I'm all out for higher education research into further education, but there's actually so much research going on in FE that isn't seen. What isn't seen isn't valued. We, the FE practitioners carrying out important research, need to value ourselves and our work, and speak up and be heard.
I have completed an Open University module in English grammar, as part of my own CPD, and I was required to do an action research project. It was a wonderful opportunity to investigate a real issue I was encountering in my classroom, and yet my action research wasn't read by anyone in my workplace.
Looking back, I don't even remember if anyone knew I was doing it or if I ever tried to share it. There just wasn't an infrastructure in place to enable me to do so. But I live by what I learned, and it's evident in my continued development as a teacher and as a literacy specialist. And now – through Twitter and blogging – I can share my work with others and speak out to inspire others.
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Trying something new
Blogging was quite a step for me. In fact, it took me more than four months to post after first setting up my blog. I’m sure there are others out there in a similar boat – with a good idea or a research angle they are interested in following up. But we convince ourselves that it’s “not for people like us”. I think this imposter syndrome is totally normal when trying something new, and yet, if we don’t make the first steps, we’ll never know what’s possible.
For me, my confidence built with each blog post. I was able to share my blog through the contacts I had made by taking part in CPD activities on Twitter, such as #ukFEchat. Once you make that step, and others are interested, it’s amazing how empowering it can be. You find that you do belong after all.
I don’t believe my own experience of feeling isolated in FE research is unique. Last year, a colleague completed her master's degree. I was the only person in the entire college who asked to read her thesis, even though it directly related to her team and the problems they faced (with a course in intensive care). This seems ludicrous to me: other than the obvious valuing of the master's, which the college had funded, why should more people not benefit from the expertise of her research?
Lack of confidence
Is the issue one of confidence? Are we, in FE, suffering from imposter syndrome when it comes to research? Or could it be the lack of structure? Is it that, actually, none of us is able to access research in its whole form, so we need to find an alternative, accessible approach?
This is the gap that FE research meets and groups are beginning to plug. The fact that these are sector-led feels even more important to me, as it gives us all an opportunity to engage, participate, and disseminate our learning. The Bedford College Group Research Network blog, where this article was first published, is an excellent example: a vehicle to disseminate research in an easy and accessible way.
Furthermore, there are other accessible tools for the busy practitioner that are within reach, and are neither expensive nor inaccessible. For example, through being a member of the Society for Education and Training, I am able to access a huge research database, including conference papers and journals. Membership of the Association for Research in Post-Compulsory Education is free, as is their journal. Many FE colleges subscribe to academic journals in the subjects they teach, enabling staff to access them both in a paper-based form and online.
Set our fears aside
I suggest we put our fears aside and benefit from the lessons we can learn. There is so much evidence-based learning out there: expertise for FE, from within FE. There are wonderful opportunities for building communities of practice, both online and in the real world.
Twitter and blogging are enabling people to connect across colleges, across sectors, across divides. To compliment this, we now have FE research meets and groups to bring this emerging body of work together, so that it doesn’t get lost in the clamour of information out there. The first step for researchers in FE is using our voices. The second step is making sure they are heard.
Kerry Scattergood is an adult literacy specialist and functional skills English tutor at a college in the West Midlands