Using Profiling and Publishing

for the Upping of Scientific Approaches

2016-1-NO01-KA202-022060

Observations, Conclusions and Recommendations

drawn from the UPPScience Community of Practice Experience

2016-2019

December 2018

(updated March 2019)

Index

  1. Background and Context
  2. Purpose of this Document
  3. Observatory of the UPPScience Community of Practice

4.   Recommendations

  1. Background and Context

The UPPScience project is an Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership for VET (2016-2019) under the leadership of Norges Teknik-Naturvitenskapelige Universitet of Norway.

The partnership was made up of 22 organisations including Higher Education, Vocational, Mainstream, Adult and Remedial Education providers and a number of NGOs working in research and experimentation in education and related fields.

UPPScience built on the successful experience of a previous project called VISConti that was also an Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership for VET (2016-2019) under the leadership of Norges Teknik-Naturvitenskapelige Universitet of Norway. Most of the partners from VISConti are now also partners in this UPPScience project which has provided continuity and sustainability for what was started.

VISConti (2014-2016) started up a Community of Practice (CoP) for players in STEM and IT and related subjects. It also created a web based platform to host the activities of the CoP. The activities included the sharing of creative ideas in the Community after peer review by at least three other members. Players included students, teachers / trainers and professionals.

UPPScience widened the scope of the CoP and therefore the tools of the platform so that members of the CoP can publish mini research papers after peer review by two other members of the Community. This time however the target group is present and future players in education.

The mission of UPPScience is to help the target groups within the CoP and their colleagues and peers within VET and HE in general overcome the  perception that research is exclusively for the academic professions and researchers. It also helps players in education and industry overcome their inhibitions and to engage in research and publishing, through small but good quality initiatives in this area, within the safe but rigorous environment of a CoP.

The members of the CoP have to date produced 92 research projects  and publications and taken part in three training activities. Another training activity is due in January 2019 and the number of papers published is expected to rise to way above a 100 by the end of the project lifetime.

2. Purpose of this Document

This Document brings together:

UPPScience established an Observatory made up of a panel of observers of the dynamics and client experience within the UPPScience Community of Practice.

The Observatory took stock of the dynamic and the learning experience of the network and of the dynamics in the Community of Practice. Its activities ran parallel to the project effort to augment and animate the CoP that was started in the previous project. The panel exchanged reflections during training activities and meetings of the project and then included its reflections in the recommendations we are now making based on the UPPScience experience.

After each coordination meeting and after each round of training to date the partner ValIda and the External Evaluator issued questionnaires to the participants in the project activities to tap their feedback on their experience in the specific activities in which they were involved and in their general learning experience.

Face-to-face exchanges with participants in the training activities that also brought out interesting reflections.

The result of these internal and external quality strategies have provided background knowledge for the Recommendations published further on in this document.

Partners in the central management of UPPScience brought together their thoughts about the experience in the CoP from a management point of view together with the observations and participants’ feedback into a number of recommendations to ensure the overall success of this project is brought to more beneficiaries and to look forward towards higher quality education and stronger ERA that may result from the engagement of grassroots in research.

3. Observatory of the UPPScience Community of Practice

Observations on Participants’ Involvement

The word “participants” refers to members of the UPPScience CoP ie. mostly members of staff, students and members of the partner organisations.

The profiles of participants include:

The members in the CoP came from partner organisations and therefore, in the case of 14 of the partners, mostly from schools and organisations that already had some exposure to the CoP concept and dynamic. It is significant to note however that although most participants came from such organisations:

These statistics and discussions between the central partners in the project about these demographic characteristics of the population of the UPPScience CoP provoke the following thoughts and reflections:

  1. it is clear that in spite of the fact that more than half the partners were in the previous VISConti project a relatively high number of their staff were not aware of or were not even given exposure to the activities of that project,
  2. the strategy of UPPScience from the time of the proposal to make it a condition that the large number of planned mobilities of the project involve different members of staff of the partners was a golden strategy since it secured very wide participation and impact on the partner organisations,
  3. the issue of partners always being represented by the same person/s and having their Erasmus+ project activities involving a small nucleus of their staff is an issue not restricted to the VISConti or UPPScience projects but widespread and
  4. the same issue of lack of wide involvement of staff of partner organisations in Erasmus+ activities and mobilities and the adherence of the UPPScience coordination team to the plan of wide involvement did not come without challenges in the case of schools that could not surprisingly invite new teachers to be involved in projects activities and mobilities. Indeed some schools might not be able to benefit from the 6 mobilities allotted for them in the project plan and budget. Other partners on the other hand have already shown readiness to take on more mobilities than those in the project proposal.

