Am I a Natural Researcher?
About five years ago I started to work in higher education on secondment. This meant that I could see if I enjoyed the job with the added security that if I didn’t I could still return to my class teacher job. It also meant that the university could see if I was worth it, and easily get rid of me if I didn’t meet expectations! I really liked the job and decided to stay, although looking back I do think that certain aspects of the job remained hidden to me, until my name was on the dotted line. One of these areas was the need to engage with research and, other the past few days, I have been considering whether I am a natural researcher or not…
Although I have always seen myself as a teacher/facilitator, when I started to work within higher education I became an academic. I always want to do the best I can possibly do in a job and one thing I was looking into over the vacation was what the ‘role’ of an academic was. It would appear that we are trifold in our role splitting our time equally between teaching (hooray!), admin work (being organised I don’t mind this) and finally – research. (I apologise if you think that order in which I presented those is incorrect, I purely did it like that to support the writing of the waffle). With hopefully the first two securely under my slightly loosened belt (summer holidays have that effect on me) I have decided that it is time to address the research aspect of my role. I recently attended a research seminar by Professor Mike Bottery, Dean for Research and Professor of Educational Policy and Values, University of Hull. The topic of his seminar was creating a sustainable research culture within faculties. Within his talk, he mentioned five different levels of researchers and it was at this point that I admitted to myself that, although I wanted to be the first one, I was actually closer to the bottom of the list of stereotypes. But have I always been at the bottom of the motivational ladder when it comes to research?
When I was teaching within the primary sector, I look back now and consider that I was probably researching all the time. As a practitioner I was constantly trying out new approaches, working in collaboration with other practitioners and even presenting to groups of people about what I had done/achieved. Indeed, one of the reasons I got the opportunity to actually move into higher education was from one of these presentations. So what has changed and why do I consider that I am behind in these area of my job?
Procedures and processes – When trying new techniques, interventions and resources within the primary classroom, there appeared to be little or no procedures and processes to follow. Ideas and suggestions came my way and I just thought how can I do this and off I went. I remember once I got a free visualiser from a company on the condition that I wrote a case study on how I used it and how it impacted/supported learning. Looking back I probably broke several ethical procedures. Although I know more about what case studies actually are now, then it was a piece of writing which I wrote up across a series of lunchtimes in order to meet the deadline and keep the visualiser! This lack of apparent procedures actually made things easier and maybe even more instantaneous. I often come up with a research question which I would like to explore, but I then realise that I need to read about the existing views about the question, apply for ethical permission and even consider the overall value of the research. I know that these procedures are essential, but I do feel that it has removed something which was once more…well…instantaneous.
The application – I’m looking back a lot while writing this waffle, but I think I was doing a lot of action research as practitioner within the classroom. Frequently I would explore techniques/resources in phases, responding to the children’s and parent’s views before continuing. I felt that when I was doing this I was actually working alongside the stakeholders to change my own practice. When I first tried the ideas associated with different ways of setting homework for example, I remember asking the children and listening to the views of parents before changing the procedure slightly in order to take on board their suggestions but always working towards a ‘better’ or more effective way of managing the homework set. This had an almost instant impact on the way I taught and then actually became part of my own ethos of education. I feel that research should have impact on practice and, after listening to Professor Jeff Gold talk about practitioner research, not always just be contributing to new knowledge but also contributing to practice. Again, seeing the impact of research on my practice as I complete my current research projects in higher education, would be something I would also like to adhere to.
Publishing and Value – It always takes a period of time to become established within a discipline or job. After completing twenty two years teaching within the authority in primary schools, people got to know me, my views and expertise. They might not have agreed with everything I believed in but frequently people would comment that they were considering an intervention or idea in a meeting and my name came up to work alongside them. I’ve only worked five years in higher education, and I still remain a small amoeba in the ocean of higher education. Not being ‘established’ is often a problem with research, especially when it comes to presenting and others seeing the potential value of your work. I attended BERA once, (British Educational Research Association) and felt completely out of my depth. Engaging in conversation with people with numerous years of experience within higher education was interesting yet concerning at the same time. I remember talking to a professor about technology (there’s a surpise!) and was somewhat dismayed as my thoughts about how it supports teaching and learning were dismissed or not even acknowledged. It was almost as if my views and ideas had little to no value. Being established within your field is very important but starting off in one small corner of that field is very difficult and sticking your head above the smallest dandelions (sorry I like analogies) can be difficult when researching – since you never know how brutal or low the blades of the lawn mower have been set.
It almost seems, after reading this waffle back, that I am impatient and hate red tape. This might be the case. I think what I need to do is change what my perception of research is. Although all the aspects which I experienced within the classroom are valid, it is through completing the procedures and processes that research gains the validity and value that I sometimes feel is missing. I also have to recognise where I am within the field. I am more than willing to except criticism – as long as its constructive – having a presence on the internet certainly encourages this, but although I might consider my thoughts and views ground breaking – there is probably someone else who has already researched this and has published their own results and conclusions.
I’m very lucky to have very supportive colleagues both where I work and on the internet. Although I’m not at the top of Mike Bottery list of research archetypes, I feel that I am ready to start the climb and, in another seventeen years (22-5=17 – remember I teach mathematics), I might be both known and acknowledged as a researcher within my chosen discipline.
I look forward to hearing your comments and ideas, please add them in the comments below or send them to me via Twitter(@iwilsonysj), Facebook, Google+ or email.
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