Monthly Archives: March 2017

Higher Education Pedagogic research as Cinderella: Thoughts on recent article by Cotton, Miller and Kneale (2017)

D. R. E. Cotton, W. Miller, and P. Kneale (2017) The Cinderella of academia: Is higher education pedagogic research undervalued in UK research assessment? Studies In Higher Education

I thought I’d share a few thoughts on Cotton et al’s recent paper on the status of pedagogic research. As an HE pedagogic researcher myself, it is tempting to nod my head profusely taking comfort in the knowledge that there are a few people out there who understand the situation.

The central trust of the paper concerns the 2014 Research Excellence Framework and the particular politics surrounding the inclusion and exclusion of HE research in the Education ‘Unit of Assessment’. Cotton et al also touch on the fact that many HE pedagogic researchers have teaching-only contracts or are non-academic staff and are therefore intelligible for the REF. I was a non-academic member of staff in my previous job, so my research, for good or ill, was not visible to the university’s processes. Even though there were advantages to being off the ‘REF radar’, being a ‘non-academic’ meant that my research was somehow invisible to the university.

My main point of interest in this article was the authors’ discussion of the relationship (or lack of relationship) between pedagogic research and Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). I have long been concerned about Boyer’s (1990) separation of SoTL from the ‘Scholarship of Discovery’ (that is original research that advances knowledge):

To most academics, scholarship means reading papers and being informed, not undertaking primary research. So when pedagogic research and SoTL are conflated, it implicitly devalues the former. To make further progress in developing the profile of pedagogic research, and integrate it into research assessment, high quality pedagogic research should be viewed as something quite distinct from SoTL. Whilst it may contribute to teaching enhancement in HE (as may discipline-based research through the research–teaching nexus), until it is viewed inherently as a research endeavour, rather than as ‘scholarship’, submitting HE pedagogic research into the REF will continue to be open to challenge. (Cotton et al 2017)

I played a small role (Masika et al 2016) in the recent HEA-funded SoTL project cited by Cotton et al (Fanghanel et al 2016) carrying out interviews with people in educational development units about SoTL at the institutional level. My personal conclusion in carrying out the interviews was that rather than being contested, SoTL is a concept which few people have any views on. This distinction is important – it is not that people have different understandings of SoTL that is the issue, but that SoTL seems to have an almost mystical, deistic status. We believe SoTL exists, but do not agree what it is and behave as if its existence has no material consequences.

When SoTL and pedagogic research are conflated we end up in a situation where quality research into higher education teaching and learning is given parity of esteem with the practice of reading a book or article on teaching every now and again which is reported institutionally as ‘participating in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning’.


Boyer, E. L. (1990), Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

Cotton, D. R. E; W. Miller, and P. Kneale (2017) The Cinderella of academia: Is higher education pedagogic research undervalued in UK research assessment? Studies In Higher Education

Fanghanel, J., J. Pritchard, J. Potter, and G. Wisker. 2016. Defining and Supporting the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL): A Sector Wide Study. HEA Report.

Masika, Rachel, Wisker, Gina and Canning, John (2016) Defining and supporting the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL): A sector-wide study, SoTL Case Studies[. York: HEA

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