Journal of Nursing Education

Merging Reflective Inquiry and Self-Study as a Framework for Enhancing the Scholarship of Teaching

Denise J Drevdahl, PhD, RN; Richard W Stackman, PhD; Jill M Purdy, PhD; Belinda Y Louie, PhD



This article provides a model for improving teaching practice and developing new knowledge about teaching. The reflective self-study approach to pedagogical inquiry is rooted in reflective inquiry and self-study as found in nursing and education literature, respectively. The model offers nurse educators a mechanism by which they can better understand themselves as teachers and how their teaching affects students. Essential features of the model include interdisciplinarity and collaboration. Using the framework outlined Ln this article will help establish reflective self-study research as an accepted model of inquiry and further the dialogue on teaching in higher education.



This article provides a model for improving teaching practice and developing new knowledge about teaching. The reflective self-study approach to pedagogical inquiry is rooted in reflective inquiry and self-study as found in nursing and education literature, respectively. The model offers nurse educators a mechanism by which they can better understand themselves as teachers and how their teaching affects students. Essential features of the model include interdisciplinarity and collaboration. Using the framework outlined Ln this article will help establish reflective self-study research as an accepted model of inquiry and further the dialogue on teaching in higher education.

As an interdisciplinary team of university faculty from nursing, business administration, and education, the authors ere "double practitioners" (i.e., professional practitioners in their individual fields who also practice teaching). Excellence in teaching in any practice-based discipline is critical for transmitting new knowledge to the discipline's practitioners (Bobbi tt, 1985) and has importance not only for the profession but, ultimately, for the public with whom the practitioners interact (Krisman-Scott, Kershbaumer, & Thompson, 1998). This article describes one approach, reflective self-study, that nursing faculty can use to enhance the scholarship of teaching by improving their teaching practice and creating pedagogical content knowledge (i.e., an understanding of how to teach specific domains of knowledge) (Shulman, 1986).

Beyond institutional programs directed toward developing faculty as teachers (e.g., teaching seminars), new methodologies are required that facilitate instructional improvement and generate pedagogical knowledge. Currently, there are few scholars who contribute to the body of knowledge on teaching and learning in higher education (Weimer, 2000). This comes as no surprise given the general lack of rewards conferred on universitylevel teaching. In addition, most faculty, with the exception of those in the education field, are taught research methods specific to their disciplines, rather than methodologies targeted toward studying teaching. Often, when there are reports in the literature on teaching innovations or new pedagogical methods, the studies rarely provide any analysis of how the innovations worked, other than faculty reports of how students said they liked or did not like the approaches. Formal methods for developing and evaluating new models of teaching are largely missing (Martsolfetal., 1999).

To benefit both teaching and nursing practice, nurse educators must not only understand and articulate the theories relevant to their teaching but also must evaluate teaching outcomes more systematically (Weimer, 2000). Emphasizing good teaching means gaining pedagogical content knowledge. Although grade school and high school teachers acquire instructional knowledge on how best to teach from research conducted by faculty in colleges of education, nursing faculty mostly generate knowledge about teaching among themselves. Given the importance of pedagogy, not only for ourses entering practice but for nurses who become faculty and teach future generations of nurses, it is necessary to bring the same level of emphasis to the study and practice of teaching as is currently given to conducting discipline-specific research.

The shared experience of being double practitioners brought the authors together to search for frameworks useful in creating pedagogical knowledge and enhancing their teaching prowess. They raised the following questions about teaching and the study of teaching:

* How can the teacher whose skill and expertise are analogous to the skill and expertise of the researcher be created?

* How can it be ensured that what occurs in the classroom receives the same level of care and critique as what occurs in the research laboratory?

As university faculty, each with several years of teaching experience, the authors were dissatisfied with current methods used to advance teaching. These methods generally focused on workshops and conferences sponsored by university administrators. As the authors searched the literature of their respective fields for alternative methods about learning to teach, they identified self-study research and reflective inquiry as approaches useful for validating current teaching strategies, as well as for developing new knowledge about teaching.

The authors were enthusiastic about the possibilities self-study and reflective inquiry seemed to hold for them as university teachers. However, the literature lacked a good model for them to follow to move self-study and reflective inquiry beyond the concerns of the individual teacher to creating knowledge useable by other university faculty. Based on their synthesis of the literature, they developed their own model for conducting reflective self-study.

