Home > Community engagement, Future focussed issues, Shifting schooling > Researching the future of education and community engagement: “hard fun”?

Researching the future of education and community engagement: “hard fun”?

August 31st, 2012

For many years some of us at NZCER have been chipping away at  the gnarly question of what it might take to achieve deep levels of community and public engagement with education – not just for the purposes of  engaging the community in debates around the perceived educational issues of today, but to start to collectively reimagine public education to ensure that it is relevant for the future. We call this “future-oriented community engagement with education”.

I’m very aware of the ease with which a term like “future-oriented” can be used to mean everything and nothing. For example, I’m fairly certain that almost everyone involved with education (including teachers, students, families, and communities) believes that what they are doing now is preparing learners “for the future”; this idea is so ingrained that it’s almost tautological.

But as I have discussed in a previous blogposting and in a lot of my writing, in my opinion most of us actually have a very poor set of  ”futures thinking” skills and tools. This isn’t necessarily a failing of our intellects, but rather of our own educational experiences and the fact that the human environment has changed (and continues to change) so rapidly that our basic default settings for thinking about and planning for the future simply can’t cut it anymore. To my mind we may as well just come  to terms with this, and with due humility,  just start getting  on with the work of assisting ourselves and each other to become better futures thinkers and futures-builders.  This is good work and important work, and really, really challenging work.  However, as an educational researcher I have seen how the inherent rewards of this kind of work are energy-building, “buzzy”, and above all, deeply meaningful for the people who are engaged with it. (Years ago at NZCER we  adopted the phrase “hard fun” to describe this kind of work, and it still crops up in our conversations from time to time).

That brings me to another question I’ve been worrying away at for the last few years: What is – or should be – the role of research in informing, supporting, critiquing, or evaluating the kind of future-oriented work that we are arguing needs to happen?  If education needs to change, what about educational research? Where are we positioned in all of this? Should we be trailing behind the changes  to document and make sense of them?  Should we be informing and directing the changes, or leaving it to others to pick up our work so that their work is “research-informed” and “evidence-based”? Is it our role to sit on the sidelines or to get in amongst it?

I think many people assume that research is about finding answers, but in my experience it’s  all about reaching the meaningful questions. If my theme question for 2010-2011 was, “what does it mean to take a future focus in education” then my theme question for 2011-2012 has been “what does it mean to take a future-focussed approach to research?”. This question has filtered through several of my recent projects; you’ll see it addressed it in section 1 of the Future-oriented learning and teaching report NZCER recently prepared for the Ministry of Education, and it’s picked it up and addressed it again in a new working paper called: What role might research play in supporting future-oriented community engagement with education?

The working paper builds on several pieces of our previous work, and in particular this piece by Ally Bull.

As you can see, my own thinking on these matters is still forming and changing and growing, and I’d be interested to hear any thoughts from educators, researchers, or anyone else who is interested in discussing this!


Community engagement, Future focussed issues, Shifting schooling , , ,

  1. | #1

    Thanks Christopher, that’s amazing feedback to receive! And also, rekindles my fire to keep doing the thing that you have found valuable – i.e. keeping “the doors open” (so to speak) on our reflective research processes. It is really so essential that people like you keep participating and contributing to what’s developing on leading edges of educational thinking and practice. I see this as a very reciprocal kind of relationship; I would like to think that 21st century research is a combination of “with, for, and by” the community of practice that is engaged in the work of future-oriented education. Please feel free to share more about your work!

  2. | #2

    Sitting here in front of my computer, feverishly preparing my websites and materials for another exciting year working at my beautiful little school in London, I received and read this entry almost as soon as it was published. I want to reply straight away.

    I’m engaged in a bit of ‘hard fun’ right now, working day and night to create something special for the students with whom I am so deeply engaged. I love what I do.

    Without the confidence that has come to me through my engagement with educational researchers such as you and the team at the NZCER, though, I would never have had the self-belief and willingness to risk that I do. I needed the stimulus, the thoughtful questioning and the sense that some questions can and will be answered (or already have been) in order to approach my day to day work with the vigour and ambition that I do.

    Like many things, it’s not just the product of your research, but the engagement in your process that has been of such great use to me.

    One way you are future-focussed as a researcher is that you admit all who would want to contribute to your research reflective process, and in doing so, you enrich our experience of working in the field that you support. It also puts us in a position to advocate for the implementation of the findings of the research you do – partly because we understand it, but also because we have a sense of ownership over it.

    I salute you and your work. There’s nothing here like it!

    Christopher Waugh

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