Gently down the stream(ing): Can digital literacy help turn the tide on the climate crisis? 

Gently down the stream(ing): Can digital literacy help turn the tide on the climate crisis? 

The ubiquitous availability of digital content and web services has transformed the way we live, work, and learn (List et al., 2020). Technology provides us with tools to manage and accomplish work, content to entertain us, and applications to document, store and share our lives online. It is within this context that digital literacy features prominently in policy documentation and educational literature, recognising digital literacy as an essential skill for 21st-century living (Pérez-Escoda et al., 2019). However, as we stand on the precipice of climate disaster, is it time for digital literacy to focus its attention on the impact our increasing digital activity has on the environment?

Environmental impact of users’ digital lives

In education circles, conversations around the impact of educational technology on our environment have begun in earnest (Facer & Selwyn, 2021), however, this is less evident regarding the use of digital content and tools in our day-to-day lives. The usage of streaming services, for example, has soared in recent years and while providers such as Netflix have improved efficiencies in these services, their carbon footprint is still significant (Stephens et al., 2021).

Our music consumption habits have also shifted away from physical media, but overall greenhouse gas emissions from storing and distributing music online have doubled since 2000 (Brennan, 2019). Social media activity continues to increase at a remarkable pace, and a significant carbon cost (Perrin, 2015), and popular apps like TikTok and Reddit have a disproportionately large carbon footprint. Our regular scrolling of ‘news feeds’ contributes carbon emissions equivalent to a short light vehicle journey, per person, per day (Derudder, 2021).

This online activity, coupled with our desire to store data in the cloud, means data centres account for 1% of the global energy demand (Obringer et al., 2021). The continued desire for the latest phone is also costing more than our wallets, with the environmental impact of the device lifecycle being well documented (MacGilchrist et al., 2021). Current figures suggest that over half of consumers in many EU countries renew their devices every 18 – 24 months.

In our work environment, too, our digital impact must be acknowledged. While conferencing platforms such as Zoom come with great environmental benefits when compared with face-to-face meetings and conferences, further efficiencies can be achieved by challenging ‘camera on’ policies. A seemingly innocuous task like sending 65 text emails can cost as much carbon as a short car journey, and when factors such as attachments are considered, the cost is even higher (Duncan, 2022). This snapshot reveals just some of the impacts of our digital lives, some of which our students are unaware of.

Current focus of digital literacy and digital literacy frameworks

An acknowledgment of the need to develop our students’ digital literacy has existed since Gilster (1997) first coined the term and defined it as “the ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of [digital] sources”.

Definitions of digital literacy have remained remarkably consistent in the decades that followed, focusing on the ability to source, evaluate and use digital information. In recent years, there has been an increased emphasis on content creation and communicating using digital channels. However, academic definitions of digital literacy lack any real focus on the environmental cost of our digital activities. In fact, there is little evidence of this aspect of digital literacy being discussed in academic literature.

There are many digital literacy frameworks available to help academics and other users understand digital literacy and its competencies. Only the UNESCO and DigiComp frameworks refer to the environmental impact of technologies and their use, and this is nestled under the ’digital safety’ strand. The range of digital literacy frameworks (e.g. DigiComp, UNESCO, JISC) and volume of journal publications suggests that academics and policymakers are committed to the development of digital literacy, however, it appears that the impact of our digital lives on the environment has been largely left out of the debate. 

Shifting our focus

Calls for action to avert a climate catastrophe are becoming more strident. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report (2022) paints a very troubling picture regarding the widespread and severe impacts of climate change. We must act now. We must adapt our practices and become more sustainable in everything we do.

I believe we can refocus our attention on digital literacy to guide our students to being more critical users of technology and understanding its impact on our world. Using familiar language and strategies, we might encourage students to identify their current digital activities and analyse their carbon footprint, before evaluating areas where improvements can be made. Students could be encouraged to construct new meaning from their investigations by capturing trends associated with work, study and social practices, and communicating these findings with a wider audience.

This shift in focus is essentially a repurposing of what we already ask our students to do with regard to digital content, but targeted at addressing the authentic and urgent issue of climate change. While frameworks such as DigiComp and UNESCO should be commended for including environmental impact, further development of this area should be encouraged.

Digital literacy frameworks should provide a detailed scaffold which encourages a multidimensional understanding of digital tools, their impact on the environment, and consideration of actions that can be taken to affect change. Developing this aspect of digital literacy would increase students’ awareness of the ‘cost’ of technology and promote a more critical use of the tools and services they use in their day-to-day lives.

