The Education and Training Foundation Practitioner Research Conference 2014

Bobbi Capps

Bobbi Capps, who is on an eight-week internship with the Education and Training Foundation, attended the first annual Practitioner Research Conference in London on 8 July.


The Education and Training Foundation, in partnership with the University of Sunderland Centre for Excellence in Teacher Training (SUNCETT) and the East Midlands Centre for Excellence in Teacher Training (emCETT), held its first annual Practitioner Research Conference at the Mary Ward House in London this month.

“One should plan well and strategically but in order to innovate one must be willing to take chances. If we only ever do the things we know we will succeed at then how will we ever forge new ideas and hone new techniques?”

– David Russell

The conference drew around 100 trainers, teachers and practitioners from across the education and training sector, who delivered poster and workshop presentations on a variety of topics including assessment techniques and impacts, teaching methods, the use of technology, equality and diversity, as well as research in the areas of English, maths, and ESOL.

‘Research is a sign of a confident, mature, respected profession’, said David Russell, CEO of the Education and Training Foundation, who opened the event.

He continued: ‘The ability to produce meaningful research will further the sector as a whole, the individual practitioner, and maybe most importantly, the learner. A more well-informed practitioner, and learner, would result in a domino effect of improvements to how this sector operates’. He went on to discuss the need for teachers, trainers and leaders to be prepared to experiment, including running some experiments which may fail: ‘One should plan well and strategically but in order to innovate one must be willing to take chances. If we only ever do the things we know we will succeed at then how will we ever forge new ideas and hone new techniques? Thus, an innovative FE sector must experiment, learning from mistakes and experiencing success in order to keep moving forward’.

Inspiring words to begin the day! Attendees then heard from representatives of SUNCETT and emCETT, both of whom had supported the research participants in completing their research, before moving on to the poster session. One participant presented her research and findings on working with learners living with Irlen Syndrome, which causes eye problems for many people because it alters the way they see things. These symptoms often lead to poor reading comprehension, reading slowly or hesitantly, losing one’s place, taking frequent breaks or avoiding reading altogether. The researcher, Kerrie Young, of Key Training Ltd, was diagnosed with this syndrome just a year ago after unknowingly coping with these symptoms her whole life. Late or misdiagnosis is quite common with Irlen Syndrome making it difficult for learners and teachers alike to identify and fix any learning deficits. Her research on the use of colour overlays to mitigate vision difficulties was inspired by her own diagnosis. She stated that she would not have done this research, at this point, without the opportunity from The Foundation. Read more from Kerrie Young in her interview here or you can read more about her research at http://actionresearchkerrie.wordpress.com/

Another project, presented by Dawn Stockton and Joanne Mills of Gateshead College, explored the use and impacts of Project Based Learning (PBL) in FE. PBL is a phased approach to learning where academic assignments are presented more like employment assignments one might receive in the “real world”. PBL has been “linked to significant improvements in student test scores, attendance and classroom engagement” (educationworld.com). Stockton and Mills found an upward trend in retention, achievement and grade profiles. They also found learners were more confident, motivated, and purposeful, resulting in a more collaborative, respectful, and supportive experience. Find out more by contacting dawn.stockton@gateshead.ac.uk or joanne.mills@gateshead.ac.uk

Gwyn Chamberlain and Matt Finch from City of Bath College presented research on active questioning in the college classroom, using Questioning of Understanding by Engaging and Stretching Thinking (QUEST) prompt cards. They specifically examined the correlations between this type of probing and the empowerment and engagement of learners. While Chamberlain and Finch noted some limitations to their research (limited sample size and lack of investigation into possible barriers) they did find learners were empowered to question knowledge confidently, while facilitators were pleased to see students grasp topics more firmly and with greater depth with less effort from the facilitator due to the structured use of QUEST prompt cards. Find out more about this research project here: http://cobcquest.weebly.com/

Several other projects focused on how creating a collaborative learning environment positively affects the experience of the learner and the facilitator. Faye Powers’, of Leeds College of Art, project examined the use of timely and specific feedback to create process buy in from students. Find out more by contacting Faye.Power@Leeds-Art.ac.uk. The research of Aimey Adamson of Gateshead College was engagingly presented in an artistic way using many types of paper and colours to create a layered, artistic representation of her findings. She focused on the extent at which a collaborative learning plan (CLP) can build employability skills while quantifying the development of soft skills.

Other participants focused on classroom management techniques. Merv Lebor of Leeds City College researched the types of disruption tutors experience in the classroom. Advice was then solicited from managers on how to best handle these disturbances. Suggested strategies included: pairing experienced tutors with less experienced tutors for mentoring, genuinely listening to the student and finding ways, when possible, to modify the environment, and utilizing managers as neutral support for both students and teachers. To find out more about this project contact mervlebore@hotmail.co.uk. While Helen McDonagh, Diane Holmes, and Mike Rugg of WEA examined what enables practitioners to develop community in a dispersed setting. They found building relationships is key to creating this community. Mangers need to invest more in creating the necessary conditions this community while practitioners need to focus on engaging with other practitioners and leaders in their field to create a meaningful support network. To learn more about this project contact helen.mcdonagh1@yahoo.co.uk, dholmes@wea.org.uk, or mrugg@wea.org.uk.

These were just some of the well-executed and engaging research projects presented at this first annual conference. In total there were 77 research projects undertaken and 67 were presented during this one day session. The need for thoughtful research and collaboration with the space to make mistakes while seeking innovative techniques and strategies were key takeaways from this conference. As CEO David Russell stated in his opening remarks “(quality) research is the most fundamental aspect; the life blood of our profession”.  Here’s to another meaningful year of research!

Check out the Storify for this conference at: https://storify.com/E_T_Foundation/practitioner-research-conference-2014

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