Archive for the ‘Academic researchers’ Category

AI Brain Drain?

September 3rd, 2018 by Graham Attwell

It is not often I read the Daily Telegraph. Not withstanding the politics, the paper only provides a short introduction for free with the rest of the content languishing behind a paywall. But I picked up this stub of an article through Twitter.

Britain faces an artificial intelligence “brain drain” as Silicon Valley raids its top universities for talent, data compiled by The Telegraph shows.

Around a third of leading machine learning and AI specialists who have left the UK’s top institutions are currently working at Silicon Valley tech firms.

More than a tenth have moved to North American universities and nearly a tenth are currently working for other smaller US companies. Meanwhile just one in seven have joined British start-ups.

The Telegraph surveyed 150 people who had gained either a postgraduate-level degree or had…..

The sample I think comes form just four universities so is possibly not reliable. But it possibly shows how unattractive working as a researcher in UK univeristies sis becoming compared to provate sector work abroad.

Vocational Education and Training Research in the UK

August 31st, 2018 by Graham Attwell

Next week I am going to the European Conference on Education Research (ECER) taking place in Bolzano in Italy. I am talking in three sessions, one about changing identities in work, one on research around the use of technology in vocational education and training and the third on Vocational Education and Training research and innovation agendas in Europe.

The latter is an initiative by Monica Moso from the Bankia Foundation in Spain and is organised as a round table with researchers from Spain, UK, Germany and Switzerland.

I am reporting on the UK in response to three questions Monica has asked:

  • Question 1: What is the characterisation of the country’s existing VET R&D?
  • Question 2: What are the major contemporary challenges to the country’s existing VET R&D?
  • Question 3: Is there a national policy or strategy for VET R&D? If not, an informal agenda? How is it?

In order to answer the questions Monica asked us to select and prioritise the main research areas in VET in each country. For the UK I prioritised the following areas:

  1. Economic development and VET
  2. Changing Labour market
  3. Apprenticeships/ internships/ workplace learning
  4. VET policy, organization and management
  5. The Salience of work
  6. Qualification research
  7. Careers
  8. VET teacher education and teacher behaviour
  9. Vocationalisation of higher education
  10. VET and Society

I noted that researchers in VET are drawn from a wide number fo different subject areas and attached to different university departments including:

  • Anthropology
  • Educational studies
  • Educational sociology
  • The study of higher education policy
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • Industrial relations/human resource management/personnel management
  • Economics
  • Labour economics
  • Geography
  • History
  • Politics and policy studies
  • Gender studies
  • Ethnic relations
  • Continuing education
  • Hotels, catering and leisure studies
  • Management studies
  • Engineering and manufacturing systems.

Monica asked us to characterise the state of VET research in our countries and to expand on the issues researchers face. This is my reply for the UK:

  • Extreme fragmentation, with research located in a multiplicity of institutional and disciplinary settings
  • Lack of stable funding / resources – funding from a very wide range of sources.
  • Lack of central research networks / infrastructure / knowledge exchange mechanism
  • Lack of reflexivity in the research / policy process, with a lack of a feedback loop between policy makers
  • Dislocation between research, policy formation and implementation
  • Ideology driven policy agendas
  • Frequent changes in policies and lack of thorough evaluation of their impact
  • Austerity and lack of funding in further education sector
  • Poor or non existent data

 

I noted there is no national policy or strategy for VET rsearch and development in the UK. However, at present the government is funding a VET research unit based at the London School of Economics (CVER)

The priorities set for the LSE unit appear to reflect government priorities, namely:

  1. Describing the Further and Vocational Education landscape in England
  2. How does vocational education affect individual prosperity, firm productivity and profitability, and economic growth?
  3. How can the quantity of ‘high quality’ vocational education provision be improved?
  4. How do the costs and benefits of vocational education influence individuals’ participation decisions

These areas reflect the informal agenda set by the government which is largely ideologically driven.

