When I started my role as the Online Learning Specialist at the Chartered College of Teaching in January 2018, I envisioned the range of online learning opportunities that might lie ahead for our members. It was clear to me that such opportunities needed to be relevant and meaningful to members; leading to positive and tangible impact on their work with students. We’d only truly know if we were achieving this if members were directly involved.
We decided to gather a small, diverse group of Chartered College members who represented all corners of the education sector. They would contribute to content we were developing and provide valuable feedback on learning technology-related projects we were working on. When we launched the sign-up form to join the group, I eagerly waited for the first response to appear. I soon recognised that I’d greatly underestimated the expertise and generosity of our members.
The Teacher Online Learning Development group is now made up of around 80 practitioners with interest and experience in learning technologies from across early years, primary, secondary, further education, higher education and other EdTech spaces both nationally and internationally. The group comprises student members, NQTs, and professional affiliates, with the majority (83%) being teachers and leaders.
This first blog summarises some of their contributions since March and the work we are doing to develop online learning for our members. We’ll seek to keep all members updated about their activity over the next year.
Engaging with and implementing existing research (online unit design)
One of the first projects worked on, led by two different groups of members, was to examine and provide feedback on an existing online unit design for members on the subject of ‘engaging with and implementing existing research.’ This feedback has been instrumental in shaping the design and continues to be referred to as we progress through the final phases of designing the pilot unit. The group’s contributions covered the purpose and aims of such a unit, the activities and level of engagement, as well as the range of sources it would draw on for content.
It was largely felt that this kind of unit was needed because teachers are either overwhelmed by the breadth of research available to them and need support to navigate it or they have a sceptical view of education research. Fads, gimmicks and falling for bad science were repeatedly referenced as why research engaged teachers and leaders will be more effective.
‘It can be difficult to know where to start in terms of finding suitable research material to inform best practice. Although there are lots of ‘popular’ education texts available about a wealth of different topics, it can be hard to sift through what is evidenced/research based and what is simply opinion.’
A number of comments referenced the need to make the learning applicable: empowering teachers to apply the findings from existing research to their practice.
‘My perspective is one of a trainee teacher. I have a desire to become an evidence-informed practitioner and I would like to start the profession focusing on practices that really work but I am still trying to understand how to access research and how to implement it in my daily activities. I think trainee teachers will benefit from focusing their time and efforts on proven techniques and will gain confidence from evaluating their own practice against research. Even at the beginning of our career I think we are already influenced by bias so being able to recognise it straight away may enable us to evaluate our practice and the feedback we receive in a more informed way.’
Our group members dissected the existing design; offering suggestions and additions to the content, activities, and materials it contained. Some of the highlighted areas included timing, diversity, motivation, fears, habits, bias, space for reflection and the importance of context:
‘By learning how to engage and use current research it will hopefully equip teachers to look at different pieces of research and choose the most appropriate way to implement it (or reject it) for their students and setting. What works in one school may not work in another – too often I have seen teachers try to replicate exactly what has worked well in another school without adapting it for their own setting.’
Now that the group’s overall feedback has been summarised, their detailed suggestions are being incorporated as part of final unit designs.
Carrying out research in the classroom (online unit design)
A third group chose to submit their own designs (using a provided template) for an online unit for members on the subject of ‘carrying out research in your classroom’. The designs were collated, analysed and summarised into three separate documents: a document that details the knowledge, skills and habits the unit should seek to develop, a comprehensive reading list, and a draft unit design resulting from their collective creations.
As part of this work, it was made clear that teachers might need additional motivation to engage with carrying out their own research within their classrooms. Suggestions were made to achieving this that included integration as part of an accredited CPD programme, achievement of Masters credits, submission of an article for publication in Impact, or including it within a wider nursery, school, or college initiative. Each of these suggestions, it was felt, would ensure the online learning would hold greater relevance for a practising teacher considering their workload than if the unit was offered in isolation where the impact on practice and students would be limited.
There was a wide range of knowledge, skills, and habits incorporated in the group’s submitted designs that have informed the draft online unit. These included: considerations of bias and ethics, writing a literature review and sharing an accessible final report, as well as the intricacies of data collection and analysis.
If you’d like to make a start on exploring this area, take a look at some of their reading suggestions:
- Bell, J. (2014) Doing your Research Project: A guide for first-time researchers. 6th edition OUP
- Hammersley, Martyn (1993). On the teacher as researcher. Educational Action Research, 1(3) pp. 425–445.
- Stenhouse, L (1981) What counts as research. British Journal of Educational Studies, Vol. 29, No. 2, pp. 103-114
- Wood, P et. al. (2016) Educational Research: Taking the Plunge, London: Crown House Publishing
This collected work is being developed into two online courses which will be available to members to access in the near future.
The contributions to our projects since March have left me feeling buoyed by the expertise and openness of our members and confident that in working together, we’ll reach our goal of relevant and meaningful online learning opportunities; leading to positive and tangible impact on members’ work with students. If reading this has inspired you and left you with the desire to contribute to future online learning work, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org