Category Archives: Re-thinking HE Pedagogies and Practice

What is tutoring for?

Written by Imran Mogra, Senior Lecturer in Religious Education and Professional Mogra-Imran-mainStudies, @ImranMogra

In the changing landscape of the HE and FE sector, many new roles are appearing to support and advise students. The guiding roles of academic faculty and professional services are also being re-defined and explored. The theme of the first annual UKAT, held at Southampton Solent University in March 2015, was Exploration of Student Advising, Support and Guidance in the context of Student Success, Attainment and Retention.

UkatUnited Kingdom Advising and Tutoring (UKAT) is a professional body of practitioners and researchers interested in all aspects of advising and personal tutoring in FE and HE in the UK.

UKAT’s conference explored the current trends and methods of student advice, support and guidance, and considered the broader context of student success, attainment and retention whilst sharing innovative practice. The conference was held over two-days with participants from different countries, although were from the UK. I participated in the ‘show and tell’ session and presented my poster, Trainee Teachers and their tutorial system: a case study.

In a keynote speech the success of student discourse was of central concern. Karen Sullivan-Vance, covered this ground by touching on real students’ lives. She emphasised that tutors were the first people to demystify the curriculum for many students. For student success, to her, tutoring meant: to be persistent against retention, to promote academic achievement, to set academic milestones, to support students in reaching their goals, to review educational attainment and to support high impact practices. Prior to Karen, the DVC Jane Longmore, referred to the changed climate in HE participation. She questioned the support required to close the attainment gap among white working class boys and black, ethnic minority students.

These presentations became reminders for not taking-for-granted the power dynamics, cultural capital and generational structures of the education systems from which student come and enter into.

The audience listened attentively as Karen shared her experiences from Western Oregon. She made some stimulating points:

  • young people have to learn how to deal with failure
  • young people do not study in a vacuum, their lives are impacted by HE, globalisation and many other factorsrb2688_PGCE-StudentsinClass
  • everyone is struggling in terms of how to support students
  • Advisors give advice which makes students rocket scientist, advising is not rocket science.

At least five implications could be deciphered. Staff need to be advocates of tutoring. Conduct assessment of tutoring. Promote best practice. Model active learning for students and create annual PD Plans.

It was interesting to note how the discourse on advising is formulated in academic circles compared to what is actually discharged in policy and practice – particularly among support service providers. Here, questions were raised about the framing of tutoring as a moral obligation, the accepted conflation of retention and the prominence of attainment and success in FE & HE.

HE in 21st century

Later, in a symposium, the habitual question about definitions and meanings was raised as a way towards the deconstruction of advising and tutorial. As expected, attendees expressed divergent perspectives. Some suggested advising was a teaching function others thought tutoring was about on-going support.

Over the years, having been exposed to a wide range of challenging issues faced by my tutees, some of which have been complex and related to their psychological well-being and other deeply personal ones, it was evident that the construction of tutorial comes to fruition in the dynamics of tutorials within institutions. Instead of defining it, perhaps, the question to ask would be: what is the mission? Are coaching, mentoring, advising and tutoring all about student success? Is there more to the student than success? Would a student centered enterprise be fully satisfied by mere reforms on policies and use of technology in systems which are already constrained?

Some students deny they need help. Others recognise they need help, but power differentials may impede their voices. Others might feel intimidated or pride may withhold them

– whatever the reasons, I was getting the impression that waiting for the student to come to the tutor will soon, if it has not yet, become an outdated practice. Rightly so, students should be prevented from ‘coming in’ when it is too late. The message, thus, was to notice them early. In so doing they may be surprised and pleased that someone is noticing them.

While current policy trends in tPoster viewinghe UK and NSS surveys might suggest that ‘the job’ is being done. Sir Christopher Snowden VC went on to suggest that more needs to happen to understand students’ needs and reminded the audience that academics are forming their students, they are not yet formed! He appeared to have reservations about the pressure on Universities to conduct, behave and do things in certain ways. He argued that shifting teaching and learning onto the Web without sufficient personal contact might become a shallow experience for some students. Talk, he claimed, was essential for scholarship and development. He also invited questions to be asked about how systems allow student to fail.