Conclusion

The coming years present major challenges for society to tackle the climate emergency. It is crucial that we shift our mindset and begin to understand the impact our actions have on the environment, and make the necessary changes to recalibrate our relationship with nature.

Changes are required in all aspects of our lives, from energy and waste, to the provision and rewilding of natural spaces. While a refocussing of digital literacy and digital competencies in this way is not the panacea to the situation, it can act as a move in the right direction, one more component of our lives where we begin to understand and address our toll on the environment.

The post is an abridged version of an article in the upcoming (October 2022) issue of the Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy

Key Messages

Society’s use of digital and online content is increasing

Digital literacy is recognised as a set of competencies for this digital world

Our day-to-day use of technology has an environmental impact

Digital literacy definitions and frameworks largely ignore the environmental impact

We should begin including environmental impact in our digital literacy definitions, frameworks, and discussions

Dr Peter Tiernan

Dr Peter Tiernan

Assistant Professor in Digital Learning and Research Convenor for the School of STEM Education, Innovation and Global Studies in the Institute of Education at Dublin City University.

Peter is an Assistant Professor in Digital Learning and Research Convenor for the School of STEM Education, Innovation and Global Studies in the Institute of Education at Dublin City University. He lectures in the areas of digital learning, digital literacy and entrepreneurship education. His current research focuses on digital literacy at post-primary and further education level as well as entrepreneurship education for third level lecturers and pre-service teachers.

Peter was shortlisted for the DCU President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in 2021.

Find Peter on Twitter.

References and Further Reading

A framework of pre-service teachers’ conceptions about digital literacy: Comparing the United States and Sweden https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0360131519303380

Dimensions of digital literacy based on five models of development (Pérez-Escoda et al., 2019) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/11356405.2019.1603274

Digital technology and the futures of education – towards ‘non-stupid’ optimism (Facer & Selwyn, 2021) https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000377071″>https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000377071

Carbon impact of video streaming (Stephens et al., 2021), https://prod-drupal-files.storage.googleapis.com/documents/resource/public/Carbon-impact-of-video-streaming.pdf

MUSIC CONSUMPTION HAS UNINTENDED ECONOMIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL COSTS (Brennan, 2019) https://www.gla.ac.uk/news/archiveofnews/2019/april/headline_643297_en.html

Social Media Usage: 2005-2015
65% of adults now use social networking sites – a nearly tenfold jump in the past decade (Perrin, 2015) https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2015/10/08/social-networking-usage-2005-2015/

What is the environmental footprint for social media applications? 2021 Edition (Derudder, 2021) https://greenspector.com/en/social-media-2021/

The overlooked environmental footprint of increasing Internet use (Olbringer et al., 2021) ​https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921344920307072?via%3Dihub

Shifting scales of research on learning, media and technology, (Mcgilchrist, et al, 2021) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17439884.2021.1994418

Text Messaging & Emails Generate Carbon Emissions (Carbon Footprint), (Duncan, 2021) https://8billiontrees.com/carbon-offsets-credits/reduce-carbon-footprint/texts-emails/

A Global Framework of Reference on Digital Literacy Skills for Indicator 4.4.2 http://uis.unesco.org/sites/default/files/documents/ip51-global-framework-reference-digital-literacy-skills-2018-en.pdf

Digicomp https://joint-research-centre.ec.europa.eu/digcomp_en

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report https://www.ipcc.ch

Featured Image Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

Networking for Global and Sustainability Education – UNESCO ASPnet in Estonia

Networking for Global and Sustainability Education – UNESCO ASPnet in Estonia

UNESCO is tasked to ensure that education serves the values of peace, human rights, freedom, justice and democracy, respect for diversity, and international solidarity as defined in the UN Charter and the Constitution of UNESCO. Since 1953, the organisation has offered schools in its member states the opportunity to apply to be part of the UNESCO Associated Schools Network (ASPnet), which supports the promotion of the UNESCO ideals. Today, the ASPnet connects more than 11,500 schools in 182 countries, and the current strategy aim for the network is to support Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and Global Citizenship Education (GCED). These are seen as the key instruments for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Target 4.7 with the aim of giving all learners the knowledge and skills to promote sustainable development (UNESCO, 2014).

