Skip navigation

Search Site
Printable Resources

Has it Been Done Before?

Is the question original and publishable?

While a teaching approach may be novel for you or your module it may not be innovative in the broader context. To improve your chances of publication you should ensure that you have given the research a new spin or the context is of relevance, i.e. it hasn’t been done before in your subject area. A key starting point is a search of the generic and discipline-specific literature.

A very recent article by Poirier (2014) gives a very comprehensive overview of searching the higher education literature, with a focus on, but not exclusive to, the health sciences. Where and How to Search for Evidence in the Education Literature: The WHEEL. The author also presents a process by which the search should be completed, described as the WHEEL, i.e..

Where and How to Search for Evidence in the Education Literature (WHEEL).


As in all research, searching the literature is key to discovering whether it has been done before. UCD’s Library Guide for Education can be accessed here.  In addition, a good starting point is Academic Search Complete database, which has many of the higher education teaching and learning generic and discipline-specific journals. Some more discipline-specific databases, would include for example, Social Science Citation Index; Arts & Humanities Citation Index; Medline (OVID); CINAHL Plus;  Web of Science.

Poirier’s (2014) article presents an interesting table on the key teaching and learning journals and their inclusion in popular databases. As teaching and learning research spans many data-bases, she encourages the researcher to do some ancestry searching, i.e. reviewing the references in the useful articles and using these list to find more articles. See final section, Getting Published, on some of the journals in this area.



The process of searching is cyclical and Poirier (2014) emphasises that it is a systematic and dynamic process. Refining the research question is key a starting point (see clarifying your research question). This is followed by determining the key concepts and their search terms, for examples what is meant and measure by terms, such as, ‘engagement’,  ‘impact’, ‘affect’ , attitude’ , ‘performance’. The search should also explore any international and or Irish government publications (for example, HEA Publications, Department of Education and Skills , The National Forum for Enhancement of Teaching and Learning or other public resources. Manual searches and discussions with experts will highlight literature and relevant conference research outputs that may not have high impact factors.


The Evidence: Appraising it:

Different disciplines have criteria to help researchers establish what is best evidence in a research article (Harden etal, 1999).

One way of examining the level of the research impact in articles is to explore them from the original four levels presented by Kirkpatrick & Kirpatrick (2005) that has been widely used for evaluating training, but could be also helpful in judging the level of impact of teaching innovations.



Example measures for teaching and learning research

Level 1



How participants react to the experiences

Measured by student satisfaction surveys, often described as ‘happy sheets’.


Level 2



The extent to which students change attitudes, increase knowledge and or skills.

Measured by focus groups, interviews, attitudinal scales,  grades, performance in class, etc

Level 3



The extent to which behaviour occurs on the job

Measured by focus groups, interviews, performance in practice/work/internships of following graduation

Level 4



The final outcomes that occur as a result of the educational experience

Measured by focus groups, interviews, standardised measures, impact on policy, costings, society, social changes..

Kirkpatrick & Kirkpatrick (2005)

See next section for examples of tools

Printable Resources
  • Poirier, T. (2014) Where and How to Search for Evidence in the Education Literature: The WHEEL   American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 2014; 78 (4) Article 70.
  • Kirkpatrick DL, Kirkpatrick JD. (2005)Transferring Learning to Behavior: Using the Four Levels to Improve Performance. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler
  • Harden RM, Grant J, Buckley G, Hart IR. (1999) BEME guide no 1: Best Evidence Medical Education. Medical Teacher. l999;21(6): 553-562.
T and L Community