Part of my new role here at CTLT involves re-engaging in a more focused way with scholarship. Not that I’ve ever stopped doing scholarly writing–I continue to present at conferences and publish in journals and academic books. Yesterday I (please Gawd) put to bed a text book chapter for my very patient editor. J’espère..

When I first applied to work in the Distance & Blended Learning team, my role–instructional designer and project manager–wasn’t an academic one. Having a pretty strong academic c.v. (well I was a full-time academic until the year before), I decided to use a more general résumé to apply for that job. I was keen to:

  • demonstrate my skills and experience related to the job
  • avoid planting a “he really wants to be a prof” bomb in my application

Which apparently worked. 🙂

I think when I applied for my current role, some of my colleagues were a bit surprised at just how much writing for publication I’ve done. And, perhaps, wondered why I’ve done it. There are three reasons: 1.) we work in higher education and this is a highly valued practice; 2.) there is a great deal of currency in peer-reviewed publication; and 3.) I enjoy writing. Well, I enjoy the sense of satisfaction that comes with having written something well–the writing itself can be hateful.

Five years ago there was a fourth reason: keeping the door open to a possible professorship. Being a member of the professiorate was never my main motivator, although I enjoyed it while I did it. I don’t think that door is closed…but I’m not trying to keep a wedge in there: what I do in terms of scholarship I do for its own sake. Don’t hurt neither though.


My scholarship, though, has taken many forms and formats. Format-wise, I’ve presented full papers and posters at conferences, as well as given workshops. I’ve written journal articles, book chapters, and reference book materials.. I’ve done a fair bit of work as an editor too. A lot of my scholarship has been empirical and data-driven; a lot has also been theoretical or reflective

There is something akin to a food chain in academic work, though. Journal articles have the most currency, and the reputation of the journal in which one publishes adds another layer any paper’s fungibility. Text books largely trump other more general scholarly books, and both trump mainstream publishing. As a Canadian, there is a fine line between supporting our own (national) journals while acknowledging that the highest profile ones are rarely fabriqué au Canada.

And certainly empirical research–derived from data analysis–is the gold standard. Depending on a discipline–or even between journals within a discipline–quantitative, qualitative, mixed methods, or conceptual/theoretical methods are held in higher regard. Empirical research remains, in a large sense, the primary fuel in the research-intensive university’s engine.


Even so, I work  in a applied field: education (writ large), with various foci in educational design/development, educational technology, communities and practice, among others. And in these fields, reflective scholarship is still highly valued.

Individuals reflecting on their own practices is something most of us have found valuable to do and consume. It makes sense that engaging in that sort of self-reflection is valuable for ourselves. It also makes sense that some of these self-reflections will be valuable for others. Perhaps even more so when the reflection is collective–colleagues working collaborative to reflect on experience, task or role.

Reflective practice scholarship can be done as well–or badly–as any other approach.

Speaking of which…

I should be upfront with my own bias here. I think that we don’t do enough empirical work in education. I think that reflective scholarship, regardless of quality, has a rather large Achilles heel:

“yeah that’s what you think…what’s your evidence?”

Which speaks to the reasons I got involved in university-based research in the first place.

Before returning to uni for grad skool I had a job and a vocation. My job was adult education; my vocation was activism. As someone who spent many years fighting for justice (for queers, mental health consumers, women, persons living with HIV/AIDS) one of the greatest barriers to getting–pushing–policy makers to work in these communities’ best interests was a dearth of evidence supporting what we in community knew to be true. Our data were “anecdotal.”

I understand wholly what that means now. It doesn’t make that sort of arrogance any less infuriating, when people’s lives are at stake.

“Fine, we’ll get it in the literature” then I remember thinking, not really knowing how to do that.. And, to an extent I can more than merely live with, I have, using accepted and respected research methods.

Paradoxically, I’ve come to appreciate reflective work more as I’ve developed my own scholarship practice–though I still view reflective scholarship as the set up for empirical research that either confirms things or not–or at least helps teaseout the ambiguities.

But the bottom line for me is informed by the bottom line of the sorts of  policy makers that used to infuriate at me so much. Numbers–quantitative data–are “real” data to many powerful people, and qualitative data is, at best,  “interesting.” I disagree–but I’m also more than comfortable using methods that remove that sort of presumption off the table. You want numbers? I can get you numbers. But I value stories–so you’re getting some of those too. Mixed methods, in other words.


I’m not yet involved with any empirical studies as part of my new job. But I have as an activist: my social justice activism has shifted since becoming hypereducated to supporting community-based research.

Currently I volunteer with the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network on a groundbreaking study of the roles alcohol and stigma play in Aboriginal persons living with HIV/AIDS (APHAs) experiences seeking and receiving care. My contribution is largely methodological: it’s CAAN’s first large-scale mixed methods study.

We’re soon transitioning out of the quantitative and into the qualitative phase of data collection (though there’s never a tidy division between these). Already we have data that will bring experiences activists have had for years into the public policy debate. While ensuring the research process and findings are aligned with Aboriginal community values.

I’m proud to be able to do this sort of thing; I’m equally excited at the prospect of working within the university research paradigm a bit more in my new role!

About John P Egan

Learning technology professional.
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