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New Book

New Book:

Book spines


Gravett, K., Yakovchuk, N. & Kinchin, I.M. (Eds.) (2020) Enhancing Student-Centred Teaching in Higher Education: The Landscape of Student-Staff Research Partnerships.  Cham, Switzerland, Palgrave Macmillan

Available from:  Palgrave Macmillan.






Special Issue “Engaging Students’ Voices in Partnership for the Rhizomatic Development of Sustainability in Higher Education” : CALL FOR PAPERS

Special issue of ‘Sustainability’- Details available online at : 

Universities are faced with the tremendous challenge of promoting a culture of sustainability within society, while simultaneously grappling with the ongoing development of a more inclusive and active pedagogy for the twenty-first-century curriculum in which students are seen as partners in learning. Rather than these being separate problems, it may be that a route towards a solution may become visible by adopting a more integrated perspective and a fresh theoretical lens.

The juxtaposition of the problem of education for sustainability with the challenges and opportunities afforded by a partnership approach to university teaching offers a fresh perspective that may be beneficial to both. The adoption of staff–student partnership has been explored as one approach to curriculum development to address many of the inadequacies of transmissive university teaching (e.g., Cook-Sather et al, 2014). However, one of the problems inherent in the staff–student partnership approach to university teaching is the potential barrier to engagement generated by differences in power between the staff and students. To address this, it has been suggested by Kinchin (2021) that reframing the issue through the lens offered by a rhizomatic perspective allows us to view students and academics on paths representing ‘parallel states of becoming’—rather than ‘being’ different at a particular point in time. This ‘philosophy of becoming’ has been championed by Clarke and Mcphie (2016) as making a positive contribution to learning for sustainability, and is part of the wider consideration of rhizomatic thinking that has the potential to revolutionize sustainability education, as summarised by Le Grange (2011, 747):

When sustainability education is viewed rhizomatically, it becomes possible to integrate and transform Western and indigenous knowledge, and thus create new knowledge spaces in which new knowledge on sustainability (education) can be produced.”

A rhizomatic view of knowledge may, therefore, provide the point of conceptual overlap between engaging with students and promoting education for sustainability. Tillmanns et al (2014, 5) argue the following: ‘the rhizome has the potential to inspire educators and learners alike to become more critically aware of the interconnectivity and disruptive influences within sustainability’. Education for sustainability has to be more than dispensing information, and it is argued by Hroch (2014, 57) that we set ourselves the challenge to prepare ‘people-yet-to-come’ for life on a ‘planet-yet-to-come’. This requires ‘valuing learning as a process of transformation, the process of students coming to think differently, thereby becoming-other in the process, and supporting thinking differently from the norm’. Adopting a partnership approach to teaching at university may help to address these issues and allow us to face the discomfort and ‘brave spaces’ that have to be encountered if education for sustainability is to be truly transformative (e.g. Winks, 2018).

This Special Issue has a focus on innovations in higher education pedagogy and disruptive processes that might help education for sustainability to break free from the hegemony of the neoliberal university (Tillmanns et al, 2014), and move away from the danger that education for sustainability might be subverted as ‘education for consumerism and unbridled economic growth’ (Le Grange, 2011, 744). Submitted papers may address related issues that focus on education for sustainability with an emphasis on student engagement/partnership, and present empirical research, reviews, case studies, or conceptual pieces that consider how sustainability fits with a transformative view of university education, and challenge neoliberal norms. Authors should explicitly address the criticism leveled by Hroch, (2014, 54) that as an educational community, ‘we lack creativity. We lack resistance to the present’.


Clarke, D.A.G. & Mcphie, J. (2016) From places to paths: Learning for sustainability, teacher education and a philosophy of becoming. Environmental Education Research, 22(7), 1002 – 1024,

Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C., & Felten, P. (2014). Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching: A guide for faculty. John Wiley & Sons.

Kinchin, I.M. (2021) Towards a pedagogically healthy university: The essential foundation for successful student-staff partnership. In: Heron, M., Balloo, K., & Barnett, L. (Eds.). Exploring disciplinary teaching excellence in higher education: Student-staff partnerships for research. (forthcoming) Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hroch, P. (2014) Deleuze, Guattari, and Environmental Pedagogy and Politics: Ritournelles for a planet-yet-to-come. In: Carlin, M. & Wallin, J. (Eds.) Deleuze and Guattari, Politics and Education. (pp. 49 – 75). London, Bloomsbury.

Le Grange, L.L.L. (2011) Sustainability and higher education: From arborescent to rhizomatic thinking. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 43(7): 742 – 754.

Tillmanns, T., Holland, C., Lorenzi, F. & McDonagh, P. (2014) Interplay of rhizome and education for sustainable development. Journal of Teacher Education for Sustainability, 16(2), 5 – 17.

