While FE is at the forefront of innovative learning collaborations, it sadly trails behind in research on such efforts, says Nigel Ecclesfield.
It has been my privilege to manage the Jisc (formerly Joint Information Systems Committee) FES-DRP (FE and skills — development and resources programme) over the last year.
And as the final group of projects finishes off its work, now is a good time to look at some of the lessons coming out of the programme and how this might link up with the Association for Learning Technology’s research agenda and engage more FE staff in research.
The FES-DRP involved 33 projects with 120 partners in each region of the UK in projects designed to innovate.
The projects used new technologies and recycled public resources to make them more accessible to learners and staff through networks and mobile technologies using them to reach wherever learner technology might be used e.g. at work and on public transport.
Products already available to the sector include new apps for disengaged learners of maths and English, personal timetabling in colleges, augmented reality (AR) materials in plumbing, a complete video glossary of British Sign Language on video for the level one and two awards and materials using Near Field Communication Codes to create flexible learning environments.
There was also a suite of access tools on the web, which includes Access YouTube, and teaching and learning materials for dementia care with an app to ensure the latest developments in dementia care can be offered in FE providers alongside work in the NHS and with charities.
What stands out is the number of collaborations in this programme joining up national bodies such as the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, the NHS with providers from across the sector be they independent specialist colleges, FE colleges, independent work-based learning providers, adult and community learning providers, FE colleges and partners from business, or other public bodies such as the BBC, and universities.
However, what concerns me is that research into the impact of these projects is more likely to be carried out and written for publication by staff in higher education as practitioner research in FE is not often seen in academic journals, as recent research to be reported at ALT-C will show.
The Journal of Further and Higher Education and Research in Post- Compulsory Education, while publishing more than 50 per cent of their papers with a focus on UK FE, rarely have more than 6 per cent of their authors who work in the sector — a proportion that is gradually decreasing.
With the growth of higher education in FE in the decade from 2000, it might be expected that the amount of research originating and written in the sector would increase, but the reverse seems to be the case.
There are many reasons why research within the sector has a low priority. These include the nature of the sector with its focus on teaching and training and the small size of many providers.
But it is also the case that the sector has been the subject of more research rather than doing the research. With more than 90 per cent of research carried out by higher education or with consultants, the large amount of project work carried out in the sector is rarely reported systematically in the academic press.
Going forward, it seems essential to encourage and promote practitioner research both into the sector to support exploration and to change and find new ways of helping practitioners to turn their experiences into learning for themselves, their learners and their sector colleagues.
Encouraging journals to take an interest in practitioner research would be a good start, but promoting research as a professional development activity in workplaces would do more to encourage systematic exploration of sector activity. How do you think we can move forward?