Category Archives: Events & activities

Internal/External conferences/events

Big Bang Data Exhibition Visit

Written by Beck Snape, Graduate Teaching and Research Assistant, PhD student. becky snape

Earlier this month, on 6th February, I attended the Big Bang Data exhibition at Somerset House in London with other members of the Rethinking Creativities cluster group. Our aim was to learn about different ways of collecting, interpreting and presenting data, and to this end the exhibition did not disappoint. The more general aim of the exhibition itself is to ‘explore the issues surrounding the datafication of our world through the work of artists, designers, journalists and visionaries.’ In this blog I will write about some of the exhibits which caught my attention and how these observations have impacted on my view of data and creativity.

One of the most prevalent themes at the exhibition was how data can have both a positive and negative impact on our lives.

This argument often manifested itself in discourses relating to how data collected from social media can help or hinder our lives. Exhibits frequently featured the dominant social media juggernauts, such as Facebook and Twitter, which perhaps highlights its increasingly ubiquitous presence in our lives. Having grown up alongside the emergence of ‘Myspace’ and ‘Bebo’, my generation has seen the dominance of social networking sites increase. Many of us are conscious that our cyber footprints can be tracked and that our data is harvested by big companies to target us with advertising. Most of us know this happens but it’s just something that we accept as par for the course if we want access to the Internet.

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Even still, news of undercover reports conducted by sites such as Facebook to try to understand our psyche can sometimes be a little unsettling, and this is something that came across at the exhibition. Photographic displays showed the massive storage systems which hold our data, serving as a very visual representation of the information we would like to consider to be private. These images really brought it home to me the real, physical presence data has in our lives. It’s every email conversation we have or Google search we make. It feels invisible but simultaneously tangible. One image in particular which struck me was that of an old Cold War bunker in Switzerland that had been turned into a data centre, which served as a poignant reminder of how society’s needs have changed over time. I got the distinct impression that data has started to eclipse our lives, at a rate where we need to build, or repurpose, new data centres to accommodate the growth. It also made me think about the purpose of my PhD project and how I can ensure that it is purposeful, with real impact. With all this data in the world, I don’t want to produce data for the sake of it, but rather something that will be effective and profound.

The exhibition also showcased ways in which data collected from social media can be used for ‘the greater good’. One tutorial I attended explored how the authorities used Twitter to catch those involved in the 2011 London riots. The live action data Twitter users create through ‘Tweets’, to boast about their activities or recruit more people to help, can be captured by the authorities to help them to prevent crimes or persecute criminals. This might seem to a bit naïve on the part of these criminals, but all too often it is easy to forget that something that takes a few seconds to post online can have significant implications for a person’s future. Another exhibition at the event captured this idea well. The exhibition – ‘#onesecond’ by Philipp Adrian – was a printe12736412_1049518655112374_642164403_nd book with four volumes that captured users’ Tweets in a physical format, ‘allowing each author to emerge out of the abundance of anonymous data and become an individual again.’ To me, this served as a warning to social media users about what they post online, but it also reminded me of the importance of capturing individuals’ voices in research. While it is important – ethically at least – to allow participants to remain anonymous, at the same time we should allow individual voices to filter through in the write up of research.

