HETL Global Communities

Democratising Higher Education Research: A Case Study of HETL Publishing Activities

April 30, 2015 in Volume 5

HETL Note: This article is the first of two articles in IHR on democratising higher education, which complements the recently published book on the same topic titled, Democratizing Higher Education, by Routledge. In this academic article, Drs. Angelito Calma and Kumaran Rajaram review the research and publishing activities of the International HETL Association during the first four years of its existence. The article examines how international higher education research has developed over the past several years and HETL’s role in facilitating that development. The authors note that in order “to contribute to the ongoing debate on democratisation…it is imperative to understand the current state of contributions collected by HETL”.  Since the democratisation in higher education is currently under-researched, these articles and books on the topic add a much needed foundation to the emerging knowledge base on the topic.

Author Bios:

AngelitoCalmaImageDr. Angelito Calma is a lecturer in higher education at the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT), Faculty of Business and Economics, The University of Melbourne. He worked at the Centre for the Study of Higher Education (CSHE) at the University of Melbourne gaining his doctorate and participating in a number of research projects (2006-2009); and as a Content Manager – Professional Programs & Pathways, CPA Australia – Melbourne (2009-2010). He is Associate Editor of the Higher Education Research and Development Journal (HERD) and Associate Senior Editor of the International Higher Education Teaching and Learning Review (IHR).

KumaranRajaramImageDr. Kumaran Rajaram is a lecturer, module leader, and research scholar, at the Nanyang Technological University. He is a practitioner in business management and organizational science and a research scholar who specializes in learning culture, culture of learning and internationalization of business higher education. He currently serves as an adhoc reviewer for Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia, Journal of International Education in Business and advisor for International Journal of Business Derivatives.


Democratising Higher Education Research: A Case Study of HETL Publishing Activities

Angelito Calma

The University of Melbourne, Australia

Kumaran Rajaram

Nanyang Technological University, Singapore



This paper provides an overview of what is being researched and published in the various HETL publication outlets such as IHR, JARHE, JMCE and books. It examines how the field of higher education research has developed in the recent past and how HETL has helped to facilitate that development. Thematic analysis was used to analyse 105 journal articles and nine books. Patterns were observed. Findings suggest that the most discussed issues relate to use of technology, the applications of particular teaching and learning approaches and modalities, undergraduate study experience and student engagement. The methods explored were mostly qualitative and exploratory, focusing mainly on authors’ experiences of initiatives within their universities and ideas about higher education teaching and learning pedagogy. At the conclusion, the missing aspects in the research have been identified and suggestions for future research are provided.

Keywords: teaching and learning, research, publishing, thematic analysis, case study


In celebrating Higher Education Teaching and Learning Association’s (HETL) fifth anniversary, it is only befitting to look into its achievements. It is a relatively new association yet arguably one that has gained international recognition as one of the fastest growing organisations that promotes the scholarship and practice of teaching and learning in higher education.  With an international community of scholars and various publication avenues, and a re-developed online presence, HETL has published more than a hundred journal articles and books from its various outlets since 2009: International HETL Review (IHR), Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education (JARHE) and Journal of Meaning-Centred Education (JMCE). The association also regularly contributes through its series of anthologies, newsletters and conference proceedings. Its successful conference each year also attracts hundreds of academics from around the world.

The call to examine the democratisation of higher education is timely in this special issue. It not only illustrates the association’s interest in higher education theory, policy and practice but it also recognises the global forces that continue to shape higher education today and into the future. The ‘massification’ of higher education, political and economic forces, state and regulatory pressures, advances in technology and financial constraints are just some of the changes that the association sees as having a significant impact on the way higher education is transformed. To contribute to the ongoing debate on democratisation, its magnitude and direction, it is imperative to understand the current state of contributions collected by HETL. It is in this past that we can understand what we can do today and envisage what lies ahead.

The basic tenets of democratisation are already embodied in HETL. Its shared governance, global community, collaboration, participation and engagement experiences describe its interest in democratisation. However, democratisation in higher education internationally is under-researched. HETL’s interest in exploring democratisation across various aspects (e.g., leadership, capacity building) point to a small yet significant contribution to the study of higher education in the 21st century.

Our take in this article is to examine the contributions of various academics that have shaped the publications of HETL. We will look at all articles published in IHR, JARHE and JMCE, together with some published books, and examine the issues and themes presented. Following this, we will identify what else needs to be done and suggest ways forward.

