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Posts Tagged ‘research’

Contribute to research on “21st century teaching and learning for New Zealand students”

September 15th, 2011

It’s been a while since my last shifting thinking posting, but rest assured I have been quite busy. You may be pleased to hear that planning is underway for the 2012 Shifting Thinking workshop, and we hope to confirm dates within the next month or two  - stay tuned.

In other news, I am leading a new project called Supporting 21st century teaching and learning for New Zealand students. The project aims to develop a vision for what future learning might look like for New Zealand students and to contribute to educational futures thinking and policy development. Further details about the project can be found on NZCER’s website.

If you are involved in education in New Zealand you may be able to contribute to this research.
We would like to hear from New Zealand principals, teachers, and others who work with school-aged learners (approx 5-18 years old) about their innovative educational practices and ideas for teaching and learning for the 21st century.

From mid-September 2011 we are inviting New Zealand schools that teach in English-medium, and others who support these young people’s learning, to contribute their stories of innovative practices and future-focussed thinking  through an online submission form , where you can also read more about the kinds of practices we are most interested in hearing about.

I also hope to contribute further blogpostings about the research as it evolves!

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Organising for Emergence (a new NZCER report)

April 15th, 2010

Quite some time ago I blogged about the beginnings of NZCER’s “future-focussed issues” research project, explaining that one of our initial aims was:

…to look for examples of what we’re loosely labelling “self-generating networks for knowledge building, learning, and change”. We are interested in how such networks form around … future focussed issues in both formal and non-formal education, with particular emphasis on how new knowledge is generated in these networks, and in connection with learning beyond school (i.e. with business, communities, youth groups, web-based social networks, etc).

We’ve recently uploaded a research report on the NZCER website called Organising for Emergence. This exploratory study describes ReGeneration ’09, a four-day gathering held in February 2009 which brought together young adults and secondary-school-aged youth with an interest and involvement in sustainability and environmental issues within their schools, workplaces and communities. A long-term goal was to help inspire and build youth-initiated and youth-supported regenerative action in communities across New Zealand. We were approached by the organisers of ReGeneration to form a research partnership around the initiation of this network, and Organising for Emergence is the resulting report.  It aims to represent some of the important ideas, processes, points of view and outcomes that we noticed as researcher-participants in ReGeneration ’09. By reflecting back these ideas and outcomes to the people involved, we hoped to add to the ongoing learning and development that is occurring within the ReGeneration network. Naturally, we also hope that Organising for Emergence will be of interest to a wider audience interested in sustainability, youth learning and leadership, and social and educational change.

We see Organising for Emergence as an entry-point or a stepping stone into many of the ideas that we would like to continue to develop in the Future Focussed Issues project. The report is not an endpoint, but a beginning point for further thinking, research, and conversations. Over the next couple of weeks I hope to blog about some of the themes and concepts discussed in Organising for Emergence and I invite you to discuss these with me. You are, of course, welcome to download the full report, or simply follow the blogpostings and contribute your views as each new posting is added.

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Dark and disruptive methodologies

March 29th, 2010

We’ve had a group interview now where some of us inside NZCER who blog here talked about the different ways this blog space shifts our thinking about what it means to conduct qualitative research. One of the key issues that arose was about purpose, about what our purpose was for being here, what your purpose is for showing up, and why we might want to do research differently in the first place. Rachel has already blogged about the purpose of this website (and used the cool idea of “cognitive surplus”). The thing the focus group left me wondering about, though, was the purpose of educational research in general and the ways that blog spaces like this one could be a disruptive and potentially frightening innovation in the world of educational research.

This website-and the conversations that are happening at NZCER because of the website and because of the AERA paper—opens up the possibility for people that there is a new thing afoot, a new way of doing and thinking about research. For some folks (like Rachel, as you may have noticed) that’s a thrill, a buzz, a fun ride. For others (maybe like me?) it’s a curiosity, a thing that is interesting and a little scary, a roller coaster ride with more than a hint of danger. For others of our colleagues (including presumably some of those we haven’t talked to about it at all), there’s more than a hint of danger. For those in the third category, this way of thinking about research –even imagining that we might call this research in the first place—puts cherished ideas and practices at risk, and just might bring down the whole show.

