Karen Gravett

Dr Karen Gravett

Lecturer in Higher Education
BA (Hons), MA, PhD, GradCert, MCLIP, SFHEA

Academic and research departments

Surrey Institute of Education.


Affiliations and memberships

Senior Fellow of Higher Education Academy (SFHEA)
Awarded 2019
Associate Editor
Higher Education Research & Development
Co-convenor of the Society for Research in Higher Education (SRHE)
Learning, Teaching and Assessment network
Visiting Fellow
University of Suffolk
Member of the Editorial board
Teaching in Higher Education
Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals.
Awarded 2008
Co-director of the Language, Literacies and Learning research group
LLL research group


Research interests

Research projects


Postgraduate research supervision

Postgraduate research supervision

My teaching

My publications


Gravett, K. and Winstone, N. E. (2020). Making connections: Authenticity and alienation within students’ relationships in higher education. Higher Education Research and Development
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In the context of a marketised higher education system, meaningful interpersonal connections remain of paramount importance to many students. Using a story-completion method, we examine how relationships impact upon students’ experiences of higher education, and explore the importance of . We draw upon data from a longitudinal study in which students were invited to complete stories that enabled them to draw upon experiences and discourses surrounding relationships at university. Following the story completion stage, participants reflected on the stories they had written and discussed their experiences during semi-structured interviews. Our data suggest that meaningful connections are crucial to accessing support. However, most notable within the data are two outstanding themes that recur within the students’ stories and interviews: the importance of achieving authentic connections with others, and the experience of alienation when interactions are not genuine, or when communication breaks down. We explore these themes and examine their significance in relation to concepts of caring, and mattering, within higher education, and we discuss the implications for both staff and institutions.
relational pedagogies
Gravett, K. and Kinchin, I. M. (2020). Revisiting ‘A “teaching excellence” for the times we live in’: posthuman possibilities. Teaching in Higher Education 25 (8), 1028-1034
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This article proposes a rethinking of the contested concept of teaching excellence within higher education. In order to do, so we engage posthumanist theory to reconsider teaching excellence from a new perspective that shifts the gaze beyond the measured individual to explore our intra-actions within a wider context. Taking Skelton’s original conception of teaching excellence as a starting point, we explore what a values-based concept of excellence might look like, re-imagined for the present times we live in, and we ask whether there is room for a more expansive perspective of teaching excellence which reconsiders the relationality and fluidity of our practice.
Gravett, K. (2020). Feedback literacies as sociomaterial practice. Critical Studies in Education. https://doi.org/10.1080/17508487.2020.1747099.
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Feedback remains a fundamental and challenging aspect of higher education policy and practice. Increasingly research has sought to understand how to more effectively develop students’ feedback literacy in order to improve individuals’ engagement with assessment feedback. To date, work within this area has been underpinned by cognitive and affective conceptions of feedback literacy, and feedback is commonly conceptualised as a binary, dialogic, relationship between feedback giver and recipient, within a humanist perspective. Drawing upon a rich literature that foregrounds the value of social, materialist, and posthuman perspectives in order to look again at educational contexts and practices, this article explores a wider re-conceptualisation of feedback literacy and of learning and teaching interactions. Moving forward from both a transmission-focused depiction of feedback, and a student as proactive recipient conception, I suggest that students’ engagement with feedback is a sociomaterial practice, and that students’ agency is complicated by factors that exist beyond a human to human interaction. As such, this article offers a new and alternative viewpoint that deviates from mainstream discussions of feedback literacy, and ends with a consideration of what a sociomaterial perspective can offer researchers and practitioners in order to progress work within this key area.
Gravett, K., Kinchin, I. M. and Winstone, N. E. (2020). Frailty in transition: Troubling the norms, boundaries and limitations of transition theory and practice. Higher Education Research and Development 39 (6) 1169-1185
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This article focuses on ‘transition’ and how it is understood within higher education. Drawing on data from concept map-mediated interviews at two institutions, we examine the conceptions of transition held by academic and professional staff, who work to support students’ learning into and through higher education. We suggest that normative understandings of transition often draw upon a grand-narrative that orchestrates and reiterates a stereotypic understanding of students’ experiences. Often this narrative involves students’ interpellation into a field of discourse where the subject is constructed as both homogeneous and in deficit: ill-prepared, lacking in independence, as vulnerable and in need of support. However, this study suggests that beneath this discourse lies a more nuanced picture: one where students’ experiences can be conceptualised as diverse and fluid. Moreover, we employ the concept of pedagogic ‘frailty’ to expose the significance of the environments and wider contexts in which students ‘transition’, and to explore the impact of systemic tensions upon students’ experiences. This article further argues that future research should shift discussions away from the deficits of students, and examine how we can make underlying environmental and systemic challenges more explicit, in order to widen our understanding and discussions of these constraints.