Analysing articles published in certain journals is not new. Various perspectives and methods can be used, whether the analysis covers within or across journals, and few years or longitudinal. Meta-analysis is common. For example, various articles have examined specific areas of disciplines such as ethics in business in a specific management journal (Robertson, 2013), educational technology from 32 international journals (Goktas et al., 2012), pre-school education in 17 journals (Yilmaz & Altinkurt, 2012), and alcohol consumption and injury risk in 40 years (Zeisser et al., 2013) to name a few.

Tight’s (2012) research is most relevant to the present study. He examined the changing journal publication patterns over a decade of publications from 15 academic journals in Australasia, Europe and North America. He found a growing number of quality research being published, increased internationalisation of journals, and the growing participation of women as researchers. Kandlbinder (2012) reviewed the general patterns of publications in Higher Education Research and Development for the past 30 years of influence. Other articles have also investigated journal articles specific to higher education. For example, Shelley and Schuh (2001) examined the writing quality and readability in 17 top higher education journals while Cheung and Hew (2009) investigated the use of handheld mobile devices in both K-12 and higher education settings.

Our article adds another contribution to the growing number of analyses of published articles in journals. It presents an analysis of the publication collection of HETL from various sources with a view towards understanding what has been published and what else can be included. Specifically, the following questions were the focus of the study:

  • What were the teaching and learning issues identified or analysed across HETL’s major publications?
  • What were the methods used to analyse the issues?
  • What were the units of analysis?
  • Where do the authors come from?
  • What is the average number of references do the articles use?


HETL’s entire publication collection as at this writing––three journals and nine books––has been included in the analysis. IHR included 31 articles from 2011 to 2013. JARHE has published 70 articles in 2009-2013 while JMCE has published five articles from 2012-2014. Nine books have also been included. This constituted the data for this study.

The method of collecting data was through the HETL Publications webpage where journal articles available online have been accessed (e.g., JMCE). JARHE articles have been accessed via Emerald through university subscription. Information about the books (title and description only) has been accessed through the HETL website. However, the actual books are not available in both the authors’ university collection. Thus, the analysis was limited to available descriptions.

For the purposes of this study, the method of analysis employed is thematic analysis. Thematic analysis is not new. A number of uses have been observed in various fields including business, health and education (Halverson, Graham, Spring, Drysdale, & Henrie, 2014; Jungert, 2008; Roberts & Pettigrew, 2007; Schommer, Worley, Kjos, Pakhomov, & Schondelmeyer, 2009).

Thematic analysis relates to “identifying, analysing and reporting patterns (themes) within data” (Braun & Clarke, 2006). “It is a form of pattern recognition within the data, where emerging themes become the categories for analysis” (p. 1) (Fereday & Muir-Cochrane, 2006). Braun and Clarke describe a theme as “something important about the data in relation to the research question, and represents some level of patterned response or meaning within the data set (p. 82).” Thus, the analysis starts with looking for patterns by way of coding and identifying prevalence. To demonstrate rigour, Fereday and Muir-Cochrane (2006) suggest taking coding seriously by undertaking several steps including testing the reliability of codes and corroborating themes, which was pursued in this study.

In this study, the analysis started with summarising the journal articles and coding them according to the following themes:

  • Issue or theme being addressed or talked about
  • The methods used to collect and analyse data (if any)
  • The unit of analysis
  • Author characteristics; and
  • The number of references used.

This initial coding formed the basis of subsequent analysis. The analysis primarily looked at patterns focusing on similar issues described, identified or analysed or similar methods used. There was a wide variety of issues, methods and theoretical perspectives used; however, this has allowed the opportunity to create sub-themes from the major code categories. Frequencies and percentages were used to describe the proportion of shared understanding and meaning. Analysis relating to the authors focused on author’s university affiliation location and the analysis relating to references included only the number of references used.

The rationale for the thematic analysis is to explore the diversity of themes explored in both the journals and books within HETL. Sophisticated quantitative techniques were not necessary. Instead, to better address the research questions posed earlier, thematic analysis identifies the “what is” and “what else is missing”. What else is missing is recognised as vast due to the relatively young journals. However, the analysis was framed to be limited to the dynamic changes that are taking shape in contemporary higher education teaching and learning landscape with the past 10 years. This has enabled the exploration of topics which have not been covered by HETL publications but would prove important for future authors to explore.