Some VET research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council – e.g the LAKES project at the Institute of Education

There are a wide range of different sources of funding for VET research. These include:

  • Foundations and trusts
  • Government departments and agencies
  • Political parties
  • Trade Union Congress (TUC) and trade unions
  • Confederation for British Industry and industry organisations
  • Professional bodies
  • Royal Society for the Arts
  • Careers organisations
  • Industry education bodes
  • Local Economic partnerships

There is no central mechanism for deciding the knowledge needs of the VET system – nor for agreement between participants on the main problems. Whereas in some areas such as apprenticeship there is general consensus as to its importance the policy implementation is contested. Ultimately policy options are imposed by central government. At least in rhetoric, there is considerable reliance placed on the views of employers.

All in all it is a fairly depressing picture. Is there anything I have forgotten?

 

Academic Archers: abstract for the 2019 conference

May 18th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

Archers Logo Wheat Colour Long.jpgFor years, Jenny Hughes and I have been promising ourselves to submit a paper for the Academic Archers Conference. And this year we have finally got our act together. You can read the short abstract below. But first, for non UK readers what is the Archers? According to Wikipedia:

The Archers is the world’s longest-running radio soap opera. The British production, which has aired over 18,600 episodes, is broadcast on Radio 4, the BBC‘s main spoken-word channel. Originally billed as an everyday story of country folk, it is now described as a contemporary drama in a rural setting.

Five pilot episodes were aired in 1950 and the first episode was broadcast nationally on 1 January 1951. A significant show in British popular culture, and with over five million listeners, it is Radio 4’s most listened-to non-news programme. With over one million listeners via the internet, the programme holds the record for BBC Radio online listening figures.

The Academic Archers is an experimental form of academic community with The Archers as a lens through which wider issues can be explored. The web site (which includes videos from the 2018 conference) explains: “As a community we share our knowledge of the programme, our research interests, and a lot of laughs, creating the academic field if you will, of Ambridgeology. In all that we do, are values are to be ‘curious, generous and joyful’.”

And so on to our abstract:

Education and careers in the Archers viewed through the lens of gender and class

The paper will explore attitudes to education and educational participation and achievement in The Archers through the lens of gender and class.

There has never been a teacher in the cast of the Archers. The nearest is Jim, but as a retired Classics professor, he is something of a parody. Does the Archers have a problem with education?

Attitudes to education and to the choice of future career are largely determined by class. There’s the split between the cathedral school and the state school. Shula and Elizabeth’s kids attend the Cathedral school, the Brookfield children the other. Ruari is so precious he is a boarder – too good for the Cathedral school?

Higher education remains a relative rarity in Ambridge. Phoebe, Alice and Pip are the exceptions, although the Fairbrother’s rugby playing background suggests they too may have attended university. Apprenticeships are for the less academically able, such as Johnny.

Parental background largely accounts for choice of career. Few offspring have flown the nest to a completely new occupation. Indeed, it is notable that Ambridge still lacks a single person working in Information Technology.

And what of children with SLD? The only child with Down’s Syndrome was ‘removed’ from Ambridge to the big city to better meet her educational needs despite educational policy promoting integration in local, mainstream schools?

The question is to what extent The Archers reflects changing attitudes to education in rural areas of the UK and continuing divisions through class and gender?

About the authors

Both Jenny Hughes and Graham Attwell are lifelong Archers listeners. They work for Pontydysgu, an educational research organisation based in Pontypridd. Their research includes the training of teachers, the use of technology in the classroom and careers education.

Communities of Practice and the world of Academia

February 6th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

A suffrage march through Stratford on Avon in 1911

I have worked in and out of academia over the last thirty years including five years working for what used to be called Gwent Tertiary College, a large vocational education college in south east Wales and another five years working at the University of Bremen in Germany. Communication between departments in large academic colleges is notoriously problematic. I once went to a meeting in Brussels and ended up talking with a researcher working in a very similar area to me. I could actually see his office from the window of mine. But he was in a different institute and our paths had never crossed in Bremen.

Talking about Communities of Practice in an article entitled  “Negotiating place, technology and identity – a postmodern narrative of places to meet in a community of practice” Patricia Arnold, John D. Smith and Beverly Trayner say “The distinguishing characteristic of a community of practice is that it is the location for an “economy of meaning” (Wenger 1998, 209) where the meaning of shared practice is negotiated among participants. Fundamental to this perspective is an understanding that communities of practice are a dynamic interaction of participation (action and connection between people that combines doing, talking, thinking, feeling, and belonging) and of reification (where a certain understanding of something is given form).”