So, I think it is fair to say that social media can be used to capture rich data, and as the private becomes increasingly public, the exhibition presented an opportunity for researchers to use digital technology to shape their research. Indeed, some even use social media as a data collection method. This approach is one that could be seen to make data more accessible; in theory, anyone could select a collection of Tweets and analyse them. Accessibility to data is an issue that was highlighted in the ‘Dear Data’ exhibition, which showcased how collecting and representing data can be treated as an everyday activity. Social media provides an extra outlet for this accessibility, but it also raises questions about ethical soundness and reliability. For me, the problem with using social media as a single method of collecting data is that it may strip away the context of a person’s identity and environment. Similarly, quantitative data sometimes does this too, and at Big Bang the idea of the so-called ‘quantified self’ was, to a certain extent, disparaged. It was argued that numbers do not tell the whole truth and can in fact be skewed and manipulated to tell a particular story. Nicholas Felton, however, portrayed a slightly different approach to using quantitative data in his exhibition. Instead of using data to tell a particular story he instead used it to specifically12736108_1049519051779001_1719768136_n tell his story, by piecing together bits of information about his personality, habits and relationships to form a database. He then used this data to create narratives and annual reports about his life. This approach, while not without its faults, challenged my own perceptions about how I saw quantitative data. I have always been wary about the potential of quantitative data when conducting research with humans – particularly in education – but this exhibit provided me with food for thought about how participants’ stories can be pieced together using quantitative data too.

Overall, one of the most interesting ideas to emerge from our trip is how each exhibit had a different impact on us

So certain aspects of the exhibition were profound to some but less so to others. For instance, here I have focused on social media and the Internet, meaning that I have closed myself off to other themes which are less important to me but crucial to others. This highlights aspects about creativity and research that have been widely commented on before. Firstly, what constitutes a ‘good’ creative artefact? In a similar way to how we value exhibitions differently, the value we place on a piece of art, music or fiction also often varies. Secondly, I feel that it highlights the all too often interpretive nature of data. This is particularly prevalent in qualitative data but, as the exhibition presents, can occur in quantitative findings too. This serves as a reminder that it is pertinent to listen to different reactions to events and occurrences, as richness lies in the diversity of these opinions. Consideration can be given to this not just in the data collection process but also during data analysis too. What I consider to be an important line of enquiry or 12746566_1049519195112320_2014858503_ntheme in data may differ from the next person, and these are dilemmas which are encountered by researchers all the time. A final observation to make is that I found the conversations that took place after the exhibition to be far richer than simply walking round it. As the exhibition itself argues, data by itself can only tell us so much, similar to, in my opinion, pieces of creative work. For me, the richness of human commentaries on creative and research processes are just as – if not more – significant than the data itself. I know that many people would disagree with that but, as Big Bang Data highlights, ‘by concentrating on data alone, we also ignore the fact that our society can thrive on more disordered mechanisms such as debate’, so perhaps that isn’t such a bad thing after all.


Reimagining Further Education: 29th June 2016

Reimagining Further Education: One-day Conference on Wednesday 29th 2016, 9:30am-4pm at Birmingham City University

Overview of the conference

There is no more challenging time to be working in Further Education (FE). Having borne the brunt of the government’s austerity agenda more than any other education sector in England over the last 5 years, FE providers have endured repeated cuts to therb4170_ChildNursingir budgets, resulting in the closure of departments, courses and ongoing mass redundancies across the sector. Yet FE practitioners, teacher educators, researchers and all those with an interest in FE cannot stand by and let others set the agenda solely around efficiency savings and market interests. It is time the agenda was driven by the needs of practitioners and the students they teach. It is time the agenda was informed by what research tells us about VET practitioners and how that practice gives a new vocabulary to the very work that FE practitioners are involved in. By exploring positive, imaginative and creative ways forward that enhance agency, workforce development and the professional ethos of all FE practitioners, this conference aims to put teaching and learning at the centre of its agenda.


On 29th June 2016, Birmingham City University’s Centre for the Study of Practice and Culture in Education (CSPACE) will host a national conference entitled ‘Reimagining Further Education’ at its City Centre Campus, the Curzon Building, located in the centre of Birmingham. The conference will bring together practitioners, researchers and commentators in the field of Further Education and will include a range of workshops, presentations and symposia exploring some of the latest practice, thinking and research in the sector. Some of the topics/themes discussed during the conference will be:

  • Lessons from work based learning: a new vocabulary of practice for FE?
  • Apprenticeships
  • New Communities of Practice: professionalism in FE
  • Sustainable models of teacher learning in FE
  • HE in FE: looking ahead
  • Leadership in FE
  • Intelligent accountability and governance in FE: supporting the FE workforce

