Category Archives: Research Life in CSPACE

Erasmus+ Mobility visit to University of Wuppertal – Kirsty Devaney

Kirsty Devaney reflects on her Erasmus+ visit to the University of Wuppertal earlier this year. 

On the 12th-14th May I was able to visit the beautiful location of University of Wuppertal in Germany as part of Erasmus+ :

Wuppertal - picture 1

This visit was part of an ongoing research relationship regarding composing in music education with lecturer Annette Ziegenmeyer.

plane to wuppertal - picture 2

Campaigning for Creativity and Composing

Unlike in England where composing in classroom plays a fundamental role in secondary education:

‘Considerably more time is spent on composing than other musical processes within a typical Key Stage 4 music classroom’ (Savage and Fautley, 2011: 142)

School composing in Germany is not a practice that is imbedded. Annette mentioned that the influence of the likes of John Paynter (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Paynter_(composer)) and other composer-educators, did not take place in Germany. Instead music lessons focus on the “replication” and “reproduction” of other music, rather than students creating their own music. Annette, who was a music teacher and composes herself, felt that this lack of creative music making was missing in music education and since started to campaign for composing in schools.

Earlier this academic year, Annette came to Birmingham to investigate how music education, and composing, is done in England:

BMERG team picture - pic 3

I organised observations in a range of schools, including whole class instrumental lessons, to meet with music educators at the university and the Conservatoire, and to discuss her research to others in the BCU music education research community. She was keen that I come and visit her in Germany to see how music education differs and to share my thoughts and research to her colleagues and students.

During my short visit I was able to visit a secondary school and observe music taking place in the classroom. Unlike when Annette visited and she had asked to see composing taking place, Annette warned me that due to composing being so rare, it was unlikely I would be able to observe any composing. The lesson I observed focused on learning to play a popular song using instruments. The informal approach felt it had roots in the Musical Futures (https://www.musicalfutures.org/) movement: the students had selected the song, they worked in friendship groups and the teacher allowed them to just come into the lesson and start practicing and playing rather than outlining the key objectives. Although an interesting approach, students were not able to deviate away from what was being taught. Some of the boys, who were clearly disengaged playing pitched percussion, seemed to be bored playing straight crotchet beats and when they varied the rhythms were told they were getting in wrong.

“Baggage”

I gave a lecture to trainee music teachers on composing, getting them to reflect on what composing means and how to support it in the classroom:

Key questions slide - pic 4

Annette had mentioned that the word “composing” was very rarely used, if at all in music education due to the historical connotations and “baggage” of the word. Discussions were engaging and thought provoking with one student asking if Ed Sheeran was a composer. It was clear that this more open and inclusive approach to composing being possible for all students, and being about making decisions and being creative was new to them. Similarly, perceptions and beliefs about composers were discussed in my PhD thesis, concluding that 3 main beliefs were present in students and teachers. These were the belief that the word “composer” worked only in relation to composing as:

  1. A profession (earning money)
  2. An out-dated practice
  3. A creative genius

violins in window - pic 5

Comparison Study

The rest of the visit involved meetings and discussions about future research. The first direction Annette was keen to pursue was to conduct a survey to investigate current composing provision and teaching in schools.  After showing her my own composing survey (https://www.ism.org/advice/research-into-teachers-attitudes-towards-a-level-composing-released) , and the survey conducted by Savage and Fautley (2011), we identified three main research questions:

  1. How much composing is taking place in schools?
  2. What is taking place?
  3. What beliefs and perceptions are held by teachers regarding composing, composers and composing teaching?

Some of these questions have been asked in the England through research, but for Germany Annette felt this was a first. In conducting the survey we hope to be able to do a comparison study and present initial findings together at European and International conferences in the future. Developing good practice and resources for music teachers is another main stage for Annette and her team.  Overall there was a sense that there was a huge amount of work to be done to promote composing as an inclusive and beneficial aspect of a well rounded and creative musical education, but both Annette and others on her team seem passionate and being at the start of this creative revolution is a very exciting position to be in!

References:

Fautley, M. and Savage, J. (2011b) ‘The organisation and assessment of composing at Key Stage 4 in English secondary schools’, British Journal of Music Education, 28(2), pp. 135-157.