The education literature on self-study research and the nursing literature on reflective practice and inquiry informed the authors' model of reflective self-study. Although nursing faculty have encouraged students to reflect on their own practice, the authors maintain that reflective self-study is an important mechanism for nursing faculty to study and enhance their teaching practice. Therefore, the model shifted reflective practice and inquiry described in the nursing literature from the student to the teacher. In addition, the approach offered interdisciplinari ty and collaboration.

This article begins with a brief summary of the extant literature on self-study, along with an overview of reflective practice and reflective inquiry in nursing. It then turns to the placement of reflective self-study within contemporary research paradigms and concludes with a description of the proposed reflective self-study model.


Although there are strategies for ensuring valid and reliable research processes, mechanisms that ensure valid and reliable teaching often are absent from nursing education discussions. Kim (1999) maintained that methodologies are needed that "draw from the situated, individual instances of nursing practice in order to develop and augment the knowledge necessary to improve its practice'' (p. 1205). Looking for an approach for studying teaching, the authors' search of the education literature initially led them to self-study research. Self-study research was appealing because it encouraged the authors to initiate focused and systematic inquiry on their own teaching, thus allowing them to integrate teaching and scholarship. Additional examination of the nursing literature on reflective inquiry and practice confirmed the importance of studying the self as teacher. Both self-study research and reflective inquiry have selfreflection and inquiry as chief tenets, giving rise to the term reflective self-study.

Reflection is not a new process. For more than half a century, philosophers and educational theorists, beginning with Dewey (1910), have emphasized the importance of learning from practice and experience, as well as from conceptual knowledge (Freiré, 1970; Schön, 1983).

Reflection helps practitioners see their experiences within the broader social, political, and economic contexts (Glen, Clark, & Nicol, 1995) and in surfacing the tensions and contradictions between what teacher practitioners expect to achieve in relation to the way they practice.

As teachers construct obstacles - often unseen or unnoticed- that impede their attainment of goals, reflection can help them reconstruct these obstacles so they are "empowered to take appropriate action to resolve contradictions and realise desirable practice" (Johns, 1999, p. 241). In this way, reflection is a necessary predecessor to taking action and creating change (Glen et al., 1995). Therefore, the integration of self-study and reflective inquiry offers a feasible approach for advancing the scholarship of teaching. Each framework is considered separately.

Self-Study Research

Emerging from the field of teacher education, selfstudy research assists faculty in creating knowledge that helps understand and answer pedagogical questions. Selfstudy is a form of teacher inquiry built on the premise that teachers are knowers and agents of change in the classroom (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999) and supports Leino-Kilpi's (1990) assertion that a teacher "...must adopt a reflective and inquiry-oriented approach to her [sic] own job" (p. 192). In self-study research, faculty members study both themselves and the act of teaching, resulting in a clearer understanding about who they are as teachers. Furthermore, because self-study research provides university teachers the opportunity to explore their convictions and behaviors within the educational context (Whitehead, 1993), it also provides them the opportunity to know the complexities of teaching and learning and to create effective tools that can convey those complexities (Loughran & Northfield, 1998; Munby & Russell, 1994; Shuhnan, 1986). Simply stated, selfstudy inquiry helps improve classroom practices, as well as develop new knowledge about teaching (Cole & Knowles, 2000).

The authors' review of the self-study education literature (Louie, Drevdahl, Purdy, & Stackman, in press) revealed that self-study research falls into three categories:

* Identity-oriented research with its introspective examination of "who I am" and retrospective examinations of personal life history end professional development.

* Research on the relationships among teaching beliefs, focusing on faculty members' desire to improve their teaching practice.

* Collégial interaction.

Of particular interest is collégial interaction. This category examines the usefulness of self-study for providing social support and garnering peer feedback to understand oneself better because more often than not, self-study research is conducted collaboratively with colleagues. Collaborative self-study helps reduce self-serving biases and fosters dialogue and critique, which advance pedagogical knowledge. For these reasons, collaboration with colleagues is a critical component of reflective self-study.

Clearly, self-study is useful for improving the practice of teacher educators (Zeichner, 1999). Self-study examination of teaching beliefs and practices can contribute to curricular as well as instructional improvement (Munby, 1996). The strong belief exists that teaching improvement is made possible through understanding and articulating the motivations behind teachers' actions (Candy, 1991). Although the application of self-study within education informs teaching practice, it also can enhance one's professional practice.