For people who are in the second two categories (nervous but curious and straight-out-worried), this way of thinking about educational research dismantles many good things—and maybe creates ill-advised risks. These folks (which admittedly sometimes include me) think that educational research is untidy enough already—we have all these different perspectives to understand, the messy world of learning and growing—we hardly need to go searching for new challenges! And, let’s face it, it took us YEARS to learn to do research in the first place. Some of us are still paying off our student loans (ok, me again). We took our training seriously and we worked hard to be researchers, and now we have this website where the boundaries get blurred and you can hardly tell the researchers from the researched (and in this project, you can’t tell at all).

There’s a way this reminds me of the “disruptive innovation” idea from Clayton Christensen, that truly reforming innovation has to disrupt and unsettle the entire enterprise.  He says (on his website): that disruptive innovation:

describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves ‘up market’, eventually displacing established competitors.”

A key example is the way personal computers totally displaced the enormous mainframe computers and drove those who were successful to the bottom of the food chain. In an established market, those who are already successfully in the inner circle tend to remain successful until the disruptive innovation climbs in (think regular phones to cell phones, Walkmans to i-pods). Then the new guy, with the new innovation, knocks the old guy off the perch.

The idea is that those who are currently successful get complacent, tinkering their way toward a better and better product rather than reimagining the whole enterprise.  In this way, success actually diminishes innovation and limits the scope for what could be possible. The new, disruptive folks make use of new technologies. They imagine new customer groups, people who were not served in any way by the original product or service. In rethinking the whole idea, they create new markets and new products which are often less sophisticated but are more useful in their own way. Could educational research be like that? Could shiftingthinking.org be a disruptive force?

Is this blog meant to be “selling” educational research, in chatty, blog-bites, to a whole new set of “customers”? And what does that mean for how we think about what we do? What does that mean for the fact that now anyone with a computer can engage with our findings, our analysis, our careful thinking? What does it mean to us that we put thinking out there before it’s even gotten very careful yet? (Or that some of us feel comfortable doing this and some of us don’t.) What is the purpose for the upmarket educational research, conducted by people with years of training, which leads to thoughtful, reflective, carefully-produced products (= journal articles, research reports, occasional resources)? What is the potentially disruptive purpose of the research we talk about in this space? Do we want to build on what has come before or dismantle it?

In the focus group, one of us talked, in moving and lovely ways, about having shiftingthinking.org and its publish-then-filter activities challenge old ways of thinking about and engaging in research. Even more, it challenged “Everything I would have believed for most of my life.” That person was open and engaged with this task, but still, that challenge is a big ask. What are we gaining by asking researchers to reconceive the enterprise? In what ways does educational research need to be disrupted? And in what ways are we losing something precious by changing the way we think about and engage in research?

AERA paper due in just over a week. Your comments are helpful constantly.

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Wondering what’s next

March 8th, 2010

Ally and I have finished up our current round of data collection on the Teachers’ Work project, and are just trying to decide what might be next for us. We thought maybe we’d bring some of our questions and our thinking to this group to see if anyone else wanted to think alongside us.

When this project began, we were interested in how teachers made sense of their work, especially how teachers who were interested in 21C ideas made sense of it. We wanted to know how real teachers were thinking about what 21C education might be, how they were teaching in their schools, how they made sense of having ideas in the first place. We’ve done some of that, decided other bits were too big, and been confused and enlightened along the way. Now we’re trying to figure out what might be next for us.

We’re interested in the way that individual teachers make sense of their context and their aspirations for the future, and we’re interested in how that sensemaking actually shapes the context and what is possible for the future. We’re interested in how leaders shape their school contexts—and are shaped by them. We’re interested in where the power lies in the system—where the shifting thinking could be most useful, most likely to make a big change in the way kids experience teaching and learning.

