“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.

Democracy through Drama- A successful Erasmus+ Project Launch!

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

Chris Bolton Drama Project team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related publications

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

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

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

 

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.

The good, the bad and the ugly: Religious Education at a crossroads

The good, the bad and the ugly: Religious Education at a crossroads

In this post, Imran Mogra, Senior Lecturer in Religious Education and Professional Studies, reflects on the recent publication of a report from the Commission on Religious Education. Note the link at the bottom of this post to join the debate on these important issues. 

Religious Education for All coverLast month the Commission on Religious Education (CoRE) published its Interim Report Religious Education for All. The CoRE wishes to engage the public in developing their thinking on Religious Education over the next academic year. The future of RE, it believes, is in the balance and they conclude that a timely intervention is necessary if RE is to continue making its significant contribution to pupils’ education. The Commission has made recommendations in four key areas which they believe will reinvigorate the subject. The consultation is open until 9.00am on 4th December 2017. In this article, I reflect and react to some of their proposals.

Whilst there will be points of departure with some of their recommendations, nevertheless, the first point to make is that for anyone passionate and concerned about RE in schools, the stark warning by the Commission, who were unanimous in their view, that “RE faces a perilous future without strategic, urgent intervention”, should welcome this report.

The interim report makes for some fascinating and encouraging reading. For example, in the 2017 GCSE exams, Religious Studies was the fourth most popular subject, after English language, English literature, and mathematics, and just ahead of science. Nearly 300,000 pupils took the examination. This is a clear demonstration that the subject is considered relevant, valuable, interesting and worthy of study by many youngsters.

The value and benefits of RE are widely conceived by the Commission itself. They state that RE continues to be a vital academic subject for education in the 21st century. It gives young people

  • the knowledge, understanding, and motivation they need to understand important aspects of human experience, including the religious, spiritual, and moral.
  • RE gives insights into the arts, literature, history, and contemporary local and global social and political issues.
  • It provides young people with a space in the curriculum to reflect on their own worldview and to engage with others whose worldview may be different.

This standpoint is apt as it allows students to understand themselves, the subject itself, intercultural issues and to engage with global dynamics.

Crucially, it gives voice to young people who articulate an instrumental role of RE. They said that “RE enables them to have better friendships, and to develop greater respect and empathy for others.” The views from employers are also welcome. The Commission reported that “RE is highly valued by many employers, who increasingly understand that, in a globalised world, understanding others’ world-views and their impact on people’s lives is essential to success” (p.3).

The evidence base of the report is wide and being independent gives confidence. The report is based on the knowledge and experience of the Commissioners and on oral evidence from 53 individuals and organisations at five evidence-gathering sessions in Birmingham, Exeter, London, Manchester and York, though East Anglia could also have featured. They also received 1,377 responses to an online survey, and 49 submissions by email.

Some of the findings are unsurprising. In outlining the variable standards and some persistent low standards in many schools, the report noted that where RE was good or better, it was a result of strong support for RE from senior leadership and governors, effective training, and good subject knowledge on the part of teachers. By contrast, poor standards were often the result of a lack of confidence on the part of teachers, inadequate ITT and CPD, and the high proportion of lessons taught by non-specialists at Secondary and non-teachers at primary.

The Commission should be congratulated for recommending that pupils in Key Stage 4 who do not take Religious Studies at GCSE should have their work accredited.

They endorse minimal entitlement for RE which is also advocated by several key organisations. Pragmatically, this is appealing in the current political and educational climate. All schools could be held accountable in meeting their legal obligation and in making appropriate provisions. ITT may have clearly defined parameters. Heads would be able to show how their vision and mission is in line with national entitlement. Professionally, in a climate of academisation and the increasing autonomy of individual schools, it will provide a single reference point for the subject, increasing the prospects of accountability, which is also a key recommendation of the report. However, faith communities hitherto less prominent, humanist, and other groups have been campaigning for more time and space within RE provision. On top of this, the role of local authorities in determining the syllabus of RE is also under consultation. Thus, there are various stakeholders poised to make their viewpoints and be considered in these debates.

The report leaves me with some questions:

  • Who will translate the entitlement into a detailed programme of study?
  • What will the outcomes be?
  • Changing the name is being proposed, what impact will this have on the quality of provision, if any?
  • It recommends a minimum 12 hours’ initial training for RE. Should this be accepted, how will other subjects square up with this?
  • As an option, it sees funding for SACREs to come from the Department of Culture, media and Sport or the Department of Communities and local government, what about the Department of Education?