In a climate clamouring against withdraws and advancing retention, a team of presenters, which included two students, recapped that tutoring can be emotionally draining for tutors. Some institutes have initiated the use of peer tutors who are mobile and highly visible. Perhaps, this is a shift from a ‘problem’ centered tutoring system where student meet the tutor when there is a problem to one where the ‘door is open’. The presentation, raised many questions and issues.

  • Has the time come for students to be informed about what they are entitled to? The Compliance with consumer law is not only important in giving students the protection required by the law, but also helps to maintain student confidence and the standards and reputation of the UK Higher Education sector.
  • Should all academics have an expectation to be tutors and should this work load be discussed with their line managers?
  • Does HR have a responsibility to support tutors?

Tutoring has moved into teaching and learning, which is a welcome shift –signs of a holistic approach to student experience. However, questions about resources were raised for a system to be truly student centred rather than a paper exercise. It was observed that shared values, care, people well-being and pride are more important than papers and policies. It was also noted that academics were being asked to do more to intervene, to make formal referrals, to create data bases for individual students and to tract attendance and their success. From the tutoring perspective, it is significant that the tutorial should not to become about the data of the student instead of being about the student.

The future

Apart from the conference, online discussions show that some institutes are interested in creating a role of Senior Personal Tutor (SPT), as is the case at Plymouth. The SPTs support personal tutors, may be responsible for allocation, training sessions and dealing with problems and complaints. There is interest in exploring a supportive structure or framework within which SPTs would operate and how personal tutoring looks like in different institutes and what is the nature of the provision. In another institute, proposals are being considered for SPTs to have a formal responsibility for monitoring and reporting, via the quality process, on the effectiveness of personInternational delegate posteral tutoring in their academic area.

Tutoring and research

In terms of survey research, I was encouraged to discover that UKAT had conducted its first national survey of personal supervision and academic tutoring. The purpose of which was to examine and report on the use of and approaches to personal supervision/academic tutoring within HE institutions in the UK.

Tutoring is a relatively recent phenomenon, perhaps 12 years, as one presenter noted. Thus, there is recognition that student experience in HE matters and tutoring is seen as a way of ensuring students succeed. In this context the experience of staff is important too. Thus this growing field of advising, mentoring, tutoring and coaching opens wide the opportunities for further research.


Meet the CSPACE Team – Matt O’Leary

Name: Matt O’Leary

Matt O'Leary - Office Photo - Feb 2016Role at BCU: Reader in Education

Research Interests:

  • Classroom observation
  • Teacher assessment
  • Teacher identity and professionalism
  • Teacher improvement
  • Teacher as researcher
  • Professional learning and development for teachers
  • Vocational pedagogy

Research you are currently working on: The impact of the government’s austerity agenda on further education; the politics and pedagogy of peer review in Higher Education; observing teaching in Higher Education


Research methodologies you are using: In terms of my epistemological and methodological positioning, I am a mixed-methods researcher with understanding and experience of both quantitative and qualitative methods of data collection and analysis. The research I am currently working on is predominantly of a qualitative nature (i.e. interviews, focus groups and document analysis)

Current issues, thoughts and reflections on education & research: I am committed to encouraging a collaborative, participatory approach to research, wherever possible and appropriate, as I am mindful of the need to develop researc1h capacity amongst staff in education departments that have traditionally been on the margins of university research activity. One of the priorities for me in developing a research culture in education is the creation of a vibrant and collaborative environment in which staff are encouraged to engage in thinking, discussing and writing about their practice. I have witnessed directly the way in which working collaboratively with and mentoring others can help to develop research and writing skills, along with building the confidence of staff to produce publications. Talking to members of staff on a one-to-one basis to understand their interests, needs and what kind of support is best suited to developing their research and writing capacity, is crucial starting point in creating such a culture.

For me one of the greatest challenges in education research at the moment has to be the issue of IMPACT of educational research. Putting to one side the issue of party politics and the selectivity of successive governments to listen to or ignore the findings of educational research, the research community is still faced with the challenge of making findings more accessible to wider communities.