It is possible to argue that such communities are based on practice based disciplines (and I am also aware there is a debate over the meaning of research as a practice). Yet it is possible to argue that negotiated “economies of meaning” most often happen in a cross disciplinary dialogue. Here universities seem to struggle.

At present I have an appointment as an Associate Fellow at the University of Warwick. The ‘internal comms’ department of the university send out a weekly staff newsletter by email. The well written newsletter contains section with short links on new, Get Involved, What’s on and Features. I usually flick through it but it is of limited value to non campus based staff.

This week’s newsletter however had a feature entitled Five things about women and the vote. “On the 100th anniversary of it becoming legal for some women to vote in national elections for the first time, Dr Sarah Richardson shares five things you may not know about women and the vote.” It is a great example of communicating about research to a wider audience. And it left me wanting to find out more.

Warwick Campus has many well designed ‘places’ for informal meetings and exchange. But the online ‘spaces’ are informational, rather than provoking the discourses needed to develop an economy of meaning. I think academic places need to explore how they can link to online participation and exchange through spaces. It will take time – a small first step would be to stream Dr. Richardson’s forthcoming talks on Warwickshire Women and the Fight for the Vote.

 

 

 

Rainer Bremer in Memoriam

March 6th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

At the end of January we received the sad news that our ITB and VETNET colleague Rainer Bremer had passed away after a difficult phase with severe illnesses. Three days ago he would have celebrated his 65th birthday, but now he is gone. It has taken some time to get my thoughts together on this fact. After all, I have known Rainer since 1993 when I was still working as a junior researcher in Finland and building contacts with ITB (Institut Technik & Bildung, University of Bremen). Shortly afterwards I changed to Cedefop (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training) and in that contexts worked together with several EU-funded projects – and Rainer was involved in some of them. Then, from 2005 I have been working in ITB and Rainer has been one of veterans of ITB who continued all these years with national, European and international projects.

Below I try to bring together some memories of Rainer from different phases of our research careers. In particular I would like to focus on our encounters in project work and in the many ECER events (European Conference on Educational Research) in which Rainer was prominently present from the early years on.

Modellversuch Schwarze Pumpe and other similar pilot projects

I learned to know Rainer shortly after he had started in ITB and in the accompanying research team of the pilot project Schwarze Pumpe (wissenschaftliche Begleitung der Modellversuch Schwarze Pumpe). This pilot project focused on promoting dually oriented qualifications – acquisition of regular vocational qualification and university entrance qualification (Fachhochschulreife) – without extension of education and training time. Rainer was responsible for accompanying the school part of the pilot, Hans-Dieter Höpfner for the workplace part, and Gerald Heidegger for the management of the accompanying research altogether.

During my first years at Cedefop I had the pleasure to attend some of the interim events of this pilot. In particular I was impressed by the integrated projects that some teams of vocational school teachers and in-company trainers had planned together – involving apprentices from different trades. And I was pleased with the way that the accompanying researchers brought these pedagogic achievements forward. In particular this was the case with nation-wide conference of similar German pilot projects, coordinated by MV Schwarze Pumpe. It struck me that Rainer (from West-Germany) and Hans-Dieter (from East-Germany) could bring together pilot projects that highlighted best practice from West and East (relatively shortly after the German unification).

European projects on parity of esteem and dually oriented qualifications

In the first phase of the EU action programme for vocational education – Leonardo da Vinci – the themes ‘parity of esteem between general and vocational education’ and ‘integrated qualifications’ were high on the priority lists. Therefore, it was no wonder that the MV Schwarze Pumpe was represented in two Leonardo projects:

  • The project “Post-16 strategies” compared different systemic/institutional strategies for promoting attractiveness of vocational education and training (VET) and reducing the status gaps between VET and general education. The project came up with a mapping result that identifies four main strategies from institutional unification (intergerated upper secondary education) to enhancement of VET within existing institutional frameworks.
  • The project “Intequal” provided insights into different curricular models or schemes that promoted integration of general/academic and vocational learning. This project sought to give insights into the possibilities to integrate the parallel learning cultures at the level of practical pedagogic solutions.

