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Open Research?

September 12th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I am still interested in experimenting with different formats for conference presentations. Of course the call for contributions and formats for different conferences will limit the possibilities (as often does the design of the conference environment). The European Conference on Educational Research offers the possibility for workshops but, in may experience, there are very few workshops and all too often it is difficult to tell the difference between a paper sessions and a workshop sessions.

This year I submitted a proposal for a workshop around the G8WAY project on educational transitions. This was the proposal:

” A major characteristic of European societies is the rapidly growing differentiation of educational pathways, opportunities and biographies. This increase in complexity  requires great effort from learners into initiative taking, creativity, problem solving, risk assessment and decision taking. Through the past years various structures have been developed in order to support students in mastering educational transition. However they have been often formulated in an institutional perspective, discounting learners’ experience and creativity skills as well as new opportunities of technology enhanced learning.

The research workshop is based on the European Commission funded G8WAY project. G8WAY is based on the idea, that the growing availability of web 2.0 tools allows for bridging this gap through learner centred and connective approaches, with a chance to more effectively manage educational transition. Thus, G8WAY is developing web 2.0 enhanced learning environments, which will enable learners to reflect and develop creativity potentials and transitional skills in the light of self and others’ learning experience, made visible through a variety of media sets and PLE tools, each of them designed to meet the requirements of transition envisaged, and all of which are mapped into one single pedagogy framework.

G8WAY is producing 3 transition scenarios:

  1. school to work and
  2. general to higher education.
  3. Higher education to work

For each of the scenarios a problem oriented concept and case based reasoning method will be developed and embedded into a web 2.0 learning environment to facilitate reflection, case based reasoning and experimental learning on self and other’s learning experience across different educational contexts and towards the development of transitional skills. To this purpose G8WAY will develop web 2.0 learning environments combining a variety of media sets and ICT enhanced learning tools, which are connected through a single pedagogy framework.

The research workshop is intended to form an active part of the G8WAY project, allowing connection and input from the wider educational research community to the projects work and outcomes.

This will involve collaborative exploration of a series of interlinked issues:

  • What are the issues in transitions between education institutions and between education and work
  • What competences are required to deal with transitions
  • How can these competences be acquired
  • How can informal learning be facilitated to bridge scaffold transition processes
  • How can thinking & reflection, conversation & interaction, experience & activity or evidence & demonstration be supported in transition scenarios
  • How can we use Web 2.0 and social software to support transition processes
  • Where do learners gain support from teachers, trainers or peers in managing their own learning for transition
  • What roles could Personal Learning Networks or Personal Learning Environments play in transition processes”

It all sounded very fine when I wrote the proposal last January. But the proposal didn’t require me to say HOW i was going to design and run the workshop. I only had one and a quarter hours and to make it worse the workshop was scheduled for the final confernce session – after lunch on a Friday afternoon. What I wanted to do was to go beyind brainstrorming or group work around teh main ideas of the project and inclove particpants in the ongoing research of the project.

The G8WAY project has been undertaking a series of ‘case studies’ of transitions, based on a  story telling approach. To date we have gathered stories from 60 people, in six different countries. We have published the stories on the G8WAY project web site.  At the present time we have two working groups who are looking at the school to university transition case studies and the university to work case studies with the aim of deriving a limited number of persona. These persona are intended to provide a basis for developing social software to assist young people in educational transitions.

We had about 20 particpants in the workshop. I asked them to work in pairs. each pair was given one of the transition stories and asked to analyse it with respect to:

a) Foregrounded and backgrounding of issues in transition, as told in the case study

b) Possible spaces for intervention to support the transition

And, somewhat to my surprise, everyone not only dived into the work but seemed to enjoy it. Indeed, the only regret was that the time was too short. Backgorund issues and potential rooms for interventionf romt he different case studies included:

  • Family pressure – need spaces for empowerment and rethinking of options
  • Cultural integration – need for spaces / approaches allowing exploration of intergenerational issues
  • Lack of support from colleagues in temporary employment – need for more support in finding appropriate job vacancies
  • Instability – need for signposting to professional support
  • Unsure of identity = need for peer group contact and communication

Of course, without the original case studies this feedback makes little sense. But there was a genuine enthusiasm and interest form participants both in our work and in the process. This has led me to think if we should not extend the exercise,through our project web site, allowing those who are interested but not a project partner to contribute to the project research. Of course that raises the question of why anyone would want to participate voluntarily in ‘Open Research’? The answer I think lies in the relation between research and learning. Participation in a research project can be a powerful form of learning or professional development.

I am constantly being asked to fill in questionnaires and surveys to support different projects. But seldom does the opportunity for involvement go beyond that. It will require some creativity and imagination, but I see no reason why we shouldn’t start opening up our research to all those interested. And that is not just the obligatory bulletin board for visitors to ask questions or add a comment. It means redesigning the research methodologies and processes to allow others to participate. More to come in a future post….

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