Academic and Practitioner-Led Research, We Can Learn From and Inform Both
Research Group Lead
Solihull College and University Centre’s project enabled students to engage successfully in online learning between their maths lessons. They changed “homework” to “preparation”, consulted with their students and adapted tasks. Class norms changed; students expected one another to prepare; they enjoyed the lessons more, worked harder and results improved.
Academic versus practitioner-led research
I think there is value in all research if the data, approach, and reason for the research is transparent. For some, academic research is more rigorous than practitioner-led action research, partly because of what is seen as the subjective nature of practitioner research, but it is important to note that academic research too must be read with an open and questioning mind. This is epitomised in a research study (Schweinsberg et al, 2021) where 180 co-authors used the same data to test the same two hypotheses and came up with 29 different results. Reflecting on the study, Schweinsberg states:
“Our study illustrates the benefits of transparent and open science practices. Subjective analytical choices are unavoidable, and we should embrace them because a collection of diverse analytical backgrounds and approaches can reveal the true consistency of an empirical claim.”
From the very outset our reason for researching needs to be clear to both ourselves and our readers. As per Schweinsberg et al, our practitioner research must embrace our analytical choices, as long as we are aware of and share why we are making these choices.
We can build our research and develop our own ideas by reading and learning from what others have done. However, as Dana (2016) states:
“The real world of schools and classrooms are not controlled settings, rather they are wonderfully messy and complicated places, making broad-scale implementation of any practice derived in a controlled setting inherently complicated.“
We must look for the diamonds and golden threads – we must not lose sight of our own common sense and the practical wisdom we and our colleagues have developed.
The Sheffield College‘s project set out to investigate if a more nuanced approach to undertaking weekly electronic diagnostic assessments prior to attendance at a weekly GCSE Mathematics Resit class improved learner motivation, confidence, and their learning experience.
“Interviews with learners and staff have been a rich data source. The challenge was to identify the diamonds and golden threads”.
Teachers make a difference
We teachers have no control of the baggage our learners bring to our classrooms, but we need to be aware of the baggage – it’s about more than the maths! What we can do is be the best we can. Hattie (2003) suggests that what teachers do accounts for about 30% of the variance in learner achievement. This is huge! I believe that practitioner research is a way to be the best teachers we can be. We must interface with both academic and practitioner-led research.
Bishop Burton and Riseholme College‘s project took a holistic approach to Functional Skills (FS) maths. They developed a blended learning environment that helped to give learners the confidence to risk being wrong and created a hands up culture where a comfortable classroom allowed deeper thinking and discussion around misconceptions.
“I think the biggest thing we have learnt throughout this project is that it is not just about the maths. We are all adaptable and resilient, but it helps when we know that we are not alone”.
I hope that the OTLA 7 reports will be widely read and discussed by the sector and by academic researchers. I also hope that the researchers involved in OTLA 7 will return to their reports and reread them in the future in the light of new and evolving research in and on the sector.