Winks, L. (2018) Discomfort, challenge and brave spaces in higher education. In: Leal Filho, W. (Ed.) Implementing sustainability in the curriculum of universities. (pp.99 – 111) Cham, Switzerland, Springer.

The Salutogenic University

New Paper:

Kinchin, I.M. (2020) Care as a threshold concept for teaching in the salutogenic university. Teaching in Higher Education, Available online at:   


The dominant narratives currently offering critique of the neoliberal university suggest a professional environment that is both uncaring and unhealthy. This paper adopts a Deleuzian gaze on the rhizomatic multiplicity of teaching to identify and reinterpret key lines of flight within this assemblage – identified as care, pedagogic health and salutogenesis. It is argued that the perspective described by the coexistence of these lines may develop a more positive ontology as a basis from which a university may be able to work towards a more productive state of healthy learning. The point at which the three lines of flight co-exist is hypothesised as a ‘triple point’.


The “best practice” monster.

So many times we hear colleagues talking about best practice; ‘adopting best practice’ or ‘considering best practice in the sector’. But does anyone know what that means? And if we do, then what exactly determines ‘best practice’? Is it just the ‘most commonly adopted practice’? And if that is the case then I give you ‘the passive, dull lecture dominated by PowerPoint slides’ as an example of best practice – after all, pretty much every university uses them. Most students seem to survive them, so they must be ok [irony alert].

Managers only seem to go for ‘best practice’ when it is also the ‘most cost-effective practice’. Surely in teaching best practice would be associated with one-to-one tutorials where we can really engage with students in a productive dialogue. But of course, it is not economically viable, so not many places engage in one-to-one teaching on any large scale. So if that is ‘best practice’ (if not economically viable), we are then then left with the next best option – ‘second-best-practice’. So are we really aiming for second best?

In reality, if we had a wish list of teaching strategies, we would probably have to strike off several top options as uneconomical. So we are probably looking some way down the list before we find an economically acceptable best practice. If this is indeed half way down our wish list, then in honesty we are looking at mediocrity. So we settle for mediocre practice, so long as we can turn out excellence at the far end. Economically that would look like a miracle: mediocrity in-excellence out.

Even if my jaundiced view is rather more negative than reality, when we are looking at ‘best practice’ we must be considering practices that are tried and tested and used by at least a reasonable number of our respected competitors. So we are looking at ‘accepted practice’ rather than ‘second best practice’. This then doesn’t sound quite so bad. But accepted practice might be less than excellent. Additionally, if we are adopting accepted practice, where is the room for innovation? If something is innovative, it clearly cannot also be accepted practice. Unless ‘accepted practice’ includes the use of innovation. But then do we need to have accepted boundaries for innovation to avoid a free for all in which we cannot really take stock of what we consider accepted practice to look like?

The other problem with innovation is that colleagues often demand evidence of success before they are willing to adopt an imposed innovation in their classrooms. Of course, by the time we have accumulated sufficient evident that particular practice can yield positive results then the practice is no longer innovative, but has entered the mainstream – and become ‘[second] best practice’. If we are adopting accepted best practice, then we must be ‘behind the curve’ and cannot be leaders in the field. If we are not leaders, we are followers – ‘also-rans’. Not a great aspiration!

So we end up with viewing ‘best practice’ as rather out-dated practice. So, for example, if we have lectures in which 40-50% of students don’t bother to attend, and we call that ‘best practice’ one has to wonder what ‘worst practice’ might look like. We need to agree what we consider best practice to be, based on our own terms and referents. It cannot be something that is averaged across institutions and across disciplines. This is why teachers at university need to view their teaching in the same scholarly manner as we do our research. Surely ‘best practice’ occurs when teachers have the expertise, agency and professionalism to develop their teaching approaches to suit their contexts. That doesn’t mean that we can’t pinch good ideas from other places. But we need to decide what we mean by ‘best practice’ and not what is arbitrarily decided by some mythical creature inhabiting academia – the best practice monster!

A salutogenic gaze on pedagogic frailty

By adopting a salutogenic gaze on pedagogic frailty we can reframe the problem in terms of ‘pedagogic health’:

Salutogenesis concept map

Further reading:

Kinchin, I.M. (2019) The salutogenic management of pedagogic frailty: A case of educational theory development using concept mapping. Education Sciences,9(2), 157.

The perils of peer review.