The question for us now is: what’s the question for us now? We know that we have not found answers to this big question about leverage points, and we know that very many other things are already known about teachers and how they think and work and schools and why they are so hard to change. But given all that we know, what would be useful for us to explore together? What’s the key missing question?

Now, Ally and I enjoy theory enormously. But this is a practical undertaking we’re discussing here. We want a practical way to understand how schools can change, not a theoretical model of how change might possibly happen. Usually if you’re a researcher and you want to understand something practical, you need to go out and look at something. We’re not aware of schools that have really made it in this regard, schools that everyone knows have transformed teaching and learning so that younger people and older people (inside and outside the local school) experience a different kind of education. You readers might know about those schools, and might be able to say, School X has totally transformed. We’d like to hear from you about School X.

What we’re more familiar with, and we’re guessing you’re more familiar with, are schools that are trying to change. We could name dozens of schools with fantastic older and young people, who are trying to reshape the way teaching and learning and schooling happens. We know of communities where this is contentious, communities where this is invisible, communities where this is deeply supported. But all the ones we know would say that they’re on a journey, that 10% or 40% or 60% of the students/teachers/community members are on board. But we don’t know anyone who has arrived, and we don’t know anyone who isn’t fighting madly along the way.

So, if there are no models to say “this is where we’re going,” we can’t research those.  Indeed, what Ally and I think might be true is that we’re on a journey for which there is no “arrival,” no 100% on board.  We’re moving into an unknown future, trying to take a whole bunch of people who care a lot about schools along with us, and we don’t really know where we’re going. This makes for a tricky research question.

We wonder if you might help. We have an unresearchable question like: “How do you support yourself and others to move into an unknown future?” Now we wonder what questions you have about this whole topic that we might be able to engage with in order to figure out how we’re thinking about things and what we might do next. This is a question that needs a lot of heads thinking together for us to ask just the right question. Will you lend us your head, your questions?

Future focussed issues, Shifting research, Shifting schooling, Teachers' work , , , , , , , , ,

Blurry lines

February 22nd, 2010

Rachel has been writing about our AERA paper and project, and she’s been thinking about how we came to be at this place as a collective—you and me, all of us here at NZCER, all of you who were at the conference, all of us who blog or read or lurk or comment.

I’m thinking today about the methodological implications of what we’re doing here, about what it means to conduct and share research this way.

Some of you who read and write here have been participants in our research projects. Some of you have been researchers. This website means that suddenly, all of us are both—part of the research (into this grand experiment) and also part of the researchers. This makes for rather blurry lines, as Rachel has written about in the ethics blogs. It also makes for blurry lines in the methodology.

When I was a grad student learning research, my teacher (the brilliant and fantastic Reba Page) talked with us about the ways our question and our data collection and our analysis plan all needed to link up and connect our ideas together in a coherent package. We weren’t to make the mistake many researchers (still) make where we had a research question, a favourite research method, and a favourite analysis theory or method which were unconnected to one another except through us, as though we picked them from three different hats. (It always reminded me of those little board books my kids played with, where you could get the head and shoulders of one animal, the midsection of another, and the legs of a third—all now creating an entirely new creature.) This is no easy feat, or else everyone would do it. It has the researcher as a thoughtful composer of the research, intentionally layering on one piece after the next, being sure each instrument is in harmony and each contributes to a rich and satisfying—and trustworthy—piece of research.

What we are finding now as we play with this new kind of research is that it’s more like inviting a whole lot of people to a jam session than composing a concerto. Here we have much less control than we had once. We go public with our research questions at the beginning, and others begin to shape them with their questions. Is this the research design stage or are we already collecting data? We go public with our initial analysis, and others start to reanalyse—sometimes even those who were research participants in the first place. When one of your research participants begins to add new categories to your codes, is that more data or is that analysis? And is that research participant now a research partner in a different way? What principles or techniques do we use to choreograph the whole performance of the research?

All of this means that the typical pieces we’ve long thought of as research stages—which yes, we always knew weren’t iron clad or utterly bounded—are more fuzzy than ever. We used to know when data collection was (mostly) finished and analysis and drafting of outputs had begun. Now we put those initial ideas out (does that make it an output?) and others comment (does that make it data?) and we rethink and reshape (more analysis!). The filter-then-publish world has some great benefits in its clarity.