From a totally different perspective the feedback from participants in the training activities in Romania, Malta and Italy (another cycle of mobilities is still due in January 2019):

  1. 88% of the respondents to questionnaires said that they found the experience in UPPScience new, innovative and refreshing,
  2. for 79% of the participants their engagement in research was either a totally new activity or they had not been involved in research since their university days,
  3. 34% could foresee using the same methodology in their school with their students,
  4. 92% admitted that their engagement in research and their success in finishing their paper was thanks to their being taken out of their context and placed in a controlled environment where they were trained (or retrained) in research methodologies, were given time to write and could have face-to-face feedback and peer review for their papers. They showed some scepticism about managing to engage in research out of their own will and without the discipline provided by the CoP and
  5. the template and platform tools for publishing of mini research papers (including the relatively low minimum number of words in each part of the papers) made the process of engagement in research more of a safe environment especially when coupled with the training.

These statistics show that:

Observations about the CoP Dynamics

UPPScience encourages participants to go beyond their comfort zone ie. to:

This observation was sought relatively late in the process and we do not therefore have precise numbers however the project coordinators took a random sample of 30 papers produced during or after the first three rounds of training in Romania, Malta and Italy.

Out of 30 papers:

This sample, when taken into context with the participants’ feedback after the training and their UPPScience experience inspires these thoughts:

Although an input from an operational point of view it is to be said that the structure of the CoP and the training activities offering a controlled environment for engaging in research and peer review were coupled by a financial and technical accountability system. In UPPScience the partners’ staff costs are being strictly linked to the publication of papers to further discipline and ensure engagement of the participants with successful publishing of papers and peer review. This may however have played a small part in making participants choosing peer reviewers known to them to ensure that they get their paper published. One may call this administrative and operational policy as a discipline from outside the CoP dynamic itself. The coordination team acknowledges that this aspect may have played a part in this dynamic however they are sure that this was not a central issue.

One final observation is about the choice of topics for the participants’ mini research papers and this is based on face-to-face discussion with participants during the training activities held to date. 26 participants answered the question about this in the following way:

This division creates mixed reactions between the need to inspire more discipline  in the choice of topic and research by inviting participants to inspire more creativity steering them away from choosing macro areas towards new areas of interest and being happy with the success in getting more than a hundred participants to engage in research.

Views on sustainability

It was not the mission of the team working to look into the general sustainability of the project but it has its own reflections on potential future sustainable action in so far as impact (medium and long term) that UPPScience has had to date on the participants.

From observations and from the feedback from participants in the UPPScience activities our conclusions are that:

Sounds like a long winding argument but one sees its value of same as foundation for arguments about the way forward for better sustainability of such valuable actions for a stronger ERA and better quality careers in education.

4. Recommendations

The UPPScience coordination team, based on the experience in the running and implementation of the project and on observations and feedback obtained from participants in the project activities, put together recommendations intended for policy makers, school managers, professionals in EU funded projects and other players in all sectors of education.

The recommendations made are closer to being ideas for more sustainability in continuing and widening the scope of the UPPScience experience.

Under pain of repetition the mission of UPPScience is to:

Recommendations below have been updated in March 2019 when further activities and discussions between the partners proceeded till the end of the project lifetime.

Recommendation 1

Based on the insights from the technical implementation of the project, on observations of the CoP dynamics and on feedback obtained from the participants in the activities of the project.

Recommendation intended for designers, evaluators and managers of education projects intended to generate impact on education providers specifically EACEA, Erasmus+ National Agencies and all players in national, regional and cross border projects.

When designing projects it is important to keep an eye on the phenomenon of one or two teachers or school staff who are involved in all or almost all projects including in meetings, training and local / internal implementation.

