Close to Practice Research

The British Educational Research Association (BERA) Close-To-Practice Research Project

Starting in the USA and becoming of increasing significance elsewhere the scholarship of teaching movement has become a vehicle to generate investigations on teaching and the improvement of student outcomes.  Two key features of scholarship of teaching and learning have been the expectation to disseminate the findings of such work and so, in the process expose those finding to peer critique in a manner analogous to the research community (Fangahanel et al, 2016).  However, much of this work is practice-based action research or active practitioner inquiry and so small scale and this has led to a tension developing between the perceptions of SOTL as pedagogical research as opposed to SOTL as action research.  In turn, this has led to challenges from researchers in education as to the value of SOTL as scholarly work beyond the obvious contribution to understandings of personal practice (Kanuka, 2011).  This tension is felt in the field of education more generally even though research based on issues arising from within educational practice, including action research, have become more or less well established their methodologies continue to be challenged from some quarters on grounds of quality despite their evident value to the development of educational practice.

These forms of research encompass a wide range of methodologies, which recently have been grouped together under the single heading of Close-to-Practice research.  As a response to continuing debates over the quality of such work, the British Educational Research Association (BERA) commissioned a research project to look in more detail at the quality issues surrounding Close-To-Practice Research.  The overarching research question that the project was asked to address was “How can high-quality close-to-practice research be characterised and enhanced for education in the UK”.  Another driver for the project related to REF 2021 and the expressed wish by BERA to strengthen educational research and offer dedicated support to researchers working in this way.  The purpose of this brief item is to bring that project to your attention and briefly summarise its main findings.

The project comprised a combination of desk-based research and interviewing experts in Close-To-Practice (CtP) Research.  The initial phase of the work sought to arrive at a working definition and proposed the following new definition.

Close-to-practice research is research that focusses on aspects of practice defined by practitioners as relevant to their practice, and often involves collaborative work between practitioners and researchers”

The key findings of the project should not occasion surprise.  The team concluded that the best CtP research would give a full and clear account of the methodologies employed, use rigorous methods of data analysis clearly explained and be well-situated in relation to previous work and be fully theorised so that the significance of the project and how it added to current knowledge was clearly explained.

While undoubtedly, a driver for this project relates to REF 21 there can be little argument that whatever methodology one employs the criteria outlined above should be met wherever possible in carrying out any kind of educational study even if REF submission is not a consideration.  This issue is not a new one see, for example, a paper in Studies in Higher Education in 2016 by Debby Cotton, Pauline Kneale and Colleagues (Cotton, et al, 2016).  However, I do commend this report to anybody, thinking about, planning or in the midst of an educational project.

Prof Steve Mchanwell, Director of ERDP network


Cotton, D.E.R., Miller, W. and Kneale, P. (2016).  The Cinderella of academia: Is higher education pedagogic research undervalued in UK research assessment? Studies in Higher Education, 43(9), 1625-1636, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2016.1276549

Fanghanel, J., Pritchard, J., Potter, J. and Wisker, G. (2015). Defining and Supporting Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: A sector-wide study. York: Higher Education Academy. Available from {Accessed 12 December, 2018]

Kanuka, H. (2011). Keeping the scholarship in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.  International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 5(1) Article 3 Available from: [Accessed 10 December 2018].

Wyse, D., Brown, C., Oliver, S. & Poblete, X. (2018). The BERA Close-to-Practice Research Project: Research Report. London: British Educational Research Association. Available from: [Accessed 10 December 2018]

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