Originally trained in linguistics (BA in French and Russian; MA in translation studies; and a PhD in applied Russian linguistics/translation studies), Dr Karen Smith has been working within the field of educational development and higher education research since 2003.
Dr Smith began her academic career with the research and evaluation team at the Learning and Teaching Institute at Sheffield Hallam University where she carried out research into the student experience. She then took on the role of lecturer in strategic development within the same institute, where she contributed to the development of the university’s learning, teaching and assessment strategy and, with Professor Sue Clegg, researched higher education policy development. Dr Smith also taught on a top-up degree programme in Hong Kong, which fuelled a enduring research interest in transnational education (TNE).
In 2007, Dr Smith moved to Heriot-Watt University where she was programme leader for the postgraduate certificate in academic practice. She continued to develop her TNE research using techniques from critical discourse analysis (CDA). In 2009 Dr Smith began a research fellow role at Glasgow Caledonian University. She led the research strand on transformational change within the Caledonian Academy. Her work focused on transformation through innovation (diffusion of innovative learning and teaching practices) and transformation through intercultrality (transnational education and international student experiences).
During this period, Dr Smith was awarded Higher Education Academy funding (with Drs Nick Pilcher and Jackie Riley) to look at international students’ experiences of exams. She won the Society for Research into Higher Education’s Newer Researcher prize, and published a study skills guide for dissertation students (with Professor Malcolm Todd and Julia Waldman). Dr Smith joined the educational development unit at the University of Greenwich in August 2011. She teaches on the postgraduate certificate in higher education and is editor for the institution’s learning and teaching journal.
Her current research is focused on the use of policy in higher education research and development. In 2013 she won funding from the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA) to look at how educational development work is shaped by higher education policy.
Responsibilities within the university
Dr Karen Smith teaches on and is admissions tutor for the Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education and is involved in supporting a number of strategic University of Greenwich initiatives including new arrivals and transition and the Greenwich Graduate initiative. She is critical friend to the Faculty of Architecture, Computing & Humanities, where she works with programme teams around curriculum development as they prepare for programme approval and review.
Dr Smith also supports the development of pedagogic research within the university in order to enhance teaching, learning and assessment practices. As part of this role, she manages the University of Greenwich's teaching and learning journal Compass. Dr Smith is also a supervisor for doctoral students in the School of Education.
In 2009, Dr Smith was awarded the Newer Researcher Prize from the Society for Research into Higher Education. The prize money enabled her to carry out a project into transnational higher education entitled: Transforming academic practices through transnational teaching experiences. This research project used an innovative research method, the biographical narrative interpretive method (BNIM) and resulted in two research articles in impact-rated journals, two conference papers, three invited talks and one invited opinion piece.
Dr Karen Smith sits on the Governing Council of the Society for Research into Higher Education and is a member of their publications committee.
She is currently a member of the editorial boards for Teaching in Higher Education, Enhancing Learning in the Social Sciences, and Higher Education Teaching and Learning. She is also a regular reviewer on a number of higher education research journals.
Dr Smith was external examiner for Keele University’s MA in Higher Education from 2009–13.
In 2013, Dr Smith was awarded a senior fellowship of the Higher Education Academy.
Dr Smith's research is centred around how higher education policies and practices impact on those who work and study within the university system. Her work has focused specifically on transnational educators, international students, educational developers and innovative practitioners and has demonstrated how their experience of university is shaped by its policies, procedures and initiatives.
Dr Smith's work draws on a range of research methods (e.g. in-depth interviewing, activity-based focus groups, questionnaires) but she is particularly interested in drawing on relatively underused methods within higher education research (i.e. the biographical narrative interpretive method (BNIM) and critical discourse analysis (CDA)) and exploring their potential for this field.
Recent funded projects
Higher education policy and the shaping of educational development practice (2013–14)
Funded by the Staff and Educational Development Association
Educational developers are key interpreters of higher education policy, yet little research to date has focused on the connection between policy and educational development practice. This project provides a systematic, multi-dimensional and critical analysis aimed at showing how policy messages are communicated and played out within educational development. This study employs methods from critical discourse analysis (CDA) to analyse a major UK policy relating to learning and teaching, the Learning and Teaching chapter from the Quality Assurance Agency's Quality Code.
The analysis focuses on three dimensions: the structure, organisation and choice of words in the policy text itself; the way in which it was developed and how it is interpreted; and the socio-cultural conditions that govern the process of the policy's production, reception and implementation. The combination of the textual analysis of existing policy documentation and the interpretation of in-depth interview data collected from policy developers and policy users will paint a rich picture of policy in context and its constitutive power.
The findings from this research, disseminated through publications and conferences, will help throw light on the depiction of educational development work within national policy. They will also reveal how developers respond to, work with, shape and, in turn, are themselves shaped by policy.
The project blog outlining the development of the research can be found at: http://blogs.gre.ac.uk/policyandeddev/
An unturned stone: exams and international students (2009–10)
Funded by the Higher Education Academy
While there is much research and guidance into the academic tasks and practices that international students have to manage, their experiences of exams have been under-explored. It is implicitly assumed within most literature that exams, when compared to other forms of assessment, are unproblematic for international students. Our experiences, of international students' disappointment with the results of their first UK exams, suggested the opposite. This project researched international students' perceptions of the differences between UK exams compared with their home countries' exams. It used questionnaire (n=168) and in-depth 'before' and 'after' interview (n=21) data.