During their work the two projects developed close cooperation with each other – and ITB (with MV Schwarze Pumpe as its exemplary case) was prominently present in this cooperation. Rainer and Gerald rotated with each in the meetings and were involved in the bilateral study visits of ‘Post-16 strategies’ (that involved practitioners from Germany and Norway to mutual visits on each others’ pilot venues). Also, I remember the discussions in which Rainer explained to other partners the meaning of the concept ‘Beruflichkeit’ (and the kind of vocational professionalism to which it refers in German education, training and working cultures). Somehow, all other colleagues had failed to go that deep into cultural core concepts. At the end of the day the concluding event of the MV Schwarze Pumpe incorporated also a Cedefop-hosted European seminar in which the European partners could familiarise themselves with the results of the German pilot project.

The classical ITB pilot projects (Modellversuche) GoLo, GAB and GaPa

Partly parallel to the above mentioned projects, partly after them ITB experienced a period of outstanding pilot projects (Modellversuche – MV) in the context of or parallel to national innovation programs:

  • The first one in the series was MV GoLo in the Wilhelmshaven region. It tried to turn the declining tendency in providing apprentice training by encouraging the companies and vocational schools to launch workplace learning partnerships. However, alongside the organisational innovations that made such cooperation attractive, the project supported joint domain-specific workshops to promote quality of vocational curricula and mutual adjustment. In this context the workshops highlighted the role of characteristic working and learning tasks (Lern- und Arbeitsaufgaben). Rainer was not personally involved in the GoLo project but he was keenly involved in the further develoment work with the concept ‘working and learning tasks’.
  • The second one in the series was MV GAB that was implemented at different production sites of Volkswagenwerk. It had the task to develop a new integrative framework for occupational core qualifications and competences for the automotive industries. Rainer was in charge of the accompanying research team and took further steps in developing the concept of Expert-Worker-Workshops (Ex-Wo-Wos) and the curricular embedding of working and learning tasks.
  • The third one, the regional MV GaPa in Nordrhein-Westfalen can be seen as a transfer-project that was built upon the regional networking approach of GoLo and on the pedagogic work in the GAB project. Rainer was in charge of the first phase of the project before moving to other tasks.

Here it is worthwhile to note that the wording ‘outstanding’ does not necessarily mean that all these pilots were success stories – or that successful practice in the pilot contexts would have been easily transferable to other contexts. Yet, they represented a phase of intensive concept development work that had an impact on many successor activities. Moreover, I need to add that Rainer had also other research interests at that time. He was developing cooperation between ITB and our friends in Oldenburg on school-to work transition. And I still remember that he had a project on integration of disadvantaged learners in VET in the area of Braunschweig.

European cooperation with projects focusing on trans-national production of Airbus and Volkswagen

After the above mentioned pilot projects Rainer worked with a new generation of pilot projects that focused on the trans-national production process of Airbus and the role of vocational education and training. Firstly there was a conceptual study EVABCOM (a conceptually and methodologically oriented forerunner project cooperation between ITB, the French CEREQ and the University of Stirling). Then two trans-national projects – AEROnet and Aero-VET brought into picture trans-national partnerships that covered the countries in which Airbus had production (Germany, France, Spain, UK). The point of interest was the contradiction between the fact that Airbus had a mutually coordinated production process BUT the VET cultures in the participating countries remained different. As I have understood it, the consortium focused in the first project on analysing the working and learning tasks of apprentices in different countries. In the second project the consortium explored the usability of European credit transfer framework (ECVET) across the countries. (Here I am not going into details of the projects or into the results – I just want to give a picture of different milestones during Rainer’s career as a European VET researcher.)

Parallel to the start of the Airbus-project Rainer had also worked with the VW Group sites in Czech Republic and Slovakia (producing Skoda) – introducing Expert-Worker-Workshops to the new sites of the VW Group. So, Rainer was working on several international fronts. And alongside his project-related cooperation he was keen on developing the bilateral relations between ITB and CEREQ (the French national centre for research on VET and labour market).

