School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences

Staff Profiles

Helen Burns

Research Excellence Academy Fellow


I  work as part of the SOLE Central Research Centre team, a global research hub, where we research and develop self-organised learning pedagogies.  Specifically, I am concerned with SOLE as connected to creative learning and to metacognition (understanding and having strategies for our own learning) and have been developing 'Art and SOLE' pedagogy, on the basis that both art and SOLE can help equip us to 'think for ourselves'.

My role involves identifying, developing, applying for funding towards and carrying out research.  I work with a number of local, national and international partners towards these ends and share the process and results of the research as widely as possible.


My research explores the cultural, cognitive and metacognitive value of art within learning, particularly in relation to self-organised thought, self-organising pedagogies and democratic participation.  I am interested in imagination as a vital aspect of cognition and metacognition, essential in enabling us to realise and expand our democratic capacity and with contemporary art as a means of nurturing this.  These interests have developed from professional experience of work in creative and cultural education settings in which the value of art-based learning is recognised but the process of impact is less frequently explored.  A background in visual arts, including work as an artist, has led to an interest in using visual research methods in education and to the potential offered via an overlap between these practices and art-informed research practices.

Current research projects include: 'Art and SOLE', funded by the British Academy, which combines art experiences with SOLE (self-organised learning environment) pedagogy; 'EUROSOLE', an Erasmus project involving international partners exploring SOLE in their own contexts and pooling this knowledge. Examples of previous projects are: 'Mapping Transformation through Contemporary Art', a BA project in partnership  with Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art which looked at the process by which contemporary art experiences support the development of metacognition; 'Mind the Gap', an EEF funded, large scale, randomised controlled trial which looked at a family animation project as a means to develop metacognition. 


For the past three years I have been a Visiting Lecturer on the Newcastle University Primary PGCE course, where I teach art, craft and design.  For many years I have been a Visiting Lecturer for the Secondary Art and Design PGCE course at Northumbria University.  In  my previous role at Durham University I taught qualitative research methods at masters and  doctoral level (particularly visual research methods and action research) and taught half of  the MA Arts in Education course.