• An accelerated practitioner research approach (APRA) for leaders and managers

      Wall, Tony; Leonard, Dilys T.; University of Chester (2012-01-31)
      Negotiated work based learning pedagogies can be used to successfully engage busy professionals in higher level learning at universities, across professions and disciplines. Within this approach, professionals become familiar with designing, implementing and evaluating work based projects which contribute towards their degree. Yet when these professionals move from the familiar work based learning approach to ‘research’ (and particularly ‘insider-research’), they can experience significant challenge. There are a number of reasons for this: perceptions of (and beliefs about) ‘research’ as being objective/from the outside, diversity of approaches and language in research texts – and most significantly – the ‘extra layer’ of thinking of persuasive systematic inquiry (including focus, rigour and validity). In order to overcome this challenge, an accelerated approach has been developed and tested in practice to enable professionals to design rigorous practitioner research. An action research approach approach, drawing on appreciative inquiry and grounded theory, involved peer questioning, validation and idea development. Each cycle generated a new set of tools and approaches over time, including the design of a new ‘core process’, key questions, faciliated workshop, learning materials and re-development of the module specification. Within the ‘situated’ model, the professional starts/focuses on problems or areas for development in their own practice (not academic ‘gaps’) and adopts a ‘critical-practical’ philosophical lens. The ‘core process’ includes the professionals: in stage 1, reviewing context for desirable changes, reviewing external sources for insight and direction, and defining research purpose and research questions; and in stage 2, defining research approach, data collection and data analysis methods. We have found the following changes so far: professionals are more confident in designing and critiquing practitioner research; research designs are more focused, persuasive, realistic, rigorous and focused on ‘situated knowledge’; and designs are more strategically located within organisations. We also expect greater strategic impact when the designs area implemented.
    • An accelerated practitioner research approach for professionals: A study

      Wall, Tony; Leonard, Dilys T.; University of Chester (2011-11)
      Negotiated work based learning pedagogies can be used to successfully engage busy professionals in higher level learning at universities, across professions and disciplines. Within this approach, professionals become familiar with designing, implementing and evaluating work based projects which contribute towards their degree. Yet when these professionals move from the familiar work based learning approach to ‘research’ (and particularly ‘insider-research’), they can experience significant challenge. There are a number of reasons for this: perceptions of (and beliefs about) ‘research’ as being objective/outside, diversity of approaches and language in research texts – and most significantly – the ‘extra layer’ of thinking of persuasive systematic inquiry (including focus, rigour and validity). In order to overcome this challenge, an accelerated approach has been developed and tested in practice with professionals across professions and disciplines, to enable them to design rigorous practitioner research. Data is drawn from one of the largest centres for negotiated work based learning. Procedure and/or instruments : This study draws on practice and data from the University of Chester’s Centre for Work Related studies, one of the largest providers of negotiated, work based university-level learning, globally. Academics at the Centre worked with practitioners who were studying the ‘Research Methods for Work Based Learning’ module as part of their work based learning undergraduate or postgraduate degree. The module delivery team developed facilitative approaches and tools through multiple action research cycles over the last two years. Each cycle involved a grounded, appreciative inquiry approach by the delivery team (four academics), and the wider Centre for critical peer questioning of evidence and logic, peer validation and idea development. Each cycle generated a new set of tools and approaches over time, including the design of a new ‘core process’, key questions, faciliated workshop, learning materials and re-development of the module specification. The latest version is openly shared and critiqued. What are the findings and interpretations? : Critical reflections amongst the delivery team highlighted the initial challenges above. As a result, a new approach was defined based on a ‘situated knowledge’ model, whereby the professional focuses on problems and developmental areas in their own practice (not academic ‘gaps’). With such a ‘critical-practical’ philosophical underpinning, a new ‘core process’ and key questions was developed. The ‘core process’ includes the professionals: in stage 1, reviewing context for desirable changes, reviewing external sources for insight and direction, and defining research purpose and research questions; and in stage 2, defining research approach, data collection and data analysis methods. We have found the following changes so far: professionals are more confident in designing and critiquing practitioner research; research designs are more focused, persuasive, realistic, rigorous and focused on ‘situated knowledge’; and designs are more strategically located within organisations. We are also expecting greater strategic impact when the professionals implement these designs.
    • Commodification in practitioner research