Anthologies and newsletters were no longer included in the analysis.


The main emergent themes are discussed here according to each of the HETL publications: JARHE, IHR, JMCE and HETL books.

Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education


JARHE has the most number of journal publications compared to the IHR and JMCE. The themes discussed in JARHE varied. Initially, during the initial coding, 15 themes were observed. Following a data reduction technique, which was aimed at merging similar themes, nine themes were finally observed. These themes relate to the specific issues in higher education tackled by the 70 articles.

Table 1. Emergent themes: JARHE publications 2009-2013

Issue Frequency %
Use of technology 19 27
Development and/or evaluation of teaching methods or techniques 14 20
Undergraduate study experience 11 16
Student engagement 10 14
First year experience and transition to higher education 7 10
Academic development, professional practice and academic identity 4 6
Assessment 2 3
Effects of policy and reform in higher education 2 3
Teaching-research nexus 1 1
Total articles 70

Use of technology in classrooms

The most prominent theme was associated with the use or adoption of and attitudes towards using technology in classrooms (19 articles or 27%). This theme encompasses issues examined that are associated with e-learning, virtual learning, using apps, wikis and e-textbooks. Notable examples from this theme are those by Abrahams (2010) that examined the issue of lecturers’ adoption of technology in classrooms and Oh and Gwizdka’s (2011) survey on the impact of technology in higher education.

Application of teaching methods or techniques

The second strongest theme included evaluation of specific teaching methods or techniques and their impact on student learning (20%). It also covers the development and testing of educational resources such as toolkits, running workshops and evaluating their impact, or embedding various practices (e.g., critical inquiry) into teaching. Under this theme we draw inspiration, for example, from studies that develop and test educational ‘toolkit’ resources (Schofield & Burton, 2011) and using “off-topic” presentations to create a sense of community in classrooms (Velasquez, Wilkerson, & Misch, 2011).

Undergraduate study experience

Though quite similar to first year and transition experience, this theme deserved its own category because it relates to students’ perceptions of quality of their study experience, student satisfaction, and factors contributing to success in particular subjects or impact on learning. It covers not just the first year but experiences sought from students throughout the course of their study. The examination is similar to subject experience surveys where students are asked of their experiences and likely impact of those experiences on their learning.

Student engagement

Student engagement in higher education has been more researched in the past decade than in the previous two. It has been an important issue internationally and it refers mainly to the “degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education” (The Glossary of Education Reform, 2013, para.1). JARHE also has its share of contributions, and because of its importance it dedicated a special issue in 2012 (volume 4, issue 2).

First year experience and transition to higher education

The articles around this theme specifically focus on the first year experience including preparing for second year university study. It looks into foundation courses and their contribution, the social experiences of students during their first year and the role of demographic variables (e.g., age, prior achievement, attendance) in achievement. Additionally, two studies have also examined the support first year students received from advisers and tutors.

Academic development, professional practice and academic identity

Enhancing professional practice, developing skills, and reflections of self are topics that encompass this theme. It looks into observations of the academic role and identity.


Peer assessment and e-assessment make up this category. Further exploration would bring more dynamism to this topic, such as examining alternative forms of assessment, assessment of online courses, feedback, and group assessment strategies.

Higher education policy and reform and their effects

Two articles examined the effects of policy reform in higher education: Bologna process and the internationalisation of higher education in the UK and impact on access to higher education in Russia.

Teaching-research nexus

There was a sole article that examined the teaching-research nexus and it would be interesting to welcome articles that discuss this further together with those that investigate the scholarship of teaching and learning.

Methods used

In JARHE, 70 articles were assessed according to methods used. There were more articles that used mainly qualitative methods, 38 (54%), while quantitative methods 27 (39%), and mixed 5 (7%). The qualitative methods used include descriptive, reflective or exploratory takes on particular issues (24), case studies (5), program evaluation (3), thematic or content analysis (3), phenomenology (1), document analysis (1), and literature review (1). Quantitative analyses mostly involved the use of statistics, including presentation of data using tables and diagrams. Mixed methods include designs such as analysing numerical data from surveys together with texts from interviews.

Unit of analysis

Mostly (37%), students participated by way of surveys or interviews. Only nine articles were found to have involved academics, although five other articles collected data from both students and staff. Further, one out of five did not collect any data. A very small proportion of articles collected data from executives or have examined at a university level.