This may be because some teachers are more keen than others, make more effort in getting their school involved in such projects or because other teachers are not keen etc. ie. the opposite. The net result is that very often impact on the school staff and on the organisation is minimal and at times a far cry than what is promised at proposal stage in so far as such impact is concerned.

In the implementation of UPPScience the condition of partners involving different persons in the project activities including training mobilities that was laid down in the project proposal proves this point.

Some schools found it difficult to engage teachers outside their usual closed circle of members of staff engaged in most cooperation projects for a variety of reasons however these evidently including:

In the case of UPPScience the coordination team can vouch for having involved at least 90 different persons in the project and this with some rewarding feedback and it is therefore something that has worked in favour of reaching out and bringing out more education staff out of their comfort zone.

Recommendation 2

Based on the insights from the technical implementation of the project

Recommendation intended for designers, evaluators and managers of education projects intended to generate impact on education providers specifically EACEA, Erasmus+ National Agencies and all players in national, regional and cross border projects.

When designing projects it is important to create a discipline and to provide avenues for the coordination team to secure the promised engagement of all partners and at the same time to maintain wide ownership of the outputs.

It is true that in many projects outputs are produced by partners considered specialised in certain fields and it is true that for manageability it is necessary to give leadership and responsibilities based on such competences and experience. It is however also true that there are many ways in which project design can have strategies that involve as many partners as possible and as many members of their staff as possible.

This has worked very well for UPPScience with the bulk of the output being a gallery of papers produced by members of staff of all the partners. It has also worked well because UPPScience had the mission and methodology based upon the development of a Community of Practice and therefore the working environment lent itself well for this purpose of wide ownership and wide engagement.

It is not to say that all projects can have as wide an ownership as UPPScience. It is however good for project design for wide ownership not only by partners but also be members of its staff wherever possible to secure impact at organisational and individual level.

Recommendation 3

Based on the insights from the technical implementation of the project, on observations of the CoP dynamics and on feedback obtained from the participants in the activities of the project.

Recommendation intended for designers, evaluators and managers of education projects intended to generate impact on education providers specifically EACEA, Erasmus+ National Agencies and all players in national, regional and cross border projects.

When designing projects that are, as is always desired, to bring about innovation in education it is recommended to design activities and spaces in which participants are supported and at the same cocooned from distractions. It may very well be less diplomatically put that innovative experiments and exercises are best implemented in a disciplined environment that offers safety for participants.

In UPPScience the bulk of participation in project activities was by individual teachers and members of staff of all the partners in the engagement in a CoP, engagement in mini research projects and in the publication of mini-research papers.

Feedback from the participants was definitely in favour of the methodology used in UPPScience ie.:

Feedback from the participants indicated that these elements ensured that they engaged in and finished their mini research projects and indeed some expressed their doubt they could engage in such innovative practices without such a disciplined and structured but safe working environment. Hence our recommendation.

Recommendation 4

Based on the insights from the technical implementation of the project, on observations of the CoP dynamics and following discussions between the partners before, during and at the end of UPPScience when discussing sustainability beyond the project lifetime.

Recommendation intended for designers of training programmes for teacher education and innovation in curriculum design for mainstream, vocational, adult and Higher Education.

The application of the Community of Practice methodology works especially in the area of cooperative learning in research and this especially in the context of the strategies at European and national level for more engagement in research and for a stronger ERA. The method is also recommended as a further development and apt corollary to project based learning, cooperative and autonomous learning. Depending on the topic or area of interest covered by such activities and this especially if carried out within the context of cross border cooperation it will be the best possible strategy for the internationalisation of education. This will not however work without a recommended preparation and planning that allows for mentoring and support that structures and energises such CoP activities.

This recommendation is therefore not only for the use of the CoP methodology but also embark on same with ample preparation and planning ahead in so far as technical, temporal and human resources are concerned.

A CoP is not a network. It requires engagement and commitment from its members and structure in its activities.

During their discussion the partners took up the example of the Communities of Practice on the EPALE platform. EPALE is the platform for interaction between professionals and organisations active in the field of adult education. The platform has common areas and a publications area as well as an area of CoPs. These are mini discussion fora that one can open, give a title and host discussions therein. The thing is that not all that open a new CoP on the platform are ready to engage in ample discussion and it is pretty much voluntary. At first glance there may be little effective engagement that leads to outcomes.