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Most influential research you have read/seen: I’ve always found Stephen Ball’s work incredibly interesting and a big influence on my own work.

Advice for new researchers: Work hard continuously! There are no short cuts to becoming a successful researcher. Intelligence will only get you so far. It’s about putting in the hours and effort on a continuous basis. It’s also worth pointing out that you’re likely to come up against lots of obstacles and challenges as part of any research project, but don’t let this worry you as it’s a natural part of (research) life and the way in which you respond to them is an important part of your development as a successful researcher.

Mini fact about you: Cycling and cooking are my two favourite pastimes when I’m not working or spending time with my family.

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Personal reflections on the 2016 London Mayor’s summit on music education: wants and needs

Written by: Martin Fautley, Professor of Education, Birmingham City University

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On Tuesday 22/3/16 I attended the London Mayor’s summit on music education, a prestigious event held in the equally prestigious surroundings of City Hall, on the banks of the Thames, overlooking Tower Bridge. Nice! It was, however, a curious event in many ways in my opinion, and I shall try to explain why here.

Mayor Music 5

My role was to be on a panel concerning CPD and teacher development. I, and some of the BCU music education team, have been working on evaluating the Teach Through Music programme in London (read the reports here), and I was happy to talk about it, as I feel it has been a good thing, and made a differencScreen shot 2016-04-02 at 14.25.37e. But more on that later…

The day began with an address by Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for Schools, which can read here . This opener set the tone for some of the overall oddness of the day. NG didn’t mention the white paper ‘Educational excellence everywhere’, which had come out the previous week, at all. What he did talk about was a music education which seemed to me to be almost entirely to be about learning to play an instrument, and/or singing. Screen shot 2016-04-02 at 14.17.31

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OK, yes, he did mention the National Curriculum, but seemed to think it was about performing and listening only, composing never got a mention. But then neither did universal academisation, which has the potential to make the NC nugatory and otiose, so maybe the omission of composing is how those at DfE towers want to think of music education? Some nice children singing madrigals, and playing some Purcell and Bach will be very pleasant, won’t it? I don’t move in the rarefied atmosphere of the upper political echelons, so don’t know if it is normal for a politician to do his stuff then go (‘eats, shoots, and leaves’!), but there was no opportunity to ask questions at all.

One primary school teacher heckled from the floor “no forced academisation!” but that was as interactive as it got.

Read the teacher’s own reflections on the day here 

Then there were a series of panels, presenting on various aspects of music education. Then a rather nice buffet lunch, with a chance to talk to people. Networking, and getting a feel for the zeitgeist, is an important part of such days, I always think.Mayor Music 8

Screen shot 2016-04-02 at 14.16.20Following this, in the afternoon sessions, something began to bother me quite a bit, this was a mounting feeling that, as the late, great, Yogi Berra said, “It’s like deja-vu, all over again!”. Music Excellence London (MEL) had just spent a shedload of money on music education in the capital (that’s another issue, I know, especially as I’m writing this in Birmingham), and yet I got the feeling that people in the audience who maybe weren’t teachers didn’t know about this, hadn’t read the work on MEL and evaluation that Trinity Laban, Music Mark, Sound Connections, Alison Daubney and I had done, and didn’t seem to have engaged with what a longitudinal CPD programme might entail. There seemed to be a lot of “well, we can offer a splendid Chinese nose-flute CPD session for teachers”, rather than a joined-up, clearly articulated, research-informed programme, which MEL had entailed.

Now I know I am getting old, but parading one’s ignorance of history used to be something that was looked down on, now it seems to be something that is celebrated. If we had worked like that in ancient times, every few years or so someone would say “look, I’ve invented the wheel”. It struck me that a number of people there from the floor, as it were, were either thinking out loud in public, or making observations that betrayed that either they or their organisation had something to sell, or that they had little conception of what life is really like for a busy classroom music teacher. Alongside this, there seemed to be little knowledge or conceptualisation of what has gone before. When one of the contributors mentioned he had been taught by Brian Dennis, I wondered how many people had read his ‘Experimental Music in Schools’ book of 1970? Or, sadly, I also wondered how many have read, or even know about, the important music education book published the same year by Paynter and Aston, ‘Sound and Silence’? It struck me then that what might be termed the ‘institutional memory’ of music education is in real danger. I said in my mini-talk “we have to both know stuff, and know how to teach stuff”.