Devaney, K. and Fautley, M. (2015) Music A level Assessment of Composing – Research into teacher attitudes: Incorporated Society of Musicans. Available at: http://www.ism.org/blog/music-a-level-composing-research-into-teacher-attitudes (Accessed: 18th May 2017).

Kirsty and Annette - pic 6 wuppertal music room - pic 7

Exploring pedagogies for professional learning across international contexts

In November 2017, a team of academics from Faculty of HELS attended and contributed  at an international conference hosted by Nguyen Tat Thanh University in Vietnam. This conference is part of the VietUKHE project, funded by the British Council, to explore and share pedagogies for professional learning and employability development.

Two senior lecturers from Child Nursing, Nathalie Turville and Ilana Pressick, presented their work at the conference. Here, they share a summery of their experience of the day.  

Vietnam knowledge exchange conference 2018 - group photo

What an experience and privilege it was to attend the international conference in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The conference was the culmination of two collaborative projects, part-funded by the British Council, carried out over a two-year period between Birmingham City University, Nguyen Tat Thanh University, VNU University of Education, Hanoi and HCMC University of Pedagogy. The focus of the projects was to increase the employability skills of students who are undertaking vocational courses through the use of student-centred approaches to learning. Of particular interest to us was the introduction of a tool to facilitate personal and professional development through reflection.  Vietnam knowledge exchange conference 2018 - 2

The conference began with a summary of the projects and an evaluation of the outcomes. The reflective practice project clearly demonstrated the novelty and challenge of introducing reflection in to vocational practice where it is not usual to actively question and explore practice in depth. Our Vietnamese colleagues encouraged students to identify problems, write them down and then the teacher would solve the problems for the students or with the students, an indication of reflection being a new concept. In the UK, especially in nursing, reflection has become part of our daily routine and lives. The magic of reflection lies in the process of identifying learning from experience that can be applied in other situations and this contributes to personal and professional growth. As nurse academics, we use reflection to empower our students. It was evident that our colleagues were beginning to engage with reflection and in time they will appreciate the powerful and transformative nature of reflective practice.

Following the project updates in the morning, the afternoon was kicked off in style by the keynote speaker, our very own Dr Matt O’Leary. Matt, demonstrating sartorial elegance in his trade-mark flowery shirts, had us laughing, listening and engaging in his lecture titled: Learning about vocational learning and teaching through collaborative observation. He discussed his current project, looking at how a collaborative approach between academics and students to teaching observation can enhance their understanding of the teaching and learning experience.

Vietnam knowledge exchange conference 2018 - 7

Vietnam knowledge exchange conference 2018 - 6

The buzzing atmosphere continued with inspiring presentations of pedagogical boundaries being broken in order to improve the students’ learning experiences. There was the common desire to enhance teaching and learning and a recognition of shared issues and challenges even down to the every-day level with classroom management and student resilience. These commonalities provided us with a shared frame of reference from which to discuss and share experiences.  Vietnam knowledge exchange conference 2018 - 5

Overall this was a great opportunity to collaborate with university colleagues from similar subject areas and develop an insight into the similarities and differences across programmes, institutions and countries.Vietnam knowledge exchange conference 2018 - 4

Nathalie & Ilana

 

Nathalie Turville is a Senior Lecturer within the Department for Children and Young People’s Health at Birmingham City University. Nathalie qualified as a Children’s Nurse in 1991 and specialised in neonatal cardiology and surgery. She joined the university in 2001 and has taught on and coordinated a number of modules across pre and post-registration nursing. She remains committed to the importance of education informing practice to promote the best care for the child and family. She is currently Co-Chair of the Faculty Academic Ethics Committee. She is also studying for a professional Doctorate in Education.

Ilana Pressick is a Senior Lecturer within the Department of Children and Young People’s Health at Birmingham City University. Ilana has worked in different intensive care settings since qualifying in 2009 and completed numerous post graduate nursing qualifications. She joined the university in 2016 and teaches on undergraduate and postgraduate courses in nursing. Currently she is involved in a research project exploring the effects of taking academia into clinical practice areas as well as a HEFCE funded research project on classroom observation.

Ilana’s teaching and learning interest align with her believes that the infant, child, young person and their families should always be at the heart of the high quality care we provide. Ilana believes that one way of helping our nurses, of today and of the future, achieve this goal is to ensure that every learning experience is one that is not only thought-provoking, but also is fun and engaging.

