Tett, Lyn (2009) Research and student voice. In: SCUTREA (Standing conference on university teaching and research in the education of adults) 39th annual conference, 7th-9th July 2009, University of Cambridge.

This paper is written partly as a response to a critique from Sally Baker and her
colleagues (2006) about an article that John Bamber and I published (Bamber
and Tett, 2001) in 2001. Their critique was based on the grounds that we had
developed our arguments in a way that depended ‘on an assumption about the
veracity of student participants [that] represents a solipsistic retreat into a state of
analysis where things are the case because people say they are’ (p 175).
Criticism is never comfortable but it did provoke me into thinking about the nature
of evidence that is derived from interviews and focus groups with students. Does
this imply, as Baker and colleagues argue, that this methodology inevitably
means that researchers have ‘not taken a systematically sociologically informed
analysis of the nature of institutions or society or the material obstacles to
change but have instead relied on the subjective individualised realm of student
experiences’ (p 175)? I will argue that this is an over-simplistic interpretation of
data that are based on students’ voices and I will draw on findings from a variety
of educational provision ranging from universities to informal literacy provision in
community settings to examine the role of the researcher in listening to and
reinterpreting the detail of people’s lives. There are of course many issues
raised by data derived from using student voices as a method of enquiry so I will
begin with the problems raised for research that is based on listening to, and
interpreting from, interviews with students.


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