Developing pedagogical content knowledge through the integration of education research and practice in higher education

The third blog in our four-part series of blogposts drawing on chapters from the Routledge SEDA Series book “Developing Expertise for Teaching in Higher Education: Practical Ideas for Professional Learning and Development

The interplay between theory and practice underpins the development of expertise. In the field of education as well as in other professions, expertise is the ability to continue to develop competence as opposed to plateauing on established routines. Is it possible to develop expertise in education without applying scholarly practices to our teaching? A study exploring lecturers’ attitudes to adopting scholarly approaches (Corradini, 2022) to teaching in higher education has shed (some) light on the impact of this approach on the development of teaching practices vis a vis a meaningful student experience. Arguably, the adoption of scholarly practices in teaching can influence both students and teachers; for example, in driving forward curriculum enhancement and innovation, in engaging educators’ in the continuous development of their practice, in creating and sharing expertise with positive outcomes for the student learning experience. Specifically, the benefits for academics emerging from the above mentioned study are: an ability to transfer research processes to their teaching, an ability to use data to improve the student outcomes, an awareness of the effects a scholarly approach to teaching can have on the development of learning experiences.

The identification of these areas of development provide ground for exploring new approaches to the support educators receive in their teaching jobs and for reflecting on the importance of building intra- and inter-institutional networks of support. The creation of support structures can influence the teaching behaviours and values of individual lecturers (Healy et. al, pp. 32-34) leading to increased uptake of practices which would encourage academic staff to measure and monitor the quality of their teaching accurately, responsively and responsibly.

Engaging lecturers with education research regularly proves to be a demanding task, however. This is especially true for early career academics who find themselves under the pressures of disciplinary research and are often unsupported in their long-term development but for attending teachers’ development programmes. Finding the time and space to develop teaching practices is often overlooked or simply a low priority. While the data sets analysed broadly indicate that a positive attitude and a sense of confidence derive from questioning and making sense of teaching practice (Webster-Wright, 2017), they also reveal a reticence to take risks in areas such as evaluation of teaching, which are not part of the disciplinary identity of most academics.

How can faculty and education developers cultivate the ability and sustain the capacity to integrate evaluation into teaching and learning design and subsequently into practice? Placing particular emphasis on the teacher/educator in context has revealed areas that educators find difficult to navigate; these are time pressures, limited support from mentors and senior management, difficult access to networks of support. Furthermore, HEIs, especially research-intensive universities, have a research remit. In these institutions, academics research in their own discipline; how can they be supported to transfer the same curiosity to their teaching? Similarly, there is an expectation that academics teach students in research-rich environments to encourage the development of research skills and inquisitiveness (Kreber, 2002); educators should do the same by modelling a scholarly approach to teaching, which they often have an opportunity to develop in academic development programmes such as postgraduate certificates, whose reach is however limited.

Some of the areas key to further support HE teachers are: the development and integration of evaluation methods into teaching practice, a coordinated support in obtaining ethics approval, pedagogical content knowledge and transfer, formation of institutional support/engagement networks, and the integration of sustained evaluation practices into curriculum design.

If acquiring pedagogical content knowledge is important for the development of expertise for teachers in higher education, then scholarly educators will need to interface with the above dimensions in order to engage with and sustain research-integrated, evidence-based practices in their teaching routines (Chi, M., Glaser, R., Farr, M., eds 2009). An ability to navigate institutional dynamics and access institutional support networks seems, therefore, worth reflecting on within the community of practitioners. Creating support networks, protecting spaces for experimenting with new methods and encouraging academics to think outside their comfort zones and practise outside established routines would support a culture in which knowledge and expertise are not only developed but also sustained along career trajectories. Educators need to be supported to acquire pedagogical content knowledge and to integrate SOTL into their practice long term, as, owing to time and other priorities, this cannot happen naturally. When spaces are created for doing so and time is protected, there are numerous benefits to the quality of teaching and of student learning.

Erika Corradini is Principal Teaching Fellow in Higher Education at the Centre for Higher Education Practice, University of Southampton. Her activity is centred on supporting academic colleagues in developing their teaching and the academic profession. Erika is active on Twitter @eriCorradini


Corradini, E.,(2022) Developing Pedagogical Content Knowledge through the integration of education research and practice in higher educationin King, H. ed. Developing Expertise for Teaching in Higher Education.Practical Ideas for Professional Learning and Development (Routledge), pp. 142-154

Chi, M., Glaser, R., Farr, M., eds (2009) The Nature of Expertise, (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, New York) Healy, M., Matthews, K.E. & Cook-Sather, A. (2019) Writing scholarship for teaching and learning articles for peer-reviewed journals. Teaching and Learning Inquiry, 7 (2), 28–50.

Kreber, C. (2002) Teaching excellence, teaching expertise, and the scholarship of teaching. Innovative Higher Education, 27 (1), 5–23

3 thoughts on “Developing pedagogical content knowledge through the integration of education research and practice in higher education

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