Dominant Discourses in Higher Education

Authors celebrate the arrival of their new book:

Kinchin, I.M. & Gravett, K. (2022) Dominant Discourses in Higher Education: Critical Perspectives, Cartographies and Practice. London, Bloomsbury. 

Available from:

review available at:

Plateaus of professional development

Within the ecological university it is suggested that teacher development occurs across three plateaus – represented by three adaptive cycles in the figure. These are a dependent cycle (red), a transitional cycle (yellow) and an independent cycle (green). For further details see: Kinchin, I.M. (2022) An ecological lens on the professional development of university teachers. Teaching in Higher Education,   [open access].

The ecologically sick university

If we conceptualise the ecological university [see previous post] as a ’healthy’ system, I would suggest that we may also be able to consider the unhealthy or ’sick’ university in a similar manner – where some of the elements fail to work, or where integration of the elements has failed for some reason. Hence, the figure in this post offers a summary of ”the ecologically sick university”, in which the adaptive cycles fail to connect across the panarchy, and where epistemological monocultures result in an impoverished narrative ecology.

The Ecological University

The key concepts within the idea of the ecological university are summarized in the figure here. Details of this model are given in the reference below.

Further reading:

Kinchin, I.M. (2021) Exploring dynamic processes within the ecological uinversity: A focus on the adaptive cycle. Oxford Review of Education, [open access]

New Book: Dominant Discourses in Higher Education

Pre-order discounts available online at: Dominant Discourses in Higher Education: Critical Perspectives, Cartographies and Practice: Ian M. Kinchin: Bloomsbury Academic

Part I: Considering the Landscape
1. Thinking beyond Neoliberal Discourses
2. Thinking and Doing with Theory
Part II: Putting Theory to Work
3. Positioning the Student 
4. The University Environment
5. Ecologies of Teaching and Ecosystems of Learning
6. Expertise in Context
Part III: Emerging Polyvalent Lines of Flight
7. Contested Concepts in Higher Education
8. Concept Mapping
9. After Method
10. Towards a Relational Pedagogy 

The salutogenic university and the ‘becoming-caring-teacher’.

The triple point: where pedagogic health, a sense of coherence, and care coexist without borders or barriers.

Further details available at:

Kinchin, I.M., Derham, C., Foreman, C., McNamara, A. & Querstret, D. (2021) Exploring the salutogenic university: Searching for the triple point for the becoming-caring-teacher through collaborative cartography. Pedagogika, 141(1), 94-112.

Available online at: ISSN2029-0551_2021_V_141_1.PG_94-112.pdf (

A hidden gem in the literature

I read a good deal of education research literature every week. Some of it good, some of it not so good. Some of it is unexpected, perhaps coming from a journal I hadn’t seen before or by authors who offer a novel perspective on an issue. Every now and then I come across a paper that makes me smile and exclaim out loud, “yes, exactly!”. I found such a paper recently and would recommend others to take a look:

Sidorkin, A.M. & Kulakov, A.M. (2015)

The problem of the invisible in Education.

Journal of Siberian Federal University. Humanities & Social Sciences 11(8), 2632 – 2637.

available online at: The problem of the invisible in education – тема научной статьи по наукам об образовании читайте бесплатно текст научно-исследовательской работы в электронной библиотеке КиберЛенинка (

The authors start by outlining the key barriers to the development of education:

  1. Non-dissemination of best practices.
  2. Minimal effect sizes – there are generally no ‘breakthrough’ methods.
  3. The dynamic conservatism of educational institutions – adopting innovations that require no change.
  4. Contextual complexity.

The authors then make an excellent analogy from Medical History and outline events from the first observation of microorganisms to the appreciation of the role of germs in disease transmission – a transition that took 200 years. The key message being that you need to ‘see’ with theory for it to make a difference. The authors then turn to our blind spots in educational research.

The authors conclude with a recap of their manifesto for a relational pedagogy.

Thus is a well-written paper that teases the reader to think about their own teaching and research. If any of the ideas mentioned above resonate with your perspective on educational research, I would recommend reading this short paper.

D.Litt thesis : concept mapping and pedagogic health

Thesis title

Full text available online at:     


This submission presents a portfolio of 50 outputs (3 books, 7 book chapters and 40 journal articles) that were published between 2000 – 2020. This accompanying narrative offers a frame for these outputs to place them in the context of the wider literature and to highlight connections and developments in the underpinning thought processes. Here I exploit the Deleuzian figuration of the rhizome to present the portfolio to emphasise the non- linear nature of this body of work and provide a novel conceptual framework for analysis.

This corpus emerged from my initial exploration of Novakian concept mapping as a tool to support and document learning. From my early studies that built on the dominant discourse of the field, I examined concept mapping as a study aid. From this my interests diverged into the visualisation of expertise and the implications of variation in the structure of knowledge as depicted by students and as promoted in the curriculum.

I started to use concept mapping to explore educational theory and have combined the tool that is strongly linked to its origins in educational psychology (particularly the work of David Ausubel) with other theoretical positions that might inform teaching in higher education. These have included ideas from the sociology of education (particularly the work of Basil Bernstein and Karl Maton); ideas from evolutionary Biology (Stephen Jay Gould’s concept of exaptation); ideas from health sciences (particularly the work on Salutogenesis by Anton Antonovsky), and the post-structuralist ideas of Gilles Deleuze (especially the concept of the rhizome). These ideas offer an opportunity to revise and refresh the assumptions that underpinned Joe Novak’s work on concept mapping – that might increase the level of criticality in continuing research.