The ASPnet has, throughout its existence, aimed to strengthen the horizontal links between schools through twinning and flagship projects which support the diffusion of participatory and critical enquiry pedagogies (Schweisfurth, 2005). The Baltic Sea Project (BSP) is one of the oldest flagship projects. Since 1989, it has united schools in the countries bordering the Baltic Sea to tackle regional environmental problems through education. Currently, in the nine participating countries, over 165 schools (mainly upper-secondary level) are involved in the BSP activities (BSP, 2022).

My research deals with the history and current state of these school networks in the context of Estonia and analyses how the process of tighter integration of the BSP network into the UNESCO ASPnet contributes to achieving a more holistic understanding of a sustainable future through enhanced cooperation between different subject teachers and civil society organisations (CSOs).

Revitalising the school network

The process of revitalising the school networks started in 2014, when the Estonian UNESCO National Commission gave the task of coordinating the networks to two separate CSOs that both work as resource centres for schools and teachers: the Tartu Environment Education Centre (TEEC) started coordinating the BSP network while NGO Mondo’s Global Education Centre restarted the UNESCO ASPnet. Both centres are highly valued actors in their respective fields in Estonia.

The integration process of the networks started in 2018 with first the CSOs coming together – the coordinator from TEEC took part in Mondo’s Global Education training with some key teachers from the BSP network and the integration proceeded with joint planning, events and new guidelines for schools. According to the renewed guidelines, all ASPnet schools are encouraged to include global and sustainability education into school development plans, school regulations, management style, and community participation. They are required to do a minimum of one international UNESCO project/campaign/program and two UN thematic days yearly.

ASPnet schools are also expected to mainstream ESD and GCED to curriculum, working plans and lessons and support cooperation between teachers. As a follow-up activity to strategy renewal, all BSP schools were awarded ASPnet membership.

Analysis of the ASP Network in Estonia

The main aim of my study was to analyse the institutional and ideational context of ESD, GCED and ASPnet in Estonia, questioning whether networking can support a more holistic, critical, and transformative GCED and ESD – dimensions which are seen as crucial in the academic literature (Bamber, 2019). I used mixed methods to gather data from the ASPnet teachers and Estonian education policymakers and experts.

A survey questionnaire was completed by 24 teachers in the network, and 20 teachers took part in a participatory workshop during the ASPnet Annual Conference. In addition, ten teachers, five policymakers and five experts and coordinators were interviewed online. A review of annual reports from schools, previous studies, and policy documents was also conducted.

Identifying silos 

The survey data, interviews and workshop conducted with the ASPnet teachers showed some silos between different subject teachers. While teachers of natural sciences (chemistry, physics, biology) linked global competence to environmental awareness, teachers of social sciences (civics, history, geography) and languages linked it to intercultural competence. While all teachers saw the need to encourage students’ critical thinking, social science teachers saw more value in introducing controversial topics to discussions as well as critical examination of topics such as capitalism, colonialism, and nationalism.

Silos also exist in an institutional context where different ministries support various aspects of Target 4.7: the Ministry of Environment supports environmental education and ESD while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs gives funding for GCED activities. At the same time, the joining of the networks and increased collaboration between different subject teachers has been useful in breaking down the silos and increasing cooperation. However, there is room for improvement in ASPnet at all levels, from the school to national and international levels. Activities often end up being one-off events without a profound impact on the school as a whole. Communication problems and lack of resources also hinder UNESCO ASPnet from reaching full capacity.

Opportunities and challenges

Since the restart of the network, several new educational institutions have applied to join the Estonian ASPnet (including pre-schools, primary schools, and secondary schools), which could be seen as a positive result of the new, more inclusive approach. At the beginning of 2022, the Estonian ASPnet included 60 educational institutions (7-8% of all schools in Estonia). Many schools have joined after their teachers participated in Mondo’s in-service training in GCED.

Being a member of ASPnet is seen to give prestige and legitimacy to the schools (especially in situations where schools need to compete for students), as well as more resources to work on global and sustainability education. The network coordinators motivate teachers to be active by offering recognition, awards and opportunities for student participation and their resources are appreciated by the participating teachers.

Looking at the overall context of GCED and ESD in Estonia, we can see both opportunities and challenges for the promotion of UNESCO values. The main challenges are related to the overall policy discourse, which emphasises neoliberal, nationalistic and security discourses with limited reference to global solidarity. Emphasis is on subjects tested in high-stakes exams and PISA. At the same time, the autonomy of schools and teachers gives opportunities to place more emphasis on ESD and GCED in schools where teachers are trained, resourced, and motivated. The curriculum encourages including these themes in a transversal manner, which supports the activities of ASPnet. Openness and expertise in digital learning are also assets (GENE, 2019).