Gravett, K. and Kinchin, I. M. (2020). Referencing and empowerment: exploring barriers to agency in the higher education student experience.Teaching in Higher Education 25 (1), 84-97
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This article examines the challenges experienced by students when developing referencing practices. There has been minimal research into students’ development of their referencing skills, with referencing often considered a mechanistic skill and not worthy of attention. This paper argues that, rather, referencing is an area of practice imbued with issues of power and identity and that the difficulties students experience in this area are leading them to exhibit a lack of agency – ultimately, a form of educational ‘frailty’. Worried about plagiarism and confused by feedback, rather than developing the independent research skills we would wish, students look for instruction, and report feelings of anxiety. These themes are explored using questionnaires and interviews with a small number of undergraduate students. Based on the findings, this article concludes by making recommendations for widening our understanding of the difficulties students encounter, the need for further discussion and potentially greater scaffolding and support.
Gravett, K. and Kinchin, I. M. (2020). The role of referencing within students’ identity development. Journal of Further and Higher Education.
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This article examines teachers’ perspectives on a neglected area of practice: academic referencing. Commonly considered a simple skill to learn, we suggest that instead a study of referencing practices enables us to glean valuable insight into the challenges experienced by students when developing a learner identity. Drawing on interviews with academic staff, this article depicts teachers’ experiences as they support students with referencing and academic literacy practices. However, the intentions of teachers to develop students are shown to be at variance with student outcomes, as students appear increasingly disengaged from an area of academic practice that they find mysterious and opaque, and as staff report an increase in the number of cases of plagiarism and academic misconduct. We conclude with a consideration of the need to widen understanding of the complex challenges experienced by students when grappling with citation practices. Moreover, we contend that the development of academic literacy practices can play a key role within students’ development of a learner identity, and can impact upon students’ sense of belonging and becoming into and through higher education.
Heron, M., Gravett, K. and Yakovchuk, N. (2020). Publishing and flourishing: Writing for desire in higher education, Higher Education Research & Development, https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2020.1773770
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In the current performative climate of higher education, where academic outputs are highly valorised, professional academic writing has become ‘high stakes’ and is often framed as fraught with tension and anxiety. In this article, we contest the phrase ‘publish or perish’ and argue that is not necessarily helpful or, indeed, always true. Through interviews involving critical incidents with a team of academics, the authors found that tensions in experiences of scholarly writing do indeed exist. However, participants also reported on the affordances of the process of professional academic writing in terms of developing ideas, collaborations, and creating spaces for creativity and desire. We emphasise the juxtaposition of the value of creation with the value of the finished product and argue that writing for publication needs to be highlighted as a process permeated with learning opportunities for both early career researchers and more experienced academics.
Kinchin, I. M. and Gravett, K. (2020). Concept mapping in the age of Deleuze: Fresh perspectives and new challenges. Education Sciences, 10(3), 82.
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This conceptual paper offers a reconsideration of the application of Novakian concept mapping to higher education research by putting to work the Deleuzian concept of the rhizome. We ask: what does thinking with Deleuze’s concepts offer researchers interested in concept mapping, and what conceptual, and terminological, obstacles might be created through such a reconceptualization? We have focused on the rhizomatic principles of mapping and tracing in the context of concept mapping. We contend that Deleuze offers a fresh line of flight with the potential to deterritorialise the discourse surrounding concept mapping, thus widening its applicability and increasing its accessibility to researchers who do not necessarily share the same arborescent concept mapping heritage: with its roots in science education. Exploring the overlap between rhizomatics and concept mapping also allows for the reappraisal and blurring of the boundary between structural and post-structural discourses—breaking down an unproductive binary in the literature.
Winstone, N. E., Balloo, K., Gravett, K., Jacobs, D., and Keen, H. (2020). Who stands to benefit? Wellbeing, belonging, and challenges to equity in engagement in extra-curricular activities. Active Learning in Higher Education. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469787420908209