Table 2. Unit of analysis: JARHE publications 2009-2013

Unit of analysis Frequency %
Students 26 37
Academics 9 13
Documents 8 11
Mixed 5 7
Executives/Managers 4 6
Institutions 3 4
None 15 21
Total 70

Author characteristics

Nearly three out of five authors were from either the UK or US. Half of the 70 contributions were from the UK, particularly during JARHE’s early years.

Table 3. Author’s country of affiliation: JARHE publications 2009-2013

Country of author(s) Frequency %
UK only 35 50
US only 16 23
Australia 3
Denmark 2
Malaysia 2
Israel 1
Iran 1
Jordan 1
Hong Kong 1
Qatar 1
Russia 1
Sweden 1
South Africa 1
Tunisia 1
UK/Sweden 1
US/Puerto Rico 1
Total articles 70

With regard to the number of authors, 48 articles (69%) were submitted by two or more authors while 22 (31%) had single authorship. However, multiple authorship was mostly within the same university or country and only two involved a combination of two different countries.

Number of references

Although counting the number of references used in an article may not kindle interest, it may give us a sense of the breadth of references used to support authors’ writing. It was found that the 70 articles had an average of 32 references. As most articles were from the US and the UK, the number of references used in both countries did not differ significantly: UK 31 and US 32. What would be more meaningful in the future is to examine the citation patterns of authors, which was beyond the scope of this present study.

International HETL Review


In IHR, there were three years of issues (2011 to 2013), comprising 12 articles each in 2011 and 2012 and another seven articles in 2013. A few key themes emerged across a total of 31 articles over the three years of issues.

Table 4. Emergent themes: IHR publications 2011-2013

Issue Frequency %
Technology related learning design 12 39
Student engagement 8 26
Internationalisation and diversity 4 13
Teachers’ beliefs versus teaching and learning 3 10
Threshold concepts 1 3
Evolving changes in higher education takes place in Russia due to modernisation 1 3
Statistics book review 1 3
HETL background and growth education 1 3
Total articles 31

Shared across the IHR, there is a strong pattern on technology-related learning design and student engagement issues, where 12 out of 31 articles (39%) were investigations about technology-related learning design aspects. Examples are virtual world, social media, technology-enhanced active learning, social presence on online courses and programs, engagement through e-learning environment and approaches, technology enhanced active learning, technology-inclined tools in education (iPad and “Onlive Desktop”) and others. A few of the key issues that were discussed and examined are summarised as follows.

Learning design and technology

(a) Virtual world

Two articles by Oaks (2011) and Selvester (2012) focus on virtual world. Emerging evidence shows that virtual world technologies supplement and provide the online education experience by providing opportunities for meaningful social interaction, a constructivist element that can improve student learning during online instruction. Another study by Bowers et al. (2009) assert that “across all uses of Second Life in their curricula, most instructors reported an above average level of perceived enhancement in student learning” (p. 47). The article by Oaks (2011) examines the adoption of an e-learning platform virtual world such as Second Life to enhance learning through exploration and interaction, which are imperative learning methods for the Net Generation learners. Selvester (2012), on the other hand, explores the use of virtual world technology in a fully online course to assist pre-service teachers in examining their stated and implied beliefs, attitudes, and expectations about social roles related to gender.

There were three out of 31 articles on social media by Kommers (2011), Baker and Edwards (2011) and Clark (2012). Baker and Edwards, for example, highlight the holistic efforts to foster social presence and student success in online courses and programs at a mid-sized rural university in central Texas.  These perceptions were reported from an instructor as well as an administrator’s point of view. Moreover, the explicit instructional and support strategies are described, to foster an atmosphere of support and success for students enrolled in online courses and programs.

(b) Social Media

There were three out of 31 articles on social media by Kommers (2011), Baker and Edwards (2011) and Clark (2012). Generally, the article by Kommers (2011) reports that the two prominent trends could be related simultaneously as (a) the accelerating and urging societal demands to develop a socially active education (e.g., social commitment and citizen’s awareness); (b) positioning education as a knowledge transfer organisation. Baker and Edwards (2011) highlight the holistic efforts to foster social presence and student success in online courses and programs at a mid-sized rural university in central Texas.  As for the third article by Clark (2012), it aims to assist anyone involved in education with adaption in terms of online communication, sharing content, self-publishing and collaboration with social media. It focused on addressing the confusion on what social media means and what is actually new about it, thereafter examines the impact these media already have on education.