Of course, even before the internet, some people were wrestling with these issues. When I was in grad school, we published Reba’s sophisticated and courageous piece of research about what happened when she reported her findings to research participants who might not like what she had found (Page, Samson, & Crockett, 2000).  Still, Reba kept control of the process—it was hers—even as she shared that control with others. How do we negotiate control with you in this blog space? How do we share with you things you might not like to hear? How do you tell us things we might not want to hear? (And how do we do this in an international setting which is also still mostly the intimate New Zealand society where we may well know one another in several different contexts?) How do we stay courageous and help you be courageous too (and how can we en-courage each other)? And what does this mean about power and the creation of knowledge and what is good and trustworthy research?

See, I don’t know the answers to these questions, but together we can play with them. Or maybe you could add new ones. I’m not sure what phase of research this is, but it does seem to be helping to shift my thinking about research…

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Page, R., Samson, Y., & Crockett, M. (2000). Reporting ethnography to informants. In B. Brizuela, J. Stewart, R. Carrillo, and J. Berger (Eds.), Acts of Inquiry in Qualitative Research. Cambridge, MA Harvard Educational Review.

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The ethics of researchers researching research

February 12th, 2010

Following our recent research announcement about writing a conference paper about shiftingthinking.org, it’s been exciting to see some of our shiftingthinking community members post comments of encouragement and interest. As promised, we’d like to keep blogging about this process as it evolves, and I hope that at least some of you will keep reading and commenting over the next few months!

So, what’s been happening lately? You’ll see from our research announcement that one of the first things we’ve had to think about is the ethical implications of our proposed AERA paper. Those of you who’ve done any kind of formal research will know that seeking ethical approval is a normal beginning-stage part of the research process. Those who haven’t perhaps don’t know very much about the kinds of ethical considerations that researchers need to take into account at each stage of the research process. I won’t go into too much detail here – as there are dozens of good textbooks and whole university courses that teach about research ethics – but I just wanted to write a bit about the ethics process “behind” our AERA research announcement because it was a little different to the usual.

At NZCER, as in most universities and other research organisations, we have a group of people drawn from within the organisation that meets to review research ethics proposals – our ethics committee. The normal process goes something like this:

  • For every new project, the project leader(s) write an application that explains the research, including quite a lot of detail about exactly what the researchers are proposing to do, how various kind of ethical issues will be addressed, and often copies of interview questions or survey questions or whatever other research tools are going to be used, etc.
  • A small ethics committee, drawn from a wider pool of researchers not directly connected with the proposed project, reviews all this material, has a discussion about any potential ethical issues they can see with the project.
  • The committee’s discussions and recommendations are conveyed back to the project leader in writing and a verbal summary, so that he/she can revise their project plans, research instruments, information letters, etc. to a point where the committee is satisfied and gives approval for the research to go ahead.

So the question is, what constitutes an ethical issue in research? And how is an ethics committee supposed to decide what is an issue and what isn’t? Broadly speaking, there are at least two ways a committee might approach this. The first is to be quite rule-based or guideline-based – i.e., having a checklist of all the different areas where there might be ethical issues, and asking project leaders to demonstrate how each and all of these will be addressed, and then having some kind of rule or guideline that the committee can use to decide whether the researcher’s plan is up to scratch or not. The second approach is to deal more at the level of ethical principles. This approach takes ethical thinking to a higher level, where the committee is working hard to uncover and critique the ethical principles that underpin a researcher’s proposed approach, and decide whether those principles – and the way they are being expressed in the project –are consistent with our organisation’s values etc, and whether they are the kind of principles we would want to carry forward into our future work.  Over the years, NZCER has been moving away from the former approach, towards the latter, and the depth and quality of discussions we’ve had about ethics in our organisation have increased as a result.

