We are lecturers who help students studying subjects that use word-based writing, non-word based writing such as Mathematics, and non-text based language such as visual semiotics. To access examples of such language with subject lecturers we have found traditional interviews or focus groups ineffective, and realised that in these, although lecturers could talk about key psychological elements of the language, they had no focus to produce any examples of it. However, we suspected that providing a physical object to describe and discuss would create a context for lecturers to produce the language. Thus, we gave a brightly coloured teapot to Nursing, Psychology, Design, and Engineering lecturers to describe and evaluate in their subjects. This gave us almost instantaneous access to the subject context. For example, Nursing lecturers described and evaluated the teapot for hygiene and patient safety, Engineering lecturers did so for material properties and calculations required. Unexpectedly, many lecturers related how an identity underpinned their language. Thus, the teapot operated as a portal to reveal academic subject identity and thought. We relate how this has helped us in our teaching and suggest ways others can use physical objects in qualitative research to access and research identity and thought.


Identity, Interviews, Language, Physical Objects, Portal, Thought

Author Bio(s)

Kendall Richards is based in the School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University (UK). He is a lecturer in academic support, retention, progression and widening access for international, mature and direct entrants. Although based in the School of Computing, he also teaches in Engineering and the Built Environment and Arts and Creative Industries. His research interests are in education as social justice and language. He has published and contributed to articles published in journals such as the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, Higher Education Research and Development, Dialogic Pedagogy Journal, Teaching in Higher Education, and Power and Education. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: K.Richards@napier.ac.uk.

Nick Pilcher is based in The Business School at Edinburgh Napier University (UK). He is a lecturer and programme leader for the MSc in Intercultural Business Communication (with TESOL) and works with students to help them with subject assignments. His research interests centre around language and culture, qualitative research methods, and education. He has published and contributed to articles published in journals such as The Qualitative Report, Psychology of Music, Teaching in Higher Education, the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, Power and Education, and Maritime Policy and Management. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: N.Pilcher@napier.ac.uk.

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