There are some recommendations which are controversial. Resolving these may prove challenging:

  • Removing the right of withdrawal from parents.
  • Faith schools’ ability to teach their own confessional syllabus should end.

In summary, the report highlights the good, the bad, and the ugly elements of RE. The time is ripe for a discussion on RE and its structure, aims and outcomes, accountability, syllabus, funding and legal issues. It identifies specific gaps and offers reasonable propositions in the unfolding landscape of education. It has several features which are impressive and there is much to commend. It also appears to be defensive in some respects and rightly warns against some fears which resonate with some in the RE community regarding the subject.

The call for evidence is available here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/CoREConsult1

Join in this important debate and highlight the issues emerging in your context.

A PDF of the full set of questions, can be downloaded here to allow you to think about your responses before filling it in online, if you wish.  You are not required to answer all of the questions.

 

 

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.

Becky 3

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.

 

Opinions: The Dangers of Pay-to-Play

Pac-Man is an international game symbol like no other, having remained in our popular consciousness since the early days of arcade games. In this thought provoking post, Dr Alex Wade explores the broad societal impact of ‘pay-to-play’ mechanisms. With this in mind, we might therefore what the implications of such structures might be for an increasingly marketised education sector? 

Yellow. Eyeless. Endlessly hungry. Pac-Man might seem an unlikely cultural icon but, over his 40-year career, he’s morphed into various versions of himself, starred in more than 30 games, spawned an animated TV series and created a million-selling single.

This kind of staying power doesn’t spring from nowhere. Toru Iwatani, the great Japanese game developer and creator of Pac-Man, purposefully set out to make a game that could appeal to women and men in equal measure, a radical aim in a games landscape dominated by the militaristic, even masculine, pursuits of shooting and defending the world from alien attack. But Pac-Man’s enduring popularity and sunny nature hides something darker: its pay-to-play model speaks to our times. Everyone’s invited. Everyone can play. It’s fun. But there’s a cost.

Iwatani’s desire to broaden Pac-Man’s appeal can be seen in its design. The grid-like patterns are evocative of the mazes of early-modern England and ancient Greece, supposedly a ‘safe place’ where the role of women/the feminine is often essential to success. For example, in Athens’ labyrinth, Ariadne weaponises Theseus by giving him a sword to kill the Minotaur. Ariadne also provides Theseus with a ball of thread so that he can find his way out. In doing so, she provides a literal and literary escape from the maze and from the monster’s monomania.

 As players munch their way through the 240 dots that comprise the Pac-Man maze, they encounter four power-pills that enable our hero to chow down on scared blue ghosts. Players are urged to escape back to a safe place with their lives intact, echoing modern fairytales: like Ariadne’s ball of thread and Pac-Man’s dots, breadcrumbs are used in the fairytale Hansel and Gretel to guide the siblings to safety. The eating of the breadcrumbs by other animals demonstrates the difficulty of staying safe in a literal and literary state-of-nature. The experimentation and adventure which Hansel and Gretel toy with, a theme common to the safe places of games, can, in itself, border on the gamble of stepping outside of the normal boundaries of everyday life and into the maze which permeates these narratives and structures of games.

But if you’re quick and clever and eat your power-ups at the right time, you can vanquish these ghosts and monsters with adroitness of thought, feminine maturity and child-like inventiveness. Tucked up in bed, listening to the story of loss in Hansel and Gretel, the place where we feel safest is also the arena where we look to challenge the boundaries of that safety. Usually (but not always), there is a happy ending, akin to the experience of Pac-Man operating in the face of insurmountable odds, limited resources and hostile environments.

Here’s where Pac-Man becomes something more – consider Cold War capitalism in the West. A rise in living standards was closely allied to the development of microprocessor technologies used in everything from missile guidance systems to magnetic resonance imagers to arcade games. The Minotaur of Communism was held in check by spending on the warfare state. This thread of global protection against the threat of global destruction was weaved into individual safety nets in Western European countries in the shape of the welfare state. It provided protection to the populace of Western countries against the everyday threats of disease and destitution. This was seen in state spending on universal education, health services and shelter for all.

Yet this came at a price. If you want to get a high score on Pac-Man, you’ve got to follow the game’s rules and objectives. As Martin Amis notes, the “longer a player can play, the more points he can earn, and the more clout he has in the competitive social environment of the arcade”. This notion of competition attained through thriftiness and skill applied equally to the wider social, ethical and political system.