Follow Ilana Pressick on Twitter @i1an0

 

Whole Class Ensemble Teaching report

Musicmark logo

The CSPACE music education research team has recently completed a nationally significant report commissioned by MusicMark, the membership organisation that represents music education hubs in England, and funded by Arts Council England. The report, authored by Professor Martin Fautley, Dr Victoria Kinsella, and Dr Adam Whittaker, offers one of the most comprehensive studies to date of the provision of Whole Class Ensemble Teaching (WCET). WCET, also known as ‘Wider Opportunities’ or ‘First Access’, sees children learn a musical instrument in a large group setting, usually with the rest of their school class and most often in KS2. The report, based upon a nationwide survey and in-depth interviews with more than 20 music education hub leaders, was launched on Friday 24th November at the annual MusicMark conference. The report, executive summary, and key messages documents can be accessed here.

“All equal, all different”: Contemporary research and practice in anti-bullying: 15th November 2017, Birmingham City University

On 15th November, educators, academics, researchers and campaigners gathered at  Birmingham City University to share latest research on school bullying and explore practices to tackle this important issue. Dr. Elizabeth Nassem, a CSPACE researcher and one of the event organisers, gives a report of the day.

The anti-bullying conference was a collaborative venture with Birmingham City University (BCU) and the Bullying Reduction Action Group (BRAG) which was supported by Birmingham City Council. Many participating schools and research from across the region were involved. The event was a great success as professionals worked together to share and enhance good practice. It focused on not just dealing with bullying between pupils but also involved discussions of bullying between staff and pupils and reflection on how school systems and societal inequalities contribute to school bullying and can be tackled. It has led to a growing community of professionals who are now working more collaboratively to resolve bullying. This enhanced community will be built upon through the continued partnership work with BCU and BRAG.

Anti-bullying conference at BCU in 2017
Anti-bullying conference at BCU in 2017

Baroness Sal Brinton chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Bullying gave a warm welcome and was impressed by the high number of participants (over 100) and high level of engagement from schools and researchers. She explained how it is often that those perceived as different will be bullied and that this is unacceptable and how we can work together as a community to tackle bullying and discrimination such as towards traveller children and individuals who have disabilities.

Professor Peter Smith a world-leading expert on school bullying from Goldsmiths University provided the keynote on what works in tackling bullying. He has noticed a reduction in reports of bullying as research has increased. He discussed the effectiveness of strategies such as restorative justice, KiVa and the Support Group method. He also explained how a social-ecological approach could enhance understanding. Professor Smith highlighted the importance of working with the whole school community such as bus drivers and support staff who also have are instrumental in sending out messages of what behaviours are acceptable, for example, in areas which are often unsupervised by teachers. He discussed evidence that anti-bullying interventions are cost-effective for schools.

Dr Elizabeth Nassem, Centre for Studies of Culture and Practice in Education, BCU discussed the pupil-led anti-bullying strategies she has been implementing. She has used techniques such as role-play, group discussion and critical reflection to support pupils to improve their strategies for responding to bullying. She also provided details of the ‘mentoring for bullies’ intervention she is implementing to explore why ‘bullies’ behave the way they do and help them develop more respectful ways of interacting with others. Dr Nassem explained how schools can ensure there is a process in place to support staff that might feel they are being bullied by staff and/or pupils. She also discussed how children did not perceive themselves as ‘bullies’ and tended to focus on their own feelings of victimisation. She highlighted how children are rejecting the label of ‘bully’ and ‘victim’ and the importance of having a more embracing definition of school bullying.

Dr Neil Duncan is a retired expert on bullying from University of Wolverhampton and provided a controversial but well received presentation on how schools in England generate bullying cultures. He argues that children in secondary school have such lack of control that they cannot even go to the toilet when they need to. He stated that tackling bullying and anti-bullying week has become an institution and remains a problem; now we have an additional problem of cyber-bullying. Dr Duncan increased awareness of how bullying is not just an issues concerning a small number of pupils and highlighted the role of the school environment in bullying. He emphasised the importance of speaking to pupils with respect when reprimanding them.