There is a great wealth of information and insight into different aspects of adult education that merit better use and exploitation if only there was more structure in the activities within the CoPs.

The partners wish to explore future CoP activities that would be wider in the tools that allow more members permissions to start up activities in the way EPALE allows and not only as centrally controlled as was during the UPPScience project. It is maybe a secondary or supplementary recommendation to key decision makers in education to look into such new and viable methods and technological platforms that host such activities and into investment in resources needed to make the method work effectively.

Recommendation 5

Based on observations of the CoP dynamics, feedback from the participants and following discussions between the partners before, during and at the end of UPPScience when discussing sustainability beyond the project lifetime.

Recommendation intended for policy makers in education especially those responsible for in-service teacher education, designers of training programmes for teacher education and innovation in curriculum design for mainstream, vocational, adult and Higher Education.

During the UPPScience project activities teachers, trainers and other professions in other areas of education participated in a one time activity that, albeit with impact at personal and professional level, may remain a one time occasion. In order that this may become practice and in order that there may be more fluid interaction between members of the Community of Practice it is recommended that the platform (and similar platforms if the methodology is adopted using other technological environment) have tools that send out prompts when a new paper is published that has similar keywords, that is in the area of interest as papers published by a member or if it falls within his / her area of specialisation.

This is not an impossible task to implement technology wise since the platform, and all CoPs start from the professional profiling of its members and since papers published already have their keywords and discipline (sector of studies) attached to them. Something similar is already working on the academia.edu portal.

Such a tool would enable more reading of the publications of other members of the CoP, more reading of research in general and animate the CoP with less effort when it comes to animation of its activities.

It would in some way foster friendships especially if a further development would be for members to have the facility to follow the activities of selected members of the CoP etc. therefore upping professional profiles and fostering professional friendships.

Recommendation 6

Based on the insights from the technical implementation of the project and on observations of the CoP dynamics

Recommendation intended for policy makers in education especially those responsible for in-service teacher education, designers of training programmes for teacher education and innovation in curriculum design for mainstream, vocational, adult and Higher Education.

The participants, almost a 100, in the UPPScience activities were from education or from NGOs working in research and innovation. The vast majority were from education and this is estimated to be in the region of 75 of them. Out of the estimated 75 only two where from school management. Analysis of the reason/s for which school management staff having stayed away is recommended.

This may be attributed to inability to leave school management for a number of days etc. however the minute number is a possible indicator of other reasons including that school management staff do not see research as part of their necessary further development or that having attained management position in education they do not see much prospect of growth and therefore invest less energy in their professional development.

Recommendation 7

Based on the insights from the technical implementation of the project, on feedback from the participants and following discussions between the partners before, during and at the end of UPPScience when discussing sustainability beyond the project lifetime.

Recommendation intended for policy makers in education especially those responsible for in-service teacher education, designers of training programmes for teacher education and innovation in curriculum design for mainstream, vocational, adult and Higher Education.

Much has been said about the importance of instilling the interest in research, in engaging more professionals in research and in making research part of education. This has been well achieved in the UPPScience project. It is however recommended that further development and more tools be generated in order that it makes it easier for teachers, trainers of students in mainstream education, VET and other areas of education to exploit the UPPScience experience in schools.

This may be a discussion that generates questions rather than answers since while the possibilities of adopting research as part of education are without limit this is not always possible unless this comes from education policy be it in the form of support or formal settings in the national curriculum.

To this end the partners in UPPScience have, even after the implementation of all the training and publishing activities in the CoP, made it easier for educators to bring research into education by introducing a new area in which members of the CoP can engage in research and publish summaries of research they have read on the platform.

This enables them to let their students especially those in HE to acquire skills in finding the right research, read it with a purpose and engage in peer review. This gives more exposure to research, the structure of research papers, methods of collecting data and the drawing of conclusions. In this way the UPPScience partners have created an intermediate step to make exploitation of the platform more possible and it has already worked since this tool is now being used by another Erasmus+ project called RSVP in which youth professionals are reading research, publishing summaries and then engaging in field research before publishing their papers.