Screen shot 2016-04-02 at 14.18.30Mayor Music 4

This, for me, is important. And “knowing stuff” includes stuff that we have done before. Whilst we need – and want – new entrants to music education, we also need – and want – them to know something of what has been done in the past. So, the thought that was bothering me became crystallised – why do we seem to be still asking the same questions, ignoring the all the work, research, and words that many people have written (especially my words, I put a lot of effort into them!), and trying to start again?

I had been hoping that the summit would be a high point, a pinnacle, literally, a summit, to look back upon the achievements of MEL, which are, from my perspective as one of the evaluators, very highly significant indeed. Instead it felt to me like we were down at base camp bickering about whether we wanted Kendall Mint Cake or Lucozade, whereas in my view we want – and need – both!

It also reminded me that in teacher education we used to run sessions on philosophy, history, sociology, and psychology of education, but they have long gone. And now as government thinking seems to be that learning to be a teacher involves basically “sitting with Nellie” (which, incidentally, is describeMayor Music 3d nicely and pejoratively by Oxford reference here, there will be little chance of inducting people into the rich community of practice of music education; which is a shame, as both Gove and Gibb have cited Matthew Arnold’s notion of “the best which has been thought and said”, and there is a lot in music education which falls into this description. But then Gove dismissed me and my ilk as “the Blob”, so maybe this is just my blobby thinking!

Anyway, in conclusion, this isn’t meant to be a criticism of the organisation, or of the arrangements, which were all fine, but just the feeling of “here we go again”. I think this is a worry, not just for music education, but for education generally. There is a lot that has been “thought and said”, and it ill behoves us as a sector to ignore, downplay, or negate this. After all, as Burke said “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it”!

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Meet the CSPACE Team – Mandy French

Name: Mandy French

Role at BCU: Co-Director CSPACE and Associate Professor in School of Educationmandy

Research Interests:

  • Writing for academic purposes
  • Participatory research with children
  • Feedback innovation
  • Perceptions of academic writing practices
  • Employment literacies
  • Widening participation and social justice
  • Post-qualitative methodologies
  • Critical pedagogies
  • Postgraduate teaching and learning

Research you are currently working on: I am currently working with a number of local primary schools on a participatory research project called Pupils as Research Partners in Primary (PARPP). This has, amongst other projects involved working with pupils to evaluate an exhibition held in the school, refresh a neglected garden area and redesign their playground.


Research methodologies you are using: I am always interested in using interdisciplinary, participatory and collaborative methodologies and enjoy researching with partners across the university and beyond.

In my PhD, which was about lecturers’ perceptions of academic writing I used a post-qualitative methodology that allowed me to play around with my favourite feminist theorists (see below) and French philosophers like Foucault, Bourdieu, Deleuze and Guattari!

Current issues, thoughts and reflections on education & research: We need to be prepared to experiment and take risks with educational research.

diagram Most influential research you have read/seen: The work of Maggie MacLure, Judith Butler, Elizabeth St. Pierre and Patti Lather has blown my mind one way or another over the last 10 years.

Advice for new researchers: Be open to new ideas, always be prepared to share and discuss ideas with your colleagues and never be afraid to ask questions or change your mind!

Mini fact about you: I love vintage and upcycling.



Meet the CSPACE Team – Rob Smith

Name: Dr Rob SmithRob Smith

Role at BCU: Reader in Education

Research Interests:

  • Marketisation in education
  • Education and social justice
  • Education funding
  • Educational leadership

Research you are currently working on: I am looking at FE funding and the impact of the funding regime on teaching and learning. This involves looking critically at performance data and detaching this from notions of quality. It interests me that all of the FE teachers I know understand that these data are largely inaccurate, and yet everyone ignores this elephant in the atrium. I am also interested in how this issue is shaped by (cultures of) leadership and management in FE. IN my view, there is a real danger in approaching education as though it were a production line or an exercise in counting beans. In FE, this approach has led to spoon-feeding and even force-feeding in order to ensure that colleges harvest income. This is bad for students, teachers and society at large. So why do we put up with it? I am also involved in an international comparative study into the way education funding in Israel, the US and the UK seeks to address the distribution of educational achievement with regards to students’ backgrounds.

