Deciding on a research topic


I’m just entering year two of my PhD and the time has come to think in earnest about my research topics.

I drew up a quick list the other day of things that are bubbling up in my mind as things I’d like to look at.

  1. Sector skills councils. Evaluation of their impact on HE teaching and policy
  2. Curriculum development. How is it undertaken in different institutions?
  3. USPs in HE. What differentiates courses within the same discipline? (Four Ps, and what else?)
  4. Innovation in HE. How is it facilitated? Who does it? What are their characteristics? Is it encouraged?
  5. The part-time industry lecturer. What do they bring? What attitudes to teaching do they have? Are they beneficial?
  6. “What industry wants”. How are industry requirements affecting what and how we teach?

What’s interesting is that a few of them would have been on the list several years ago, and certainly just before I started the PhD. But there are a couple missing: gamification in teaching and learning, and something to do with online learning. The simple reason for that, I suppose, is that both really require me to be actively engaged in them. I experimented with gamification in my teaching at the University of Dundee but moved to Cambridge where I was no longer teaching, and unlikey to be able to work with anyone who was. In my current job, our QA regulations seemingly forbid any kind of experimentation (which ties in to one of my topics in the list above). As for online learning, again I’m no longer so heavily involved in it and while I could certainly research it, the idea of looking at something I’m personally not involved with doesn’t appeal so much.

So of that list, what’s coming through most strongly?

The Sector Skills Councils topic looks rather manageable, relates to my current role, and has been an area of personal interest since my days at the HEA Subject Centre in Brighton, where I met with representatives from the three cognate “creative industries” SSCs. But I have particular views on them, so objectivity might an issue – and the topic is fraught with political issues it’s probably best to avoid. But it still appeals so isn’t off the drawing board.

My favourite so far – and it’s been a favourite for some time now so maybe I’m putting off the inevitable – is the topic of innovation in teaching and learning (number 4 in the list). I’ll write another post later looking at this in more detail as I try to “think out loud” about the topic.

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