The study concludes that the ideas around holistic, critical, and transformative dimensions of GCED present in academic literature need contextualising. The decolonisation discourse is becoming more prevalent in academic GCED literature, where it refers predominantly to Global North vs Global South relations, while ignoring the post-Soviet experience.

When asked about criticality, one of the Estonian teachers noted that:

“in school, we should talk more about colonialism as we were ourselves colonized only recently, but we should not be too critical of nationalism as we need to protect our minority language and culture”.

This shows how concepts like ‘colonialism’ and ‘nationalism’ can have different meanings and connotations in different contexts. The ‘west’ in this context is not a symbol of past and current injustices, but a symbol of democracy and human rights as opposed to Soviet and Russian authoritarianism and chauvinism.

 One of the biggest current challenges for the Estonian education sector is the war in Ukraine, the integration of Ukrainian refugees into Estonian schools*, continuing integration of the Russian-speaking minority into Estonian society, as well as fighting propaganda and hate speech. In this situation, GCED can have a key role to play in supporting peace, global solidarity, and human rights, but special emphasis needs to be put on critical media literacy.

 

* By the end of May 2022, Estonia received more than 40 000 refugees from Estonia (3% of the Estonian population), and thousands of refugee children need access to education in Estonia.

Key Messages

UNESCO school network in Estonia motivates a growing number of schools to work on global and sustainability issues

There are silos between natural and social science teachers as well as different ministries in their understanding and promotion of Global Citizenship Education (GCED) and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)

Networking between different subject teachers can lead to more holistic approach to teaching global challenges

Critical theory needs to be contextualised in the local history and experience

Johanna Helin

Johanna Helin

EdD candidate at OISE (University of Toronto)

Johanna Helin is an EdD candidate at OISE (University of Toronto) and carries out studies and evaluations through UbuntuEDU in Finland. She has many years of experience in Global Citizenship Education from Finland, Estonia and Canada. Her dissertation research is on global citizenship education and critical media literacy in selected ASPnet schools in different country contexts.

References and Further Reading

Baltic Sea Project website (accessed June 10, 2022): https://unesco-bsp.blogspot.com/ 

Bamber, P. (Ed.). (2019). Teacher Education for Sustainable Development and Global https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/oa-edit/10.4324/9780429427053/teacher-education-sustainable-development-global-citizenship-philip-bamber 

Citizenship: Critical Perspectives on Values, Curriculum and Assessment (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi-org.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/10.4324/9780429427053

 GENE – Global Education Network Europe (2019). The European Global Education Peer Review Process – National Report on Global Education in Estonia. Available at: https://www.gene.eu/peer-reviews

Schweisfurth, M. (2005). Learning to Live Together: A Review of UNESCO’s Associated Schools Project Network. International Review of Education / Internationale Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft, Vol. 51 Issue 2/3, p. 219-234. DOI: 10.1007/s11159-005-3579-9 https://research.birmingham.ac.uk/en/publications/learning-to-live-together-a-review-of-unescos-associated-schools- 

UNESCO (2003). UNESCO Associated School Project Network (ASPnet): historical review 1953-2003. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000130509?6=null&queryId=4f483e5c-0778-470e-9a63-5aaac01f9c13 

 UNESCO (2014b). ASPnet strategy for 2014-2021, Global network of schools addressing global challenges: building global citizenship and promoting sustainable development.Available at: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000231049?14=null&queryId=d968d1b3-3718-42c0-a1ea-8835499d4ccc 

 UNESCO (2018b). UNESCO Associated Schools Network: guide for national coordinators. UNESCO: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000261994

 UNESCO (2019a) UNESCO Associated Schools Network: guide for members. Available at: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000379707?4=null&queryId=3021db41-accf-4546-bf3f-12e6441595a9    

 

Ukrainian Higher Education and the International Education Community in the Context of Russian Assault on Ukraine 

Ukrainian Higher Education and the International Education Community in the Context of Russian Assault on Ukraine 

On the 24th of February 2022, the world witnessed the most unexpected and unbelievable turn of events – a full-scale war in a country located in geographical Europe. Russian government and military, in cooperation with their partners in Belarus, launched a military assault on Ukraine’s infrastructure, civilians’ lives, freedoms, and sovereignty. Higher education (HE), along with other areas of life, has taken a backstage while people have been sheltering and/or fleeing to seek safety. Nevertheless, the backstage for Ukrainian wounded HE in these circumstances does not mean a full submergence by the war.

