Making education better is not a nice to have: Why Business Schools need to engage in and value pedagogical research part 1

Pedagogical research has a challenged and often undervalued place in Business Schools, with its worth to the mission of the School and the individual academic diminished by perceptions that it lacks academic rigour (Norton, 2021), focuses on arcane or abstract theorisation of practical actions (McDonald et al., 2012) or is a form of scholarship for teaching-only faculty (Evans et al., 2021). At a policy level, there are challenges for how pedagogical research is represented in ranked metrics that support funding and grant allocations. For example, there is no field of research for business or management education in the Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification (ANZSRC). The Australian Business Deans Council (ABDC) journal quality list has approximately 62 journals that are focused on pedagogical research in business (less than 3% of the entire list) with none of them ranked A*. In the UK, the 2014 Research Excellence Framework had historically low success rates for submissions of pedagogical research, in part attributable to the exclusion of research that focused on the impacts on students or teaching within the submitting institution (the core evidence base for many studies of pedagogical impact). These grant allocation and research quality metrics and their relationship to academic performance, reward and recognition tell only part of the story of the efficacy and impact of pedagogical research in Business Schools.

Ernest Boyer in his classic 1990 book Scholarship Reconsidered argued that:

Research and publication have become the primary means by which most professors achieve academic status, and yet many academics are, in fact, drawn to the profession precisely because of their love for teaching or for service even for making the world a better place. Yet these professional obligations do not get the recognition they deserve, and what we have, on many campuses, is a climate that restricts creativity rather than sustains it. (Boyer, 1990, p.xii)

Boyer, amongst many others, advocate for the end of the decades of teaching versus research debates within institutions, in part because they rarely result in a ‘winner’ and lead to lots of academics believing they have lost (see Lewicki & Bailey, 2009 and Burke-Smalley et al., 2017 for a more detailed discussion on this issue). The nature of a truly Humboldtian university is one where teachers are researchers and researchers are teachers, delivering research informed teaching and critically teaching informed research (Daumiller & Dressel, 2018). It could be argued that Humboldt’s vision is a utopian one in many modern Business Schools, where the internal tensions between research and teaching give rise to divergent and differentiated values of the time, resources and benefits gained from focusing on one over the other (Robson, 2021). The relationship between research and teaching has been frayed not by the faculty in Business Schools but by the pressures and complexities placed on its operations by massification, metrics and marketisation and the never-ending competition for scarce resources. In the Humboldtian utopia, both functions have more than equal value to the institution and to the academic, they are interdependent, as Enders (2007) notes:

The creation of a teaching-research nexus gave the professionalization project in academe an important push. It provided a kind of mutual legitimacy base for basic research and academic teaching that were supposed to benefit from each other (p.6)

Boyer proposed four forms of scholarship that when seen through the prism of reward and recognition better represent the richness and creativity of academic work. The scholarship of discovery (describing traditional forms of discipline-based research), the scholarship of teaching (the study of teaching and learning processes), the scholarship of integration (the synthesis of information and practice across disciplines), and the scholarship of the application of knowledge (the advocacy and engagement with peers outside the institution to solve real world problems). He argues that all four scholarships are equally relevant to defining and rewarding academic work, and if recognised would support greater alignment between academic activity and the mission of the university. Pedagogical research both develops an understanding of the practices of teaching and how to improve them (scholarship of teaching) as well as engages the academic in the pursuance of intellectual freedom and the knowledge of the unknown (scholarship of discovery).

As a practice, pedagogical research does not easily reside exclusively in any of the scholarship domains, rather it acts as a hybrid activity that draws on multi-disciplinary and multi-perspective methodologies and practices. It represents a third space in the teaching/research dialectic, it is neither research nor teaching, yet it is critical to both. I am using the descriptor third space to represent what Bhabha (1990) refers to as the emergence of a new (productive) space where cultures deeply rooted in history and tradition meet and challenge each other’s assumptions and behaviours. Teaching and research are represented in Business Schools as separate cultures (undertaken by the same people). These cultures are deeply informed by long methodological, intellectual, and practical traditions, which are often difficult to change and can appear rusted onto infrastructural decisions and resourcing. These traditions do not sit entirely comfortably when defining the epistemology and impact of pedagogical research because there is a rhizomatic connection between theory and practice, between disciplinary notions of methodology and how disciplines are taught and learnt, and between the disciplines, contexts, subjects, and courses themselves.