Reflective Practice and Reflective Inquiry in Nursing

Following the publication of Schön's (1983) seminal book, The Reflective Practitioner, nursing adopted a more reflective approach to its practice, as exemplified in Benner'8 (1984) work. Reflective practice in the nursing literature is manifested in the use of self-reflection as part of nursing students' learning and discovery processes (Atkins & Murphy, 1993; Wong, Kember, Chung, & Yan, 1995). During the past decade, nurse educators have used journals and other forms of reflective writing assignments to help students know themselves and, thereby, gain knowledge that improves their practice (Robert, 1995; Mallik, 1998; Rooda & Nardi, 1999). Nurse educators also use journal entries to examine students' learning processes (Davies, 1995; Mayo, 1996).

However, the term "practitioner" extends beyond nursing students. Nurse educators are also practitioners and, as such, should engage in reflective practice. There are taken-for-granted practices within the teaching of nursing, comparable to day-to-day nursing practices, that require thorough examination. However, few articles in the nursing literature address the use of reflective practice for teachers because nursing shows more interest in the experiences and practices of students then of nurse educators.

In a rare example of a nurse educator participating in reflective practice. Glen et al. (1995) described a nursing student who, in learning to teach, engaged in reflective methods to evaluate her own teaching. Nevertheless, it was the nursing student (albeit as a teacher), rather than the faculty guiding the student, who did the reflecting. One is left wondering about the faculty's own reflections on teaching the student teacher. Even in Australie or the United Kingdom, where the bulk of the reflective practice literature originates, few nurse educators use journaling and reflection to examine their own teaching practice (Mallik, 1998). Scanlan and Chernomas (1997) pursued this concern and offered strategies for developing reflective teachers. They contended that employing tactics, such as regularly using reflective practices and talking with others about teaching experiences, helps teachers more clearly understand their teaching practices.

More recently, reflective inquiry has eppeered in the nursing literature (again, primarily in British and Australian journals). Although it was built on similar philosophical grounds as reflective practice, reflective inquiry difiere in terms of practice improvement. In reflective practice, the focus is on improving the selfs (usually a student's) practice, whereas the intent of reflective inquiry is to improve the practice of the overall discipline through knowledge generation. This distinction between reflective practice and reflective inquiry is critical for nurse educators interested in improving the education of nurses and contributing to the scholarship of teaching.

Reflective inquiry is an approach that uses a "deliberative process" (Schmieding, 1999, p. 635) critical to revealing the hidden knowledge of both teaching and nursing. Much of teachers' practical knowledge is tacit or implicit in their patterns of actions (Schön, 1983) and may be difficult to articulate. It is essential that nursing faculty make the "intuitive and unconscious knowing and meaning" of their classroom activities visible (Schmieding, 1999, p. 1141). Reflection is a mechanism that helps make this knowing and meaning - this practical teaching knowledge - more explicit (Platzer, Blake, & Ashford, 2000).

Therefore, reflective inquiry is a deliberate, as well as deliberative, process that contributes to the development of self-awareness and new knowledge, which leads to change (Atkins & Murphy, 1993; Kim, 1999; Schmieding, 1999). With each reflective activity comes new learning. Practitioners who engage in reflective inquiry hope to improve practice by identifying and integrating knowledge, thought, and action in an iterative process, such that knowledge and thought are combined to become actions that, once again, come under reflection and scrutiny.

Both Johns (1999) and Kim (1999) outlined the phases of reflective inquiry. For Johns (1999), reflective learning is a process encompassing enlightenment (i.e., helping practitioners understand who they are), empowerment (i.e., taking the necessary steps to change), and emancipation (i.e., freeing practitioners from their prior ways of practicing to be reconstituted as new practitioners). Kim's (1999) critical reflective inquiry model for developing nursing knowledge incorporates descriptive, reflective, and critical/emancipatory phases. In the descriptive phase, practice events are described and examined, while the reflective phase consists of analyzing practice against practitioners' beliefs and assumptions. The critical/emancipatory phase, as with Johns' (1999) process of emancipation, is directed toward identifying discrepancies and taking actions to create change. Therefore, engaging in reflective inquiry, as with self-study, is valuable in promoting change.