The number of damaged or destroyed educational establishments, including higher education institutions (HEIs), has been growing. Ukrainian academics and students are among those feeling the country seeking safety. Some students still hope there will be a chance to come back to their studies in Ukraine. Other members of the HE student community in Ukraine are staying, putting on a soldier’s uniform, and fighting for Ukraine. Some still manage to continue with their studies in various formats in the regions less affected by the war after the initial impact, as the Ukrainian government supports HEIs in ensuing uninterrupted payment of academics’ salaries.

The Ukrainian government and other HE stakeholders in Ukraine have been developing ways to support Ukrainian HE. For instance, on the 12th of March 2022, the Ukrainian Rectors’ Union supported the initiative of the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science: to cancel the requirement for final year upper-secondary school students to pass the final exams (State Final Attestation) as well as the External Education Assessment previously used to determine university entrance; to simplify the rules for applying for master’s degrees in 2022 and cancelling the final exam ‘Krok’ at medical universities; to give the right to HEIs to set the amount of tuition fees; to request that the government of Ukraine increases the number of students by 30% whose fees would be waived for 2022 start, particularly for prospective students from the most affected regions of Ukraine; to appeal to all universities to donate one day’s pro-rata salary of academics to supporting Ukrainian soldiers, etc.

Such measures are being actively discussed and further solutions are being negotiated at multiple meetings with various Ukrainian stakeholders and international guests. An example is the online Open Consultation on the 16th of May 2022 with presenters such as the rector from a Ukrainian university, the leader of the non-governmental organisation ‘Emotional Intelligence Institute’, the director of the Ukrainian Start-up Fund, and an Association Professor from Lithuania.

Ukrainian HEIs have received a lot of support from the international community that has been watching the impact of the war on Ukraine, including its HE sector. For example, following the bombing of Karazin University in Kharkiv in Ukraine on the 2nd of March 2022, universities from other countries (e.g., Austria, Italy, Spain, Cyprus, Slovakia, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Senegal, and Turkey) sent their letters of support to Karazin University, condemning Russia’s aggression.

In another example, the Estonian University of Tartu has generously offered mental health support to Ukrainian academics as well as support with applications for studies and academic jobs for Ukrainians. Similarly, Polish National Agency for Academic Exchanges (NAWA) has launched a program of support for Ukrainian undergraduate and postgraduate students to continue their studies in Poland free of charge between March and September 2022. Comparable conditions have been guaranteed to 51 Ukrainian researchers who are going to continue their work in Poland, supported by the Polish National Research Centre. These are a handful of examples to illustrate the measures that have been so generously developed by other countries to support the Ukrainian higher education community.

Such developments have been an expected chain reaction to other important milestones in the changing geopolitics of the international HE space. Early examples include:  the announcement of the European Commission on the 3rd of March 2022 about ceasing its cooperation with Russian entities in the area of education and research; on the 7th of March, Quacquarelli Symonds announced the plan to exclude Russian and Belarus HEIs from international university rankings; subsequently, the European Association for Quality Assurance in HE (ENQA) Board issued a statement on the 8th of March 2022 in response to the war about suspending the rights of their member and affiliate agencies in Russia. Organisations of different executive power in Ukraine and HEIs have also been actively pursuing justice in the face of the brute force of the invaders, holding consultations with multiple international organisations regarding breaking the ties with the aggressors in the area of HE. A couple of examples include appealing to the international-level coordinators of the European Education Research Association and the European Higher Education Area.

An appeal was made by the Ukrainian Education Research Association – the biggest and most influential national-level research organisation in Ukraine. It issued an open letter with a request for action to its sister organisations in the European Education Research Association (EERA) on the 4th of March 2022, following  EERA’s timely statement about condemning the war. In response, on the 13th of April 2022, EERA unanimously and unequivocally denounced the invasion of Ukraine, and announced a few generous ways of supporting educational research in Ukraine, such as cancelling the need for Ukraine to pay EERA membership fees, granting free entry to all Ukrainian researchers to the conferences organised by EERA, committing to continue working to develop funding opportunities for Ukrainian researchers, and more.

