Category Archives: Projects

Past and current research projects

Democracy through Drama- A successful Erasmus+ Project Launch!

Chris Bolton introduces a new Erasmus+ research project he is leading on Democracy through Drama. 

Chris Bolton Drama Project team

The project Demo-Dram: Young Civic Thinking and its priorities were identified as a result of recent and current social and political conflicts related to issues, such as immigration and threats in democracies around the world that pose concerns about racism and threaten the peace process in Europe. The project was inspired by a pilot study that myself and colleagues from the Education department of Birmingham City University conducted with teachers and pupils in secondary schools, which revealed that teachers believed that their curricula focuses on targets and assessment, there is no space for debate on social issues and there is social prejudice, xenophobia and imposition from the media that affect young people’s views and their decisions. You can read Chris’s full blog here.

Bio: Christopher Bolton is a Senior Lecturer in Drama Education at BCU. Before this role he worked in a secondary school as a Drama Advanced Skills Teacher. He has a keen interest in how drama can create spaces for dialogic learning by working with reasoned imagination and the impact of the education systems on the nature of drama in education.

Parenting in the Digital Age – young children’s rights and digital technology

Dr Jane O’Connor is a Reader in Childhood Studies at Birmingham City University and is currently leading ‘Technobabies’, an international research project exploring parents’ perspectives on the use of touchscreen digital devices by 0-3 year olds. In this post she explores the relationship between young children’s rights and digital technology. 

JOC 1My research into the use of mobile digital devices, such as iPads, by children under three has focused on the perspectives of parents and other care givers both in the UK and in a range of other countries including Sweden, Greece and Australia. Cultural differences aside, what has come across most strongly in the findings has been the sense of parental confusion and anxiety around whether or not their babies and toddlers should be allowed to use such devices, for how long and what the most appropriate apps may be. All of these decisions have to be made by families on a daily basis with, as yet, little research evidence from trustworthy sources to guide them. As one parent in Greece put it:

‘We just want to know if children win or lose from using iPads’.

Unfortunately, even with growing numbers of researchers working in the area, the definitive answer to that question is a long way off and the reality is much more nuanced than the question might suggest. The multiple potential benefits and drawbacks of allowing 0-3s to use digital devices continue to be debated, although the general consensus among both parents and professionals seems to be that moderation and supervision are the keys to safely incorporating such technology into very young lives.

However, what has been missing from much research in the area so far, including my own, is a consideration of the issue of children’s rights. We need to think about the extent to which we can say that children, even the very youngest children, have a right to use digital technology and how this might, or indeed should, influence parental decisions in relation to access to mobile devices. When we consider the charter of children’s rights drawn up by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), it seems that preventing usage could be perceived as an infringement of some rights, but an upholding of others. Andy Phippen, Professor of Children and Technology at Plymouth University recently outlined some of the ways in which this could relate to very young children’s technology usage. For example, he suggests that removing all possible ‘risk’ to the child by not allowing them to use digital technology could be interpreted as infringing Article 12 (Respect for the views of the child), Article 17 (Access to information; mass media) and Article 28 (Right to education), whereas the use of mobile devices for ‘digital pacification’ purposes could be seen as infringing on Article 3 (Best interests of the child) and Article 12 (Respect for the views of the child).

JOC 2In this context, the questions parents need answers to become even more complex. As well as worrying about whether using digital technology will support baby’s learning or damage their eyes they also need to ask ‘Does allowing my child to use an iPad infringe on their rights or support them?’

Related publications

O’Connor, J. and Fotakopoulou, O. (2016) A threat to early childhood innocence or the future of learning? Parents’ perspectives on the use of touchscreen technology by 0–3 year olds in the UK. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 17(2).

O’Connor, J. (2017)Appropriate play? Parents’ reflections on 0-3s using touchscreen technology in the home’. In Arnott, L. (2017) Digital Technologies and Learning in the Early Years. London: SAGE.

O’Connor, J., Fotakopolou, O., Hatzigianni, M and Fridberg, M. (2018) ‘Parents’ perspectives on the use of touchscreen technology by 0-3 year olds in the UK, Greece, Sweden and Australia’. In Palaiologou, I. (Ed) (2018 forthcoming) Digital Practices in Early Childhood Education: An International Perspective. London: SAGE.