If you are interested in attending the conference and/or would like to know more about it, please contact
BCU logo

EAS – European Association for Music in Schools

Some good news to start 2016 – A group of BCU School of Education researchers have been accepted to present a range of research at the European Association for Music in Schools. Research will be presented by:


ISM webinar: Which way now? GCSE music challenges and choices

Kirsty Devaney, PhD student, School of Education, @KirstyDevaney

Education PhD student Kirsty Devaney paired up with Dr Alison Daubney from Sussex University to host a webinar for the Incorporated Society of Musicians . This webinar is designed to help music educators to choose the most appropriate qualification for their pupils by considering the key changes and exploring the new qualifications from each awarding body in depth. What the video here:




Reflections on Vietnam Theatre Nurses Association Conference

By Kevin Crimmons and Karen Evans

kevin crimmons profileIn June Kevin Crimmons and Karen Evans travelled to Vietnam to speak at the Vietnam Theatre Nurses Association Conference, at Hue. The theme of their key note lectures was quality, safety and efficiency and how to balance this with care and compassion for the benefit of patients. The conference was attended by 300 perioperative nurses and consultant and junior surgeons from around the country. This is the Associations only national conference, and gives perioperative nurses an opportunity to share best practice, research and discuss potential service development with their colleagues and surgical leads. The visit included visits to Viet Duc Hospital in Hanoi and Quang Ninh Provincial Hospital in Halong Bay, where Karen and Kevin were able to observe at first hand and discuss with the nurses and doctors the challenges of clinical care delivery in the Vietnamese acute care setting.

The hospitals contrasted greatly from the inner city, Viet Duc with 500 inpatient beds, and 18 operating theatres. It is one of the leading centres for trauma in the country, particularly head trauma, and specialises in ‘septic’ surgery e.g. patients with TB and other chronic infectious diseases. Whilst 500 beds are not notable in comparison to large UK hospitals, it should be noted that length of stay is significantly shorter, so patient turnover is higher. Although not apparent at Viet Duc, bed-sharing is common in many hospitals, with a recent measles outbreak causing reports of 3-4 children in a bed. This is partly to do with the complex and expensive healthcare funding system within regions, and the chronic lack of hospital beds, approximately 20 beds per 10,000 residents, however hospitals are concentrated in the main cities, and travelling 100’s of kilometres and selling worldly goods to fund treatment is not uncommon.




Whilst in Hue, we were lucky enough to be serenaded on an evening boat trip along the Perfume River during a local River Festival

Quang Ninh, by contrast is a larger DGH delivering care in a beautiful tourist setting; Halong Bay where the population doubles during the holiday season. It is built around an old colonial hospital and is in a beautiful position overlooking the Bay. As well as providing acute care, what was apparent was the primary care function that this hospital fulfilled for its local population. The lasting memory was of visiting the Emergency Department, which was confined and small by western standards for the size of the hospital/population, in contrast with the co-located triage and pharmacy areas which had at least 15 bays each. There is no funded community healthcare system in Vietnam and increased outpatient numbers were notable, and those attending appeared more unwell (and patient) than those we would traditionally see in the local GP surgery; perhaps having delayed travel or treatment due to socio-economic impact.

Most notable throughout despite the different catchments and population demographics was theconstant presence and involvement of families in hands-on patient care, even in Intensive Care where relatives provide all non-technical care.

In both hospitals relatives outnumbered Viet Duc the family room, which sadly we did not photograph, was 600 bunk beds in very cramped and spartan surroundings; for which relatives were charged 1 Vietnamese Dong per night. The relatives stay in this accommodation for the duration of the patients stay, if they cannot afford to rent a fold-out bed to sleep beside their relative, which in some cases can be weeks. Although cheap to us, in households with average income under VND 3,120,000 per year (equivalent UK £ 90) are regarded as poor households.


