The Society for Research into Higher Education

Why write?

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By Joy Jarvis

Why do we write? The University of Hertfordshire’s in-house journal, LINK, ‘aims to support academics and professionals in contributing to the understanding and development of educational practice’. This means it supports and promotes academic writing, and my recent article for LINK on pedagogic frailty suggests a place to start when thinking about why we write. We might of course need to think about REF, but there are other sorts of writing that might be equally valuable. Is ‘REFability’ valuable beyond what it achieves in terms of university scores? Why did we write before the REF? Those of us who have been in universities for many years do remember that time!

The pedagogic frailty article was written to give information about something important for university leaders and managers to consider. It aimed to raise the topic within the local context, and potentially beyond, through text that presented the evidence for systemic issues in educational practice and suggested ways to address them. The principles underpinning the writing were to give a clear explanation, provide evidence that the intended readers would relate to, and provide potential solutions, and not just raise problems. The LINK journal is a perfect place for this sort of writing and it allows one to share ideas about current issues without having to be an expert on them. I have done this on other occasions: for example, we need to talk about teaching and student-staff partnership in learning and teaching.

We need spaces where we can share our concerns about practice with others, connect with research that is ongoing elsewhere, and help to move the practice on, through our writing as well as through our research. The SRHE blog is of course another such space.

I also like to write in a range of contexts to engage different readers.  For example, Creative Academic Magazine April 2016 and other professional resources may be read by people who don’t engage with academic articles. Two articles were written to meet the needs of colleagues in particular settings.  One was for a school teacher who wanted a way of ‘explaining to the head teacher why the deaf 8-year-old in her class needed to use toys to act out stories before she could write them’. A summary article in a professional magazine for educators of deaf children easily met this need. Another was written because two prison educators, with whom I’d been working in a voluntary capacity, felt that their work with young men on parenting courses was not well understood in their institution. It was straightforward to find out the professional magazine that would be found in prison staff rooms and write a joint article, requiring on the way that senior managers read the article to approve its publication! Both these examples were before the extensive use of online material and today there are far more opportunities for this type of sharing.

Writing with others is of course a key way of supporting professionals and newer academics and gaining professional development oneself. A few years ago, I decided to try mostly to write with others as a way of supporting joint professional learning and this has meant forays beyond my main areas of focus in deaf education and higher education pedagogy, into a range of new areas for me, including school-based teacher education, leadership, and art education in HE. The latter involved writing an ’exhibition catalogue’ for our institution’s first ‘learning and teaching in creative arts’ gallery exhibition. Attempting to write in an appropriate style for this text was a steep learning curve!

How I write with others varies considerably and depends on our individual strengths and time availability. Sometimes we sit together at the computer, mostly we send each other bits of text. In one instance a colleague needed a chapter written at short notice for an edited book as the intended author had pulled out. Knowing little about the agreed title ‘leadership of uncertainty’, although I had some knowledge of the early years education context, I relied on my colleague for advice about professional concerns and relevant reading. She also gave me a helpful response to my draft text: ‘accurate but very boring’. Her idea of casting it as a series of imaginary vignettes made it fun to write and ultimately popular with readers. She had many of the ideas for the text while I did most of the writing. Editing a book for practitioners and involving a number of colleagues in developing chapters to share their expertise is also a way of engaging new authors in writing and producing material that can be easy accessed by those working in the field.

Writing about my experience of practice has always been important, alongside writing about more traditional research studies. My first publications, written when I was a teacher of deaf children in the 1980s (on a typewriter!) were case studies of approaches I used in the classroom. Later, while I wrote about research studies I had undertaken I also wrote about my learning through practice, as these insights can be lost if not shared. Looking back over a career in education of over 40 years and writing over a thirty-year span, I notice that while the detail of my teaching and writing has changed, the focus is always on practice and practitioners and often from the perspective of a practitioner. As a professor of educational practice and a national teaching fellow I would say that this is appropriate. I would be interested to know if those starting out now on their careers are able to use their writing in ways they feel appropriate or are current obsessions with particular types of journal articles limiting the types and purposes of our writing.

Joy Jarvis is Professor of Educational Practice in the School of Education at the University of Hertfordshire and a National Teaching Fellow. She is particularly interested in working with colleagues to enhance teaching.

Author: SRHE News Blog

An international learned society, concerned with supporting research and researchers into Higher Education

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