Pedagogical action research (PedAR)


For many years, firstly  as a lecturer and more recently as an academic developer, I have been interested in the potential of action research as applied to teaching and learning in a university context. This interest was sustained through establishing an active group of like-minded colleagues at Liverpool Hope University who met regularly to discuss and research pedagogical issues. This, in turn, has led to three international Pedagogical Research in Higher Education (PRHE 06, 08, 10) conferences. An account of this initiative is described in Norton & Owens 2013 and Norton, 2014). Each conference also produced a special issue of the Hope University in-house journal PRIME (Pedagogical Research In Maximising Education) which itself was designed to promote and disseminate learning and teaching action research studies.


Pedagogical action research can most simply be defined as systematically investigating your own teaching and assessment practice and/or your students’ learning (often the two cannot be separated). Pedagogical action research is derived from an ‘issue’ that has arisen in your pedagogical practice as an ‘academic’ (a term I use inclusively to represent all who are involved in student learning, such as teachers, learning support professionals, librarians, and  staff developers to name but a few).  Most importantly, as a form of action research, this kind of research has the dual aim of contributing to theoretical knowledge and to improving practice.


The work on action research culminated in a book, the first edition of which I wrote in 2009 to help others who were interested in carrying out this type of research but who might not necessarily have the social science/education research background to know where to begin. With this thought in mind I wrote a practical ‘walk with me’ type of book , the purpose of which would enable the reader to design, carry out, analyse and disseminate a pedagogical action research study which would be of publishable quality.


Second edition published late 2018

Since the publication of the first edition, much has changed in the higher education sector with neoliberalism, league tables, the recently introduced Teaching Excellence Framework in the UK and the drivers for employability, so this new university context has been updated and internationalised throughout the book.

As part of this movement, the interest in Action Research continues to grow as an element of professional practice, as a process in reflective practice and as a form of initial and continuing professional development.



This is a revised and augmented second edition addressing a wider audience than the first edition.   There are four new chapters:

  1. What does doing pedagogical action research mean in the current HE context?
  2. Why is reflective practice important?
  3. Why is the professionalisation of university teaching important?
  4. How can action research contribute to career development?

Chapter 4 has specifically been written to consider how pedagogical action research can contribute to career development.

My aim  has  remained  the same- writing a practical guide ( a vade mecum) for those who are keen to research their own teaching and assessment practice or some aspect of their students’ learning,  but do not know where or how to start. I also hope it will have something to offer to the reader who has carried out some action research and would like to extend their knowledge further.


HEA publication on action research

The Higher Education Academy have published a practice guide to action research in higher education which I co-authored with Dr Lydia Arnold, Harper Adams University:

Arnold, L & Norton,L (2018) Action Research: Practice Guide

This is accompanied by a selection of case studies illustrating action research in the sector  Arnold, L. & Norton, L (2018) HEA Action Research: Sector Case studies


 My rationale for pedagogical action research (PedAR)

While mindful of the University context in which subject research is often privileged, I remain an advocate of the benefits of carrying out pedagogical action research as a practical and pragmatic approach to at least four of the demands that are put onto academics’ shoulders:

The need to be an excellent university teacher

The pressures have increased with the effect of the National Student Survey, league tables, and most recently the introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework in England.

The need to be a reflective practitioner

Carrying out research on our own teaching and/or on our students’ learning is interwoven with being an excellent teacher and a reflective practitioner. Looking to improve our students’ learning experience is the primary driver of pedagogical action research.

The need to engage with continuing professional development

Pedagogical action research is an empowering form of CPD, particularly in engaging with the scholarship of learning and teaching (SOTL).

The need to be research active.

Pedagogical action research can be equally as rigorous as ‘subject’ research but in order to be considered as such, it must be disseminated and open to public scrutiny through peer reviewed conference papers and journal articles.


Relevant Sources

Norton, L (2018) Keynote paper. Action research in higher education: Experiences and reflections on integrating the personal and political through professional practice. CARN Bulletin 20, 5-10 (Autumn 2016, published Spring 2018) ISBN 978-1-910029-37-4

Norton, L (2016) Developing criticality in learning and teaching through pedagogical action research. Chapter 14,pp.154-163 in John, P & Fanghanel, J. (eds) (2015) Dimensions of marketization in Higher Education. London: Routledge.

Norton, L. (2014) The case for pedagogical action research in psychology learning and teaching, Psychology Teaching Review, 20, 2, 3-11.

Norton, L (2014) Pedagogical Action Research: research and teaching intertwined. Chapter 4, pp23-27. In McEwen, L Mason O’Connor, K. (eds)  Developing pedagogic research in  higher education SEDA special 37 ISBN: 978-1-902435-59-6 London: SEDA

Norton, L & Owens, T (2013) Pedagogical Action Research: Enhancing Learning and Teaching through a Community of Practice. In Diane J. Salter (Ed) Cases on Quality Teaching Practices in Higher Education. Hershey PA: IGI Global. Chapter 18, pp.291-303.


Further resources

Some of my more recent PowerPoint presentations on pedagogical action research are available on this website for colleagues to download.

I also offer workshops and interactive presentations which can be adapted to suit specific requirements. For more details please contact me at

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