Julie Smith from Kidscape talked about the free training they provide in Birmingham to support schools, children and families such as their assertiveness training from children who are victimised which has successfully reduced bullying for a high number of participants. Julie was pleased with the increased awareness and uptake of Kidscape’s excellent provision. In addition sessions were provided on compassion in education and the right of individuals to feel safe. Participants in the conference commented on how they had learnt how to provide a scheme of work and practical ideas on how to educate about trans/bi/LGBT bullying. The presentation by PC Simon Bolwell on sexting was well attended and participants commented on how they had learnt how to deal with young people sending child produced sexual images. They had also learnt about the support for schools when working on the compliance side of sexting.

Some schools are looking to implement the ‘No Outsiders’ method of Andrew Moffatt, MBE. Amanda Daniels launched the transgender toolkit and encouraged schools to engage with it providing advice on how to avoid prejudice-based language. Online systems for reporting bullying were also provided by Tell-Chris and Toot-toot. BCU showed it had a leading role in supporting schools through its research provision. Professor Kevin Mattinson who is the Head of Education and Associate Dean announced how he wants to build on this great success and enhance partnerships and collaboration to schools.

Further information on the excellent feedback and photos are on my twitter @bulliedvoices.

Elizabeth Nassem

Elizabeth is a researcher in the Centre for the Study of Practice and Culture in Education. She has a Doctorate in Education which she examined where bullying exists in children’s everyday experiences of school.   Her current work involves developing evidence-based pupil-led anti-bullying initiatives. She provides professional development to schools about school bullying and what to do about it.

Creativity: getting it right in a week

Creativity: Getting in right in a week
Creativity: Getting in right in a week

Creativity is often be misunderstood as being for ‘special people’ who have original ideas, or is solely the domain of the arts. We think that creativity is for everyone, in every subject, of all abilities. As teacher educators and researchers we recognised that many professionals working in education, from all phases, face increasing pressures including performance and assessment outputs. This means that time set aside to plan for creativity, to teach for creativity or develop creative learning is not afforded. We think that creativity should be at the heart of teaching and learning and through this book we want to help teachers and educational practitioner recognise it within the classroom.

Teachers and education practitioners play an important role in the development of creativity. Significantly, they have to provide learners with an environment for self-discovery leading to self-actualisation and encourage learners to become more creative individuals. To achieve this, teachers must also be afforded time to explore their own creative teaching approaches. After all, creative learners need creative teachers.

Throughout this book we want to show teachers and education practitioners that creativity is more than just that one original idea, which may have historical importance. It is a process that can be encouraged within the classroom and have significance for lifelong learning. A creative endeavour may begin with a spark of an idea, but through its development can include play, experimentation, critical thinking, exploration, investigation, discussion, collaboration to name but a few. These then lead to new insights, new understandings and new knowledge. Creativity is exciting!

We hope that this book will provided teachers and trainee teachers with practical-led guidance on creative teaching, teaching for creativity and creative learning. It presents key areas of creativity in straightforward, bite-sized chunks, offering time-saving, practical support and ideas. We do not see this book as being an additional workload pressure for teachers or educators, but as a time saving, practical support, offering the opportunity for thought and action. The book is therefore short and straight to the point for that very reason!

Designed to be read over a week, it is divided into seven chapters, each detailing clear strategies and a summary of some relevant underpinning theory. We also offer the reader the opportunity to see the strategies in action and then encourage them to try things out themselves. Sometimes this might take them out of their comfort zones, but this is a creativity book after all and we wouldn’t be doing a very good job if we were not putting theory into practice! Ultimately, we want teachers and educational practitioners to consider new insights, be open to new possibilities, to build their creative confidence which will then be passed onto learners.

We hope that many teachers and educational practitioners enjoy the book, we would love to hear from you. Most importantly we hope that they see that creativity is fun, that it is good for them and good for learners, and that that feel encouraged to leap into the deep end wearing water wings!

Taking risks

Victoria & Martin

Kinsella, V. and Fautley, M (2017). Creativity: Getting it Right in a Week. Critical Publishing.

Dr. Victoria Kinsella is Senior Research Fellow in Education at Birmingham City University. Victoria has researched widely in the field of the arts education and creativity. She has worked on a number of creative arts research projects in various contexts including schools, prisons, galleries, arts centres and with educational agencies. Prior to her academic studies she worked as a teacher in UK secondary schools.