Nursing Management “Suite” Viet Duc- 1000 nurses are co-ordinated from this office by 4 Nurse Managers, who also arrange and deliver all training and development.

Vietnam has not had the luxury of developing innovation alongside development of its health infrastructure and workforce, unlike those of us in Europe and it was fascinating to observe the advanced surgeries and interventions which are provided in both hospitals without what we may feel are necessary supportive frameworks e.g. physiotherapists. Viet Duc for example performs over 800 open heart surgeries annually. After discussing this with both medics and senior nurses, the challenge is developing a workforce with the expertise to support patients throughout their journey; however, the commitment to this is high and both the medical and nursing workforce actively are seeking to improve care delivery for the benefit of their patients. It was both a stimulating and rewarding experience, the passion and enthusiasm shown by the Vietnamese nurses for learning with and from us, and about our practice was exciting and humbling.



 A VERY early boat trip around Halong Bay (this is about 6 am) with staff from Viet Duc and Quang Ninh plus our very own Joy Notter 



View from Quang Ninh Provincial Hospital

A personal journey through RIME 2015

Axtell_Ian_mainWritten by Ian Axtell, Subject Leader for Music Education, Secondary Partnership Coordinator.

Have you ever been to the University of Exeter?  I was lucky enough to visit whilst attending the international Research into Music Education (RIME) conference. For me there was a very strong sense of place.  The main campus is on the side of a hill with some amazing views. We were lucky enough to experience these views in brilliant sunshine from Holland Hall, probably one of the best spots for a hall of residence at any university. But these views were just for starters!  When we went into the city we found the area around the Cathedral. Perhaps it was a combination of good food and good company combined with a sense of history and culture but the area was stunningly beautiful, particularly in the sunshine.exeter-uni1

This sense of place came alive when I began to interact with other people.  The desire to share and explore knowledge was tangible.  Not simply to grab knowledge so it can be regurgitated at some given moment in time but much more about developing and refining ways of knowing. There was a real sense of connecting with people through their history and culture, through rich and meaningful discourse in the field of music education.  I had the privilege of joining a powerful community of thinking whose participants were open to critical academic enquiry.  Enormous respect was held between people who share different views because they have the insight and maturity to realise that progress and transformation are not achieved by conflict and ridicule but through the critical dialogue, generated through ethical, reflexive and even recursive discourse.  It would be wonderful if our education system could reflect this open dialogic approach, where thinking and learning are prioritised over the gathering of data to measure performance.

I initially misjudged this approach, probably because I was a little in awe of the people I was meeting and I wanted my voice to be heard.  I started by being egocentric.  We were sitting in a pub opposite the Cathedral and an American music educator who had joined us starting talking about “American Music”.  Immediately my ears pricked up and I wanted to challenge the view that music can be given such labels and even framed into particular hierarchies.  Was she suggesting that some music is more important than other music?  Was she suggesting that music is created in isolation away from any other cultural or historical influences?  At the time I was quite assertively arguing the point that music is diverse and thus inclusive.  We shouldn’t impose our own enculturation or habitus (Bourdieu, 1977) on other people as though “our music” is more important.  Ethically this is very unsound and music is in fact a powerful way of creating community cohesion by bringing ideas and people together.

I misinterpreted the situation based on my own preconceptions and personal perceptions. She was not making a fixed assertion but posing a question to promote thinking. I had assumed that she was talking about American music in the context of Western Art Music which is my own field of expertise. I made this assumption based on who I saw (she was a middle class white American) and my own habitus.  If I had listened more carefully and allowed her to share her thinking in a bit more detail before jumping in and imposing my own thinking on the situation, I would have realised that she was in fact posing the question: Why is music created by Black American musicians not recognised as having a significant influence on the musical world? She was, in fact, being ethical and in her approach.  She was demonstrating epistemic vigilance by empathising with musicians from outside her own cultural experiences, outside her own habitus. She was being sensitive to other people’s point of view. There wasn’t a simple answer to her question but one that merited further exploration and research. When I realised what was happening this became a magical moment for me.  It helped to frame the way I approached the rest of the week.  I needed to maintain an open mind, to listen carefully to what was being discussed and recognise that education research is not about proving absolutes or asserting certainties but creating the conditions for transformative learning. Ethics through empathy and care underpin effective education research which in turn help to promote continuous growth and development.

