HEPPP Featured Researcher – Ciaran Burke

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Photo of Ciaran Burke

When writing this piece, I undertook the slightly scary process of counting how many years it has been since graduating with my PhD; I am fast approaching my first decade of post-graduate life after graduating in 2012. A native of Belfast, I attended Queen’s University studying single hons Sociology, and, subsequently, I won a Northern Ireland Department of Employment and Learning PhD studentship which allowed me to pursue my doctoral research full-time. The focus of the thesis was examining the role of social class on graduate employment trajectories. Upon graduation, I was appointed as a lecturer in Sociology at Ulster University, a process that sounds quite straightforward but one which I will always feel very lucky to have gone through. It was at Ulster University that I started my teaching career, completed my Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education and Practice and gained my fellowship of the HEA. From Ulster, I made my way across to England, working initially as a lecturer in Plymouth University and then as an Associate Professor in University of Derby before finding my home at UWE.

At UWE, I am an Associate Professor of Higher Education within the Department of Education and Childhood. Like many of us, my role spans a whole range of topics, including teaching and supervising undergraduate, masters and doctoral students. In addition, I am heavily involved in curriculum development, and I sit on several committees and boards, including Faculty Board. Through my roles as UWE, I am fortunate to be able to pursue and apply my research interests into my teaching, supervision and wider University responsibilities. I have developed a broad range of research interests since graduating with my PhD which all sit within the broad remit of widening participation and social justice. I have continued to research issues around graduate employment including undergraduates’ understanding of the labour market and support required from universities, the graduate pathways of dancers and actors to think more broadly about the impact of the growing trend of portfolio careers and to conceptualize a critical understanding of “graduate resilience”. In addition, I have been lucky enough to be involved in pedagogical research on formative feedback and the impact of student peer review, research on post-16 education choices, widening participation in higher education, careers policy and support for service pupils in primary and secondary schools.

One research passion that sits outside of my main focus (what I get invited to talk about or what I get invited to examine a doctoral thesis on) is ableism and method within social sciences. In a non-book-plugging fashion … I have an edited book coming out at the end of this month with Dr. Bronagh Byrne (Queen’s University Belfast) entitled “Social Research and Disability: Developing Inclusive Research Spaces for Disabled Researchers”. In the book, we discuss what I’ve termed “epistemic ableism” – effectively, we argue that all social science methods, whether influenced by Positivism or Interpretivism, are inherently ableist due to the narrow concept of rigour. We suggest that social science has not really moved on since the establishment of the discipline in the late 19th Century in terms of its pre-occupation with rigour to demonstrate its scientific credentials. It is not to say that I or anyone else in the book does not see the merit of rigour; however, in its current form, this is a disabling and exclusionary set of criteria. I make the point in my own chapter that this issue is more acute for early researchers – in particular, doctoral research – in establishing the rules and expectations of social research. Instead, we advocate for a rethink on what constitutes rigour, and this starts with university departments approaching how we teach methods and, importantly, how we assess and examine research. 

I wanted to end this blog entry by talking a little bit about what I do outside of the office and in my spare time, but I’m not sure many of us have that at the minute! I do have aspirations to read more Philip Pullman, and I’m counting my four-year old’s early interest in Fantastic Mr. Fox as a major win. I’d be really happy to talk with anyone about my research and, in particular, ableism and method.

You can find me on my UWE profile page and on Twitter @ciaranburkesoc

HEPPP Research Network update

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The research network was launched at UWE’s Festival of Learning in June 2020. It’s purpose is to bring together colleagues across UWE, and beyond, who are interested in research related to higher education pedagogies, policy and practice, including the evaluation of teaching. Through providing opportunities for networking and collaboration, the HEPPP research network aims to support UWE’s Strategy 2030 in developing a practice-led, evidence-informed approach to its own higher education ambitions.

The network’s MS Teams space now has over 60 members. Funding opportunities, including UWE’s own Pedagogic Projects, are being promoted through the HEPPP website and a series of writing retreats have been set up. It’s first major event, the Expertise Symposium, was a resounding success, and more events and activities are being planned as the network gradually picks up momentum.

Contact the convenor, Helen King, for more information about the network, to join the Teams space or offer a contribution to the blog or series of activities.

HEPPP Featured Researcher – Helen King

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I’m currently the Deputy Director of UWE Bristol’s Academic Practice Directorate (APD) and convenor of the HEPPP research network. I’ve been been working in educational development since I completed my geoscience PhD in 1996. I fell into my career through an opportunity to manage a UK-wide project to enable and support staff development in the Earth Sciences. Following this I became Assistant Director of the Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Geography, Earth & Environmental Sciences (GEES)(2000 – 2007). Moving to the USA for three years in 2007, I was able to take advantage of my international contacts and connect and collaborate with geoscience education colleagues in the UK, USA and Australia. On my return to the UK, I spent several months as a Senior Adviser with the Higher Education Academy (HEA) before taking up the position of Head of Academic Staff Development at the University of Bath. In 2016 I had the opportunity to explore a different angle of higher education, through a Senior Policy Adviser role at the Higher Education Funding Council for England and, in 2018, was delighted to join UWE Bristol and the newly formed APD.