Both self-study and reflective inquiry are mechanisms by which practitioners gain knowledge about how to improve teaching practice. For university professors, selfstudy is about improving teaching through greater understanding of teachers' identities, developing relationships with colleagues, and exploring inconsistencies between teaching beliefs and practices. However, increased selfawareness about teaching is not enough. Reflection should be deliberate so any examination of reflection needs to be conducted in a "planned and systematic manner" (Scanlan & Chernomas, 1997, p. 1141).

Academics are interested in how reflective self-study research extends beyond improving teaching to creating valid knowledge about pedagogy. Nursing has embraced knowledge of the self as a way of knowing (Carper, 1978). Therefore, how can reflective self-study be conducted to produce knowledge about the practices of teaching? How can a vision of teaching encompass the personal act of teaching, as well as the science of teaching? The model for reflective self-study, as described in the following section, is one tool that university faculty can use to study their teaching.


Reflective self-study, as a framework for making sense of teaching, begins with a reflexive posture toward knowledge creation. That is, self-study teacher-researchers locate themselves and their research within, rather than outside, the social world they are studying (Eakin, Robertson, Poland, Coburn, & Edwards, 1996). Although a variety of paradigms and methodologies may be used to conduct reflective self-study, such as positivist, interpretive, and critícayfeminist (Lowenberg, 1993), teacherresearchers who intend to disseminate their findings to a broader authence must consider and address standards associated with the particular paradigm selected.

The authors acknowledge that one purpose for writing this article was their desire to have reflective self-study considered a legitimate approach to creating knowledge across academic disciplines. Research on teaching should be afforded the same recognition as other forms of inquiry. Because reflective self-study concerns studying the self, often by using qualitative methods, academics need to "...defend [their] work against those who would consider it merely subjective opinion or philosophical ruminating and therefore unscientific or unscholarly" (Angen, 2000, p. 380). The authors are not advocating for a blueprint for teacher-researchers to follow that will legitimize their endeavors. Instead, they are arguing for reflective selfstudy researchers to understand the issues and be able to answer the question, "How do we know you have conducted good research on your teaching?"

To address the issue of conducting systematic reflective self-study inquiry that advances the knowledge of teaching, the authors propose applying a three-stage model (Figure). In the assessment phase, researchers determine whether conditions amenable to conducting reflective self-study are present. Factors important to consider are the investigators' readiness, conditions for collaboration, and extant Literature on the researchers' selected subject matter. During the implementation phase, teacher-researchers focus on selecting data collection and analysis methods, paying close attention to process and validation issues. Finally, in the dissemination phase, practitioners provide the academic community with insights that enhance teaching practice. On completion of the dissemination phase, faculty members return to the assessment phase, having discovered new questions to investigate about themselves from the process of inquiry.

Assessment Phase

The initial phase of conducting reflective self-study is assessing the situation. Three levels of assessment- individual, group, and academic community - are performed to determine whether the environment and other circumstances are favorable for reflective self-study. At the individual level, teacher-researchers evaluate their personal readiness for participating in reflective self-study because the approach calls for truthful critique and a willingness to identify and confront existing frames of reference (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; Wood & Geddis, 1999).

Before reflective self-study researchers commence with their studies, they also must identify trusted and respected associates with whom they can collaborate on the projects. Although reflective self-study focuses on the individuar, collaborators help teacher-researchers confirm the techniques used, recognize contradictions in their teaching practice, and corroborate the interpretations made. Working as a group enhances the amount, completeness, and precision of the collected data as group members offer differing viewpoints that may stimulate new insights in other members (Anderson & Herr, 1999; Morse, 1994). Ultimately, collaboration opens possibilities for strengthening the teacher-researchers' ability to create new knowledge. It is important that reflective self-study researchers locate colleagues who are encouraging, as well as critical, and who are willing to offer perspectives contrary to those of the teacher-researchers. The successful group works together to share goals, consider problems, and create solutions (Schoenfeld, 1999).

Figure. Three-phase process model of reflective self-study.

Figure. Three-phase process model of reflective self-study.

Finally, self-study investigators must evaluate their research question's potential for contributing to pedagogical knowledge within the academic community. As with any formal line of inquiry, reflective self-study research is based on the extant literature to ensure it moves beyond personal reflection. Researchers must be confident their research questions are relevant, practical, feasible, and beneficial to the community of researchers (Angen, 2000).