Rainer, ECER and the VETNET community

As has been indicated above, Rainer was involved in several transnational projects and consortia. Therefore, it was natural that he was also prominently present in the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER). In particular I remember his project-related contributions to ECER 2004 in Crete (the VW-Group pilots and the development of Expert-Worker-Workshops) and the subsequent AEROnet and Aero-VET related symposia in the ECER conferences after Crete.

But Rainer was also engaged as a keynote speaker and/or as a keynote panelist in the opening colloquia of the VETNET network at some ECER conferences. In particular in 2004 (in Crete) Rainer was the keynote speaker to start discussion on the question: “Should the field of VET have an international PISA study of its own kind?” There, Rainer defended the ITB position that there should be an alternative to PISA that pays attention to vocational learning and to vocational progression routes. The other panelist, Jenny Hughes from Pontydysgu presented a fundamental critique of the methodology used in PISA studies and of the PISA apparatus itself. Unfortunately the two positions couldn’t be matched with each other in the discussion – although they both represented an alternative approach vis-à-vis the official PISA. But the debate – moderated by the VETNET program chair Nikitas Patiniotis – was intensive and inspiring.

In ECER 2006, in Geneva, Rainer was also involved in the VETNET opening colloquium. This time the VETNET program chair Barbara Stalder had invited the grand old man of Swiss VET research, professor Rolf Dubs to present a keynote lecture on recent developments in Swiss VET policies and research. And as discussants, responding to the keynote speech, Barbara had engaged Annie Boudér from CEREQ and Rainer Bremer from ITB. Without going into details of that session it is worthwhile to note that ITB (in general) and Rainer (in particular) were interested in learning more of the Swiss VET culture in which apprentice training was valued much higher than in several other European countries. Also, Rainer was keen to learn more about the French concept ‘Baccalaureate professionelle’ which was considered asa successful model in opening a vocational progression route after the initial VET.

Rainer, the uneasy intellectual and independent thinker

I guess that I have already covered the main milestones of Rainer’s career as a European VET researcher (at least the ones of which I have personal memories). However, the picture would be incomplete if I wouldn’t characterise Rainer as a special personality – more than just a colleague among others. Firstly, Rainer was an academic scholar with a manifold background in philosophy, social theory and educational sciences. Secondly, Rainer had seriously worked himself in into the field of research in VET and working life – and he valued this context greatly. Thirdly, he was a critical thinker through and through – or as the Germans express it: “mit Ecken und Kanten”. So, Rainer was always looking for deep insights – something solid to build upon. And he was never satisfied with halfway thought platitudes that had not gone through critical examination. Also, he was very clear about his priorities – and on what he didn’t include to them. Yet, he had always his intellectual curiosity and his intellectual humour with him – as fellow travellers. And many colleagues remember his manifold cultural interests – literature and poetry, music from classic to pop and jazz, photography – and not to forget: driving fast with his favourite Citroen car.

Finally, I have chosen a piece of music which could be related to his memory: George Dalaras singing the melody of Mikis Theodorakis “Old streets” in the open-air concert on Athens Acropolis to celebrate the 70th birthday of the composer. (Please note that I am not responsible for eventual advertisements popping up with the link.)

We miss Rainer but we will remember, what he stood for.

Farewell Rainer, we will carry on …

 

Where do you go to for your research?

May 20th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

I remember back in the mid 1990s, when I was first employed as a researcher at the University of Bremen, I used to travel every three months to Surrey university, whi9ch at the time had the easiest university library to reach from Bremen.I would run a series of searches on their computerised reference system, collect together a pile of journals and then buy a photocopying card to frantically copy all the articles i might need for the next couple of months. Fortunately this was in the days before airlines restricted baggage weight, so i could copy all I could carry.

Time have changed.  Most researchers I know rely on online sources these days. Despite attempts by some publishers to prevent open access, many authors place a pre-publication copy of their work online anyway. This is merely anecdotal. But  a new survey (pdf downland) by the UK Jisc covers a range of areas from how academics discover and stay abreast of research, to their teaching of undergraduates, how they choose research topics and publication channels, to their views on learned societies and university libraries, and their collections.

