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Reflecting on change: Whole school collaborative research – opportunities with industry

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Professional ownership and management of change

One of the recommended long-term strategies to ensure the retention of teachers is to provide engaging and effective continuing professional development programmes (Preston, 2004; Younie, 2006; Davis et al., 2009; Pachler et al., 2011; Leask and Younie, 2013). However, releasing teachers from the classroom to undertake CPD is problematic for senior leadership teams, much as the majority of leaders would like to encourage reflection on practice.

Schön (1983) revolutionised traditional ideas about professional learning when he published The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action:

I begin with the assumption that competent practitioners usually know more than they can say. They exhibit a kind of knowing in practice, most of which is tacit (…) Indeed practitioners themselves often reveal a capacity for reflection on their intuitive knowing in the midst of action and sometimes use this capacity to cope with the unique, uncertain, and conflicted situations of practice (p. 8-9)

Known as ‘action research’, this method respects the knowledge and expertise of teachers as active professionals. Informed by this approach, the MirandaNet Fellowship was founded in 1992 as a channel for professionals to influence policy and practice in the contested new field of education technology. The strategy was to develop a professional community that could share knowledge and expertise in a new and challenging curriculum area. We started with fifteen teachers who were given laptops by Toshiba – six months later we were all surfing the internet and talking together via email. Now, we have more than 1,200 members world-wide. The internet has had an important role in developing this community, because it has made it possible for teachers in different schools to work together and to publish their findings widely.

This strategy helped us to tackle the issue of professional development in education technology, with the design of a practice-based programme called iCatalyst. Whereas Schön tended to concentrate on individual teachers as researchers, practice-based research focuses on collaboration in data collection and meta-analysis, in order to explore the potential for change defined by the profession.

iCatalyst is a bespoke professional development programme that focuses on strategies that support the leadership and management of change. School leaders are involved in the design and delivery of effective professional development, and they work with iCatalyst consultants to identify what they want to gain from their investment in digital technologies. They then work with their colleagues in the development of a research programme to collect evidence of learning in the classroom. The outcomes include: accreditation for the leaders of the programme; professional development for all staff involved; local evidence of improved learning to use in reports for Pupil Premium and Ofsted; case studies and articles for school publications; knowledge embedded in the institution about effective professional development; and global publication of teachers’ and pupils’ achievements.

Practice-based research funded by industry

Over the years, MirandaNet Fellows have run regional and national government education technology programmes in China, Czech Republic, Germany, India, Mexico and South Africa. Some of these programmes have involved exchanges with British teachers. Additionally, there have been major EU programmes between Bulgaria, Catalonia, Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and The Netherlands (see, for example, Preston et al, 1992a).

The school senior leaders and practitioners set the research questions in collaboration with MirandaNet Fellows and help to analyse the data to see how the best impact on learning can be achieved. Importantly, the discoveries have resulted in ownership of change for the teachers, often with the involvement of pupils and parents who have reflected on what works well.

The support of education technology companies, along with the British Education Suppliers Association (BESA), has been vital in building up evidence about the use of technology in teaching, learning and administration. Our current industry associates are 2Simple, BrainPOP, Cengage, Code.org, Just2Easy, Learning by Questions, Lyfta, OutSet, SAM Learning, SMART, Spongy Elephant, Tablet Academy and Vision Education. In the practice-based research projects, the companies provide the technology and relevant services as well as product training.

Teachers in these projects have discovered some inspiring research findings from the classroom, which help to improve the tool or service being researched. Recent findings include the merits of virtual reality and immersive reality in learning, particularly for the less able; the ways in which homework programmes and school news feeds can engage parents in their children’s progress; how e-books can encourage reluctant readers; the success of digital resources like games and quizzes in stimulating independent learning; and effective methods of deploying mobile devices (see Preston et al., 1992b).

Some of the topics that schools have chosen to explore include video-based professional development; engaging reluctant readers; education technology skills development; holistic approaches to technology implementation; and renewal of the ICT infrastructure.