Figure 1: Pedagogical research as a third space academic activity (after Boyer 1990)

Pedagogical research is a self-sustaining and in part self-replicating ecosystem where understanding, theorising, reflecting, and learning about the phenomena of education feed into both the practice of teaching and the practice of learning, which themselves are shaped by how students and academics learn how to learn. There is a direct relationship between the practices of the academic conducting the research and then applying it improve their own and others’ practice through publication, dissemination and sharing. There is also a direct relationship between the practices of pedagogical research and the support and mentoring of others to do the same (especially within the publishing and dissemination communities of business education).

Pedagogical research as a third space of academic work promotes multilateral flows of knowing and doing, often iteratively and frequently integrated. It is in Boyer’s scholarship of integration where the connectedness of authenticity, the connectedness of knowledge and the connectedness of learning that span disciplines and fields are integrated to explore a bigger, more ambitious vision of the world. As academic and critic Mark Van Doren noted in his 1943 book Liberal Education:

The connectedness of things is what the educator contemplates to the limit of his capacity. The student [who] begins early in life to see things as connected has begun the life of learning. No human capacity is great enough to permit a vision of the world as simple, but if the educator does not aim at the vision no one else will, and the consequences are dire when no one does. (p.115)

Research into pedagogy in whatever form it takes (evaluative, reflective, analytical) exists in a transdisciplinary space where the capacity to undertake large scale quantitative learning analytics research sits side-by-side with deeply personal reflections of teaching practice and how we design our business education better. The design of effective pedagogy ‘emphasizes the interrelationships between policy, theory, knowledge and rationale, all framed by political and social agendas, cultures of practice and power relations’ (Waring and Evans 2015, p.27). The successful design of business education is a complex human, systemic and technological process. Teaching and learning are not unitary in how they are enacted, and they are deeply behavioural, personal, and difficult to categorise and apply common frames of agreed understanding to. In the context of the marketisation of higher education and the increasing role of metrics in measuring comparative performance in student recruitment or retention success, being better at education is not a nice to have (Hogan et al., 2021). More effective teaching and learning is critical for ensuring competitive advantage, the capability to deliver impactful and lasting educational outcomes and the relevance of a business education to a rapidly pivoting economy (Friedland & Jain, 2022). The quality of the educational experience as measured by national indicators such as the Quality Indicators of Learning and Teaching in Australia and the National Student Survey in the United Kingdom impacts on government funding, institutional reputation and the degree to which institutions are held publicly accountable for their teaching.

The evaluation and enhancement of teaching, learning and assessment are mission critical activities for the modern Business School. The scholarship of integration and the scholarship of application are critical academic activities to achieving that mission. Pedagogical research is also not a nice to have. Through rhizomatic connections between theory and practice (where theory begets practice begetting new theory) and between the academic and others inside and outside the Business School (supporting and inspiring innovation and reimagining of teaching practices in others) it makes for a creative, aspirational, and successful community of teaching and learning. Successful, recognised, and relevant pedagogical research requires skills sets for teachers that are not part of the recruitment or researcher training processes. The development of evaluative research skills needs to start during doctoral education and feed through into the way in which Business Schools hire and train early career academics. Pedagogical research needs to be effectively recognised in administrative instruments and policy, such as professional development standards, normative promotion criteria, recruitment and selection and workload allocation models. It is through this deeper integration and recognition of these third space practices that Business Schools will reap the benefits for entire spectrum of academic (scholarship) activity and the societal impact catalysed by it.

The second part of this blog post will explore the benefits for Business Schools (and others) in recognising and rewarding pedagogical research and developing the methodological training and theoretical literacy to benefit from all academic staff engaging in this third space.

Image: Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

Published by Peter Bryant

Associate Dean Education and Co-Director of the Co-Design Research Group

3 thoughts on “Making education better is not a nice to have: Why Business Schools need to engage in and value pedagogical research part 1

  1. Business Schools don’t need to engage in, or value pedagogical research, provided they receive the fruits of the research via well trained teaching staff. Pedagogical research costs time, money, and resources, and so has to earn its place outside education research centers. Given a choice between researching your primary discipline, and researching education, the former is always going to come first, and should. There will be a few people who have an overriding interest in education, and so are willing to take a hit on their research reputation to look into it further.

    1. Thanks for you response Tom. This piece argues the counter position to your comment. We have to end the research vs teaching debates. Research thinks teaching are always winning and teachers feel researchers win every time. Research and teaching is nexus not an absolute. Pedagogical research is not the realm of the teaching techies, it has to be in the best interests of the academy to reward and recognize it as an activity in the same way they reward discipline research. I don’t agree that discipline research should always come first. Many disciplines actively ‘reward’ with high quality journals pedagogical research in areas like accounting, management and marketing. I would be curious to know how these journals (if that’s where we locate impact, which is another debate) would take a hit on their research reputation

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