Archive for the ‘My Learning Journey’ Category

Activating research through practice

March 26th, 2013 by Cristina Costa

This is just a short post with some thoughts about a paper I have been asked to write for the Journal of New Approaches in Educational Research. The working title is Learning and Teaching in Context… with a little help from the web

With it I aim to explore how the social help can help educators and learners to experiment teaching and learning through contexts that the classroom is unable to provide. I am using examples of my own practice as a teacher to support this. And one of my main arguments is that the social web is a place for innovation of practices, for the invention of contexts that aim to stimulate new forms of (lifelong) learning. The skills acquired, the networks that are formed, the knowledge that is created, and the way people are enabled to learn can be transferred to other situations and experiences. All it takes is to believe this is possible. Thus it is important that educators experiment that for themselves so they can perceive its true benefit.  (yes, I know, I have said this many times over…!).

Hence, there is a need to make research “real” to practitioners, at the same time that it is crucial that practice informs new research.

Berni's slide: research must be ...

For some time now I have been looking at action research as a methodology that enables to connect research with practice and vice-versa. This is a much needed approach in our changing society. It is necessary to understand how practitioners are changing practices, or if they are not, why that is so. There is also a screaming need to test new ideas… and in talks with my dear friend Dr Sakina Baharom I also found Design Based Research: an emergent research methodology that has a specific  focus on establishing partnerships between researchers and practitioners with the main goal of developing innovative practices.

During the DIALOGUE symposium these methodologies were not forgotten. Professor Hiller talked about the need to promote reflective practice and enable the translation of tacit knowledge into more explicit one.

Another Speaker, Berni Brady, Director of AONTAS, also made good points regarding what research should be:

  • Relevant
  • Accessible
  • Informative
  • Exploratory
  • Useful

This, to me, comes to justify the need to a more pragmatic view of what research should be and what it should serve: Practice. This again, takes me back to Professor Anderson’s concept of the university as a place of useful learning.

As I am writing this paper, I am looking  for more examples of how people have used action research/ DBR to change, improve, transform… their practices. If you have some examples, please share them with me .

A place of useful learning…

March 26th, 2013 by Cristina Costa

This is what, in my opinion, every University should be and what research should also support. This is also the vision and goal of the University of Strathclyde; the reason why it was created. And I must say that it goes very well with my own vision of what a University should be about. So I am well proud to be part of it now.


The University as “a place of useful learning” ~ Professor John Anderson


This Friday I attended the DIALOGUE symposium which Dr Rob Mark, my line manager, hosted at the University as part of his involvement in a project with the same name.

The DIALOGUE project is seeking to improve the links between research and practice in lifelong learning by promoting a dialogue between researchers, practitioners and policy makers.  The project is highlighting models of good practice as well as exploring ways of involving practitioners in research.  Through the sharing of knowledge and experience, it is hoped the project will lead to new ways of working and improvement in the transfer of knowledge both within and outside the university.
The project is also seeking to promote a research-practice dialogue around 4 themes:

Access and progression

Quality assurance and enhancement

Learning and guidance

New media

The event started with talks from a group of guest speakers who shared their views and experiences in bridging the gap between research and practice. Some of the talks inspired very interesting debates.

I especially liked Prof. Yvonne Hiller’s presentation. Not the least because she went straight to the point and talked about issues that we all face and which need addressing, especially at policy and strategy levels.
Professor Hiller, who launched the Learning and Skills Research Network in 1996, mentioned something that is no longer news to us, but which somehow still puzzle us:

practitioners don’t read academic journals!

I would say that there are different reasons to this: firstly, the culture of reading academic papers by non academic audiences is not there; secondly, access to academic papers by practitioners is very limited; thirdly, the register and style used in academic papers is probably more complex than it needs to be. Let’s face it, academic language is no one’s native language. (we could also ask, what do researchers read besides academic publications?)
The questions that immediately sprung to my mind:

why do researchers elect academic journals as their main means of dissemination?

Why don’t we choose other channels of communication that are more accessible?

Why aren’t all researchers blogging, for instance?

(…I had to introduce the technology, didn’t I?)