The survey comes up with some interesting findings. According to Jisc the “Overarching themes are an increasing reliance on the Internet for their research and publishing activities and the strong role that openness is playing in their work.” They go on to say key findings include:

  • Access limitations – While 86% of respondents report relying on their college or university library collections and subscriptions, 49% indicated that they would often like to use journal articles that are not in those collections.
  • Use of open resources – If researchers can’t find the resources or information they need through their university library, 90% of respondents often or occasionally look online for a freely available version.
  • The Internet as starting point – 40% of researchers surveyed said that when beginning a project they start by searching the Internet for relevant materials, with only 2% visiting the physical library as a first port of call.
  • Following one’s peers – The findings suggest that the majority of researchers track the work of colleagues and leading researchers as a way of keeping up to date with developments in their field.
  • Emergence of e-publications – The findings show that e-journals have largely replaced physical usage for research, but that contrasting views exist on replacement of print by e-publications, where print still holds importance within the Humanities and Social Sciences and for in-depth reading in general.

But these are just the headlines. it is well worth delving into the full report, based on over 3000 respondents.

Researchers were asked “Typically, when you are conducting academic research, which of these five starting points do you use to begin locating information for your research?”

Although there were variation between researchers form different disciplines (as noted above) some 40 per cent replied general purpose search engine on the internet or world wide web. About 25 per cent use a specific electronic research resource/computer database, up to 20 per cent their online library catalogue, 18 or so per cent a national or international catalogue or database, while less than 10 per cent physically visit their library.

That is a massive change in a relatively short time period. I will try to read the report thoroughl;y in the next few days and work out what it all means!

A new approach to conference reviewing

February 11th, 2013 by Graham Attwell


Preparations for the 4th International PLE Conference 2013 being held in Berlin, Germany together with a parallel event in Melbourne, Australia are well underway. the conference will take place on July 11 and 12 and the deadline for the call for submission of abstracts is March 4.

The PLE Conference intends to create a space for researchers and practitioners to exchange ideas, experiences and research around the development and implementation of Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) – including the design of environments and the sociological and educational issues that they raise.

More than that the PLe conference has always prided itself on innovatory approaches to design in terms of involving participants. This year will see the continuation of the unkeynotes, which Cristina Costa and myself discuss in the video above.

And this year sees another experiment in moving away from the traditional reviewing process to an approach based on ‘shepherding’ or mentoring.

The PLEconf web site explains the process.

1. The overall review process

The PLE 2013 review process is organised into three steps:

  • Step 1 (review before the conference): Submitted abstracts for full and short papers are peer-reviewed (double-blind peer-review) by screening their overall fit with the conference scope as well as the degree of innovation, technical quality, significance and clarity of contributions. As a guide, the extended abstract for a full paper should include the background of the study, the approach and methods employed in the work, the results and the conclusion, which should reflect on the successes and limitations of the work and future development.
  • Step 3 (shepherding) To enhance the participatory character of the PLE Conference the review process is based on the shepherding concept. This means that the authors of accepted abstracts are invited to submit full versions of their papers for the conference and are offered support by shepherds (mentors) in the process of writing final full versions. Upon author’s consent, depending on the overall paper maturity, a mentor may be assigned to a paper to guide the process of preparing the manuscript. Shepherds are experienced authors who, non-anonymously, help the submitters by making suggestions for improvement. The submitters incorporate these improvements into their work over a few iterations, usually three, though this may vary from case to case. The aim of shepherding is to enhance the quality of the submissions and help authors qualify for publication in the International Journal of Literacy and Technology (JLT).
  • Step 2 (review after the conference): After the conference, the final manuscripts of short and full papers are submitted and peer-reviewed (double-blind peer-review) again to assess their quality for publication in a special issue of the scientific journal. All submissions will be published in electronic conference proceedings under a Creative Commons Licence. However, only best-quality papers will be considered for the Special Issue of the International Journal of Literacy and Technology (JLT).