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Students’ engagement in extra-curricular activities can play a significant role in their development of a student identity, as well as leading to a greater sense of belonging and wellbeing. However, individual characteristics such as sociability may influence the likelihood of students engaging in extra-curricular activities. We collected mixed mode data from two online surveys to explore students’ perceptions of the impact of engagement in extra-curricular activities on their experience at university, as well as the mediating role of engagement in extra-curricular activities in the relationships between extraversion and wellbeing and sense of belonging to the University. Our data demonstrate that extraversion is positively associated with both belonging and wellbeing, and that engagement in extra-curricular activities also mediates these relationships. Our qualitative data uncover further nuances in engagement with extra-curricular activities; while many perceived outcomes are positive, some students express regret at opportunities missed, and find it challenging to balance extra-curricular activities and their studies. Taken together, these findings indicate that not all students stand to benefit equally from engagement in extra-curricular activities. Providing a range of opportunities that are accessible to a wide range of students may promote equity in participation in extra-curricular activities.
Gravett, K., Kinchin, I. M., Winstone, N. E., Balloo, K., Heron, M., Hosein, A., Lygo-Baker, S., and Medland, E. (2020). The development of academics’ feedback literacy: Experiences of learning from critical feedback via scholarly peer review. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 45 (5), 651-665.
https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2019.1686749 .
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The emerging literature related to feedback literacy has hitherto focused primarily on students’ engagement with feedback, and yet an analysis of academics’ feedback literacy is also of interest to those seeking to understand effective strategies to engage with feedback. Data from concept map-mediated interviews and reflections, with a team of six colleagues, surface academics’ responses to receiving critical feedback via scholarly peer review. Our findings reveal that feedback can be visceral and affecting, but that academics employ a number of strategies to engage with this process. This process can lead to actions that are both instrumental, enabling academics to more effectively ‘play the game’ of publication, as well as to learning that is more positively and holistically developmental. This study thus aims to open up a dialogue with colleagues internationally about the role of feedback literacy, for both academics and students. By openly sharing our own experiences we seek to normalise the difficulties academics routinely experience whilst engaging with critical feedback, to share the learning and strategies which can result from peer review feedback, and to explore how academics may occupy a comparable role to students who also receive evaluation of their work.
Gravett, K. (2019). Troubling transitions and celebrating becomings: from pathway to rhizome. Studies in Higher Education. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2019.1691162
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Student transitions are a central part of higher education policy and practice internationally. However much of the work within this important area is underpinned by unquestioned and limited assumptions of what transition as a concept might mean. Moreover, too often understandings of transition defer to narratives that sustain a stereotypic understanding of students’ experiences. This study contributes to a major shift in our understanding of the notion of transition. In order to do so, I draw upon Meyer and Land’s theory of threshold concepts, and from the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari, to contest established understandings of students’ experiences. I propose a new approach to re-theorising and doing transition comprising three intertwined perspectives: transitions as rhizomatic; transitions as troublesome; and transitions as becoming. The article ends with a consideration of how these concepts could impact upon practice and offers an agenda for further research.
Gravett, K. and Winstone, N.E. (2019). Storying students’ becomings into and through higher education. Studies in Higher Education.
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This article employs a new approach to understanding student transition. This area of theory and practice has developed a huge global significance. However, transition as a concept is under-theorised, and a discourse that reiterates stereotypic narratives of students’ normative and linear trajectories can be seen to permeate the field. Drawing on data collected using story completion methods, together with semi-structured interviews, we examine this stereotypic discourse that surrounds stories of transition. Our data suggest that this narrative exists in tension with a more nuanced picture: one that depicts the diversity, fluidity and complexity of students’ lived experiences. In order to better understand these experiences, we employ a theoretical approach that conceptualises transitions as troublesome, as rhizomatic, and as becoming. We argue that this approach offers the potential to look beyond normative narratives that surround student transition, and to celebrate students’ becomings in a more rich and generative way.
Gravett, K. (2019). Story completion: Storying as a method of meaning-making and discursive discovery. International Journal of Qualitative Methods.
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This article focuses on a method of data collection that exists in the margins of qualitative research: story completion. Story completion has a background of usage within disciplines such as psychology, feminist theory, and psychotherapy. However, this method is still uncommon and underutilized and has not been widely put to work as an approach for qualitative education research, despite its rich potential as a tool for accessing participants’ meaning-making. In this article, I argue that story completion can serve as an interesting and flexible method for researchers across the disciplines, particularly for those looking to adopt a post-structuralist lens, concerned with discursive discovery: the surfacing of discourses individuals draw upon to write. I introduce and explain a divergent approach to doing story completion from that described elsewhere in the literature, where a story completion exercise is enhanced by the addition of a traditional semi-structured interview. I also share an experimental approach to data analysis: using a rhizomatic perspective to analyze story completion data. Ultimately, I argue that story completion, the story-mediated interview, and a more experimental analytical approach offer exciting new directions for qualitative researchers to pursue.