I worry that the discourse surrounding the education system in England is increasingly being based on egocentricism and doxa (which Bourdieu (1977) identified as “uncontested truths”). This discourse is being led by inexperienced career politicians making bold statements based their own ideological perspectives. Their thinking is underpinned by an orthodoxy based strong opinions rather than careful, ethical research.  It is as though our education system is being built on personal beliefs driven by elitist social capital and simplistic binary thinking (this is “right” and this is “wrong”).  Any voices that might challenge or critique this orthodoxy, particularly in university based Schools of Education, are being attacked as enemies of promise.

This very negative and even Machiavellian approach towards development was completely absent at RIME. The education research I experienced was based on rigorous ethical principles underpinned by epistemic reflexivity and vigilance.  Care was taken to value other opinions and, in the context of the field, there was a willingness to be humble and recursive in the context of the broader discourse.  “Did what I said make sense?” was a common question.

This approach was exemplified by two music educators who both came from New Zealand.  They respected each other enormously but had opposing views in terms of what should prioritised in music education. One expressed his concern about the lack of Western Art Music in an increasingly informal learning environment in school classrooms whilst the other highlighted the power of what he called contemporary (or Popular) music in the curriculum.  Bernstein’s (1999) perspective of vertical and horizontal discourse linked to formal and informal learning in music education were discussed in an open and critical manner, recognising the complexity and variety that forms the ontological reality of music from around the world and even in one particular country.  This discourse reflected a willingness to move beyond simplistic binary thinking and recognise that both orthodoxy and heterodoxy exist the field of music education.

RIME exemplified the perspective of a field that Bourdieu (1977) shared when outlining a theory of practice:

We need to maintain this “universe of discourse” to ensure that we are not just being self-recursive based on our own narrow perceptions.  I was very pleased to have a positive response to my presentation at RIME, largely because my methodology reflected a willingness to engage with listening to others.  I used phenomenography or research that describes people’s experiences of the world (Marton 1991).  The aim was to recognise and value the complexity of people’s perceptions and improve my own practice as a result.  I would have been easier to impose my ideas on others, my extensive experience legitimises this, but I have always been wary of a limited and self-centred approach.  As a teacher I was much more interested in heutagogy (Hase & Kenyon, 2007) which sees the learner as a major agent in their own learning through their own personal experiences.

I hope RIME and similar conferences centred on university based education research can continue. It is important that our politicians keep challenging those in the field of education to improve the life chances of the children and young people that we serve. However, these improvements are put under threat if one of the most powerful agents for change, namely ethical university based education research, is silenced because of the fear of complexity and multi-voiced contradictions. Education research is in fact an ethical catalyst for change rather than a barrier to improvement.  It is essential.


Bernstein, B. (1999) Vertical and Horizontal Discourse: An Essay. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 20 (2): 157-173.

Bourdieu, P. (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice: Cambridge Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hase, S. and Kenyon, C. (2007) Heutagogy: a child of complexity theory. Complicity: an
international journal of complexity and education, 4 (1): 111–118.

Marton, F. (1981) Phenomenography: Describing perceptions of the world around us. Instructional Science,10 (2): 177-200.