Peer review of published research is widely perceived to represent ‘the gold standard’ when it comes to academic rigor. Colleagues deliberately target prestige research journals that demonstrate clearly defined processes of peer review so that readers can have some assurance about the quality of the work they are reading. However, this is a system not without its critics:

 “There may even be some journals using the following classic system. The editor looks at the title of the paper and sends it to two friends whom the editor thinks know something about the subject. If both advise publication the editor sends it to the printers. If both advise against publication the editor rejects the paper. If the reviewers disagree the editor sends it to a third reviewer and does whatever he or she advises. This pastiche—which is not far from systems I have seen used—is little better than tossing a coin, because the level of agreement between reviewers on whether a paper should be published is little better than you’d expect by chance.” Smith (2006)

I have had a number of interesting peer review-related incidents in the past few years. I recall one paper that I wrote with colleagues. We decided to send it to the top journal in the field that had a very rigorous review system – sending the manuscript to four referees. However, it seems that more is not necessarily better. If you ask more and more people about anything, you will eventually find someone that disagrees and in the eyes of many editors, one negative review is more important than three positive reviews – as illustrated in the example below giving the first lines of each of the four reviews:

Reviewer #1: This is a very well written paper and an enjoyable read and as a result my review is (relatively) short.

Reviewer #2: [paper title] is an interesting conceptualisation, and one that would be of interest our readership.

Reviewer #3: My apologies for taking some time to get this review done, when I finally took the time to concentrate on the article I could hardly put it down. It is well written, poignant, and very timely. In a time where a large section of our faculties have a generation shift at their doorsteps, and external as well as internal pressures are growing, I could imagine that this article points out the reality for many colleagues.

However, [and here’s the killer]……

Reviewer #4: The challenge inherent in this manuscript is do we as an academic community want to see a suite of papers of this style? It is almost tedious to read the views of particular individuals.

Inevitably, the editor’s decision was to reject – influenced largely by the voice of reviewer #4, who was concerned about having a ‘suite of papers of this style’ – we had only submitted one. Evidently, a ‘conservative’ who didn’t want to deal with new perspectives or novel methodologies that might challenge the status quo and disrupt a field of enquiry. That might lead to progress, and then where would we be?

Of course, as most reviews are still anonymous, I have no idea who reviewer #4 was. He or she may be the most eminent researcher in the field. Or s/he may not. I frequently get sent papers from medical and engineering journals asking me for reviews of papers. I am not an expert in either field, but presumably some publisher’s AI device has picked me out of a list of names based on a key word that has been misinterpreted.

I have recently had another troubling experience with a paper that I sent for review to a very prestigious journal. The paper received one very positive review and one less so. The editor’s comment was that they only accept papers with ‘unambiguously positive reviews’. This seems to be excluding anything that one of my colleagues has described as ‘edgy research’, or anything that might actually cause debate.

However, I revised the paper [taking on board the feedback given], and sent it to another prestigious journal in the same field. Unfortunately I got the same result. One review said ‘publish’ while the second raised a number of concerns that warranted a reject. However, the second review was structured along the same lines as the negative review from the first submission. Not only that, the reviewer made the same criticism about the inclusion of a particular reference cited in the conclusion. What that reviewer [clearly the same negative reviewer from the first journal] failed to notice was that I had removed it between versions. The reviewer hadn’t even read the paper, but had cut and pasted comments from his/her earlier review! And this is the gold standard?

So, “peer review: a flawed process”, as described by Smith (2006). But it is the system we have.


Smith, R. (2006). Peer review: a flawed process at the heart of science and journals. Journal of the royal society of medicine, 99(4), 178-182.


Jizz and the joy of concept mapping.



Jizz map

PDF version   Jizz map



Ellis, R. (2011) Jizz and the joy of pattern recognition: Virtuosity, discipline and the agency of insight in UK naturalists’ arts of seeing. Social Studies of Science, 41(6), 769 – 790.

Kinchin, I.M. (2018) A ‘species identification’ approach to concept mapping in the classroom. Journal of Biological Education,

Pedagogy Trilogy


2016                                            2017                                           2018


This set of three books provides a comprehensive introduction to the application of concept mapping to reveal the knowledge structures that need to be explored in the examination of pedagogic frailty (2016), the exploration of the theory underpinning pedagogic frailty and how this relates to other areas of educational research (2017), and a series of practical case studies of academics from across the disciplines who have used the frailty model as a framework for their own reflective narratives (2018).


Reviews of the 2018 volume:


Concept mapping and the pedagogic frailty model form a powerful combination to drive reflection upon professional development, which is critical to respond rapidly to changes in the higher education system. This book is a must-read for any academic who wishes to become a resilient teacher.

Prof. Paulo Correia (University of São Paulo, Brazil).

Increasing pedagogic frailty is one of the biggest risks for academic quality in universities. This book gives a systematic, compact and research-based view about contemporary issues related to university teaching. It helped me to see the problems in my own university, and more importantly, it gave me ideas for solving them. I recommend this book to everybody who is involved in teaching at universities – from novice teachers to professors, administrators and senior managers.

Prof. Priit Reiska (Tallinn University, Estonia).