The findings showed variation between previous experiences and expectations regarding exam preparation, exam environment, and, critically, the exam answers. The research recommends that lecturers clarify what is expected in exams early and use more exam-like tasks to expose and explore the contrasts between home and UK exams.
The findings from this project have been published in an international peer-reviewed journal:
Pilcher, N., Smith, K., and Riley, J. (2013) International students' first encounters with exams in the UK: superficially similar but deeply different. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 25(1), pp. 1–13. Available online at: www.isetl.org/ijtlhe/pdf/IJTLHE1389.pdf
Practical outcomes from the project include a website to share the findings with international students (http://www.napier.ac.uk/study/support/study/exams-and-international-students/Pages/Exams-international-students.aspx ). This summarises the research and gives regional overviews and checklists to help empower students and stimulate discussion around assessment. All resources recognise and celebrate diversity (35 nationalities participated). The resources have been integrated into in-sessional international student support at Edinburgh Napier and international student inductions at Glasgow Caledonian University.
Transforming academic practices through transnational teaching experiences
Funded by the Society for Research into Higher Education
The research comprised a small-scale study into academics' experiences of transnational education (TNE) through 'flying faculty' teaching. Mezirow (1991) has argued that critical reflection can lead to transformational learning and the enhancement of an individual's personal and professional practice. The aim of this study was to investigate whether 'flying faculty' experiences can form the 'disorientating dilemma' (Mezirow, 1991) required to trigger the reflective process.
The research employed an approach to narrative interviewing that has been little used within higher education research: the Biographic-Narrative-Interpretative Method. Five academic staff were interviewed on three occasions about their experiences of teaching outside of the country in which they ordinarily work. The findings painted a rich picture of 'flying faculty' teaching experiences and how these experiences engender perspective change around academic practices. In particular, the impact they have on the what, the how and the why of teaching and learning both 'home' and 'abroad'. They showed the challenges faced by academic staff when they took on roles that required them to work outside of their usual context.
The findings also raised questions about the kinds of professional development opportunities that should be offered to staff who work transnationally; findings that have been fed into discussions within the Higher Education Academy's Special Interest Group on TNE.
The research also resulted in two peer-reviewed papers in impact-rated journals:
Smith, K. (2014) Exploring flying faculty teaching experiences: motivations, challenges and opportunities. Studies in Higher Education. Available online at: www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03075079.2011.646259
Smith, K. (2013) Overseas flying faculty teaching as a trigger for transformative professional development. International Journal for Academic Development, 18(2), pp. 127–38. Available online at: www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1360144X.2012.655280
An opinion piece:
Smith, K. (2012) Flying faculty teaching – who benefits? University World News, 212. 11 March 2012. Available online at: www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20120307143954219&query=karen+smith
And three invited talks:
Smith, K. 2013. Using the biographical narrative interpretive method to research transnational teaching experiences. Keynote speech presented at the Northumbria Pedagogic Research Study Day, Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK , 1 July 2013.
Smith, K. 2012. Teaching transnationally: the challenges and opportunities of flying faculty visits overseas. Paper presented at The Learning Planet – A Global Guide to Education, University of Middlesex Annual Learning and Teaching Conference, Middlesex, UK, 26 June 2012.
Smith, K. 2011. Transnational teaching experiences: what can they teach us? Talk given at Glasgow University, 31 March 2011.
and Smith, Karen L. (2014) The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework: what’s academic practice got to do with it?.
Smith, Karen (2014) Exploring flying faculty teaching experiences: Motivations, challenges and opportunities.
and Riley, Jackie (2013) International students’ first encounters with exams in the UK: superficially similar but deeply different.
Smith, Karen (2013) Overseas flying faculty teaching as a trigger for transformative professional development.
Smith, Karen (2012) Lessons learnt from literature on the diffusion of innovative learning and teaching practices in higher education.
Smith, Karen (2011) Cultivating innovative learning and teaching cultures: A question of garden design.
Smith, Karen (2010) Assuring quality in transnational higher education: A matter of collaboration or control?.
and Smith, Karen (2010) Learning, teaching and assessment strategies in higher education: Contradictions of genre and desiring.
Smith, Karen L.
and Fernie, Scott (2010) Exposing new academics through action research?.
Smith, Karen L. (2009) Transnational teaching experiences: an under‐explored territory for transformative professional development.
Smith, Karen (2008) ‘Who do you think you’re talking to?’ — the discourse of learning and teaching strategies.
and Smith, Karen (2007) Acknowledging the affective in higher education.
and Todd, Malcolm J. (2007) The challenges of reflection: students learning from work placements.
Smith, Karen (2013) Critical discourse analysis and higher education research.
Smith, Karen L.
and Davies, Joanne (2010) Qualitative data analysis.
Smith, Karen L.
and Fernie, Scott (2010) Action research.
Smith, Karen (2007) Rhetorical figures and the translation of advertising headlines.
Smith, Karen (2009) The translation of advertising texts: a study of English-language advertisements and their translations in Russian.
Smith, Karen L.,
and Waldman, Julia (2009) Doing your undergraduate social sciences dissertation.