In another example, the Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine addressed the international Bologna Follow-up Group which coordinates the work of the European Higher Education Area on the 1st of March 2022 with a request for them to lobby for justice and break ties with Russia. A similar letter followed from the Ukrainian Education Research Association on the 28th of March 2022. European countries were divided in whether to break the ties with Russia in the area of research and education, including HE. This was because academic cooperation was still seen by some as a potential tool to save the lost diplomacy with Russia and override the disinformation campaign within the Russian borders. However, these optimistic voices were set aback by the statement made by Russia’s Rectors’ Union in early March, which openly supported Russia’s propaganda which masks the war under the disguise of ‘a special military operation’. In this statement, Russia’s Rectors’ Union maintains: ‘This is Russia’s decision to finally end the eight-year confrontation between Ukraine and Donbas, achieve the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine, and thereby protect itself from growing military threats’. This disgrace on behalf of Russian rectors is disheartening.

This could not have gone unnoticed by the international Bologna Follow-up Group which met on the 11-12th of April 2022 and issued a statement about suspending the memberships of Russia and Belarus in the European Higher Education Area. This membership suspension did not mean, however, burning all the bridges with Russia and Belarus since Bologna Follow-up Group has asked in the statement everyone affiliated with the EHEA to offer support and protection to those actively condemning the war at their own risk.

This description of the examples above of the apparent shift in the international geopolitics of HE and the national-level adjustments to the war in the Ukrainian HE sector suggests the onset of long-term changes and subsequent consequences for the structure of the Ukrainian HE, the HE of the countries that are hosting representatives of the Ukrainian HE community and helping them in other ways, and consequences for international cooperation in HE more broadly. These changes are emerging as an area which calls for academics to advocate for democracy and be at the forefront of the (re)production of knowledge and truth about HE in the dynamic context of the war.

Research into this area is needed for evidence-based policy-making to support the Herculean task of the Ukrainian HE community to handle the situation and preserve its identity. It is also essential for developing further the so-called ‘protective factors’ currently in place, illustrated above, such as the generous support of other countries and external organisations, policy adjustments both in Ukraine and abroad, and technological opportunities connecting people and enabling communication and joint decisions. Pathways should also be explored for mitigating possible risks resulting from the developments, such as a potential brain drain in Ukraine, the marginalisation of those from Ukraine who do not receive support or those abroad who cannot benefit from the opportunities that have now been channelled to tackle the consequences of the war, and the difficulty of promoting democracy through HE in the world which the war has changed.

Key Messages

There has been an apparent shift in the international geopolitics of HE and the national-level adjustments to the war in the Ukrainian HE sector.

These developments suggest the onset of long-term changes and subsequent consequences for the structure of the Ukrainian HE, the HE of the countries that are hosting representatives of the Ukrainian HE community and helping them in other ways, and consequences for international cooperation in HE more broadly.

These changes are emerging as an area which calls for academics to advocate for democracy and be at the forefront of the (re)production of knowledge and truth about HE in the dynamic context of the war.

Dr Iryna Kushnir

Dr Iryna Kushnir

Dr Iryna Kushnir is currently a Senior Lecturer in Education Studies at Nottingham Trent University. She previously worked at the University of Sheffield and the University of Edinburgh.

Dr Kushnir’s interdisciplinary research interests combine the following main areas: higher education, education policy, European integration, post-Soviet transition and migration. Her interdisciplinary approach has led to empirical and theoretical contributions, which reveal how education policy on the one hand and Europeanisation processes and post-Soviet transition on the other hand are interrelated and mutually shape one another.

Twitter: @IrynaKushnir7

Orcid: 0000-0003-0727-7208

University webpage: https://www.ntu.ac.uk/staff-profiles/education/iryna-kushnir

World Education Research Association: A Global Community of Educational Researchers

World Education Research Association: A Global Community of Educational Researchers

In April 2009, representatives from 24 education research associations around the world unanimously affirmed their commitment to establish a global network of educational scholars to advance education research worldwide. The establishment of the World Education Research Association signaled an ambitious commitment to work together as a global community of organizations to undertake initiatives that are global in nature and celebrate the diversity of traditions of local communities of educational researchers.

As an international, non-profit, non-governmental association of associations established for scientific and scholarly purposes, WERA seeks to forge new collaborations and cooperation at a global scale on such issues as:

  • building capacity and interest in education research,
  • advancing education research policies and practices,
  • promoting the use and application of education research around the world.

The ambition is to transcend what any single association can accomplish in its own country, region, or area of specialization.

WERA is situated to promote and stimulate such a worldwide perspective and is committed to doing so to inspire excellence and inclusiveness in education research and thereby serve the public good around the world. 

For more information about WERA and its member associations and institutions, please visit the website.  

What are the WERA activities and initiatives that researchers can benefit from?

