Research And Education

A Relationship – Part 1

Исследование мировых пространств реактивными приборами

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

Featured imageNeil Armstrong, Yuri Gagarin, the adulation and hero status. This may not have been possible without the knowledge and insights of the less well known, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. He himself was building upon and enriching the theories and efforts of many great Mathematicians and Physicists of previous generations. Yet, like many other examples in Science, competing both with and against accepted discourses of thought presents its own challenges. The work of Tsiolkovsky and early advocates of the possibility of rocket travel was met with heavy doses of scepticism.

Some scientists of that generation doubted that rockets could work in the vacuum of space. The insistence of possibility, of imagination from pioneers like Robert Goddard, were readily dismissed, as a New York Times editorial (1921) highlights:

Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react.  He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in our high schools.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can look at the above comment with a massive degree of criticality and perhaps even through a smile of smugness. Yet, if we were able to examine dominant discourses around learning and teaching and classroom practices that exist today, through a retrospective lens that our descendants viewed some 90 years from now, what smugness might belie their smiles? How open to scrutiny is education as a multi disciplinary field of inquiry? How does this potential rich tapestry of inquiry connect and compete? How do we in education respect the body of knowledge that has accumulated in our profession through centuries of practice and human endeavour, whilst embracing more scientific methods of inquiry?

  • Would competing narratives be as fallible to scrutiny as Goddard’s was falsely projected to be in the New York Times?
  • How valid are the layers of scepticism shown by some today of the ideas and thoughts of Dewey, Vygotsky and Piaget?
  • Like the mechanics of rocket propulsion, what would they see us mistakenly pushing against to help move us forward? Data? Inspection models? Large Scale Testing metrics? Or, a reluctance by some to even consider that a research aware narrative may have merit? Or, a misguided faith in a research aware narrative itself?
  • Are competing certainties, alive at different extremities in education, merely underpinned by the same weakness?-that they are certainties.

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Many different beliefs and attitudes, defined in part by varying ideological perspectives, clearly exist in UK and International Education. Yet, does the richness of different perspectives get lost in the rigidity and competition for both ‘loudest voice’, ‘best song’ and slickest PR mechanisms? A panoramic snapshot of educational discourse in the UK highlights a growing narrative of knowthyimpact, research aware and teacher-researchers. Delve into the world of social media platforms and such sentiments become organic; they are led by powerful voices, with a groundswell of growing support and in certain contexts, considerable financial backing. Yet, how this is consumed by the palate of the profession is mixed, tasting both bitter and sweet. A voice perhaps defined by consonance and dissonance in how it embraces the harmony of this works and this doesn’t or you can’t tell me this works and this doesn’t.

The purpose of this blog series (Parts 1 to 6) is (ambitiously) to present questions and responses that perhaps capture key aspects of this dialogue. By interviewing a Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, a Professor of Philosophy, a Secondary teacher and a Primary teacher, by asking twitter to respond to some key provocations, and by putting forward my own experiences and thoughts, I hope to weave together a series of posts that challenge our thoughts, force us to examine and confront our beliefs and make us think deeply about our role as teachers.

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So, if I took a series of temperature dips into the differing attitudes and perceptions that accompany a research narrative in education, how might I interpret the readings?

  1. When we frame dialogue around a relationship between research and education, what do we mean by research? 
  1. What exactly is a ‘Teacher- Researcher’?
  1. Is there a gold standard paradigm that rides shotgun over others or do multiple definitions allow for inquiry via a cluster of approaches? Is Action Research as valid as Randomized Trials for example?
  1. Given both the complexity of learning and teaching in the classroom and the multi disciplinary field that educational research represents, do experimental or quasi-experimental methods both have roles to play? Do RCTs for example, act as a stage 1 process of inquiry, with other approaches only being used thereafter?
  1. Educational Researchers may come from a variety of discreet subject disciplines and although education is a multi-disciplinary area of inquiry, are approaches to inquiry rooted too rigidly in the schema of discreet disciplines?
  1. Are they viewed as competing approaches within a hierarchy as opposed to equally valid, enriching yet different approaches of inquiry?
  1. The concept of Professional Capital, advocated by Fullan and Hargreaves sits very comfortably with teachers engaging in Collaborative Inquiry processes. However, do Action Research and Lesson Study for example constitute valid research and approaches to professional inquiry in schools?
  1. Within a research narrative, what is the most appropriate definition of how the relationship with education should evolve? Research led? Research informed? Research Aware?
  1. How do we define engagement with research? As all embracing as ‘on/off’ switch or a continuum of engagement from reading research articles and books to engaging in research pedagogy?
  1. How do teachers access research? Teachers in Scotland / NTEN Platform get access to EBSCO as part of their subscriptions, shouldn’t all?
  1. Can this relationship ironically mitigate a ‘professionalisation’ culture by overly focusing on wanting to be led? Is it another form of learned helplessness in schools that reinforces a “you tell us / we will do’ culture?
  1. Building upon the previous points, do teachers and SLT in particular, too often ‘look out of the window’ rather than focus energy and commitment to within?
  1. Do we reinforce and legitimize external agencies (e.g. OFSTED / DfE / GTCS / ES) to help define our professionalism when actually, our professionalism is defined by what we do in schools, every lesson, every day, every week, every month and every year?
  1. How do we become research aware or indeed, research literate and engage in research pedagogy without it becoming ‘another’? If a disposition towards developing a relationship between research and education is so important, how do we ‘make space’ for this to happen, beyond the perfunctory of time?
  1. What happens if teaching as a profession chooses not to have a more intimate relationship with research? 
  1. Can a Research narrative be distorted and diminished to a canon of pedagogical practices that are held up as a collective aspiration? A stick to beat rather than a disposition to self evaluate and improve?
  1. RCTs, Action Research models, Lesson Study to cite but a few are inquiry practices happening now and on an ever-increasing scale. How do we foster partnership models with HE that allow for a sustainable and two-way collaboration of knowledge, skills and expertise? 
  1. How does the local, single school research connect and talk as dialogue to other schools and to large scale, heavy funded research?

By asking these questions in Part 1, and through the help of friends and colleagues on twitter, we will capture responses to these questions and use them to form the body of Part 2.

Thank you to those who helped with thoughts during the writing of these blog posts.

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