Follow Victoria’s work on ResearchGate.

Professor Martin Fautley is director of research in the school of education and social work at Birmingham City University. He is widely known for his work on researching assessment in the classroom, but also researches understandings of musical learning and progression (especially in the novice stages), composing, and creativity.

Find out more about Martin’s work, follow him on WordPress Blog, @DrFautley on Twitter

BERA September 2017: looking again at teaching and learning – Gert Biesta’s food for thought

This year’s BERA conference took place at Sussex University outside Brighton.  As ever it was a busy event – there were more applications than ever to present and that competition was as a result more fierce than ever.

The diversity of papers and presentations was exciting and provided a lot of space for discussion and interaction.

The final keynote was a high point. Drawing on a range of insights from his work and in particular his new book, The Rediscovery of Teaching, Gert Biesta talked about learning and how it has been hi-jacked by a policy view that draws on neoliberal human capital theory. In other words, the current focus on learning is learning for a purpose connected to skills and productivity: an economised version of learning.

For Biesta, learning has now become a problem. He connects this also to certain kinds of learning that involve ‘meaning-making’. In the worst cases, this becomes ego-logical – i.e. the (isolated) individual making sense for themselves (although he acknowledged that Freirean dialogical learning is collective rather individualised).

His provocative response to this situation, embedded in his philosophical position, suggests a return to a dynamic curriculum in which students and teachers stop learning. Learning spaces then become classrooms in which the world can be listened to. He presented the issue by posing these questions:

If we are sense makers – can the world speak to us in its own terms and on its own terms?

If we are just meaning-making beings, how then can we be taught?

There was a sense in this that the cultural and economic emphasis on individualism and entrepreneurialism that is having such an impact on our ways of living and on our world needs to be checked. Otherwise, learning will only support the further deterioration of our planet and jeopardise our collective attempts to achieve a good life for everyone.

Other than referring to Levinas, Biesta didn’t elaborate on what stopping learning might mean in our classrooms, but he did assert the importance of doing something other than focusing on the transmission of ‘bodies of knowledge’. He also developed the idea that we should try to ‘bracket’ learning to open up different ways of being in the world: a ‘non ego-logical’ way of being in the world.

For Biesta then being in the world in our times is filtered by the desires that shape who we are. There is a question about the provenance of many of these desires in our commercialised and commodified world. The suggestion is that the desires created for us by the forces of marketisation and commodification are displacing desires that could be more meaningful. Out of that thought emerges the fundamental question:

Is what I desire, desirable?

While he didn’t offer any pat answers to this last puzzle, Biesta cited Spivak and her idea of the individual ‘non-coercive rearrangement of desires’ as a way forward.  Education he viewed as a space in which such a rearrangement could occur to support “grown-up ways of being in the world”.

There is something in that final phrase that brings us back to earth with a bang when we consider the current ‘common sense’ views on education that we are confronted by and also, occasionally, the level of debate.

Rob Smith

Dr. Rob Smith is a Reader in Education at Birmingham City University. His body of work explores the impact of funding and marketisation on teaching and learning in further education settings. He has researched and written extensively in collaboration with FE and HE practitioners. Currently, Rob is involved in the FE in England: transforming lives and communities project with Dr Vicky Duckworth (Edge Hill University). This is a national research study focusing on the transformative qualities of further education. He is also developing an interdisciplinary research project looking at HE space and time focusing on the design and architecture of HEIs and their situatedness with urban settings.

Follow Rob’s publications on researchgate.

Book Review: Excellence in Higher Education

In this post, Bethany Sumner, one of CSPACE’s doctoral students, reviews an important new book on the Teaching Excellence Framework, edited by Amanda French and Matt O’Leary.

Details: French, A. and O’Leary, M. (Eds.) (2017) Excellence in Higher Education, Challenges, Changes and the Teaching Excellence Framework. Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited.

TEF book coverThe introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) has ignited debate and controversy about the potential effects on the English higher education (HE) sector, particularly given the framework’s reliance on a core set of metrics that have tenuous (at best) links to teaching quality. Excellence in Higher Education, Challenges, Changes and the Teaching Excellence Framework (French and O’Leary, 2017), the first title in the ‘Great Debates in Higher Education’ series, captures many of those debates. It draws upon the experience of current HE professionals and the wider agenda of teaching excellence to offer some much-needed insight into the repercussions of TEF for those directly involved in teaching and learning. The book offers a useful breakdown of key issues including the aims of the TEF, what it involves, and
how it relates to the wider discourses of HE, such as
widening participation and employability.