BCU Education Conference

The BCU Education Conference took place on the 13th July 2015. The day was filled with talks, discussions and debates about the many issues and aspects of Education Research. Throughout the day many discussions continued over twitter. All the comments and thoughts posted on twitter have been collated into a story of the whole day. Click on the link below to view them:

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BCU Education Conference – Call for Posters

Here at CSPACE, because we are lovely people, we have put together some helpful info about designing research posters and how to submit it to our Education Conference on the 13th July.

You have until Friday 12th June to register interest to Kirsty Devaney ( and until 3rd July to email your post to us to be printed ready in time for the conference.

We look forward to your submissions!

Poster Design Tips

FQAs Poster Presentations

Whispering to your self: musings from a conference

Written by Imran Mogra, Senior Lecturer in Religious Education and Professional Studies

At the recent 6th Annual Conference of The Qualitative Report held at the Nova Mogra-Imran-mainSoutheastern University in Fort Lauderdale, besides the huge and impressive number of presentations, there were a few particular features and experiences which prompted some reflection and introspection. Some of which I will cover in this post.

The idea of attending a conference can be a very tempting one, (especially when it involves travelling abroad). However, for some, in the climate and culture created by the REF (Research Excellence Framework), this temptation has almost turned into a necessity. No longer are conferences considered a dormant activity or a prerogative of a few select individuals, instead a proactive stance is being taken in many universities for all staff; both novice and established researchers. (click here to see our Birmingham City University REF 2014 results)

In addition to the demands placed on you by your line manager or by the research strategy in your institution, there are many reasons which you may want to consider for attending a conference to present your paper. Here are some reasons which could tempt you to attend one. These are drawn from my personal experiences and, in part, show what has influenced my decisions, in the past, to be ‘out there’:

  • To establish and enhance your network reach
  • To share your ideas both in terms of research methodology and content to a wider audience – this is probably the most likely and/or natural reason for wanting to present at a conference
  • To set the framework, foundation and future direction of your forthcoming project or article
  • It may be that you have had an article rejected. You now want to reposition your material to clarify its purpose, address its criticisms from peer reviewers or to explore its current potential in the field for resubmission, or to revitalise interest about the topic
  • You might want to inform colleagues and others interested in your field about work in progress
  • You may have been invited to present, following a considerable interest in your publication – over 200 reads/downloads for instance!
  • You might be opportunistic and can’t resist the chance as the theme of the conference perfectly fits your interest and it is seems highly likely that your paper will be accepted – this is about ‘gut feelings’

Here is my latest reason for attending my most recent conference. I decided to contribute to this international conference as I have conceived my work on narratives to be in a state of flux. To explain, I have been collecting material in the form of narratives, and simultaneously analysing them, and occasionally drawing tentative conclusions. Concurrently, I dump (in my external hard drive of course!) some of this valuable material – or should I say let it ‘simmer’ – and select some data to write a little bit and also to think about future lines of enquiry. In other words, I saw attendance at this conference as being part of my research process on narratives and not a stimulant for or product of my research. Therefore, I went there to immerse myself in the methodological field to seek epistemological answers, if they were any.

Having decided the reason/s for attending a conference, I frequently ask myself: What do I want to gain from the conference? Admittedly, I have attended some conferences, both as presenter and participant, but have not returned with ‘a buzz’, inspiration or ideas which I could implement in my practice. Therefore it is equally important to think carefully about the difference that a conference will make to your thinking and practice. Remember you are not there solely to deliver your paper, as worthy an activity that may be in its own right. In fact, you are there to reciprocate being a learner as well as a creator of knowledge.

Finally, on the matter of influence, often conferences are conceptualised as domains for influencing others. As researchers, many of us will acknowledge and recognise that the research process can affect the researchers’ self-perception. Likewise, attending a conference should not always be about others. It should be seen potentially as an activity which will influence you in terms of how you see your self.

Listening to Valerie Janesick, present her paper on Practicing the Zen of Research as Contemplative Qualitative Inquiry, and assert:

“In qualitative research every voice counts”

aroused a whisper within my self: ‘I want my voice to count’.