It’s lucky for Jennifer and me that all this has been happening, because our AERA ShiftingThinking research project could be seen as a bit of a curveball for an ethics committee. Firstly, the AERA paper asks us to turn the spotlight back on ourselves as researchers in a way that most of our other research projects don’t. Our AERA paper says we want to look at how this website has evolved “as a qualitative research methodology”. But we (and our colleagues) are the ones who generated this site, and a great deal of its content, in the first place! We’re both researchers AND research subjects. Further than this, shiftingthinking is a project that has involved the input of so many different people WITHIN NZCER, that there is an inevitable overlap with the constitution of the ethics committee that reviewed our application. In other words, some people are both researchers and research subjects, others are both research subjects AND members of the ethics committee that has to decide on the ethics of the proposed research, and so on.

Since this project is unusual and involves so many people within our organisation, our ethics committee decided to take a slightly unusual approach. Instead of having a small committee, the ethics convener invited all the people who have played a significant role in the ethics committee’s ongoing evolution to be part of the meeting. Instead of the project leader being absent from the meeting, I (as a project co-leader) was invited to the meeting to be involved in the discussions. And in those discussions, we talked about both the particular ethical issues that we could see within this proposed project (you can read how we address some of these issues in our research announcement), AND the wider implications of this project for our ongoing thinking about, and approaches to, research ethics within our organisation.

One of our colleagues commented that a key consideration for our ethics thinking ought to be to deeply examine what each project claims to be doing, and to evaluate the ethical principles  it instantiates in relation to these claims. In the case of the AERA shiftingthinking research project, our project claims to (at least attempts to) “shift the boundaries” around our own thinking about how and why we do (qualitative) research. It seems appropriate that it opened up an opportunity for us to reflect on and re-examine the boundaries of our ethics processes.

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21st century school leadership

May 25th, 2009

Firstly to introduce myself to this forum… I am Juliette Hayes, Deputy Principal at Waikato Diocesan School for Girls. I have been researching the work of futures-focused secondary principals for a Masters thesis, and I think this is a great opportunity to share my findings and have the perspectives of leadership for the 21st century aired and shared.

In defining futures-focused leadership I explore the extent to which principals believe  that the future is a place they can influence – not necessarily predict – and that they have a responsibility to do so. On analysing interviews with principals I identified commonalities in the characteristics, challenges and strategies of futures-focused leaders.

The first characteristic, I have found, of futures-focused leaders is that they each have a clear futures-focus in their work. This means they work from a place of vision, and encourage dialogue about the future with all of their stakeholders. Examples of this include focus groups of students who learn to use futures literacy in exploring their preferred futures, reflections in assemblies and prizegivings about the trends for society in the future, inter-curricular professional learning communities of teachers where resources such as Secondary Futures trend cards are used, and constantly introducing readings and reflections on the future  into the school community.

I found that this drive to be futures-focused comes from a motivation to challenge the status quo and question assumptions about what schooling must look like. This often stems from their own disappointing experiences at school, and a determination to make learning better for the young people in their care. It also comes from a sense of moral purpose, as the principals in my study feel that their sphere of influence extends beyond the school gates, and beyond the immediate cohort of students in their school: they feel a responsibility to lead towards a better future for all children in their communities, regardless of the school they attend.

The most significant driving force for the futures-focused leaders in my study was the potential for the NZ Curriculum to change the face of education, and to provide a paradigm leap into an education for the future. Each of them is excited by its potential, and frustrated by the perceived reluctance of some educators, communities and even students to accept that it is a shift, and that change must occur.

In fact, leadership of change was identified as the biggest challenge faced by futures-focused principals. Some had endured quite vicious personal and professional attacks in the face of leading changes, yet remained remarkably resilient and determined to carry on. As reflective practitioners they all agreed that there were things they might have done differently, and it was interesting to explore with them the improved strategies that they could share, having learnt from ‘mistakes’!

As an outcome of my research I have been able to compile what I hope could be a valuable collection of strategies, tools and theories that futures-focused leaders find helpful in their work. They are determined to keep creativity and innovation at the forefront of their work, and have some exciting initiatives underway at their respective schools.

I welcome any feedback on this, the essence of my findings.

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