WERA undertakes the following initiatives and activities to increase its support to educational researchers and research communities, particularly with respect to strengthening their international network and research capacity.

  1. INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH NETWORKS (IRNs)

International Research Networks (IRNs) aim to advance education research worldwide on specific academic topics. IRNs are temporary collaborative networks of educational researchers working on a particular scholarly topic, primarily through virtual communications. IRNs produce knowledge, analyze the state of research, and stimulate partnerships or otherwise identify promising pathways in research areas of worldwide significance. Primary products for IRNs are substantive reports that integrate the state of the knowledge worldwide and set forth promising scholarly directions.

 

  1. TASK FORCES

The WERA Council establishes WERA Task Forces to address education research or research policy issues where WERA may wish to disseminate information or present a view about sound research policy. Task Forces undertake a synthesis of the relevant research literature and prepare a report and recommendations, with the goal of providing an overview of the state of the empirical knowledge, core trends and issues, future research directions, and relevant policy based on extant research. Here is the list of current Task Forces with the links to their websites:

WERA and the response to COVID-19

World Education Research Association responded to the global Covid-19 crisis by establishing the Global Challenge and Education Taskforce in 2020. The taskforce coordinates the activities to disseminate education knowledge in the WERA community which can serve as resources to advise and assist educators and educational researchers around the world in responding to global crises, particularly to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Armed conflicts, forced migration, and climate change crises have already disrupted the education of millions of children and youth around the world. And the number has been increasing in an unprecedented way during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are seeing a ‘pile-on effect’ of existing crises being exacerbated by the global COVID-19 pandemic, leading to interruptions in education that can have long term implications — especially for the most vulnerable groups including girls; refugees and migrant children; children and youth with disabilities; and children with low SES status. The task force has developed an action plan with short, medium, and long-term strategies to demonstrate how educational research can contribute to the efforts of solving the challenges faced during the time of global crises.

For more information about the COVID action plan, please visit our website.

 

  1. FOCAL MEETINGS

Each year, WERA holds a Focal Meeting in conjunction with the Annual Meeting of a WERA member association. Focal Meetings consist of a strand of paper and symposia sessions, lectures, and other substantive activities focusing on issues of significance to education research through a worldwide perspective. Research that is comparative, cross-cultural, international, or transnational in conceptualization, scope, or design is emphasized.

 

The World Education Research Association (WERA) 2021 Focal Meeting was held virtually in collaboration with the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela and Sociedad Espanola de Pedagogia (SEP), an EERA member association.  The 2022 Focal Meeting will be held in San Diego, USA in conjunction with the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. Previous WERA Focal Meetings were held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (November 2010); Kaohsiung, Taiwan (December 2011); Sydney, Australia (December 2012); Guanajuato, Mexico (November 2013); Edinburgh, Scotland (2014); Budapest, Hungary (September 2015), Washington DC, USA (2016), Hong Kong (2017), and Tokyo (2019). In 2018, the first-ever WERA World Congress was held in Cape Town, South Africa.

 

  1. DOCTORAL AND EARLY CAREER NETWORK (DEC)

WERA Doctoral and Early Career Network (DEC) aims to provide doctoral and early career scholars with the opportunity to network with and meet each other, as well as to build relationships with expert researchers in the field of education.  

The Doctoral and Early Career Network established three important initiatives for the members:

  • Visiting Researcher Awards:  In collaboration with the International Evaluation Association (IEA), University of Hamburg; Leibniz-Institute for Research and Information in Education in Germany, and American Educational Research Association (AERA), WERA offers three Visiting Researcher Awards. 

There are two important aims of the award program:

    1. Provide young scholars with direct access to big data and resources to help them carry out their research projects
    2. Provide the opportunity to collaborate with IEA, AERA, and Hamburg University research staff and promote networking within a global research community.
  • Online Seminars: World Education Research Association is dedicated to capacity development and recognizes the importance of equal access. Therefore, our online seminars allow researchers from all over the world to access these opportunities. The seminars are organized in collaboration with our Member and Institutional Associations.

  • Online MentoringWorld Education Research Association aims to develop an innovative, online-based Mentorship Program that links senior scholars and postdoctoral educational researchers who share a common research interest.

 

  1. PUBLICATIONS

 One of the aims of the World Education Research Association is to advance education research as a scientific and scholarly field. By publishing the WERA 2015 Yearbook, the two-book series, as well as research articles and books authored and edited by WERA Individual Members, International Research Networks (IRNs), and Member Associations, WERA contributes to the body of scholarly knowledge of education.