      Wall, Tony; University of Chester (2011-11)
      Action research can be described as a family of approaches and methodologies rather than a well-defined, particular form of enquiry. One strand of ‘relations’ within that family is first-person action research (FPAR), sometimes referred to as self-inquiry or self-study. A growing literature on ‘quality’ in this form of research indicates the need to be questioning and critical – and there are various tools and techniques available to do that such as cycles and models of reflection. These tools have been criticized for not being emancipatory, or actually reinforcing powerful ideological forces at work. This paper offers additional theoretical apparatus which enables the practitioner to glimpse into the possibility of ideological forces as play, and the choices that may become available once these forces become known. The theoretical ideas are drawn from psychoanalysis (Freud, Lacan and Zizek), in a form of psychoanalytical FPAR, in the particular style of Tony Brown and colleagues in the UK. Within psychoanalysis, the notions of the Imaginary, Symbolic and the Real create a situation whereby we can identify with *commodified* versions of things (not ‘real’ versions), which ‘miss the mark’, but which nonetheless create a view of the world and how we should act in it. Data from a particular case is offered from cutting-edge practitioner research whereby academics are working with commercial organisations. The case provides a living example of how the theoretical apparatus can helps explain some of the professional struggles and tensions of the academic, and bring supposed ideological forces into some level of awareness. Using the ideas, the paper demonstrates how the academic variously identifies with and understands his practice – caught between a desire to be a ‘client-oriented academic’ whilst governed by a drive to be a guardian of quality assurance. The approach is questioned and critiqued, with a view to create new approaches and ideas. We will: - provide data examples for 'live' interpretation, questioning and challenge - offer challenging questions throughout - ask for ideas and feedback throughout - be provoking, reflective and collegial
    • Developing a pedagogical model for facilitating situated learning: A study

      Wall, Tony; Leonard, Dilys T.; University of Chester (European Association for Practitioner Research in Improving Learning, 2011-11)
      Learning through workplace activity and workplace projects, as part of a university level qualification, is an increasingly common approach for practitioners to study part-time higher education. In facilitating such ‘learning through work’ approaches, it is appropriate to adopt a learner centred pedagogy which is grounded in that workplace, and which creates ‘situated knowledge’ (Lave and Wenger, 1991). As described by Gibbons et al. (1994), this can create ‘mode 2’ knowledge which is situated, messy, problem-based and trans-disciplinary – rather than ‘mode 1’ knowledge which is academic/theoretical, sequential and organised by disciplinary boundaries. In assessing such ‘learning through work’ approaches, we have identified three recurring practical issues: learners focusing on describing rather than critical reflecting on their work for new insight, learners rejurgitating theory, and/or critically reflecting on practice without reference to mode 1 academic knowledge. As a result, the projects and assessments were considered to hold greater potential for change. This study draws on practice and data from the University of Chester’s Centre for Work Related Studies, one of the largest providers of negotiated, work based university-level learning, globally. In order to develop the facilitation of mode 2, situated knowledge, a pedagogical model was developed and refined over a period of two years – with learners across professional fields and disciplines, across different ‘learning through work’ subject foci including negotiated project learning, stress and stress management, communication skills, coaching practice and skills, academic skills, research skills, and so on. Using a cyclic first person action research methodological approach (see Whitehead and McNiff, 2006), the model was used in group workshop contexts and one-to-one facilitation contexts with professionals studying work based learning degrees at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Individual feedback was sought after each interaction and learner feedback and grades for assessments were monitored. What are the findings and interpretations? The University’s distinctive pedagogical model (reported by Brodie and Irving, 2007) provided a starting point for the investigation. In trying to develop an effective and practical tool to explain and facilitate learning in mode 2 knowledge generation, another model emerged. Three distinctive aspects emerged based on Gibbons et al’s (1994) conception of mode 1 and mode 2 knowledge, in the shape of a triangle: 1. theoretical knowledge (mode 2 academic ideas, principles, theories), 2. critical reflection (questioning for new insight), and 3. the workplace (activity in it, as a location/space focus). During the development period, we have identified that learners place a high value on the model to structure own thinking and to help them articulate and structure the assessments. For them, it clearly distinguishes three important elements to pay attention to. Teaching staff have also found it easier and quicker to explain the mode of learning and assessments.
    • Eupneic inquiry and 'quality' in first person action research