Here, we cover two fields that are relevant to many schools: video-based professional development and moving from computing to digital media.

Transforming teaching practice

Teachers videoing their classroom practice to discuss with tutors, coaches and colleagues, has proved to be a valuable means of improving technique and increasing confidence. The education technology company ‘IRIS Connect’ have been a long term MirandaNet Associate. IRIS is a good example of a research-based company that invests staff time as well as money in working alongside practitioners to create a video enabled platform based on professional need.

The IRIS Connect platform fosters a supportive, collaborative learning culture among teachers who share a common goal – improving student outcomes. Their ethical approach is uniquely embedded in the design: videos of classroom practice go directly to the teachers’ web space and only the teacher decides if the footage is to be seen by colleagues. MirandaNet research with 100 teachers found that:

  • 94 per cent of teachers using the system said their teaching had improved
  • 88 per cent said their confidence had risen
  • 88 per cent felt there had been a positive impact on collaboration
  • 96 per cent felt they were willing to take more risks
  • 99 per cent felt there were more conversations between teachers about teaching in their school.

These levels of appreciation were unusually high and suggest that web-based video can be transformation in practice (Preston, 2015). As researchers we were impressed by the teachers who chose to share their unsuccessful experiences in the classroom as well as their achievements. (Preston and Younie, 2016)

Exchanging Digital Media for Computing

Gaia Technologies and Managed Service has been an effective research partner for MirandaNet Fellows. Providing bespoke solutions, developed to meet the exact IT requirements of each school, the company works to gain a deep understanding of the unique educational needs and goals of each school. This approach does not revolve around just selling the customer a product to meet their immediate needs, but aims to support the school’s development over a period of time.

Gaia have invested in several iCatalyst projects in schools led by charismatic teachers who decide on the technology and the topic. Here we describe four that vary in size and breadth. The methodologies were adjusted accordingly.

At Ormiston Maritime Academy in Grimsby, a practice-based study was designed to reflect on the challenges the school faced in computing, and to work with the teachers to find solutions. In fact, 8,000 computing teachers were missing across the country at this time (BCS, 2018). The school decided to deal with this problem by changing from a computing curriculum to digital media because, as an independent academy, the leaders did not have to follow government guidelines on curriculum subjects.

This strategy was important in the local context of Grimsby. This coastal town is looking to replace the fishing industry with new businesses, and computing skills are much prized as a route to employment. The Academy has an intake of about 1,000 students, aged 11 to 16. An Ofsted report in 2010 indicated that the school had a larger proportion of students with disabilities or special learning requirements than is found on average nationally. Although the school was in a new building and had technology status, they were struggling to staff the new computing curriculum that had replaced the ICT curriculum in 2012. Not only were qualified teachers hard to find, but the computer science emphasis was also unpopular with the students, especially the girls.

Gaia have a large team of programmers, video production specialists, graphic designers and 3D artists who work alongside schools to develop innovative digital content and promote the use of media technologies. About thirty children visited the Gaia’s Studio Service team before the pilot started, in order to understand how digital creatives work. This visit was described as inspirational by these pupils, especially when the creatives worked alongside them in the project which they also videoed (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dz7r4Ighqgs).

In this cross-curricula innovation, the pupils produced their own versions of the Blood Brothers musical. Led by Tracey Ramage, the initiative involved teachers from four departments: drama, design and technology, art and music. The complexity of what was requested was very challenging and demanded significant planning and co-ordination from the company team. In this context, the digital media project was highly ambitious and carried a significant risk of failure. It did, however, succeed, because of the immense commitment of the individuals involved, including the students and the Gaia studio staff.

The success of the project was partly due to the fact that it was collaboratively planned by the company’s lead professionals, alongside a group of teachers. The project design was based upon an analysis of how content, pedagogy and technology might interact to provide students with an innovative learning experience. All participants, including the company’s on-site engineers, were well briefed and the sharing of information was good, primarily because of the internal school leadership of the project. The adaptability of the team and response to needs was also crucial.