Unionization and New Media

Photo by License: (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Open blogs allow to spread knowledge wider and farther. And bloggers can use a less formal, more fluid speech that may appeal to one of their main target audiences: practitioners. As a ripple effect practitioners could also blog and as a result of that both parties might as well find a common ground through which they can achieve a deeper understanding of each other. And if not blogs, why not networks, or whichever way it is easier for both parties to establish communication?
But none of this is as simple as it may sound.  A suggestion to something that seems so obvious these days, such as a blog, is not a quick win amongst researchers, and I would dare say also not necessarily that popular amongst practitioners.
As I tried to make sense during my PhD…. the use of the social and participatory web to produce and disseminate knowledge and create conversations implies a deep change not only in terms of practice but the philosophies that support those practices. Old habits die hard and blogging, for instance, doesn’t come easy. It becomes even harder when there is no strategic vision supporting it.
Take REF as an example (You’ll probably have a similar system in your country…?). Formal publications are a core element in this research assessment exercise. The *one* element people are more focused on and concerned about. Since there is no explicit (I mean, spelt out) mention on the way the participatory web can have a positive influence on how research is communicated, may reach larger and more diverse audiences, and/or generate impact (aside from being published on a webpage), no one (or shall I say only very few) are taking (what they consider) risks. People (are persuaded to) follow the same, old conventions, i.e, what has worked for them in the past. A publication in that hard to publish journal often does the trick. The problem is that the journal is  not only one that is hard to publish in, it is one that is hard to have access to! This does not generate innovative ways of working, and it certainly doesn’t close gaps between research and practice.
I guess what I am saying is that we not only need to make an effort for research and practice to meet, we also need to promote changes in policy if we want the partnership between research and practice to work. Change cannot come only from top-down nor merely from bottom-up. Both need to meet half way through the process of implementing measures that will inspire the development of new approaches and practices. For this to happen we need to achieve true communication between all parties involved. Policy included. This is what I hope the DIALOGUE project will achieve.

Can the Web be a place of useful learning?

I think it can help achieve that goal. Now the question remains:

How do we go from here?

Many more questions were raised during the symposium but I will leave them for future posts since this is already a long blogpost. Meanwhile I would love to know how you deal with these issues in your country/institution.

Take 2

March 25th, 2013 by Cristina Costa

After the PhD, came a new job… and this delayed the restart of blogging! I know, I know, excuses, excuses …!

But I am happy to announce I am back! I will not promise to write every other day, nor every week, but I hope I get back to the routine of blogging, because it gives me voice. It also helps me clarify my thoughts and as a result of it ask more questions. You also help me develop my thinking with your comments and that is why I like it here. I enjoy the conversation. So, I am back… and I hope you don’t mind my staying in the blogsphere for a bit longer! ;-)

here i go :-)

P.S. I started a new job at the University of Strathclyde as a Lecturer in Lifelong Learning (TEL) – a joint appointment between the Centre of Lifelong Learning and the School of Education. After 6 years in Salford, where I knew and worked with a great deal of people from the different schools, I am the new kid on the block. It is both refreshing and nerve wrecking to move jobs. But I am glad I did it. I am excited about the new opportunities. And my plan is to enjoy every single minute of it. I look forward to reporting about my new adventures in Scotland.

  • Search

    News Bites

    Digital Literacy

    A National Survey fin Wales in 2017-18 showed that 15% of adults (aged 16 and over) in Wales do not regularly use the internet. However, this figure is much higher (26%) amongst people with a limiting long-standing illness, disability or infirmity.

    A new Welsh Government programme has been launched which will work with organisations across Wales, in order to help people increase their confidence using digital technology, with the aim of helping them improve and manage their health and well-being.

    Digital Communities Wales: Digital Confidence, Health and Well-being, follows on from the initial Digital Communities Wales (DCW) programme which enabled 62,500 people to reap the benefits of going online in the last two years.

    See here for more information

    Zero Hours Contracts

    Figures from the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency show that in total almost 11,500 people – both academics and support staff – working in universities on a standard basis were on a zero-hours contract in 2017-18, out of a total staff head count of about 430,000, reports the Times Higher Education.  Zero-hours contract means the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours

    Separate figures that only look at the number of people who are employed on “atypical” academic contracts (such as people working on projects) show that 23 per cent of them, or just over 16,000, had a zero-hours contract.

    Resistance decreases over time

    Interesting research on student centered learning and student buy in, as picked up by an article in Inside Higher Ed. A new study published in PLOS ONE, called “Knowing Is Half the Battle: Assessments of Both Student Perception and Performance Are Necessary to Successfully Evaluate Curricular Transformation finds that student resistance to curriculum innovation decreases over time as it becomes the institutional norm, and that students increasingly link active learning to their learning gains over time

    Postgrad pressure

    Research published this year by Vitae and the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and reported by the Guardian highlights the pressure on post graduate students.

    “They might suffer anxiety about whether they deserve their place at university,” says Sally Wilson, who led IES’s contribution to the research. “Postgraduates can feel as though they are in a vacuum. They don’t know how to structure their time. Many felt they didn’t get support from their supervisor.”

    Taught students tend to fare better than researchers – they enjoy more structure and contact, says Sian Duffin, student support manager at Arden University. But she believes anxiety is on the rise. “The pressure to gain distinction grades is immense,” she says. “Fear of failure can lead to perfectionism, anxiety and depression.”

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