(c) e-learning environments and approaches

The remaining seven articles discussed e-learning environments and approaches. An interpretation of student engagement that reflects the changing nature of learning and teaching at university level in the 21st century is a rendezvous between learning and the digital tools and techniques that excite students (Deneen, 2010). The paper by Stefani (2011) presents a plea for an exciting, engaging and enriching learning experience for students and staff where she invites to challenge the status quo to take hold of the reins and restate the relevance and importance of universities in the 21st century. In Duke, Harper and Johnston (2013) paper, the theory for digital age developed by George Simens and Stephen Downes was highlighted. In the discussion, the question arises whether the framework proposed is to be used in the learning process for instruction or curriculum rather than standalone learning. Moreover, the pedagogical model by Luojus and Vilkki (2013) aims to provide information and communication technology (ICT) students with the capability to act as developers in a UCD (User-Centred Design) process. They also reported that the enhanced ability to empathise with the user comes with mutual reflection on user data and the creation of shared meaning with end users. In the article by Huff and Cruz (2013), the learning and space is investigated. It shows that the space/furniture and technology arrangements enhance collaborative learning, modelling the increasingly interdisciplinary and patient centred approach in health care.

Student engagement

The second most discussed issue was on student engagement with approximately 26% of articles talking about a few keys issues such as inquiry-based learning, dialogue as a pedagogical approach, student-centred learning, effective approaches to be adopted by teachers, cooperative learning and problem-based learning approach with appreciative inquiry approach. Two of the eight articles under student engagement focused on inquiry-based learning. In the article by Carfora (2011), it was pointed out that effective teaching and scholarly research should work in unity, being inspiring and supportive of independent thinking among students. Similarly, the article by Jenkins and Healey (2011) emphasised the importance of developing students as researchers by enhancing the linkage between teaching and discipline-based research. Svinicki (2011) highlights that current learning theories place the control of learning in the hands and heads of the students. The article by Kukulska-Hulme (2012) addresses the issues pertaining to mobile learning in higher education context where it was emphasised that the focus is to be on the learner’s choice. The author also emphasised that mobile learning is not just about connecting contexts, rather is about exploiting or creating contexts. Baum (2013) reported that tremendous enhancement on student engagement and improved performance (especially in the bottom quartile of the class) is achieved through blended classroom, which proves to be more economical of instruction time.

Internationalisation and diversity

The third most discussed theme came across as internationalization and diversity. Four articles were written on this area, where two articles address learning design issues from a cross-cultural context, one article discussed the broad strategies for 21st century University while the final article examined enhancing the student body diversity in terms of college admissions. The international intention to “promote the health and welfare of humankind” (Ginsburg & Merritt, 1999, p. 194) clearly pertains to the realm of higher education, in that a college degree represents a ticket to a better life in virtually every nation. The paper by Goldstein (2011) reported the traces of landmark legal decisions that have led to significant restrictions on the use of race as a factor in college admissions. The article by Díaz (2012) presents a variety of possibilities to consider in ‘being a university’ and suggests that the original spirit of the university can be rescued and preserved by studying its development history over the last several hundred years, as well as by understanding better the state of contemporary higher education and how it is likely to evolve in the future. The paper by Kourova and Modianos (2013) attempts to incorporate features beyond just the linguistic, in terms of the larger cultural fabric, through an international partnership called the connecting classrooms project. It was also reported that the cultural experiences gained enable students to become independent learners and to develop deep thinking through analysis of material, reflection and evaluation.

Teacher beliefs versus Teaching and Learning

Another approximately 10% of the 31 articles (3 articles) were addressing the issue pertaining to ‘teachers’ beliefs versus teaching and learning’, where it covers aspects relating to teacher cognition, teachers’ beliefs, teacher education, teaching beliefs, teaching development and others. Hutchinson, Strebel and Nutta (2013), for example, reports that those pre-service PK-12 teachers who receive content-infusion stimulation perceived to be significantly more prepared.  The article by Feixas and Euler (2012) reviews academics’ changing conceptions of and approaches to teaching and learning and how these changes vary according to their professional development, discipline and context. Finally there were four unrelated articles (approximately 11%) whose themes are varied across the 31 articles. One of the four articles examines the threshold concepts, the second reports the evolving changes in higher education that takes place in Russia due to modernisation, the third is about a statistics book review and the final article under this theme addresses the issues pertaining to HETL’s background and growth.