My areas of work with UWE Bristol are wide-ranging and varied. I am a module leader on the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Professional Practice as well as teaching on two other modules in the programme and running workshops on learning design and our HEA Fellowship Scheme. I work with teams across the University to support the design and review of academic programmes through our Enhancement Framework. Amongst my other activities I am the Faculty Partner for Arts, Creative Industries & Education (ACE), review HEA Fellowship applications, and work with colleagues in the APD to deliver our Pedagogic Projects funding. And, of course, in my role as Deputy Director I spend a lot of time attending and contributing to committees and other meetings! I’m fortunate to be able to maintain external connections through the University Alliance Teaching & Learning Network, the Heads of Educational Development Group and in my new role as Vice-Chair of the Staff & Educational Development Association (SEDA). I am also external examiner at the University of Limerick, and have recently been appointed Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Queensland.

My research interests have previously been fairly broad and I’ve presented and published widely. Recently, however, I have particularly focused on my long-term passion of supporting professional development for teaching in higher education, and this has led me to explore the characteristics of expertise in teaching in HE. After conducting some small-scale research with National Teaching Fellowship holders I developed a model which connects the generic characteristics of expertise to the practice of teaching in HE. To explore this further I convened what was going to be a small, one-day, on-campus symposium and turned out to be a fantastically interesting and energising week-long live and asynchronous on-line event with over 500 registrants from the UK and across the globe! I am now working with the contributors to publish a book from the symposium, and am also writing a publication on ‘Improving your Teaching: professional development for busy academics’. Linking to my interest in professional development, I instigated and now lead the HEPPP research network to connect colleagues across the University and beyond, and I am second supervisor for an EdD candidate at UWE and informal / third supervisor for a colleague undertaking an education doctorate at the University of Exeter. And, of course, I practice what I preach and ensure I consider my own professional development, for which I’m proud to have been awarded a National Teaching Fellowship (2006), Senior Fellowship of SEDA (2006), and Principal Fellow of the HEA (2017).

Outside of work I’m a keen (but slow) trail runner, nascent Bluegrass banjo player, and leader at Steeple Ashton Girl Guides.

Connect with me via Twitter (@drhelenking #expertiseLTHE, #HEPPP_UWE), LinkedIn or my website.

2020 Expertise Symposium

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Word cloud of feedback from participants at the closing session of the Expertise Symposium

The first event hosted by the HEPPP research network was the inaugural ‘Exploring Expertise in Teaching in Higher Education’ symposium. This event was predicated on the pioneering research of HEPPP convenor, Helen King, and featured presentations from over 25 contributors from the UK, Australia, Canada, China, the Netherlands and USA. Originally intended to be a 30-participant, local event on campus at UWE Bristol, the opportunity for live and asynchronous activity online opened up by the Covid-19 pandemic meant that over 500 participants registered to attend from all over the world!

The event was hugely successful and launched an exciting “new discourse” (Jackie Potter) for teaching in higher education. See Twitter #expertiseLTHE

The presentations were categorised into four topics: Perspectives on Expertise, Pedagogical Content Knowledge, Learning & Development, and Artistry of Teaching. The latter three topics being the interacting dimensions of Helen’s model of the characteristics of expertise in teaching in higher education(HE) which draws from the generic characteristics explored in the extensive expertise literature.

Videos of all the presentations are available as a playlist on UWE’s Academic Practice Directorate YouTube channel.

A number of common themes arose from the 15 live presentations, 13 asynchronous videos and participant chat (see summary video on YouTube).

  • Teaching as a community endeavour:
    The benefits of collaboration, pair-teaching, sharing perspectives and expertises, and learning from other disciplines.
  • Reflection:
    “Understanding our own experiences so we can develop our pedagogies” (Leo Africano). Reflection from multiple perspectives including scholarship.
    This links to improvisation in teaching: noticing, dialogue and dynamic reflection-in-action.
  • Expertise as Care:
    The importance of respectful relationships with our students, breaking down barriers, empathy.
    Caring about what you do as a teacher, being motivated by wanting to do your best and improve your students’ learning.
    Caring for ourselves and managing the emotional labour of teaching.
  • Teaching-Learning Interaction:
    From examples of pair-teaching and mentoring, we learn from supporting others in their teaching. We learn from our own teaching, and when we have opportunities to be learners we learn about teaching from that perspective.
    Dsygu = the Welsh word for teaching and learning.
  • Performance:
    Performance is not acting or pretending to be someone else. It’s about being yourself with an audience. Acknowledging and supporting the development of one’s teaching authenticity / persona.
    Balancing our multiple personas / identities as professional practitioners, researchers and teachers – the “identity wobble board” (Rachel Wood). How does our identity shift as our pedagogy evolves?

This symposium was presented as an inaugural event to be followed up in 2021/22 with a second event hosted by another institution. Watch this space for more information!

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