It was pleasing to see that the authors welcome the renewed focus on teaching in HE. However, as they highlight, multiple difficulties arise when an endeavour is made to reduce a complex, shifting, context-dependent and multifaceted construct such as ‘excellence’ to a set of metrics (Gourlay and Stevenson, 2017). The TEF’s continued reluctance to engage in any debate concerning the complexity of teaching excellence does little to negate this. This book engages in a nuanced and comprehensive discussion of what ‘teaching excellence’ might actually mean, drawing on a range of relevant literature and practical experience to help develop the readers’ thinking, not only in terms of the TEF but also in relation to pedagogy, professional learning, and developing authentic and effective teaching practice. It offers an important reminder of the importance of teaching and learning that can sometimes be lost in criticism of the metric-driven nature of the TEF.

One of the challenges in this text is that the very nature of the subject means that some of the discussions are quickly outdated. For example the book is critical of the TEF’s proposed link to fees, noting the perceived inevitability that TEF performance would eventually be used to justify a differential fee structure in the sector. However, as things currently stand, the TEF no longer has a bearing on the amount that higher education providers can charge (Leach, 2017). Despite this context, the rapidly changing political climate of HE is in no way detriment to the book’s critical commentary on both the TEF and wider discourses of teaching excellence in general and the refreshing ideas offered such as putting forward the idea of emergent pedagogies to help grow great teaching in HE.

The text offers a thought-provoking and detailed commentary on an area that has been subject to much debate and contention and proposes some refreshing and relevant discussions in terms of pedagogical practice. In a context where higher education providers are caught up in a ‘status economy’ with status being the global higher education market currency (Warren, 2017) and where ‘metrics are everything’ the book provides a valuable, critical voice of reason. I recommend this book to anyone working in HE or who has an active interest in the sector. It is well written, clear and informative, and helps to shed some timely light on the contentions surrounding the TEF and the notion of teaching excellence in general. This is an important book, not least because as French and O’Leary point out ‘it’s time that teaching and learning became a bigger priority in higher education’ and it appears that the TEF is here to stay.

 

Gourlay, L. and Stevenson, J. (2017) Teaching excellence in higher education: critical perspectives. Teaching in Higher Education, 22(4), pp.391-395.

Leach, M. (2017) Government defeated in the Lords over TEF and fees. Available at: http://wonkhe.com/blogs/government-defeated-in-the-lords-over-tef-and-fees/ [Accessed 20th October 2017].

Warren, S. (2017) Struggling for visibility in higher education: caught between neoliberalism ‘out there’ and ‘in here’ – an autoethnographic account. Journal of Education Policy, 32(2), pp.127-140.

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.

Conference Report: BERA 2017

Becky Snape, a PhD student and Assistant Lecturer working with CSPACE, reflects on her recent experience of the 2017 BERA Conference.

I’m Becky Snape and I work in CSPACE as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD researcher. I’m just about to go into my third year of my PhD programme. On 4th September 2017, I travelled down to Brighton for the British Educational Research Association (BERA) Annual Conference. BERA is one of the largest conferences in the educational research world – I was one of 996 attendees – so I was keen to attend and disseminate my research at this event. In this blog, I will share some of my experiences of the conference.

About BERA

Unlike more specialist conferences, BERA hosts a broad range of topics about education. It has 33 Special Interest Groups (SIGs):

When you submit an abstract to the conference committee, you can choose to affiliate your research with a particular SIG. I aligned my work with the ‘Creativities in Education’ cluster. However, two new SIGs caught my attention at the conference – ‘English in Education’ and ‘Language and Literacy’. My research looks at teachers’ perspectives of creative writing in GCSE English Language. Within that subject area, my research encompasses pedagogy, policy and philosophy (teachers’ conceptualisations of CW). Therefore, like me, you may find that your research aligns with different SIGs.