Grassroots practice-based research questions

In the iCatalyst programme, schools elect to research a product or service they want to use or may already be using. Company funding is valuable in providing the kit and the skills training and often the expenses for cover and travel. But in terms of ethics, MirandaNet Fellows only accept research opportunities from companies who are willing to learn.

In a democracy, professionals need the tools to teach pupils how to make good judgements online, how to avoid addiction to their screens and how to spot fake news. Asking deeper questions and engaging in practice-based research that is published for others is one way of adding to our professional pool of knowledge about how to avoid the pitfalls and exploit the value of technology. At the moment, it is the education technology companies with vision who are offering a means of building professional knowledge through teacher-led research, thus ensuring that some teachers have the opportunity to take ownership of policy and practice.

 

In 2019 the MirandaNet Fellowship and The Association for Information Technology in Teacher Education (ITTE) will be merging under the title, Technology, Pedagogy and Education Association (TPEA). The aim of this new professional organisation will be to enhance the use of digital technology across the curriculum and the teaching of computing. Please get in touch with Christina Preston, TPEA chair, to ask about involvement in practice-based research: christina@mirandanet.ac.uk

References

British Computer Society (2018) BCS computer teacher scholarships. Available at:  https://www.bcs.org/category/19065(accessed 18 January 2019).

Davis N, Preston C and Sahin I (2009a) ICT teacher training: Evidence for multilevel evaluation from a national initiative. British Journal of Education Technology40(1): 135–148.

Davis N, Preston C and Sahin I (2009b) Training teachers to use new technologies impacts multiple ecologies: Evidence from a national initiative. British Educational Research Journal40(5): 861–878.

Leask M and Younie S (2013) National models for Continuing Professional Development: The challenges of twenty-first-century knowledge management. Journal of Professional Development in Education39(2): 273–287.

Pachler N, Preston C, Cuthell JP, et al. (2011) ICT CPD Landscape: Final report. UK:British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA). Available at: http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/id/eprint/1769(accessed 18 January 2019).

Preston C, et al. (1992a) Examples of iCatalyst Professional Development Programmes.

MirandaNet iCatalyst reports. Availabe at: https://mirandanet.ac.uk/icatalyst/examples-of-icatalyst/(accessed 18 January 2019).

Preston C, et al. (1992b) MirandaNet Associates’ Research. Available at: https://mirandanet.ac.uk/about-associates/associates-research/(accessed 18 January 2019).

Preston C (2004) Learning to use ICT in classrooms: Teachers’ and trainers’ perspectives. Available at: http://www.mirandanet.org.uk/tta/(accessed 18 January 2019).

Preston C (2015)Teaching and Learning: Using web enabled video technology to build professional capital through reflective practice, coaching and collaboration. Available at:

https://39lu337z51l1zjr1i1ntpio4-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Innovation-in-Teaching-and-Learning-IRIS-Connect.pdf(accessed 18 January 2019).

Preston C (2016) Inspiring Tomorrow’s Leaders: Moving from a computing to a digital media curriculum MirandaNet Fellowship. Available at: https://39lu337z51l1zjr1i1ntpio4-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Inspiring-tomorrow%E2%80%99s-leaders-article-copy.pdf(accessed 18 January 2019).

Preston C and Younie S (2016) Innovations in professional development: Real-time, in-ear coaching MirandaNet/De Montfort University https://www.irisconnect.com/uk/impact/research/ and https://39lu337z51l1zjr1i1ntpio4-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Innovations-in-PD-V9-1final-9th-Dec-2016.pdf(accessed 18 January 2019).

Schön D (1983) The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. USA: Basic Books

Younie S (2006) Implementing Government Policy on ICT in Education: Lessons learnt. Education and Information Technologies11(3–4): 385-400.

 

Further reading

IRIS Connect research publications. Available at: https://www.irisconnect.com/uk/impact/research

 

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