Research methodologies you are using: My work is reflexive in the sense that it is grounded in a consciousness of how knowledge production has become politicised in educational research. Critics might view my work as primarily qualitative. To date it has mainly been quite small-scale, though my last piece of research involved an electronic survey that had 350 respondents. On the other hand, I view research that uses mainly quantitative data in a positivist way as problematic. I am interested in how quantitative data is often used as a short cut to understanding empirical phenomena and the consequences of this. In my mind, this is linked to marketisation and there are significant problems associated with this.Untitled

Current issues, thoughts and reflections on education & research: HE educational academics were characterised by the last Secretary of state for education as “The Blob”. This pulled out into the open the fact that, broadly speaking, the views of educationalists have largely been marginalised by successive governments bent on developing markets in the English education system. The centralised governance of education through ‘big’ comparative data is an integral part of this. It drives a lot of developments but, to my mind, has also impacted negatively on our education system and on teachers’ work and lives in the last two decades.

Most influential research you have read/seen: From a macro perspective, I find Stephen Ball’s work very persuasive. On the ground floor, for teachers, I have enjoyed reading Jonathan Kozol’s books about his experiences working as a teacher in the US.

Advice for new researchers: Follow your passion. Be imaginative. Don’t be put off by academics who view themselves as gatekeepers who devalue what you do. Existing hierarchies can be the enemy of critical knowledge production – for obvious reasons!

Mini fact about you: I was brought up to interact with the caretaker, the crossing warden and the cleaner in exactly the same way as I interact with the doctor, the headteacher, the MP and/ or the Queen: as an equal. Some people have a problem with that.



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
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Meet the CSPACE Team – Chris Bolton

Name: Chris BoltonChris B

Role at BCU: Senior Lecturer Drama in Education & Subject Route Leader PGCE Secondary drama

Research Interests:

  • Drama in Education (DiE)
  • Drama in secondary education
  • The creation of democratic spaces using drama pedagogy

Research you are currently working on: My current interest is in how drama teachers create meaningful learning in drama using personal resources and oral history. Additionally, I am also researching how the essence/ purpose/ nature of drama learning is influenced by drama’s place within secondary education in the UK.

Working predominantly with trainee drama teachers and Newly Qualified drama teachers affords me the opportunity to see how the planning for drama learning begins; the implications for DiE in school contexts; and how my role can influence, support, co-construct and socially construct meaning for drama teachers more generally.

Research methodologies you are using: Co-constructive learning studies, elicitation and observation.

Current issues, thoughts and reflections on education & research: As a result of my current research position, there are a number of areas emerging that need further consideration. Firstly, whilst my current research only focuses on one drama teacher in one school in the West Midlands, the findings make me question to what extent her ‘stories’ might be shared by other drama teachers in secondary schools. Consequently, the second area for consideration is the position of drama in secondary education. As my research has highlighted, DiE is facing some increasingly difficult circumstances in which its potential purpose as an educative pedagogy is being changed and one is challenged to consider how its position in secondary education might be strengthened.


Drama teachers face some challenges to their pedagogical practice and their rationale for drama teaching is contested by its existence in secondary education. The balancing act needed to facilitate DiE and ensure that it survives as a subject within secondary education risks losing the potential for deep, meaningful and relevant content, particularly as teachers are continually forced to concentrate their practice primarily on two areas; the drama form, which is easier to measure in quantitative terms and thus demonstrate their impact as a teacher; and prove their teacher identity by meeting the requirements of the Teaching Standards. The risk in complying with these two areas not only impacts upon dramaDrama teachers’ practice but also to DiE itself.