Gravett, K., Kinchin, I. M. and Winstone, N. E. (2020). ‘More than customers': Conceptions of students as partners held by students, staff, and institutional leaders. Studies in Higher Education 45 (12), 2574-2587. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2019.1623769
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Students as partners (SaP) practices are emerging in today’s universities as a means to offer a more participative agenda, and to transform institutional cultures within an increasingly economically driven higher education context. This study contributes to understandings of partnership approaches, which largely still remain under-theorised, through exploring the conceptualisation of SaP by institutional leaders, staff, and students. Drawing on data from concept map-mediated interviews, this article offers a counterview to recent studies that have depicted staff understandings of SaP to be firmly located within a neoliberal discourse. Rather, our interviews portray surprising overlaps within students’ and leaders’ conceptualisations of SaP, depicting recurrent themes of communication, dialogue, community, and enabling students to escape neoliberal constructions: to become ‘more than customers’. This article ends with a consideration of how investigating the ways in which students and staff conceptualise SaP can be valuable, as partnership approaches become further prioritised in institutional strategies.
Gravett, K. and Winstone, N. E. (2019). 'Feedback interpreters': the role of learning development professionals in facilitating university students’ engagement with feedback. Teaching in Higher Education 24 (6), 723-738 https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2018.1498076.
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Understanding how students engage with assessment feedback is a key concern of higher education professionals. Research commonly represents the perspectives of students and academic staff, yet little consideration is given to the role of learning development staff, despite these individuals supporting students when interpreting and implementing feedback. We report the findings from interviews with learning developers working in a UK University, exploring their insights into the barriers students confront when engaging with feedback, and into the role of learning developers within the feedback landscape. This study suggests that, while many challenges exist for staff and students in the context of assessment feedback, learning development professionals are able to provide a meaningful source of guidance, in partnership with academic staff, and are able to promote students’ development through dialogic interactions. Hitherto these interactions have not been fully explored, yet they provide powerful insight into the hidden processes of feedback recipience.
Gravett, K. and Gill, C. (2010). ‘Using online video to promote database searching skills: the creation of a virtual tutorial for Health and Social Care students’. Journal of Information Literacy 4(1), 66-71.https://doi.org/10.11645/4.1.1469
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In recent years, online tutorials have become well-established tools for the delivery of information literacy training as information professionals continue to seek new and more effective ways to reach audiences. However, the rapid transience of technologies, and the ongoing need to maximise the efficiency of services, mean that the question of how best to exploit the online medium needs further exploration. This paper focuses on a project at the University of Surrey Library to develop a new approach to online instruction. The goals of the project were to explore how the addition of video might create a more engaging user experience, and how the online video tutorial might therefore both improve existing information literacy training as well as offering a ‘just in time’ point of support. This paper examines the practical challenges involved in creating useful and accessible content and compares different software solutions for producing and editing video, audio, screencasts and subtitles. Further, it also examines the specific issues encountered when using external content, including database modifications and e-copyright issues. Finally, it touches upon the feedback collected so far in order to begin the evaluation of the resource. Using video can maximise the impact of e-learning tools, helping online tutorials to deliver information in a more personal and immediate way. However, when allowing for the time investment in creating and managing such resources, both their role alongside alternative information literacy approaches and their lasting value must be carefully considered.
Kinchin, I. M. and Gravett, K. (2021). Dominant discourses in higher education: Critical perspectives, cartographies and practice. London: Bloomsbury.
Gravett, K., Yakovchuk, N. and Kinchin, I.M. (Eds.) (2020). Enhancing student-centred teaching in higher education: The landscape of student-staff partnerships. Cham, Switzerland, Palgrave Macmillan.
Gravett, K. (2021). 'Learning from feedback via peer review: Using concept maps to explore the development of scholarly writing literacies' in Muresan, L. M. and Orna-Montesinos, C. (eds.). Academic literacy development: Perspectives on multilingual scholars' approaches to writing. Cham, Switzerland, Palgrave Macmillan.
