Closeness and distance:
Using close reading as a method of educational enquiry in English studies
This article draws on a pedagogical case study in order to reflect on the value of using a Humanities disciplinary practice (the ‘close reading’ of literary studies) as a method of educational enquiry and to provide a worked example of this approach. We explore the introduction of a pedagogic strategy – students writing abstracts for essays and sharing them in advance of group discussion – into the tutorial at the University of Oxford, and an evaluation of it. We then read the student ‘texts’ (written abstracts and evaluation forms) more closely, to problematize the initial evaluation findings and reveal hidden aspects of student learning and the teaching relationship. We reflect upon our approach and suggest some of the difficulties and advantages of ‘close reading’ student texts while achieving scholarly ‘distance’ as a pedagogic research practice. In addition, we explore further the relations between social science and humanities approaches to educational enquiry.