2. The shepherding concept

Source: http://www.agnusday.org/strips/John10v22to30_2007.jpg

Where does shepherding come from? What is it about?
Shepherding for scientific reviewing started at Conferences on Pattern Languages of Programs (PLoP’s), a process aimed to help authors to improve their work using a non-anonymous reviewer (shepherd), guiding the author (sheep) on their way (report). The shepherds focus on the organization of the content and the format of articles. Shepherds therefore must be experts in their field and willing to help to improve the work of others. The focus of shepherding feedback is the text itself, there is no discussion of the projects or theories. The goal is to improve the papers for the second review after the shepherding process.

What is the value of shepherding?
Shepherding is now being used by several conference committees to help leverage the potential value of authors’ work by improving them considerably and thus better serving the community. This approach helps to develop more well-rounded articles. It is also an excellent opportunity for newer authors to improve their articles and to get in contact with the community.

What are the principles of shepherding?
Shepherds are experts in their field. The work is of the author. Shepherds advise authors during the process of writing. The person ultimately responsible for the article is the author (sheep). The underlying culture is a gift culture, so it is crucial that shepherds are willing to help authors to improve. The cycles of interaction between authors and shepherds based on Kelly (2008) are:

  • Author sends the first version of the manuscript to the shepherd and introduces the manuscript briefly in his/her own words;
  • Shepherds reply to authors, i.e. ask questions (e.g. What is the motivation for the paper? What do you want to achieve? Where can I help?) and provide initial feedback. Constructive feedback and suggestions for improvement are crucial for shepherding!
  • Authors improve the manuscript by answering the questions and incorporating the shepherd’s feedback.
  • Authors send improved manuscripts to shepherds and another cycle starts with the introduction of the new version (iterative cycle).

Testimonials from shepherds

“As a shepherd, I get great satisfaction helping authors communicate their ideas. A shepherd is not an editor. Shepherds don’t edit. Instead, through conversations, questions , and dialog a shepherd helps authors find their own voice and write compelling papers. I find shepherding to be a wonderful experience. That’s why I do it: to learn, to help grow communities, and to help people share their good ideas more clearly. It’s so rewarding!” Rebecca Wirfs-Brock (PLoP community)

“In my experience, when it is done well, shepherding results in an increased focus and clarity to the work. A good shepherd can help the sheep really bring out the important message of the work and make it much clearer to the reader. On occasion, the sheep gains additional insights into his own work. Note however, that I have seen some superficial shepherding, which resulted in only cosmetic improvements to the work. So it isn’t an automatic great improvement. It takes discipline to do a good job.” Neil Harrison (PLoP)

“Shepherds are individuals, with experience in writing, assigned to an author’s paper with the expressed interest in helping the author improve their paper or writing of any kind. The shepherding process is essentially a review process where the author gets to get feedback on how well the paper communicates the author’s ideas. The shepherd is able to then make suggestions on making the paper better or to assist with ways on helping the author clarify their ideas. Shepherding is about improving the paper itself, while the Shepherd maintains that the author is the one doing the writing. The shepherd can guide an author into a more mature understanding of his or her paper. The best shepherds are those that usually have a good understanding of the subject matter they are reviewing. The main goal of a shepherd is to help the author(s) to make the paper the best that it can be given the amount of “shepherding” time they have for the given venue the paper is to be presented at.” Joseph W. Yoder (PLoP community)

3. Shepherding at PLE 2013

Shepherding is an instrument to improve the quality of submissions, help authors connect with the scientific community and strengthen connections within the PLE community. Shepherds are mentors drawn from the Review Committee. Beside the intrinsic value and the insight into interesting papers, mentors will receive special recognition – shepherds will be featured on the special page and receive special badges rewarding their work. Also authors will vote for the best shepherd. The winners will be awarded at the PLE Conference 2013.

 

Where is European educational research heading?

September 25th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

My promised post on the European Conference on Education Research, held earlier this month at the Freie Universitat, Berlin.

The conference attracted some 2200 delegates with hundreds of presentations spanning the different networks which comprise the European Educational Research association. the Pontydysgu team were supporting ECER in amplifying the conference through the use of different social media and through producing a series of video interviews with network conveners. On the one hand this meant my attendance at conference sessions was very limited, on the other hand the interviews with eleven different network conveners gave us perhaps a unique overview of where European educational research is heading.