Implementation Phase

There are a variety of data collection methods useful for reflective self-study inquiry. Although self-study research as an approach for generating knowledge is new to many disciplines, methods commonly employed in other research approaches often are used. One method popular in the field of education for self-study is narrative inquiry. This method has taken the form of life history (Oda, 1998), autobiography (Brown, 1999), and critical incidents (Mohammed, 1998). Additional methods focus on collecting data from students within the classroom and typically consist of focus groups (Squire, 1998), questionnaires (Grünau, Pedretti, Wolfe, & Galbraith, 1998), individual student interviews (Perselli, 1998), and student journals (Wilcox, 1998). Finally, there are methods that accentuate collecting faculty-generated artifacts, including course portfolios (Gipe, 1998), e-mail transcripts (Oda, 1998), and videotapes of the teacher teaching (Tidwell & Heston, 1998).

It is important that teacher-researchers select methods that expose and make available for anelysis, review, and critique, educators' successes, as well as their imperfections and flaws (Pinnegar & Russell, 1995). Teachers' practices, activities, beliefs, and feelings must be documented carefully because these writings are an additional avenue for data analysis (Richardson, 1994) and, ultimately, validation.

Methods selected for data analysis must fit with the data collected. As with data collection, there are many steps researchers can apply to data analysis. Data reduction, data display, and drawing and verifying conclusions are three processes proposed by Huberman and Miles (1994), whereas grounded theorists speek of axial coding and theoretical sensitivity (Straus & Corbin, 1998). Whichever process is chosen, it is critical that the reflective self-study reseercher meke explicit the steps teken in data anelysis (Denzin, 1989).

Reflective self-study research is not limited to one specific method of date collection and analysis. Many methods are possible. However, it is essentiel that reflective self-study researchers think carefully before selecting their methods so they can respond effectively to questions about the validity of their studies.

Dissemination Phase

Ultimately, teachers who conduct reflective self-study research have an obligation to make public the value of their research and how the results contribute to pedagogical knowledge. The question of how teacher-researchers' work connects to wider conceptual discourses in academia needs to be addressed. Reflective self-study researchers contribute to the growing body of knowledge on teaching by describing the theoretical frameworks of their research and explicating the insights garnered from their studies.

Although self-study often is conducted solely to improve teaching, it is important that the larger academic community be cognizant of the knowledge created through such endeavors. For reflective self-study to further the legitimacy and importance of the scholarship of teaching, faculty need to publish their findings and make all the steps of the research process visible and available for public critique. Minimally, reflective self-study research documentation should include an explanation and justification for the data collection and analysis methods used. Such documentation is necessary to establish the validation of the research (Angen, 2000), so valid knowledge claims can be discussed and negotiated further (Kvale, 1996) among more scholars. Although the knowledge created from reflective self-study projects may transform the essumptions and practices of teacherresearchers and their collaborators, faculty in all disciplines also should benefit. As results are disseminated, new directions for inquiry will emerge, motivating others to pursue their own reflective self-study, as well as urging teacher-researchers to begin reflective self-study anew.


University faculty need to encourage and develop pedagogical scholarship if teaching, as a scholarly endeavor, is to improve. The integration of education scholars' work on self-study with nursing scholars' work on reflective practice and inquiry holds significant potential for bettering teaching practice and creating valid, useful pedagogical content knowledge. By clarifying and making explicit the practices of teaching, researchers can add to the body of nursing knowledge, Although reflective self-study is not a substitute for the formal pedagogical training lacking in most doctoral nursing programs, it does provide an alternative means of professional development for nursing faculty, both for improving their teaching practice and advancing pedagogical knowledge. For interested faculty, the integration of teaching with scholarly inquiry eliminates the need to decide between focusing on teaching or research (Melland, 1996).

Methodologies and strategies that help faculty prepare for and improve their teaching practice are required because quality of teaching is related to how well nursing graduates are prepared for clinical practice and, ultimately, providing care to clients. Traditionally, scholarly work on teaching has been undervalued in academia, with faculty's teaching experience seldom discussed or studied because teaching frequently is viewed as personal interaction between faculty and students (Greene, 2000).

The process model proposed in this article requires teacher-researchers to design and implement studies with careful attention to issues of validation. The authors believe reflective self-study research will receive little regard in the greater academic community if teacherresearchers do not meet the epistemological and methodological challenges of conducting this form of inquiry. As such, researchers are obligated to document and justify inquiry processes so everyone can benefit. Using the framework outlined in this article will help establish reflective self-study research as an accepted model of inquiry and further the dialogue about teaching in higher education.


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