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BERA Bites Part of series: BERA Bites

BERA Bites, issue 3: Innovative methods for educational research

The BERA Bites series presents selected articles from the BERA Blog on key topics in education, presented in an easily printable and digestible format to serve as teaching and learning resources for students and professionals in education. Each collection features an introduction by editors with expertise in the field, and each article includes questions for discussion, composed by the authors, prompting readers to further explore the ideas and arguments put forward in the original articles.

In this collection in the BERA Bites series – edited by Alison Fox and Carmel Capewell, co-convenors of BERA’s Research Methodology in Education special interest group – brings together articles from the BERA Blog to offer contemporary insights into educational research, focussed on the topic of ‘innovative methods for educational research’ and presenting a range of approaches and techniques that can be of great use to both teaching and research. 

Several pieces in the collection consider the use of participatory methods with young children, with several authors discussing Clark and Moss’s Mosaic approach. Also covered are different narrative approaches, the use of visual methods, rethinking observation as a method and approaches to network mapping, and the collection concludes with a reflection on the power of metaphor for analysis and reporting of research.

The articles focus on the following issues.

  • Which research methods to use – and potentially combine – when planning child-friendly research in the early years; the difficulties in defining ‘play’ given the differences between child and adult perceptions and the implications of this for researchers; and the value of putting the child at the centre of data-collection in a respectful and ethical way. 
  • Using non-text picture books or graphic novels as means for children to explore and explain their experiences.
  • How the use of storytelling – something with which young children are familiar – as a method may ensure that the perceptions of children participating in research are less influenced by adults’ voices.
  • The use of walking interviews as a participatory means of investigating how both research participants, both adult and child, interact with the space around them, and the ethical concerns that may arise from using such methods.
  • A theoretical underpinning for what happens when individuals tell stories – specifically the extent to which stories allow an individual to explore their own subjective experience both to better understand it and to gain ‘objective’ insights.
  • The power of systematic, structured observation to provide a robust evidence base with which to challenge, in this example, normative views of classroom activity.
  • How using the Tavistock method of observation, originally used to train psychotherapists, can give practitioners and researchers ‘new eyes’ with which to observe their own practice, and to see experience from a young child’s perspective.
  • The potential of social network analysis as a means of gathering evidence about the structures of relationships within a setting, which is otherwise difficult to capture.
  • How netnography, a method of entering online settings and undertaking participant observation, offers a parallel approach to more established ethnographic methods of studying culture and community.
  • The power of metaphors to rethink educational practice, and the need to consider how they can best be used to aid students’ learning.


Editorial / Alison Fox & Carmel Capewell

1. Child-friendly research in the early years / Karen McInnes

2. Researchers drawing on teachers’ tools: Picturebooks with migrant learners / Helen Hanna

3. What younger children really think and understand about internet safety: The value of storytelling as a research method / Lindsey Watson

4. Walking interviews: A participatory research tool with legs? / Kathryn Spicksley

5. Telling stories: How can narrative practices better support education professionals during times of transition? / Penny Amott

6. Group work in primary classrooms: No longer a waste of time / Christine Howe

7. Observing to understand: Using a Tavistock style of observation to support reflective practice / Kelly Brooker

8. Understanding social transformation and school environments through social network analysis / Marc Sarazin

9. Netnography: Exploring ‘innovative’ approaches to research / Diana Tremayne

10. Metaphorically speaking… / Alke Gröppel-Wegener