Centre for the Study of Higher Education



CSHE Seminar Series 2018-19

In this series of public seminars, CSHE spotlights different qualitative methods used in higher education research.  Speakers have been asked to discuss a method with which they have particular expertise, considering what makes it similar to and distinct from related methods and reflecting on challenges in using it.  Although the series focuses on applications in higher education, researchers across the social sciences may find it useful. 

To confirm your attendance at a seminar please complete the online form

To view/listen to 2018-2019 seminar sessions please click here (you will need your Kent log in to access the recordings).


Location/ Date/ Time Session Details
Autumn Term

Thursday 4 October 2018

13.00 - 14.00

UELT Seminar Room, Canterbury

Participatory Action Research: Collaborating with Syrian Academics in Exile in Turkey to Understand their Academic Development Needs

Presented by Dr Tom Parkinson, Lecturer, Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Kent

This seminar focuses on an ongoing action research project to support Syrian academics in exile in Turkey through the Council for At Risk Academics’ Syria Programme.  Syria Programme was launched in 2016 to provide regional support to Syrian academics still in the Middle East.  As of September 2018 there are over 250 academics registered with the programme. The programme involves online language tutoring, research training residential workshops held every three months in Istanbul, and a mentoring scheme.

Participatory action research involves collaborating with communities to directly improve their circumstances through iterative phases of reconnaissance, action, analysis and adaptation.  In this seminar I will give an overview of the project to date, before focusing on two phases of reconnaissance, for which large group processes were used to generate insight into the Syria Programme participants’ academic development needs.  I outline a trialectic framework for educational action research, before discussing some of the methodological, analytical and ethical challenges that have arisen and which are germane to participatory action research more generally, centring in particular around the relationship between outsider and insider participant-researchers.

Friday 12 October 2018

14.00 - 15.00

UELT Seminar Room, Canterbury

Phenomenography: A Much Misunderstood Research Approach

Presented by Professor Gerlese Åkerlind, Professor Emerita, The Australian National University

Since its inception, phenomenography has been frequently misunderstood. Initially, growth in attempts to use the approach outstripped the publication of descriptive literature, leading to extensive variation in practice. Then, the relatively small numbers of experienced phenomengraphers available to act as reviewers has meant that published papers have not necessarily been reviewed by someone well experienced in the approach, leading to errors in descriptions of phenomenography in the peer-reviewed literature.  In addition, developmental changes in the approach over time, with associated changes in theory and practice, have exacerbated misunderstandings.
This seminar will map substantive changes in phenomenography over time, addressing questions such as: Is phenomenography a theory, a method or both? What is ‘new phenomenography’?  What is the relationship between phenomenography and variation theory? What are the most common misunderstandings of phenomenography?

Variation and commonality in phenomenographic research methods

Thursday 25 October 2018

13.00 - 14.00

UELT Seminar Room, Canterbury

Applications of concept mapping to higher education research

Presented by Professor Ian Kinchin, Department of Higher Education, University of Surrey

Concept mapping (as developed by Joe Novak) has been used as a student study aid since the 1970s. Applications of concept maps have been shown to help students to understand complex ideas and integrate their learning to build a coherent knowledge structure. Concept mapping has also been used as a research tool as it provides a method to collect and present rich data. Its origins in science education have resulted in a bias towards quantitative analysis of maps and has resulted in various ways of scoring maps. This seems to mask much of the benefit of producing a map in the first place. Qualitative analysis of maps can reveal unique perspectives that might be lost by other data collection techniques. Whilst the qualitative analysis of maps can be messy, it can be a more effective way of eliciting personal views of research participants. The application of concept map-mediated interviews can facilitate the visualisation of these personal views. This seminar will introduce participants to the pros and cons of this approach, and initiate discussion about the appropriateness of the tool for academic professional development.

Thursday 22 November 2018

13.00 - 14.00

UELT Seminar Room, Canterbury

Using multidimensional methods in higher education research:The case for critical discourse analysis

Presented by Dr Karen Smith, School of Education, University of Hertfordshire

In this seminar, Dr Karen Smith will share her experiences of using critical discourse analysis (CDA) in higher education research. She will discuss her initial work, which focussed on the textual analysis of policy documents. She will then go on to talk through how she developed her work following a literature review exploring how CDA was being used more broadly in higher education research. Karen will use research, published in HERD, which combined textual analysis of a policy text with in-depth interviews with policy-makers and policy users as an example to talk through the methodological choices she made. Karen will finish by sharing her ongoing collaborative research that combines methods from corpus linguistics with focus groups and interviews, reflecting on the challenges Karen and her co-author have faced in the writing up of this kind of research.

Smith K. 2018. Using multi-dimensional methods to understand the development, interpretation and enactment of quality assurance policy within the educational development community, Higher Education Research and Development, 37(1), 173-187, doi:

Monday 26 November 2018

15.00 - 18.00

UELT Seminar Room, Canterbury

Methods in Social Science Research - a super-book launch

Co-hosted by the Centre for Ethnography, Centre for the Study of Higher Education and the Visual and Sensory Research Cluster.

This event brings together five Kent authors, who will collaboratively introduce their newly published books. The five authors will offer brief reflections about the arguments and insights of their books and discuss questions from an open audience. The event aims to celebrate the contribution of CSHE, CER and the Visual and Sensory Research Cluster (based at the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research) to emerging research across theory and practice.

Please see here for the programme.

Spring Term

Thursday 17 January 2019

13.00 - 14.00

UELT Seminar Room, Canterbury

So you have data: what next?

Presented by Lynn McAlpine, Professor Emerita of Higher Education Development, Department of Education, University of Oxford

A key issue for researchers is how to organize, analyze, display and report qualitative data in ways that are rigorous, meaningful and contribute to the field. Of course, there are many ways to do this. In this seminar, I describe a process, premised in a narrative methodology, that I often use in qualitative studies of early career researcher development. You may find it helpful to read the following before the seminar: McAlpine, L. (2016). Why might you use narrative methodology? A story about narrative. Eesti Haridusteaduste Ajakiri. Estonian Journal of Education, 4 (1), 32-57.

Thursday 7 March 2019

16.00 - 17.00

UELT Seminar Room, Canterbury

M1-16, Medway Building, Medway


Diversifying curriculum: key perspectives, questions, and methods to get started

Co-hosted by the Student Success Project

Presented virtually by Michelle Grue, Girvetz Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara



The call for diversifying academic curriculum has been sounding on both sides of the Atlantic and scholars are heeding it. Yet, the reality remains that the majority of faculty members in both the United States and United Kingdom are white and trained in traditional, Western academic canons. For academics who want to diversify the curriculum, determining how to actually do so can be challenging. Michelle Grue will explain the perspectives, questions, and methods that framed a collaborative research project on which she and her colleagues examined the degree requirements and course offerings in the top-50 Ph.D. granting sociology departments in the US.  She will also briefly summarise and discuss the findings. ​With these frameworks and methods in hand, attendees should be equipped to begin a similar examination of their own program’s course offerings and canon. 


Summer Term

Tuesday 28 May 2019

13.00 - 14.00

UELT Seminar Room, Canterbury

Methodology and Mess in Higher Education Research

Speaker Helen Sword, Professor and Director of the Centre for Learning and Research in Higher Education, University of Auckland

As an erstwhile literary scholar who now directs a higher education research and development centre, Professor Helen Sword stands with one foot on either side of the humanities/social science divide.  In this informal seminar, she will discuss the various methodologies that she has employed in her own research over the years, reflecting on the role (and value) of “messy,” humanities-inflected thinking in higher education scholarship.







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Last Updated: 17/04/2019