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Data collection as an agent for dissemination and change


Written by Barbara Kempf (Academic Practice Team & LITE Fellow, Inclusive Assessment and Group Work)

My exploratory approach

In this blog, I would like to introduce readers to an innovative approach to scholarship. This approach advocates greater agency for the researcher in developing dialogical relationships with research participants, which, I argue, can result in better dissemination and greater impact.

In this approach, researcher(s) and participant(s) engage in an exploratory dialogue focused on building a collaborative relationship for maximum impact on future student experiences. This interaction allows both the researcher and the participant to ask questions, reflect on their practice, and tell and listen to stories of how they and others approach difficult questions. This means possibilities of positive change can be explored in collaboration and existing innovative practice disseminated during the data gathering process itself.

Theoretical foundations

The development of this novel approach has been partially inspired by the ‘reflexive thematic analysis’ model advocated by Virginia Braun and Victoria Clarke (Braun & Clarke:2022, pp.6-8). They abandon the positivist idea of the objective researcher, in favour of the view that ‘knowledge generation is inherently subjective and situated’ and treats ‘subjectivity as resource’ (ibid. P. 8). Braun and Clarke advocate that themes do not ‘emerge’ from the research but are ‘actively produced’ (Braun & Clarke. 2022, p.8). They require the researcher to continually reflect on their own assumptions and perspectives, to own these, and consider how they interact with the research process/methods, such as data selection and interpretation.

With this theoretical underpinning I reflected on how my background and motivations influence my LITE fellowship. I am a linguist and studied literature. Therefore, I pay careful attention to the language people use or avoid using and the associations they make in conversation. This allows me to be present in conversation and probe more deeply into the meaning people convey with language. But how does this impact my research?

For instance, in the student interviews I analysed, it struck me how students used phrases that expressed ‘chance’ or ‘luck’ as being the key factor in their group-work experience rather than skills or support given by tutors. For example, students might say: ‘I feel I have been very lucky, everyone I have worked with seems to know what they are talking about.’ Or alternatively ‘I ended up the only one in a group of internationals.’ These phrases indicate that students feel done to rather than engaged and active in this context and this may relate closely to why group work is experienced as ‘stressful’ or ‘unfair’. These observations might not have occurred to me in the same way if my background was in another subject. Were this the case, I might have paid more attention to the frequency of certain utterances rather than implied meaning, for example.

I also reflected on what motivated me. My main motivation is to achieve change. Specifically, it is to make group work and group assessment a better, fairer, and more inclusive experience for students. This is important to me on a personal level.  Firstly, as a speaker of English as a second language who came first to the UK to study – I understand the difficulties faced by international students when it comes to language, cultural misunderstandings and belonging. More recently, I also witnessed my husband’s demoralising experience of group work as a neurodiverse mature student at Leeds in 2019.

In my substantive role as Academic Development Consultant within OD&PL (Organisational Development and Professional Learning), I perceive myself as an agent of organisational change. So, I approached my scholarship with the aim of achieving maximum impact through the production of practical guidance to staff on how to facilitate group work and assessment in more supportive and inclusive ways. In my previous field, working in social housing, all customer-facing staff were encouraged to maximise the impact of each contact with a customer. If a tenant called about repairs, staff used the opportunity to talk to them about arrears at the same time. If a repairs officer visited a property, it was a chance to check if the tenant was ok or needed any additional support. So, it came naturally to me to use the conversations with colleagues for more than one purpose. This is why I chose to deploy data collection as an agent for dissemination and change.

Methodological process

My data collection involved 43 conversations with students undertaken by LITE student project assistants and 20 conversations with academics/academic support staff with expertise in group work (the latter were undertaken by me). For reasons discussed above I considered these 20 conversations as an opportunity not only to find out about colleagues’ existing practice but also to dialogue with them    I wanted to create interest, buy-in and ripples of a conversation across the university. The more people are talking about group work, the more people will be interested in engaging with my fellowship and receptive to its findings.

Consistent with my dialogic approach, I decided not just to gather data on how things are now, but to gently challenge interviewees in conversation. I would first ask participants to tell me about their existing practice of group work and group assessments, the context and what worked well or what they might want to change in the future. Moving on from there, the conversation became more of a reflective dialogue. As well as listening actively, I might share stories based on existing practice I’d read or been told about, and ask open-ended, ‘incisive questions’ (Kline, 1999) about these or their own examples.

Let me illustrate what I mean. I might point out to colleagues that they had equated ‘silent’ with ‘lazy’ or ‘non-engaged’ and probe how they felt about this. When somebody had plans to abandon a particular practice, I might offer an example of how this was used differently in different contexts or contrast their view with others. Some very interesting conversations developed, for example about competence standards, peer feedback, surfacing skills, and how to make group work safer. The dialogical relationships that developed also resulted in many of the participants expressing an interest in piloting some of the good practice in the next semester. I started to record instances of participants telling me of their intention to change their existing practice in light of what we discussed. I also noted instances where participants thought aloud about possible improvements. I have listed these instances in the appendix (see link below).

Nine out of 20 interviewees made a point of expressing a desire for change during our conversations. Some were more explicit in stating that they found the discussion helpful, useful, or thought-provoking. Two said they were about to review their module/programme and wanted to incorporate some of the new ideas. In one instance I later learned later that this has already been done. Meanwhile, those who did not express an intention or desire to make changes to their group work practice, were those whose collaborative student projects already contained many features that addressed the reservations expressed by students, by disability services or those mentioned in the literature. Note: I find Tony Morgan, Lena Jaspersen and Louisa Hill's comprehensive list of factors enhancing group work in their I-DE-ES LITE fellowship most relevant, particularly their sub-project on diverse and interdisciplinary teams (see Snapshot). On reflection, although I was not aware of their study when I analysed the transcripts, it is encouraging that many of the themes identified in my study across different faculties echoed many of its findings.

In addition to the recorded instances where participants indicated that they were going to change something in their practice, all participants, except for one (who was due to start maternity leave), expressed an interest in being involved in the good practice pilot. This is further evidence of a willingness to implement change. At the time of writing this blog, 54 colleagues and students have booked to take part in next week’s design thinking workshop. Here, ways of disseminating the group work practice (assembled through my fellowship) will be co-created. This further demonstrates that the conversation ripples are developing momentum and, hopefully, will ultimately lead to positive change in the student experience.

I would be interested in hearing the views of colleagues about this change-focused approach. Please contact me at


Link to Appendix

Here is a list of the expressions I recorded as “impact on colleagues’ thinking or intention” in the conversations


Braun, V. & Clarke, V., 2022. Thematic Analysis. A practical Guide. London: Sage.

Kline, N., 1999. Time to Think. Listening to Ignite the Human Mind. New York; London: Hachette.

Jaspersen, L. & Morgan, T., 2023. Diverging and converging for team-based learning. Available at: [Accessed 31 May 2024].

Morgan, T., Jaspersen, L. & Hill, L., 2021. I-DE-ES LITE. Available at: [Accessed 31 May 2024].