The risk is that these two considerations become legitimated as ‘good’ drama teaching and thus this type of drama learning becomes normalised in practice. The problem is further exacerbated by the use of a compliant pedagogy in that the tendency to ‘perform’ so that certain external criteria such as the Teaching Standards can be met in order to survive in the secondary education context. Ball (2003:223) argues that “Beliefs are no longer important- it is output that counts” and drama teachers are potentially highly aware that the outcome of their lessons is important in making judgements about not only their identity as a teacher but also the position of drama in secondary education. What this means is that potentially, “what is produced is a spectacle, or game-paying, or cynical compliance, or what one might see as an ‘enacted fantasy’ (Butler 1990), which is there simply to be seen and judged- a fabrication” (2003:222).

 (Stephen J Ball (2003): The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity, Journal of Educational Policy. 18:2, 215-228)

Most influential research you have read/seen: Stephen Ball’s (2003) research entitled ‘The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity’ is really powerful for me. Whilst not specifically ‘research’, the writings of Dorothy Heathcote and Edward Bond are also interesting.

Advice for new researchers: Don’t panic!


Provisioning the research environment for creativity – a research supervision pedagogy.

Reader in Education Geoff Hill has written a blog all about geof hillsupervision. His latest post is about “Provisioning the research environment for creativity”. Here are some highlights from his blog:

Research supervision has been described as a practice “traditionally conducted behind the closed door” (McWilliam, and Palmer, 1995, 32)

I am seeing emergent agendas for nurturing creativity in higher degree research:

  1. Science PhDs looking for ways to adopt more exciting and user friendly publications of their scientific discoveries.

  2. The ‘Bright club’ extolling the virtues of more creative lecturing.

Meet the CSPACE Team – Geof Hill

Name: Geof Hill

geof hillRole at BCU: I am a reader in (Higher ) Education in the Faculty of Health, Education and Life Sciences

Research Interests:

  • I am interested in practice-led research and using that in any of the professional practices.
  • I am also interested in creative ways of publishing and disseminating one’s research and specialise in publishing my research in cabaret.

Research you are currently working on: I have just published a practice-led inquiry on my using cabaret as research dissemination. I am working with a colleague to make explicit a notion of ‘provenance’ which we have situated in practice-led inquiry as a reflective process to initiate practice-led inquiry.

I am working with other colleagues on the use of practitioner stories to provide insights into a range of business, education and health practices.

Research methodologies you are using: Practice-led inquiry ( which means that the inquiry begins with the researcher’s/inquirer’s own story of their exposure and development fo the practice they are investigating.

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Current issues, thoughts and reflections on education & research: Educational research is enjoying a new resurgence as practice based inquiry is revalidated as a worthwhile way for people to investigate a range of educational issues.

At BCU it is also exciting that there is a culture of encouraging people to both research and disseminate their research using creative approaches,.

Most influential research you have read/seen: Guba and Lincoln’s (1982) challenge to the hegemony of the positivist paradigm was concept changing for me. Previously I had accepted the dominance of positivist research and now I can see how that is flawed when it is used with any people issues.

Advice for new researchers: Keep a journal so that you will be able to recognise the ways in which you change as a researcher through your candidature. Document the very first thing troubling you and with that issue it can become the topic of your dissertation.

Mini fact about you: I worked as an actor on the television series ‘medivac’.

Using Gaming Software for Critical Incident Charting with Music Teacher Trainees

Written by Sam Clements, Birmingham City University HELS PhD Student and Senior Lecturer at London South Bank UniversitySam C(15th January, 2016)

Research Background: The National Plan for Music, and the trial ITT modules

In September 2010, Darren Henley, Managing Director of Classic FM, was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Education of the coalition government, Michael Gove, to undertake a review of Music Education in England. The Henley Review lays down recommendations for minimum expectations of what any child going through the system should receive in terms of an education in music.

The purpose of developing a ‘National Plan for Music’ was introduced by National planHenley as the means to ‘tackle the patchiness’ in the quantity and quality of music education available across the country. My interest lies with the implications for the ‘core workforce’; that is the primary school teachers, and primary teacher trainees in the classroom. The part of the plan to ‘boost new teachers’ confidence and skill in teaching music’ included the trialling of new primary music Initial Teacher Training (ITT) modules during the Summer break of 2012 following the completion of trainees’ one-year Post Graduate training (PGCE) courses, and before they took up their first posts as newly qualified teachers. These trial modules were delivered by selected ITT providers who successfully bid for funding from the Teaching Agency (now the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL)) to devise, implement and evaluate their modules.

