Fostering a research community

 

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I am currently looking at ways of fostering an educational research community and thought I would share some of my ideas here. It is worth beginning with a definition of what educational research is i.e. ‘the systematic collection and analysis of data related to the field of education’. Education is a complex and multi-faceted field and there are many areas of focus for research, but I think the following are particularly important: student learning and the student experience, teacher training and support, fostering a variety of teaching methods, exploration of classroom dynamics, use of digital technologies, and learning across different contexts (formal, informal and non-formal learning). It is also worth reflecting on the main components of research, which are: articulating a research problem, developing an appropriate methodology, data collection and analysis, dissemination and publication, and identifying further areas for research.

 

I think there are a number of facets of fostering a research community. The first is to clarify a particular centre’s research distinctiveness. The second is to put in place a range of face-to-face and online activities to both support individuals and research groups and to promote the work externally. Finally, it is about putting in place a range of internal and external activities to align the work with related research. Research distinctiveness includes articulating the main areas of research, how they are related and any cross cutting themes. It is also important to clarify what are the main theoretical underpinnings and associated methodologies. The next stage is to build a research profile. This includes individuals describing their research interests and showing how these relate to the themes of the centre. Individuals need to be active in their research community, through participation in face-to-face events and through online activities. For example, a conference is an opportunity to do much more than just listen to the work of others or present research findings. It can be used to seek out and engage with other experts, to form collaborations, to get feedback on research work, to get an up to date picture of the research field. The face-to-face event can be complemented by the use of social media, for example following and using the conference hashtag, or writing blogs summarising some of the interesting conference presentations. Other forms of events include involvement in relevant professional bodies and participant in policy debates.

 

In terms of fostering and supporting staff development, a range of activities can be put in place. For example, supporting individuals to clarify their research interests, identifying targeted staff development and articulating and reviewing research targets. Workshops can be a practical means of developing skills. Examples might include workshops on writing papers or securing external funding. Seminars and webinars can focus on interesting current research, either by members of the centre or external researchers. Peer support is also valuable for example reading groups, critiquing draft papers or peer mentoring.

 

Nowadays, having a distinct online presence is imperative. This includes having a clear and up to date website. Social media is valuable in terms of the currency of activities and promoting the work to a wide audience. Of particular note are blogs and Twitter. A departmental blog can be used to both showcase current research and describe related research. Similarly, a departmental Twitter ID can be used to provide up to date news on the work of the centre. See for example the National Institute for Digital Learning’s Twitter stream. Individuals and research groups can use blogs and Twitter ID in a similar way.  

 

Once the centre’s research distinctiveness is articulated it is useful to align this with related research, both across the institution and more broadly. A vibrant portfolio of PhD students and visiting scholars really brings a research centre alive in my opinion. Research should also inform any teaching the centre is involved with and might also lend itself to the development of a consultancy portfolio. Externally it is useful to align with key strategic partnerships. In education clearly this will include local schools and collages, but might also include relevant local or international initiatives. Engagement with the broader research community is essential, this might include presentation at conferences, reviewing papers or undertaking special issues of journals.  

 

A research community doesn’t just happen… it needs to be strategically developed and fostered. 

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