Methods used

In IHR, 31 articles were examined according to methods used. There were more articles that used mainly expert opinions and literature review analysis which accounts to 25 (80%) of articles. The breakdown on the types of the articles within this segment is as follows: 8 feature articles (26%); 6 opinion pieces (19%); 6 interviews (19%); 3 book/technology review articles (10%); 1 conference report (3%); and 1 (3%) a mixture of literature review and opinion article. The qualitative methods used include descriptive or exploratory takes on particular issues (1); thematic or content evaluative analysis; (1) interpretative-phenomenological-analytical approach; (1) successive interviews and observations. Quantitative analysis involved the use of statistics through analysing numerical data from surveys.

Unit of analysis

Majority of articles (80%) focused on non-data collection and analysis, which means the articles were primarily exploratory and no qualitative or quantitative data have been collected. Of the remaining 20%, the analysis was performed through qualitative and quantitative data collection approaches. Only one article was found to have used a triangulated approach with interviews and lesson observations by academics with samples of students. For all three quantitative articles, students participated by way of surveys or interviews. Two of the three qualitative articles were analysed through proposed improvised models/frameworks. A mixed approach through a triangulation approach with interviews and lesson observations by academics with samples of students’ written work was adopted.

Table 5. Unit of analysis: IHR publications 2011-2013

Unit of analysis Frequency %
Opinion, feature, interview, conference report, literature review, book/technology review 25 81
Students 3 10
Improvised models/frameworks 2 6.5
Mixed 1 2.5
Total 31

Author characteristics

More than half (55%) of the authors were from US, followed by UK (13%) and Russia (10%). Half of the 31 contributions were from the US.

Table 6. Author’s country of affiliation: IHR publications 2011-2013

Country of author(s) Frequency %
US only 17 55
UK only 4 13
Russia 3
Netherlands 1
New Zealand 1
Australia 1
Mexico 1
Ethiopia 1
Spain/Switzerland 1
Finland 1
Total articles 31

With regards to the number of authors, 20 articles (65%) had single authorship and two authors submitted 11 (35%). Double authorship was mostly within the same university or country with only one involved a combination of two different countries.

Number of references

To have a feel of the breadth of references used in the authors’ analysis, the number of references used was studied. It was found that the 31 articles had a diverse and varying number of references used. As most articles were from the US, the number of references ranges from two to 30, with an average of 13 references. As for the UK, the second highest number of authors had an average of 20 references for three of the articles, and the other article with only four references. Again, having to investigate further on the trend of citation patterns of authors will be more insightful, which will not be addressed here due to this study’s scope.

Journal of Meaning-Centred Education

There were five articles found at the time of this writing. Three topics were about teacher development, while one was about using drama as an instructional technique and another about educational research paradigms. They were all exploratory articles except for one that use a qualitative design involving a sample of students. Two articles were from the US, one in India, one in Australia, and one co-written between authors from Australia and the Philippines. References averaged 44. Articles were mostly recent: 2014 (1 article), 2013 (3), and 2012 (1). For example, the article by Garzitto-Michals (2012) discussed the impact of using drama as an instructional technique in conjunction with Bill Daggett’s educational paradigm of rigor, relevance and relationship on the meaning-centred education (MCE) classroom. Another example is Slapac and Navarro’s (2013) investigation of how intercultural experiences and teaching transformed 25 pre service teachers’ ideas about pedagogy, English language learners, and identities as both national and global citizens.


Patrick Blessinger has co-written all nine books with various authors. The book on meaning-centred education was published in 2013 while the year prior was a series of books on increasing student engagement and retention with emphasis on various forms of new technologies for use in classrooms.


From the findings above, there is a limited scope in what has been published so far. In particular, further exploration of other areas in research in higher education teaching and learning can be explored, as we will discuss later. Being a relatively young organisation, it is an opportune time for HETL to explore what it has achieved and where it wants to go in the future.

First, let us look at issues examined. Although an array of pressing and important issues were investigated across the journal articles and books in consideration, there is still some room for other themes or issues. There were interesting insights from those that examined pedagogy, use of technology, the applications of particular teaching and learning approaches and modalities, and learning spaces that improve student experience. However, the journals would benefit from contributions that examine issues around enhancing student experience from a variety of initiatives, higher education policy, educational leadership, institutional management, assessment, course design and development, quality assurance, the scholarship of teaching and learning, and comparative case studies.

