Researchers aim to capture a day in the teaching life

Share project looks to Mass Observation surveys for inspiration. Rebecca Attwood reports

September 9, 2010

Whether it is attempting to make a dent in the pile of marking on your desk, stimulating a lively discussion in a seminar or labouring over plans for a new course, if it forms part of your day as a university teacher, a team of researchers want to hear about it.

Academics are being invited to take part in a research project that is investigating the ways in which academics represent, share and change their teaching practices.

In a move inspired by the Mass Observation programme established in the 1930s, university teachers are being asked to keep a diary of their teaching on the 15th day of each month over the course of the next year, starting next week.

Sally Fincher, professor of computing education at the University of Kent and leader of the Share project, chose the novel way of collecting data after visiting the Mass Observation archives in Brighton.

"I've become increasingly aware of the limitations of traditional methods of gathering research data, such as questionnaires and semi-structured interviews which put the researcher into the frame," she said.

The Mass Observation project, set up in 1937, used different methods. It aimed to record the lives of ordinary people in Britain via a panel of volunteer observers, creating what the founders described as "an anthropology of ourselves".

Via "day surveys", members of the public were asked to send in accounts of a day in their lives in the form of a diary.

"What is wonderful about the archive is the quality of response," said Professor Fincher. "I thought: 'This is what I want to know about teachers: what they do normally, every day. How they decide to change, adapt, how they get better, what gets in their way.'

"There is really very little data about the daily lives of those working in higher education."

Through the Share project, Professor Fincher hopes to collect material on the everyday events and normal routines of academic life, with a particular focus on teaching.

"The purpose of day surveys is to discover what is significant in academics' lives - not what someone else thinks should be significant ... and not to 'bean-count' the hours you spend on individual tasks," the project's website explains.

"We seek (and highly value) subjective experience and descriptively rich material."

Diary entries can be submitted via the site from 15 September. There is no word limit and academics from any country can take part. Participants will be kept informed of emerging issues through a newsletter.

For more information about the project, which is funded by the Higher Education Academy, visit:

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