 

Improving Learning and Teaching through Collaborative Observation

In November 2016, Dr. Matt O’Leary and Dr. Vanessa Cui from C-SPACE were successful in their application for HEFCE Catalyst Fund: Innovation in Learning and Teaching. In this blog post, Matt and Vanessa tell us about the project and some of highlights of their recent activities.

Context

Teaching excellence has been at the centre of debates about quality in English Higher Education (HE) in recent years. The introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework has ratcheted up this focus even further. Fuelled by critiques of teaching as ‘the weakest aspect’ of English HE (Gill,2015), the government has argued that universities need to adopt a more evidence-based approach to learning and teaching (L & T) akin to that associated with research.

Traditional approaches to capturing and promoting teaching excellence have largely been shaped by a managerialist agenda that conceptualises academic staff as accountable suppliers of a product and students as consumers of that product, with an overreliance on reductive metrics that fail to reflect either the authenticity or complexity of HE learning and teaching. This raises some important questions for the HE sector.

How can we develop a greater understanding and improvement of L & T among academic staff and students? How can we combine scholarly knowledge, practices and our education ideologies to satisfy the demands of policymakers while generating data about L & T that is legitimate and worthwhile? What can we do to create and nurture an approach that sustains and enhances authentic L & T experiences?     

About the project

A HEFCE-funded project at Birmingham City University seeks to use collaborative observation of L & T as a means of harnessing staff and student perspectives. Observation is a common method for staff development in HE, typically through a peer observation model. Some HE institutions have introduced teaching observation as a performance management tool in recent years. However, recent research (e.g. O’Leary & Wood, 2017; O’Leary, 2016) has revealed that assessment-based models of observation can often be a deterrent to developing L & T practice. Our project is built on the belief that improving student learning requires teachers and learners to develop an awareness and understanding about learning collaboratively in the context of their programme.  It is our attempt to answer the questions raised above.

Underpinning this collaborative observation process is the principles of critical reflection (Brookfield, 1998), learning as collective consciousness (Bowden & Marton, 1998) and participatory inquiry. A key feature of our methodology is the reconceptualisation of observation as a method to enhance L & T practices through inquiry rather than as a method of assessment. Pairs of teaching staff and students come together in a collection of subject-specific case studies to co-investigate, co-observe and co-reflect on their own classroom L & T practices. Within our collaborative approach, student identity is reconceptualised from that of ‘consumers’ and ‘evaluators’ of teaching to co-researchers and co-producers of knowledge about L & T.

Our project started in November 2016 and it runs until April 2018. It is led by Dr. Matt O’Leary and Dr. Vanessa Cui from C-SPACE. The project works with five case studies in the Faculty of Health, Education and Life Sciences: BA (Hons) Early Childhood Studies, BSc (Hons) Nursing (Adult), BSc (Hons) Nursing (Child), BA (Hons) Primary Education with QTS and BSc (Hons) Radiography. Each case study is made up of two staff members and two first/second year students. On our project website, there is more details about our project, our methodology and each of the case studies: http://blogs.bcu.ac.uk/collaborativeobservation/.

Recent activities

During last summer, we were busy sharing our project and some preliminary findings at internal and external events. At our C-SPACE annual conference and the University’s Festival of Teaching, we hosted a symposium and a workshop where four of the case studies shared their experiences with the delegates.

Primary Education participants’ talk on their case study and their Cycle 1 experience at C-SPACE 2017 conference:

Staff from the Child Nursing case study talk about their case study and their Cycle 1 experience at C-SPACE 2017 conference:

Staff from the Early Childhood Studies case study talk about their case study and their Cycle 1 experience at C-SPACE 2017 conference:

We also ran an innovation session at this year’s BERA conference. During the session, we had really engaging and critical discussions with the delegates around issues on Ethics and power dynamics in staff and student collaborations like ours. We also discussed how this could be an opportunity for students and staff’s personal and/or professional development, and how this model could potentially be used in different types of HE educational project on student engagement and student learning experience.

Innovation session delivered by Matt O'Leary and Vanessa Cui at BERA 2017 annual conference.
Innovation session delivered by Matt O’Leary and Vanessa Cui at BERA 2017 annual conference.