Second, and perhaps one key area that can significantly improve the scientific rigour of the journals further, would be the attention paid by authors in exploring the various methods of data collection and analysis. Most contributions are descriptive and exploratory with limited data to support their findings and recommendations. Future contributors can explore using actual data collected and using a variety of research design methods that analyse those data and those that suit their research questions. It would be a good addition to HETL journals to read papers that use more of interviews, surveys, comparative analysis, narrative inquiry, document analysis, network analysis, and those that use other statistical analyses.

Third, other units or levels of analysis can be explored. While most articles analysed used institution, college or university as their level of analysis, the HETL journals would welcome contributions that explore the individual (student or academic); the course or degree program; unit or centre; department; faculty or school; region; country or countries; or education systems level.

Fourth, although HETL’s call for contributions goes out to contributors anywhere in the world, most of the authors currently only come from the US and the UK. It would be a good improvement to the international appeal of HETL and its publications should authors come from internationally.  A marketing plan would be necessary to achieve this. It would also be interesting to see articles that resulted in collaborations between authors from different countries.

Fifth, HETL journals could prove beneficial for new and experienced authors and researchers to publish their work with a view to extending their readership. In particular, new researchers can use HETL journals as a platform to publish their work early in their career with a view to developing their writing further and preparing for submissions to top journals in their respective fields. HETL can target these specific groups to get a good mix of contributions.

Lastly, a good enhancement in the international significance of HETL journals, particularly IHR, would be to re-invigorate the look and feel of its online publication format. Journal-formatted PDF copies are also encouraged.

Conclusions and Implications

This article analysed the entire history of HETL publications, including journals and books. It showed the types of issues explored, methods used and theoretical perspectives taken. Although HETL journals are increasingly regarded as good avenues for publication, findings suggest that the publications need more work in enhancing their international appeal, improving the robustness of methods used, and improving their status.

Some of the suggestions proposed above attract costs. HETL relies on the generosity of its contributors and to do some enhancements to publishing can be restrictive financially, which HETL as a not-for-profit organisation may not be able to afford. For example, to hire proofreaders or invest in peer review workflow solution would be ideal but would prove costly.

In its future direction, HETL can continue to attract submissions that are narrative (such as personal accounts and experiences) and descriptive/exploratory in nature but to do so will influence the way it positions itself. The ‘newsletter’ type approach to writing serves a limited audience, primarily serving the members of HETL while potentially discrediting its appeal to become a source of high quality articles as measured by perceived value, contribution and impact by those within and outside HETL.

Nonetheless, HETL has proved to be a significant player in researching the field of higher education due to its considerable growth in recent years. Its growing network can improve its profile and reputation in the future as one of the leading sources of debate in higher education policy and practice, issues related to globalisation, leadership and cultural diversity in higher education and discussions about the scholarship of teaching and learning. HETL will likely continue to keep a watchful eye on democratising higher education in its exciting new shape and form.


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Baker, C. T. & Edwards, J. T. (2011). A holistic approach for establishing social presence in online courses & programs. The International HETL Review. Volume 1, Article 7, https://hetl.org/2011/08/17/social-presence-in-online-courses/

Baum, E. (2013). Creating a Blended Cooperative-Learning Classroom. The International HETL Review. Special Issue 2013 (pp 28-36).

Bowers, K. W., Ragas, M. W., & Neely, J. C. (2009). Assessing the value of virtual worlds for post-secondary instructors: A survey of innovators, early adopters and the early majority in second life. International Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, 3(1), 40-50.

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This academic article was accepted for publication in the International HETL Review (IHR) after a double-blind peer review involving three independent members of the IHR Board of Reviewers and two revision cycles. Accepting editor: Patrick Blessinger (Chief Research Scientist, International HETL Association).

Suggested citation:

Calma, A., & Rajaram, K. (2015). Democratising higher education research: a case study of HETL publishing activities. International HETL Review, Volume 5, Article 4. https://www.hetl.org/democratising-higher-education-research-a-case-study-of-hetl-publishing-activities.

Copyright [2015] Dr Angelito Calma and Dr Kumaran Rajaram

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and as such do not necessarily represent the position(s) of other professionals or any institution. By publishing this article, the author(s) affirms that any original research involving human participants conducted by the author(s) and described in the article was carried out in accordance with all relevant and appropriate ethical guidelines, policies and regulations concerning human research subjects and that where applicable a formal ethical approval was obtained.

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