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Writing for publication is a key part of an academic career. However, this practice can be fraught, particularly at the peer review stage. How academics develop from these experiences becomes an interesting area to examine. This chapter reports on data collected using concept map-mediated interviews. These data suggest that academics develop effective strategies to learn from feedback over time. For example the critical feedback authors experience often have a positive impact upon themselves and their work. Feedback can be a generative process, fostering self-growth. However, the interviews also highlight complex tensions within the peer-review process, particularly relating to the pressures upon scholars from around the world to publish in English, with the emotive nature of the review process, and with the monologic method of delivery of reviewer feedback.
Gravett, K. (2020). Developing students' feedback literacies in Baughan, P. (ed.) On Your Marks: Learner-focused Feedback Practices and Feedback Literacy. York: Advance HE.
Ollis, L., and Gravett, K. (2020). 'The emerging landscape of student-staff partnerships in higher education' in Gravett, K., Yakovchuk, N. and Kinchin, I. M. (eds.). Enhancing student-centred teaching in higher education: The landscape of student-staff partnerships. Cham, Switzerland, Palgrave Macmillan.
Yakovchuk, N., Gravett, K. and Kinchin, I. M. (2020). 'Introduction: Context and scope' in Gravett, K., Yakovchuk, N. and Kinchin, I. M. (eds.). Enhancing student-centred teaching in higher education: The landscape of student-staff partnerships. Cham, Switzerland, Palgrave Macmillan.
Kinchin, I. M., Gravett, K. and Yakovchuk, N. (2020). 'The future of student-staff partnerships' in Gravett, K., Yakovchuk, N. and Kinchin, I. M. (eds.). Enhancing student-centred teaching in higher education: The landscape of student-staff partnerships. Cham, Switzerland, Palgrave Macmillan.
Gravett, K. (2019). 'Making Learning Happen: Students’ Development of Academic and Information Literacies' in Engaging Student Voices in Higher Education: Diverse Perspectives and Expectations in Partnership, 297-313. Lygo-Baker, S., Kinchin, I. M. and Winstone, N. E. (eds.) London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Gravett, K., Medland, E. and Winstone, N.E. (2019). 'Engaging Students as Co-designers in Educational Innovation' in Engaging Student Voices in Higher Education: Diverse Perspectives and Expectations in Partnership, 175-190. Lygo-Baker, S., Kinchin, I. and Winstone, N. (eds.) London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Gravett, K. (2011). ‘Providing guidance, training and support for readers using e-books’ in Price, K. and Havergal, V. (eds.) E-books in libraries: a practical guide. London: Facet.
Gravett, K. (2021). Disrupting the doctoral journey: re-imagining doctoral pedagogies and temporal practices in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2020.1853694
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This article reconsiders narratives of the doctoral journey. It aims to contribute to a small but growing body of work which offers an irruption to widely accepted notions of learning as a linear pathway with a fixed end-point. The article engages two of Deleuze and Guattari’s many generative concepts: rhizome and becoming. In doing so, it explores the value of attending to the multiple and messy becomings that researchers experience, as they evolve throughout a doctorate and beyond. It focuses on how such an unsettling may be foregrounded by the increasing prevalence of new forms and possibilities for doctoral study, and it explores the textual implications of disrupting assumptions regarding doctoral writing. The article closes with considering what such a re-theorising might offer for our understanding of doctoral study and doctoral writing, as well as for the broader concepts of time, learning and change within higher education.
Ali, X., Tatam, J., Gravett, K. and Kinchin, I. M. (2021). Partnership values: An evaluation of student-staff collaborative research. International Journal of Students as Partners, in press.
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This research study contributes to understandings of partnership approaches through an evaluation of student-staff research partnership projects that took place within a higher education institution. Drawing on data from semi-structured interviews with both the staff and students involved in the twenty research projects, our data were analysed to surface the underpinning values that informed the partnership process. As a result, this article offers an opportunity to evaluate partnership projects in context, as well as to explore how partnership may serve as force for potential disruption and innovation in higher education. We conclude with a consideration of how investigating the ways in which students and staff conceptualise student-staff partnership can be valuable, and with recommendations for others considering similar partnership projects.  
Gravett, K. and Ajjawi, R. (2021). Belonging as situated practice. Studies in Higher Education. In press.
Dippold, D., Heron, M. and Gravett, K. (2021). International students’ linguistic transitions into disciplinary studies: a rhizomatic perspective. Higher Education. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-021-00677-9
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This paper offers a reconceptualisation of international students’ transitions into and through UK higher education. We present two case studies of students which explore their transitions in terms of their academic speaking skills from pre-sessional courses into their disciplinary studies. Students describe how the development of their confidence and performance in academic speaking was contingent on a number of factors and micro-moments, and how this progress into and within disciplinary studies often involved regression and discomfort. Nevertheless, they also talked of developing strategies to overcome challenges and the resultant learning. We argue that transitions to disciplinary studies in terms of academic speaking can be more helpfully understood as non-linear, fluid and rhizomatic. This study offers valuable insights for individuals and institutions to move away from a fixed student lifecycle perspective to consider instead how reciprocal, embedded and on-going support for international students may better reflect students’ experiences.