      Wall, Tony; University of Chester (2010-09-09)
      Metaphorically, 'action research' can be constructed as a colourful group of powerful worlds, with different worldviews, including potentially different views of, amongst other things: who we are as inquirers, our relationship with the world/ourselves, what we should aim to do, and how we should get there. One world (or perhaps a beautiful lake within a world?) that has become particularly vibrant is the world of first-person action research (also referred to as self inquiry or self study). A particular strand within this world thrives off the 'lived experience of the everyday'. This strand can gel and entangle productively with notions and connotations of 'eupnea': a medical term for 'normal, unlaboured' breathing. A natural activity. An activity that allows us to create energy, and remove waste. Regulated utWsub-consciously, as well as consciously, second-by-second. It sustains our life, (usually) from the day we are born. Such an entanglement can create a notion of inquiry, which moves from a formal, Research Project space, into a more informal, everyday, live space. A space, which is occupied with inquiry for-life, with-life, as-life, and in-life. Through my ongoing research about 'quality' in such first person action research, a number of themes emerged, including: managing sharp attention-in-the-moment; critical questioning; cycles of action/reflection; exploring perspectives and interpretations; capturing 'thick, live descriptions' to enable readers to 'relive' the researcher's experience; being ethical; the use of others' voices to verify and/or validate; and issues relating to communicating 'findings' to others. More importantly, voices had emerged that articulated the notion of 'quality' in research as "taking an attitude of inquiry". This notion echoes the breathing notion, where the research becomes an ongoing activity, pervading, shaping and enhancing our life over time. This session tentatively constructs the notion of breathing inquiry as practices for life long inquiry as life long learning, and reviews the challenges of such a notion. It shares (and questions) the recent research undertaken on 'quality' in such lived inquiry, and glimpses at specific strategies and tools inquirers can adopt to develop and enliven current inquiries. It is hoped that the co-inquiry in the session will shape the notions constructed above.
    • Practitioner enquiry for busy professionals: An accelerated learning model

      Wall, Tony; Leonard, Dilys T.; University of Chester (2011-11-04)
      Leaders and managers need robust data and analyses in order to make strategic decisions, though often have to act without this data in practice. Yet traditional forms of academic research have struggled to appeal and deliver for professional leaders and managers undertaking real decisions in complex, changing workplace environments. Professionals can perceive academic research (or research as part of an university programme) as a lengthy, costly and generally irrelevant process – representative of the ongoing, so-called ‘relevance gap’ (between higher education and the ‘real’ world) in many countries. In addition, managers can make decisions about research (more specifically, a data collection method such as a survey), without wider strategic thinking about their position (and hence research utility) or what they are trying to achieve. In order to resolve this, a model has been developed for the rapid management learning of practitioner research methodology. The model has been strategically designed to focus on the practical challenges of professional managers in the workplace, so it draws on a ‘critical-practical’ philosophical underpinning (enabling emancipatory approaches to be selected when desirable for the professional), and has been constructed through an appreciative-inquiry and grounded-theory approach to action research. The conceptual starting point of the facilitation model is a key “change / problem / development” that is important in the managers’ professional context - and clearly specifying 'who needs to be convinced of what'. This is then creatively and critically explored from different positions and perspectives (both as-professional and as-researcher) – and includes appreciative scanning of existing sources of knowledge currently available to the practitioner, inside or outside of their organisation. This is then used to specify a precise research purpose and precise research questions. In turn, this helps the practitioner decide a desirable and feasible research strategy, followed by data requirements, methods for data collection and analysis, and finally, a schedule. This model has been tested and developed in practice, as part of an ongoing appreciative inquiry process, and the findings are presented. Amongst other findings, managers have found that their confidence in their capacity to make methodological decisions has increased. The findings and model are critiqued further and new directions are identified.
    • Workers researching the workplace using a work based learning framework: Developing a research agenda for the development of improved supervisory practice

      Talbot, Jon; University of Chester (E-learning Network of Australasia (ElNet), 2009)
      The article is case study of academic practice in respect of the supervision of research in the workplace by distance learners using a Work Based Learning (WBL) framework. Key aspects of the WBL are described including the role of technology in delivery. Drawing upon tutor experience at one institution and knowledge of practice elsewhere several conceptual and practical issues are raised as the basis for a planned research exercise to identify commonalities and differences in approach among practitioners. Ultimately, the purpose is to improve the relevance and application of workplace research by practitioners.