2. Me - Teaching in school

21 institutions were awarded various amounts of funding each; of which London South Bank University was one. My paper presented at the Teacher Education Advancement Network (TEAN) Aston Conference of May, 2013, entitled, ‘How can we improve training in music within primary ITT programmes to best meet and develop the competence and confidence of teacher trainees?’ (Clements, 2013) evaluates the short and medium term impact of the music module we carried out at London South Bank University with PGCE students in July 2012, who were then tracked as newly qualified teachers over their first term in school, to January 2013. The paper discusses the implications for the development of training programmes arising from our module, which in turn led to the preparation and validation in March 2013 of a new optional Performing Arts Education module (worth 30 Masters level credits) within our PGCE course.

Incidental Themes arising from the trial modules

My current research investigates themes from the trial music module. What emerged from this module very clearly was the apparent influence of individual musical or other background factors (for the purposes of this study I have called them the X Factors (XF)) on Student Teachers’ ability to engage with and teach different aspects of classroom music effectively. For the purposes of this study I have used the term Music Teaching Phenomena (MTP) to mean different aspects of primary classroom music teaching. It was not possible to investigate these emerging themes during the music module due to the pre-set aims and restrictions of that study, thus leaving me with ‘incidental questions’, which have inspired this current piece of PhD research.

During the music module a number of student teachers appeared to challenge common stereotypes; here are some examples: Those with the XF: High level of formal musical training, were not always ‘the best’ at teaching all aspects of music; issues arose around the following MTP: Ability to improvise with children and The use of freer (and less musically accurate) forms of notation such as picture scores. Student teachers with the XF: No formal training but with a family or cultural musical background, were often found to be the most musically creative in a classroom context (MTP); however psychological barriers arose around issues of musical self efficacy (MTP) and use of tools such as staff notation (MTP).


The aims of my research therefore are to identify and analyse the underlying ‘X Factors (XF)’ influencing aptitude for Music Teaching Phenomena (MTP), to catch the interplay between them, and to devise an effective framework for developing individualised training strategies for teachers at different stages in their experience.

Pilot of Method

I carried out a pilot of my method using a control group to test the planned method for collecting data related to the following research objectives:

  1. To identify and define the internal musical and non musical factors (X Factors (XF)) influencing aptitude for different aspects of music teaching (Music Teaching Phenomena (MTP));
  2. To explore and analyse the extent to which XF and MTP function as interdependent variables.

The method involved two exercises, both related to personal construct theory:

  1. Map making (critical incident charting) exercise
  2. Adapted Repertory Grid (ARG) technique exercise

The control group consisted of four participants all of whom were trainee teachers at the time.

3. Some of my control group - my PGCE students

The two exercises worked in conjunction as tools to uncover what was present, in terms of internal X Factors, and look at them closely – whatever they might turn out to be – rather than having a pre-determined agenda such as those agendas which permeate traditional interviews or questionnaires. Charmaz (2006) describes methods which are too agenda biased as being incapable of generating ‘rich data’. With this method, there are no questions. The participant sets the agenda right from the start, deciding what topics are, or are not, important to be represented and/or discussed.

Participants code their own data, in a way that is meaningful to them.

They elicit their own elements from those codes, generating poles for those elements and their contrasts. This enables the research activities to be situated within the participant’s life, rather than the participant being situated within the research project.

In this method the outcomes of exercise 1 inform exercise 2. Therefore exercise 1 must be successfully completed before exercise 2 can take place.

The method was a little experimental and a pilot was most definitely necessary, as the outcomes proved!

Exercise 1: Map Making (critical incident charting)

The control group was introduced to the idea of mapping an individual’s ‘musical journey’ from birth to date using their own words and pictures/diagrams around a journey line, by showing them an example map. Following this,

participants were invited to make their own maps, representing their own journey in any way they chose, from a straight and smooth pathway to a traumatic path with twists and turns.

