the retreat  The retreat facilitates the sense of shared endeavour and purpose and supports the act of writing – working towards a community of research practice  The financial outlay the Faculty commits to the retreat is a clear acknowledgement of the legitimacy of research and research practices within the Faculty and involvement in the retreat gives a sense of worth and value to the individual researcherHEA @ Worcester University March 2014 39
  • 40. Continuing concerns Comments are still being expressed about mixed messages:  Research is valued but there is conflict regarding precedence of other tasks, such as invigilation – ‘research time is always the first thing to go’.  The unhelpful setting of teaching versus research remains an issue and endangers staff relationships.  Low self esteem regarding research capabilities – ‘I thought you’d tell me I had nothing worth sharing’.  Some staff still find it hard to identify themselves as an ‘academic’  The low esteem of those whose total commitment is to their teaching, who feel the REF has changed what is important in the Faculty  The anxiety of those not selected for returning to the REF, despite their efforts to meet the criteriaHEA @ Worcester University March 2014 40
  • 41. Closing thoughts  There are complex reasons for some academics not engaging with research or not writing.  Often workloads are blamed or the lack of uninterrupted time and a suitable space; however, I believe that there is much more to this dilemma than the parade of the usual and obvious suspects.  Academic identities also need to be considered. How do staff see themselves and how are they perceived by others, in particular their management.  Dealing with the practical aspects of how and where to publish fails to touch the part that needs to be addressed, namely the emotional aspects of being and becoming a writer  We at BCU have sought to address the above areas through a package of strategies. We hope we are moving towards the development of a community of researchers, who feel valued and confident that research and writing are as legitimate and rewarding an activity as lecturing. HEA @ Worcester University March 2014 41