This work raises questions about the methodological conservatism of the field of concept mapping (and perhaps of higher education research more broadly). The observed methodological and conceptual conservatism of the concept mapping literature is seen as a consequence of its linear (arborescent) development from science education. Through this work, the reader can trace the development of the researcher from his roots in Biological Sciences towards a greater appreciation of post-structuralist perspectives – challenging the conservatism mentioned above.

Full text available online at:

The 2020 Public Exams Fiasco

Giving the 2011 Government paper the title “students at the heart of the system”, suggested a caring education system where students matter. However, the inept handling of the 2020 A Level results by the UK Government and by Ofqual paints a very different picture, in which (rightly or wrongly) the image presented is of incompetence and indifference to students. This has been aggravated in England by the perception by English students that their Scottish counterparts were listened to and teachers’ predictions were accepted.

There is a reason why the class of 2020 (should) have done well – they are smart cookies. In addition, this internet savvy generation have cut their teeth in a post-Brexit, post-Trump world in which alternative facts, fake news and spin, will be spotted a mile off. Comments made by ministers about avoiding grade inflation seem to have missed the mark. As no examinations were taken, there cannot seriously be any inflation. It is not comparing like with like.

Universities have been remarkably quiet during this situation. The UUK web site only had a bland message on 13th August (results day) about how well students had done, and made no comment about the handling of the grading. Universities need to be very careful about the language they use going forward to ensure they are not seen by students as the agents of Government. The message sent is no longer equal to the message received. Phrases have been so overused by officials that they now have different meanings – “unprecedented times” now means “we were taken by surprise and didn’t have a plan”, while “robust system” means “computer says no”.

Universities now need to repair the damage caused by the Government to show that they are on the side of their students. These students have an axe to grind. They are angry and suspicious. They also have memories. Remember how students punished the Liberal Democrats for reneging in their promises about tuition fees. If universities are inauthentic in their approach to students or seem to be pandering to Governmental ineptitude, they will be punished. Universities may think they have 3 or 4 years to turn it around with this cohort of students, but if they get it wrong this autumn and students get a poor 1st year experience, they will punish universities in the NSS in three years’ time. Never has the need to show their caring side been so important for universities. All the committee meetings and strategy documents in the world will not solve this conundrum. Universities need to learn from the Government’s mistakes – there is no magic algorithm to remedy the problem. Senior management need to be visible (to staff and students). This cannot just be a welcome via  a video message during a virtual freshers’ week. They need to take the time to sit in on socially-distanced seminars to appreciate the experience; they need to have coffee with students to hear their stories, and appreciate their concerns, and they need to engage with staff who have been struggling with home-schooling and no summer holiday – staff who will start the semester already exhausted and anxious. 2020-21 will be a difficult academic year and we will all need to care for each other. The coming academic year will really show if we have a caring education system where students are seen as valued individuals, or if they are just seen as data points to plug into an algorithm.

Further reading:

Kinchin, I.M. (2019) Care as a threshold concept for teaching in the salutogenic university. Teaching in Higher Education,

Class attendance in the shadow of Covid-19

At the end of the 19th and start of the 20th Century, there was considerable concern about student attendance at school. To encourage good attendance many education authorities awarded medals to students with exemplary attendance records. This was particularly well developed in London, where from 1887 the London School Board (and later London County Council) awarded medals to students with near-perfect attendance. The medal pictured here was awarded to G. Orbell in 1899, for six consecutive years of good attendance.

School Board for London attendance medal (1899) awarded to G. Orbell for six years of punctual attendance.

As schools were run on a grant that was calculated on attendance figures, schools realized it was in their interest to award medals as there was money attached. The down side to this was that sick children (with diphtheria and the like) would be encouraged to attend school – with devastating consequences for the health of their classmates. After a break for the First World War, the scheme was abandoned after the 1920 school year.

Of course, classrooms were very different when G. Orbell was at school. But after over 120 years of educational research, we would now not expect to see classrooms in schools (or universities) where students were sat passively in rows, receiving the wisdom from the teacher who was standing at a lectern. We wouldn’t expect to see rote learning on a large scale. To continue to teach in this way would be a betrayal of a generation.

But bringing us up to date – attendance is again a hot topic. In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have closed our classrooms and largely stopped face-to-face teaching. We now have the benefit of digital technologies to keep us connected and allow teaching to continue. But the big question is how to achieve this without reverting to the Victorian model of transmitting content. How do we maintain the dialogue? How do we engage with our students? How do we maintain our professional integrity and our professional values?

Covid-19 has forced our hand on this somewhat. But it will give us an opportunity to reassert what is important in our teaching. As my son recently told me, “it’s not about the content – I can get that anywhere! It’s about the experience.” So how do we promote the university experience online? Probably not by just stuffing our VLEs with content. The online world does free us from some of the constraints of the physical world. For example, there is no reason why lectures should be one hour long – that is just an artifact of the timetable and the issues of moving students in and out of classrooms. We don’t need to do that online. Perhaps shorter and more focused ‘lectures’ would be better? But our energy has to be spent on developing the experience – not developing ever more content. So the question is – what experience do we want to offer?