In order to present your research at BERA, you need to submit a 750 word abstract to the conference committee. The deadline is very early, so watch out for it (31st January). The abstract is then marked using a points system by experts in your selected SIG. The abstract is marked on its clarity, contribution, quality, and relevance. For an Early Career Researcher, this was a useful and gentle introduction to peer review.

My presentation

My presentation was scheduled at 1:40pm on 5th September. I arrived at the room early so that I could get set up.

Becky 1Before my presentation started, I took the opportunity to speak to the other presenters and delegates who had arrived early. The delegates were from a range of backgrounds, including teachers from Singapore and someone who worked in a research company. There was also a representative from one of the GCSE exam boards in the audience too, which was quite surreal!

Becky 2My presentation ran fairly smoothly. Rather than focusing on one aspect of the research, I presented a whistle-stop tour of my project. Some people like to take one part of their work and look at it in-depth but I decided to present an overview of the context, literature review, methodology, and emerging findings. I felt that this was the best format as BERA is an international conference, so some of the delegates would not have an in-depth understanding of the English school curriculum.

 

Following my twenty-minute presentation, delegates were keen to know more about my perspectives on creative writing: how do I define creative writing? Do I have any recommendations for teaching creative writing? It was really nice to hear those sorts of questions, and to be able to share the insights I have gleaned from my research.

Looking ahead

I returned from BERA enthused, having presented successfully and encountered some of the most prominent names in my field, including Professors Teresa Cremin and Dominic Wyse. On the final day, we were also treated to a fascinating keynote lecture from Gert Biesta.

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I hope to attend BERA again next year (11th-13th September 2018, Northumbria University), when my PhD is at a more advanced stage. I would definitely encourage my BCU colleagues to attend BERA. It’s a great opportunity to present your research to a wider audience, and find out about cutting edge research in the field. You can find out more details about next year’s conference here: https://www.bera.ac.uk/event/bera-conference-2018.

 

Conference report: CSPACE Conference 2017

On the 10th July 2017 the third annual CSPACE education conference took place at Perry Barr campus of BCU. The conference was a great success and it was wonderful to see so many engaging and exciting research contributions from colleagues from across the university. The conference was entitled ‘Connecting Communities: Spaces for Creativity and Collaboration in Education’ and presentations covered a diverse range of themes related to this.

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The conference kicked off with a keynote from Laura Watts, Simbi Folarin and Liz Garnham (MBE) who run Dens of Equality, a not for profit community organisation which is focused on creating inclusive community play leisure and learning opportunities for disabled and disadvantaged children across Birmingham. Laura, Simbi and Liz discussed the strengths and challenges of working at a grassroots level engaging in community capacity building and embedding local partnership against a landscape where play work remains consistently undervalued. Conference delegates gave lots of positive feedback about the keynote and the inspirational work Laura and colleagues are doing with access to extremely limited funding and resources.

Presentations covered a wide range of topics at the conference, from the use of touchscreen technology in the early years to the importance of multi-agency working for young people’s creative musical engagement and lots in between!  It was fascinating to see the work that colleagues are engaging in across the university and was great to see such a wide representation from both experienced academic staff and newer researchers and post-graduate students. Given the conference themes of community, creativity and collaboration it was important that students were included within this and so we were thrilled to include undergraduate student researcher awards for the first time.

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There was also a great range of hour-long workshops on offer at the conference, including a symposium on improving learning and teaching in Higher Education through collaborative observation, a workshop on rhythm analysis and a performative ‘armchair discussion’ on practitioner inquiry into research supervision. During lunch delegates had the opportunity to view the impressive posters offered by colleagues and vote for their favourite one.

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As first-year PhD students organising the conference was a steep learning curve! Each of us also presented at the conference and although we were all incredibly nervous it was wonderful to be able to share our work in its initial stages surrounded by supportive peers. The conference offered a real climate of collaboration and the questions and comments posed by colleagues were extremely useful in extending our thinking around our research.

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It was also great to get to meet so many colleagues from across HELS and the wider university and we all agreed organising the conference really helped us to feel embedded into the community of BCU. It was also great to see some really positive comments on twitter from conference delegates, search #cspaceconf17 to relive some of the best moments of the day. We hope that you all enjoyed it as much as we did and are looking forward to #CSPACECONF18!

Bethany Sumner, Emma Nenadic, Bally Kaur, and Gail Kuppan
CSPACE Conference 2017 Committee