Parallel Session: 3.1
Research Domain: Learning and Teaching in Post-Compulsory and Higher Education
Maggi Savin-Baden1, Lorraine Macfarland1, John Savin-Baden2
Coventry University, Coventry, United Kingdom, 2SBA, Atherstone, United Kingdom
Learning spaces, Agency and Notions of improvement
What influences thinking and practices about teaching and learning in higher
An interpretive meta-ethnography was undertaken, funded by the Higher Education Academy, to
establish what influences thinking and practices about teaching and learning in higher education. It
began by focussing on the themes of practice, transfer and communities in higher education or
related contexts. In particular it set out to explore the questions:
What does the literature indicate about thinking and practices about teaching and learning
in higher education?
What are the tensions and differences across practice and communities?
What is the relationship between theories of learning and teaching and actual practices?
Interpretive meta ethnography was used which is a qualitative systematic approach that enables
comparison, analysis and interpretations to be made that can inform theorising and practice (Noblit
and Hare, 1988). Although meta-analysis has developed considerably in medicine and health
research, it remains rare amongst educational researchers and developers. Furthermore, meta-
analysis remains rare among those using collaborative and interpretative inquiry, and few
researchers have undertaken an integration of findings from these kinds of studies.
Analysis of studies was undertaken in relation to three core themes: Practice, Transfer and
Community, across the three “stakeholders”. References to our themes were mapped for each
area of literature. Data were then analysed to gain second-order interpretations and then develop
third-order interpretations that synthesize the issues across the studies, the themes of practice,
transfer and community, and the three areas of practitioner, policy and development communities.
Third order interpretations emerged to reveal a subtext that was not apparent in the initial common
themes. The findings indicate a need to move away from simplistic notions of best practice in
teaching and learning practices in higher education and instead a need to engage with concerns
such as: Pedagogical stance, Disjunction, Learning Spaces, Learning Diversity, Agency, Notions of
improvement and Communities of interest
In particular it will explore issues that merged that appear to be missing from many of the debates
about thinking and teaching and learning practices in higher education, which include?
1. An exploration of thinking and practices about teaching and learning in higher education in
relation to Signification, Legitimation and Domination
2. A reconsideration of the importance of learning diversity and the practice associated with
3. An exploration of ‘notions of improvement’ in the context of changing practices in teaching
in higher education
This paper will argue that these are areas that are sometimes ignored, marginalised or dislocated
from the central arguments about teaching and learning thinking and practices in higher education.
It will suggest that although there is a significant body of work that can inform practice, transfer and
communities, in the main these are underused in the processes of design and decision-making to
implement innovation and change or guide communities in ways of thinking and practising. Finally
the paper offer a space for discussion about some of the themes, presented, namely Learning
spaces, Agency and Notions of improvement along with the relative value of this methodological
approach to examining literature.
Noblit, G. W. and Hare, R. D. (1988). Meta-ethnography: Synthesizing Qualitative Studies.
Newbury Park, CA: Sage.