And where better to see the ultimate results of that competition than that post-Cold War capitalism’s spaces of consumption, the mall? While the space Pac-Man occupies is classical in its structure and narrative, it has an equal and parallel orientation towards the modern world. Frictionless and contactless, the smooth spaces that allow Pac-Man to move around the labyrinth away from monsters and spectres resemble the happy, mapped-out shopping centre with its wide concourses and smooth, shiny spaces floors. There is no natural light here, and no time, though there are many signposts telling you where to go to buy. You become something akin to Pac-Man on a power pill, temporarily and irrepressibly able to munch through goods and crunch through credit with the end, both entrance and exit, hidden from the consumer’s view.

But the comedown can be hard to face. It’s easy to get into a shopping centre, but hard to leave. The satisfaction of shopping is almost always accompanied by the slight niggle that, like the classical labyrinth itself, there is something mortal left in the centre of consumption when the red thread of money, or of blood, runs dry.

The means to play Pac-Man mirror an economic model with a high price to pay. In the amusement arcades of the 1980s, where, with tenacity and dedication, one coin could be made to last all day, hard work was rewarded by extended play. (‘I got a pocketful of quarters and I’m headed to the arcade/I don’t have a lot of money but I’m bringing everything I made’, run the opening lines of Pac-Man Fever.) For the children who grew up in the arcades of the 1980s, this is normal and normed behaviour. Want to play? You have to pay.

But for the late 1990s meritocracies of Europe and America, where these children became adults, the pay-to-play economic model was adopted wholesale: a necessary bargain of citizenship were that rights and responsibilities were in check and balance. If you have no job, you have to work at getting one. You have a right to smoke, but a responsibility not to in public. The idea of the umbrella protection of the welfare and warfare state was left behind. Everyone had to eke out that pocketful of quarters and if you didn’t have enough, tough luck: you clearly wasted them elsewhere. Less was more. More must be done with less. This pay-to-play model has had a permanent and tragic legacy, the results of which are being felt today and stretch far into the future.

Now, in our current state of post-Cold War capital, many of the mazes of consumption are open only to individuals who have the code to enter them. Like the initials on a high score table, only those with enough currency to Insert Coin have access to the games that reward the pay-to-play model found in the exorbitant fees of higher education, healthcare plans and private pensions. The enjoyable, if empty, thrill of the modern-day power pill – clothes shopping, the absent amnesia of online purchasing, the post-splurge latte – all these are obtainable by consumers with the requisite credit rating and zeroes in their current account.

For others, who do not possess the code or currency of pay-to-play, there are other mazes to explore. These are not smooth, or easy to move through. There are the endless grids of forms to be filled out for benefits applications. The phone mazes to be negotiated by employment support ‘candidates’. The mesmerising morass of payday loans and the monster-like enforcement of debt repayment.

Most pertinent are those mazes of social housing. That idea, founded at the beginning of the Cold War where the doctor could live next door to the baker, the barber next to the coroner, soon found itself abandoned by the individual pursuit of wealth and state neglect on an industrial scale. The pedestrian-friendly paths became rat-runs for drug dealers: Pac-Men chomping on pills, erratically avoiding the ghostly blue police: the wide open green public spaces a site for the fly-tipping of refuse. Detritus is most widely distributed where money is not. Most chillingly are those spaces between the rich and the poor: the cavities in the cladding where flames are free to channel, but people, trapped in a labyrinth not of their own making, could not escape from.

These are the pay-to-play models where no amount of currency can buy abstinence from the systematic failure of every one of us to Insert Coin into the slots of poverty. These are the spaces that are a shame to us all. There is no happy ending at the end of this maze. Instead, there is the realisation that by not fulfilling a responsibility that we all have to each other to provide safe places for everyone, we have created dangerous spaces from which there is no exit.

Iwatani’s motivation for Pac-Man was to make the game as inclusive as possible, irrespective of age, race, religion, gender. All were invited. The cost was the pay-to-play model. The question we must ask ourselves is, as those labyrinths of despair are cleared from Kingston-on-Hull to Kingston-on-Thames, what game do we go to next? Will we be haunted by the ghosts of the pay-to-play past, or create a safe place of a better tomorrow?

Alex Wade is Senior Research Fellow in the Faculty of Health, Education and Life Sciences at BCU. His book, The Pac-Man Principle: A User’s guide to Capitalism is to be released by Zero Books at the end of 2017.