A number of common themes emerged.

First was that the networks themselves seem to be evolving into quite strong communities of practice, embracing not just conference attendees but with extended networks sometimes involving hundreds of members. And although some networks are stronger n one or another country, these networks tend to suggest a European community is emerging within educational research. Indeed, this may be seen as the major outcome of European funding and programmes for education. A number of network conveners suggested that the search to develop common meaning between different educational and cultural traditions was itself a driving force in developing innovation and new ideas.

Secondly, many of the networks were particularly focused on the development of research methodologies. One of the main issues here appeared to be the development of cross domain research and how such research could be nurtured and sustained. This also applied to those considering submitting proposals to future conferences (next year’s conference is in Seville) with many of the conveners emphasizing they were keen to encourage submissions from researchers from different areas and domains and emphasizing the importance of describing both the research methodology and the outcomes of the research in abstract submissions.

There was also an awareness of the need to bring research and practice closer together, with a seeming move towards more practitioner researchers in education.

The question of the relation between research and po9licy was more complex. Despite a formal commitment by many educational authorities to research driven policy, some network conveners felt the reverse was true in reality, especially given the financial crisis, with researchers being forced to ‘follow the money’ and thus tailor their research to follow policy agendas. This was compromising the independence of research institutions and practice.

I asked each of the interviewees to briefly outline what they considered were the major trends in educational research. A surprising number pointed to a contradictory development. On the one hand policy makers are increasingly obsessed by targets and by quantitative outcomes, be it numbers of students, qualification levels or cost per student. The Pisa exercise is one example of such a development.Whilst no-one was opposed to collecting such data, there was a general scepticism of its value, on its own, in developing education policy. Such policies were also seen as part of a trend towards centralising education policy making

On the other hand, network conveners pointed to a growing bottom up backlash against this reductionist approach with researchers, parents and students concerned that educatio0n is not merely a economic function and that quality cannot be measured by targets and number crunching alone. This movement is being expressed in different ways with small scale local movements looking at alternative forms of learning, a movement also facilitated by the use of new technologies for teaching and learning.

Writing plain English

June 15th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

For my sins I often am asked to review papers for conferences, books and journals. I think this is fair as a contribution to an emerging community of practice but i can’t say I enjoy the process. I find it very hard to decide what should be the standard and am worried that I am being fair to authors who have obviously invested a lot of time and effort into their research and writing. I struggle even more if the author is writing in a second or third language. How important is the standard of the English? And how much should style count towards the review?

One thing that does annoy me is the throwing around of unreferenced assertions. All these example are taken from papers I have reviewed recently:

“Many researchers say…… ”

“It is unquestionable that…..”

“Most students are…….”

“We have rapidly come to a point where….”

“There is a perception that….”

I like papers with attitude. And papers jammed full of references at the end of every sentence are extremely hard to read. Even so, I think that assertions of this kind need some evidence to back them up. Furthermore what does ‘most’ or ‘many’ mean.

In that respect I like the approach of the Welsh agency, Estyn. The purpose of Estyn is to inspect quality and standards in education and training in Wales. Estyn’s reports follow its guidance for the writing and editing of reports, which is available on the Estyn website (www.estyn.gov.uk). Estyn also publish a table, reproduced below, in the introduction to their reports, showing the terms that Estyn uses and a broad idea of their meaning. Whilst such an approach may seem pedantic, it greatly helps in understanding what they are saying .

Integrating technology into researcher training

May 29th, 2010 by Cristina Costa
Two months ago or so I was challenged to submit a case study to the VITAE Integrating Technology in research training Workshop, which I did. It ended up being accepted and on Thursday I presented it. A shared space for research View more presentations from Cristina Costa. As it often happens, after presenting it I keep mulling over [...]
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  • @francesbell @catspyjamasnz I did reply and made them aware of the #femedtech to no avail. Now reading back my tweet it may come across that I was questioning why I wasn't chosen to speak. That was not the point. My point is that people don't seem to see gender but act in very gendered ways 1/2

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