To follow our project, please visit our website. You can also get in touch with Vanessa to add your contact detail to our mailing list.

Matt & Vanessa

References:

  • Bowden, J. and Marton, F. (1998). The University of Learning: beyond quality and competence, London: Routledge.
  • Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Gill, J. (2015). David Willetts interview: ‘What I did was in the interests of young people’. Times Higher Education, Article published online June 18, 2015. Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/david-willetts-what-idid-was-in-the-interests-of-young-people. Accessed on August 28, 2017.
  • O’Leary, M. & Wood, P. (2017) ‘Performance over professional learning and the complexity puzzle: lesson observation in England’s further education sector’, Professional Development in Education, Vol. 43(4), pp. 573-591.
  • O’Leary, M. (Ed) (2016) Reclaiming lesson observation: supporting excellence in teacher learning. Abingdon: Routledge.

Research Snapshot: Communicative musicality – sounds rhythms and pulses in music and language

Researcherspno

Dr Carolyn Blackburn, Research Fellow in Early Childhood Studies, and Ian Axtell, Subject Leader for Music Education, Centre for Research in Education.

Findings

Participants in this study appeared to recognise the value and importance of children’s spontaneous musical activities and to encourage it describing the benefit for children’s holistic development and the role of music in attachment and bonding. However, they also appear to have identified benefits for children in attending organised, structured musical activities both within the home, but more substantially outside the home.

Recommendations
  • It is recommended that parents and carers are offered guidance and advice about the importance of acknowledging and valuing young children’s spontaneous musical activities in the home. It is a matter of concern that parents might lack confidence to instigate and encourage young children’s musical activities in the home;
  • It is recommended that an online database of trialled and validated musical resources be made available for parents and carers to use in the home;
  • It is recommended that this study is extended to include particular groups of children and families such as minority ethnic groups and children with disabilities;
  • It is recommended that a study to explore young children’s musical activities in early years settings be conducted to explore the understanding and practices of early childhood practitioners given the importance of young children’s spontaneous musical activities in their overall and holistic development as noted from the literature review in this report.

 

Download the full report here: communicative-musicality-report-130987955021412745

Research Snapshot: Kirsty Devaney

Kirsty’s research is investigating how the assessment of composing in UK secondary school examinations is impacting the teaching and learning of composing within schools.

Research Snapshot: Eddie Hulbert

Eddie’s research is on Family Learning Birmingham, an initiative which aims to provide guidance for parents or carers who are either unemployed, on benefits or have very few qualifications by providing a way for families to learn together.

Research Snapshot: Literacies for Employability

Researchers

Amanda French, Alex Kendall, Phil Taylor

Aim of research
  • improve student understanding of employability as a dynamic, lifelong concept
  • offer students the opportunity to investigate, analyse and describe the literacy practices of workplaces and placements that they encountered whilst at universitylit
  • identify and evaluate workplace literacies in structured contexts
  • make contributions that add value to employers
  • encourage tutors to co-investigate workplace literacies with their students
  • provide a meta-narrative of workplace literacies across different occupations
  • embed overt instruction of workplace literacies into curriculum design across different disciplines

Read more here: http://www.bcu.ac.uk/research/stories/literacies-for-employability

Research Snapshot: Listen Imagine Compose

ResearchersLIC

Martin Fautley (Birmingham City University), Pam Burnard and John Finney (Cambridge University), Pauline Adams (Institute of Education), Jonathan Savage (Manchester Metropolitan University).

Research aims
  • How can composers and teachers be supported to work most effectively together?
  • How do professional composers make judgements about the quality of compositions and what are the indicators of progression? What correlation is there between these criteria and those of exam boards?
  • What does creative progression look like – for example the difference between a Year 7 and a Year 9 composition – and how can we ensure progression within the secondary curriculum, particularly given the genre-based approach?
  • What are the challenges around assessing creativity and how can students be supported to take risks, fail and experiment in a system where assessment is central?

To read more go to: http://www.bcu.ac.uk/research/stories/listen-imagine-compose

To read full REF report download the pdf: Birmingham City University – 25 – Creativity in Education