The critical incidents shown in their map could include for example, musical experiences in their lives as children, adult music makers and teachers of music. Participants were encouraged to include core life events and personality/identity development within the map. Large poster paper and coloured pens were made available for the participants, who completed this exercise independently. All four participants completed the exercise at the same time, in the same place (a university classroom). It was intended that the X Factors which the map exercise uncovers for each participant would subsequently be analysed to generate codes which would become the unique, personalised elements for the participant’s Adapted Repertory Grid (ARG). These elements would then be rated by that participant against their personally selected constructs (Music Teaching Phenomena (MTP)) in order to uncover connections between them.

Critical Reflection

The control group found the map making exercise difficult – not to comprehend, but to execute. Some participants claimed to be inhibited by their artistic ability (their perceived lack of it) and found managing the space on the poster paper a challenge. They had ideas but struggled to convey these on paper, some started well but then reverted to ‘writing lists’. They felt their outcomes lacked depth, almost as though they were trying to represent in a 2D way 3D concepts, or layers of meaning. All the participants expressed a desire to ‘do the task well’ – two participants requested that they re-draft their journey maps after they had finished them. Two participants stated that they felt they had used too much writing on their map, that it strayed from the main points they wished to portray, and that they needed time and tools to re-focus their work.

The maps produced by the control group had not effectively uncovered X Factors for which any effective coding could be undertaken. The maps were descriptive rather than analytical and stated ‘what happened’ rather than telling the story behind ‘what happened’. It became clear that participants needed the opportunity to reflect, revise and return to their maps in an on-going way. There were barriers to successful execution in terms of the practical aspects of making the map (for example drawing, space awareness) and critical analysis or ’thinking in layers’.

Evolution of Method

The United States television series CSI: New York broadcast an episode entitled ‘Kill Screen’ (2014), CSI NYset within the world of competitive gaming. The main character in the episode creates a virtual world for his avatar (his virtual self), complete with physical and human geographical features which interconnect different aspects of his life. In the episode, the features of this virtual world were selected by the gamer; he selected ideas and icons which had meaning for him and would represent his world, whether that be in the realm of reality or the world of fantasy.

Inspired by this idea I began to investigate software designed to enable gamers to create their own virtual worlds. Campaign Cartographer 3 (CC3), (2014), created by Pro Fantasy Softwarepro fant is a map making programme which enables users to create simple maps and worlds for campaigns and games. The software includes a wide choice of fantasy mapping symbols, styles and types so that users can set their ‘world parameters’ such as size and geographical features (terrain type, % of water to land), and introduce features to represent critical incidents, how they are situated within a journey map, and how they are interconnected.

4. Example of a control group participant's virtual world

The software was introduced individually to each participant of the control group. Through the medium of this software the mapping exercise evolved into something which could be executed with relative ease.

Participants were able to successfully import into their virtual world physical icons to represent their musical and life critical incidents, and plot a route to join the icons together to show connections.

They were able to review and revise their worlds in an on-going way over the course of the exercise.

Data Coding

Burnard (2012) makes much use of Bourdieu’s ‘Thinking Tools’ of field, habitus, capital and practice to understand the creative musical practices of the musicians participating in her project. She uses these thinking tools to structure her analysis of how these musicians think, act and create; to understand what their practices are grounded in; and on what capital rests the processes and principles of their practices. These same thinking tools were used as a conceptual framework to aid the participants and I to collaboratively extract and make sense of the X Factors present within their virtual worlds. The answers to the question; ‘How did/does this participant think about, act about, and create (this performance, this composition, this music lesson, this experience)?’ and the question; ‘On what capital rests the processes and principles of this particular practice?’ helped to generate the codes which were elicited from the dense virtual worlds data.

Once their virtual world had been created participants were asked to narrate their journey around it. The significant underlying musical and non-musical X Factors influencing their journeys were uncovered in detail as these narrations were transcribed. After the narration stage the X Factors which had been identified were discussed and the participants organised these into codes. Their codes became the elements (of the self)/X factors which were then used in their Adapted Repertory Grids (ARGs).

Thanks for reading! I think that’s more than enough for now – but I’ll write more, about the ARGS and their outcomes in due course!