Researching Teaching Quality in Higher Education: Ethical and Methodological Issues
Criminology and Sociology University of Teesside Middlesbrough, UK
Department of Educational Research Lancaster University Lancaster, UK
Institute for Research in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education University of Nottingham Nottingham, UK
School of Education University of Nottingham Nottingham, United Kingdom
On an international level there has been a growth in the use of university learning and teaching quality systems which are designed to evaluate and make transparent the quality of undergraduate degree courses (OECD, 2008). However, there is much evidence to suggest that such systems simply reinforce existing economic and social inequalities between countries, universities, students and their staff (Abbas and Mclean, 2007). The basis of the paper is a three-year UK Research Council funded project designed to explore fairer, sociologically informed ways of conceptualising teaching quality. A multi-method approach to fieldwork is employed to develop an understanding of teaching quality in four sociology university departments. The early part of our fieldwork has thrown up both the advantages and challenges of researching a sensitive topic in our own area of employment. It appears as if our own positions as academics and sociologists in different institutions and departments has both facilitated access and also caused difficulties. In addition, the sensitivity of the topic raises a host of ethical issues which require particularly delicate handling. In this paper we demonstrate how we have conceptualised our own position in the field utilising the concepts and theories of Basil Bernstein (2000) which have provided an initial framework with which we have begun to gain insight into the methodological and ethical challenges we face.
Abbas, A. and McLean, M. (2007) Qualitative research as a method for making just comparisons of pedagogic quality in higher education: a pilot study, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 28, pp.723-737
Bernstein, B. (2000) Pedagogy, Symbolic Control and Identity, 2nd Revised Edition, (London, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers).
OECD (2008) Tertiary Education for the Knowledge Society: Volume 1, OECD.