How teachers should tackle practitioner research

Despite initially feeling like an 'imposter', Mark Beetlestone learned how to immerse himself in his research project

Mark Beetlestone

Mark Beetlestone's CPD research project changed his view of FE

I was lucky enough last year to undertake a practitioner research project in conjunction with the University of Sunderland’s and the Education and Training Foundation’s SUNCETT project. I can honestly say that this research project was the best CPD I've ever done, and here’s why.

My research project allowed me total flexibility over the area I wanted to know more about. I was careful to select an area which was important to me as a practitioner and which would allow other teachers to access the findings. After scoping my project (and being reined in by my supervisor…) I had a clear pedagogical issue which needed addressing. I had a project which, if everything went to plan, would have some tangible, sensible and achievable recommendations for other teachers.

It became of utmost importance to me that my research was accessible to others; I didn’t want to cloud the meaning of it behind esoteric (ha! irony) academic language. I was told to tell a story through my research; if someone stood where I stood, they would see what I saw. I wanted to give a voice to the practitioners who felt voiceless and unrepresented.

Opinion: A master's matters for teachers - but in what subject?

Read more: New website launches to promote FE research

Background: Greening the desert of FE research is proving tricky

Educational technology

My research focused on the issue of the use (or lack) of educational technology in the classroom. There has been so much research on this that my real aim became discovering the barriers first-hand which practitioners face and recommending ways in which organisations can overcome them. We know it’s no secret that the impact of technology is great when used well, so why don't more people exploit everything that technology has to offer?

I found myself totally immersed in a world that, frankly, I didn't know existed before starting my research. I was able to reach a larger band of FE researchers (shout out to #FEResearchMeet!) via social media, asking for help and advice and reading recommendations. At times, I felt totally out of my depth and a total imposter as a non-academic… but I soon realised that everyone in the educational research community is extremely welcoming and the imposter syndrome is a phase everyone goes through.

Conversations became about the passion for improving a pedagogical issue, practitioners supporting practitioners, sharing ideas and advice. The project allowed me to branch out and connect with new people, people who had similar passions. From my experience, people tend to work in silos in FE - rarely do we look beyond the walls of our own institutions for help and inspiration. I found that research allowed me the scope and time to make valuable connections with other practitioners and really get to the heart of pervasive issues.

My research project inadvertently changed my view of not only my job, but changed my view of the FE sector as a whole. It allowed me to view things through a totally different lens, shifting my perspective as I uncovered and learned more about the fundamentals of what makes the sector work.

My expectations and predictions were totally subverted; I had made the assumption that teachers were too jaded and too negative to ever want to engage with innovations in educational technology. Instead, I was surprised to find that, on the whole, teachers were eager and keen to investigate and explore, they wanted to improve – they just didn’t know how to do so.

The findings of my research gave me some headline recommendations for organisations regarding educational technology. Practitioners need time and space for ideas to breathe and come to fruition. The technology shouldn’t be wheeled out as a flashy gimmick when observations happen, it should provide a tangible opportunity to create or enhance the process of learning.

Acquiring a new practice is an incremental process, not one which can be achieved by attending one training session. Practitioners value having time and 

I would fully recommend others to undertake a practitioner research project if you are passionate about teaching and passionate about the FE sector.

Mark Beetlestone is technology-enhanced learning and resources manager at Fareham College.

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Mark Beetlestone

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