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Why being ‘research active’ is becoming fundamental for teaching professionals in FE

That’s why Havant & South Downs College Higher Education Manager, Dom Thompson, encourages his colleagues to stay ‘research active’, and reminds others that it’s not as hard as you might think:

You could argue that learning and sharing new teaching practices is what allows the classroom to keep moving and evolving.

With the education sector continuously developing, it is fundamental for teaching professionals to stay ‘in the know’ with new ideas, as well as offering theories of their own.

I have helped pioneer research projects to present at events all over the world, including Finland, Malta, France, Ireland, Scotland, Spain and Sri Lanka over the past eighteen months.  

We have been actively looking at how we can become involved in different conferences to not only promote us as a College as researchers, but also to develop our staff.

HSDC has received research bids from bodies such as The AoC, The Education and Training Foundation and the Southern Universities Network (SUN), the secret is finding out where you can get funding from.

Sometimes you can put a bid in for any kind of research, but more often than not they have parameters around what they want people to research. You collaborate with a couple of other colleges to submit a bid, then you receive funding and do the project.

You sometimes have really tangible outcomes, such as the Teacher’s Takeaway, other times you don’t. The final, and most important, stage of the process is sharing what you have researched.

This enthusiasm for research has spread throughout HSDC, with lecturers Dave Galloway and Alec Dyer recently returning from Dubai after presenting their research on audio and visual feedback.

The audio and visual feedback project looked into the pressure teachers have in terms of how much they need to write. The research shows that in the time you could write 100 words, you could say 600.

We wanted to see if audio feedback can help the student make more changes and improve their work. The research included a trial with three colleges where staff were given time to complete traditional feedback with a group and then record audio feedback with another, and then survey which they preferred. We collated all that feedback together to get the findings.

The conferences aren’t just about presenting research, either. Many forward-thinking ideas heard at these events have been integrated into the HSDC classroom to benefit both staff and students.

What our staff gain from the conferences is brilliant. You can take an idea you hear at these events and bring it back to benefit the College.

I like to bring back a new idea and share it through the Teacher’s Takeaway or in a good practice workshop. For instance, from conferences and research we have been to, we have looked at self-organised learning environments, and now we are exploring the use of virtual reality. We have bought a 3D camera and 20 headsets and are experimenting with how we can use that effectively within the classroom.

The research we have produced over the years has been well received and it’s brilliant to travel and be involved in these huge conferences. I really believe it not only motivates staff but has a positive impact on the College.

I want to show people how easy it is, it’s not that difficult to put in bids and get funding and then to use that funding to apply to a conference and speak. It’s about being proactive and knowing where to apply to.

As well as the trip to Dubai, Alec and I will be travelling to Albania at the end of March to talk more about the concept of joint practice development and collaborative working.

In May, lecturers Martin Hoskin and Simon Bond will be visiting Istanbul to talk about Audio and Visual feedback, specifically focusing on Google Classroom. The College has also had another successful bid to look at the application of Google Classroom within English and Maths.

Having members of staff that are research active and speaking at international research conferences definitely raises the profile of the College.

It shows potential students and their parents that we are at the forefront of educational change and our staff are constantly innovating their approaches to teaching.

The opportunity to stay research active in the education sector is out there, it is just whether or not people want to grab it.

Dom Thompson, Higher Education Manager, Havant & South Downs College

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