Teaching: Introduction to Educational Inquiry

Last term I was course tutor on a core unit for taught masters students at Bristol’s Graduate School of Education. The unit – Introduction to Educational Inquiry (‘IEI’) – is a pre-dissertation research training course that covers research philosophy and design, data collection and analysis (quantitative/qualitative), ethics, and dissemination.  Students work in groups to undertake projects, the findings of which are presented at the end-of-term IEI conference. Assignments are then submitted involving reflection on the research process. The unit is notorious for being an intense introduction to research but it gives students a strong grounding in the theory and practice of educational inquiry before they plan their dissertations.

I’ve taught research methods before and helped run research workshops for MSc/PhD students, but this is the first time that I’ve taught a full unit on the topic. I was blessed to have a wonderful group who were more than happy to challenge both me and each other throughout the 10 week course. Having a diverse student body in terms of culture, education, and professional backgrounds made for a wonderful experience. We had mathematicians, scientists and psychologists entrenched in post-positivism debating with teachers, philosophers, and feminists who identified more with interpretivist traditions. Seminars became fertile spaces for debating epistemology, ethics and a whole plethora of issues that some established academics shy away from! The volume of A-grade students was impressive, and it was lovely to get a round of applause in my final lecture.

Because of fieldwork commitments in the new academic year I may not be teaching IEI in the Autumn. Instead, I’ll be leading a unit called Controversial Issues in Special and Inclusive Education – another fantastic space for debating hot topics. Roll on October 2016!


(Pictured: Berkeley Square, home to Bristol’s GSoE.)

Living with Arthritis: Young People’s Experiences

It’s almost three years to the day that Healthtalk.org launched a section on its website about young people’s experiences of living with arthritis. Most people who know my work tend to associate me with the PMLD field. However, before my postdoc I worked on a range of projects in education and healthcare. During one of these projects I was based at the Health Experiences Research Group, University of Oxford. My job as a qualitative researcher was to develop an online information resource for young people with arthritis and those involved in their care.  This involved interviewing about 40 young people with arthritis (aged 10-28) to learn about the condition from a patient perspective. 10 parents were also interviewed about their experiences of caring for a young person with arthritis. The results were analysed, summarised, and published online, with dozens of accompanying video and audio clips to contextualise the findings. There were also video diaries submitted by young people, and an interview with paediatric rheumatologist, Dr Janet McDonagh. If you’re interested in the topic or know a young person with arthritis then please feel free to browse and share the link.

Healthtalk.org provides free and reliable health information on over 90 subjects such as cancer, HIV, mental health, autism, and Parkinson’s disease. With over 5 million visitors each year, 3,500+ interviewees on record, and an increasing catalogue of information on health and illness it’s a website that’s worth bookmarking!




Profound Intellectual Disability Symposium: Finland (2017)

One of the perks of being an academic is the opportunity to travel and talk to people about issues that you feel passionate about. Over the last few years I’ve been fortunate enough to share my research with international audiences (e.g. in Hong Kong, Switzerland, and Australia). I’ve also listened to inspiring presentations about work being conducted in different parts of the world. However, I rarely meet fellow researchers with an interest in people with PMLD. This is partly because there are relatively few ‘research active’ academics in the PMLD field, and partly because those that do undertake research tend to engage in experiments and present at scientific conferences. As a critical and qualitative researcher with a penchant for theory I find myself yearning for a group of peers who are keen to debate major themes in the PMLD field such as personhood, ethics, inclusion, quality of life, and methodological innovation. Such topics are on the fringe of the PMLD field yet should be at its core.

Perhaps things are about to change. I was recently invited by Simo Vehmas (Helsinki) to take part in a two-day symposium in Finland about people with profound intellectual disabilities. The idea is for 8 people to present papers on the intersection of philosophy/theory and empirical research as it relates to people with PMLD. The participants are big hitters in disability studies, feminism, anthropology, and philosophy, and include Eva Kittay (New York), Tom Shakespeare (UEA), Don Kulick (Chicago) and Nick Watson (Glasgow).  This is a novel symposium that will hopefully provide space for fascinating discussions which significantly push the boundaries of the PMLD field. Whilst it’s humbling being invited to present alongside esteemed colleagues, I’m excited to share ideas with a group who can significantly challenge and extend my own thinking in this area.

This symposium is still far off (2017) but I look forward to sharing more about it in due course.