 By clicking on the links of the WERA publications below, educational researchers can access WERA-generated and WERA-related knowledge on education research: 

Which research associations are part of WERA?

WERA is an association of major national, regional, and international specialty research associations dedicated to advancing education research as a scientific and scholarly field.

WERA member associations include education research associations from countries around the world, including: Brazil, Cyprus, England, Germany, Ghana, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Kosovo, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Turkey, and the United States.

The European Educational Research Association (EERA) is also a prominent member, further reaching out to scholars across all EERA countries. The founding president, Ingrid Gogolin, the current president, Mustafa Yunus Eryaman, and the current vice president, Joanna Madalinska Michalack, of the World Education Research Association have served the EERA community many years in the capacity of a member of the EERA council or executive committee.  

WERA conducts outreach to education research associations and groups of scholars around the world, particularly from developing nations in Africa, Asia, and the Global South.

Inclusiveness is a key goal of WERA. WERA promotes initiatives to cultivate and support education research associations in developing regions of the world.

How can I become a member of WERA?

In addition to the Association Membership, WERA provides two different types of membership to the public: Institutional Membership, and Individual Membership.

Institutional Membership includes non-profit research centers and institutions, higher education institutions, and other research organizations while Individual Membership is open to scientists, scholars, students, and other professionals.

Professor Dr Eryaman

Professor Dr Eryaman

President of the World Education Research Association

Mustafa Yunus Eryaman is professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University, Turkey. Professor Eryaman currently serves as the president of World Education Research Association. He was the past-president of the International Association of Educators (INASED) and Turkish Educational Research Association. He has worked as a DAAD-TUBITAK professor at the Institute for International Comparative and Intercultural Education in the University of Hamburg, Germany for two years.

He was a visiting Professor and Honorary Research Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Education at London Metropolitan University, UK in 2011. He received his MEd from the University of Missouri-Columbia and his PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA.

Professor Eryaman has served on the EERA Council as the representative of the Turkish Educational Research Association (TERA) from 2009 to 2018. He currently serves as the series editor of a Springer Book series entitled “Evidence, Science and Public Good in Education”and as the regional editor of the “Bloomsbury Education and Childhood Studies” series of Bloomsbury Publishing.

He is the managing editor of International Journal of Progressive Education; the author of Teaching as Practical Philosophy (2008), and the book editor of Evidence and Public Good in Educational Policy, Research and Practice (2017), International Handbook of Progressive Education (2015); Accountability and Transparency in Education: Global Challenges and Local Realities (2014) and Peter McLaren, Education, and the Struggle for Liberation (2009).

Similar but Different: Small Rural Schools in Northern Ireland

Similar but Different: Small Rural Schools in Northern Ireland

 As children returned to school after the summer break in 2021, five small rural schools in Northern Ireland didn’t reopen their doors. What that means for the former pupils and their communities has barely been given any attention.

What is a ‘Rural School’?

Many small rural schools in different European countries were also forced to close last school year due to declining pupil numbers and financial pressures. In our recent review of the European research literature, we found that small rural schools have been defined in different ways.

While many definitions relate to the number of pupils enrolled (typically between 70 and 140 for primary schools), in the Republic of Ireland, for example, they are defined as schools employing four teachers or fewer. However, north of the border in Northern Ireland (United Kingdom), there is no official definition of small schools despite a history of small and very small schools in the region, partly because of its rural character and the segregated nature of the school system. In fact, in 1964, there were over 450 schools with between 26 and 50 pupils, although by the early 1990s, there were less than 150 schools with such number of pupils.

In 2006, an Independent Strategic Review of Education (otherwise known as the Bain review) indicated that there was an excess of schools in Northern Ireland because of falling pupil numbers and the existence of many school sectors. The review argued that there should be fewer, larger schools, and established that primary schools in rural areas should have at least 105 pupils enrolled. So, in the context of Northern Ireland, we understand a small rural school to be a primary school situated in a rural area (i.e., settlements with a population of less than 5,000 and areas of open countryside), with 105 pupils or less enrolled.

Small rural schools in Northern Ireland

There is scarce research on small rural schools in Northern Ireland, as most studies have concentrated on schools in urban areas. Between April and July 2021, we conducted an online survey of principals of small rural schools in Northern Ireland. Out of 201 principals invited, 91 took part (86 completed responses and 5 incomplete). In this post, we are sharing three themes that emerged when analysing the survey data.

1. SEGREGATED SCHOOLS SERVING SEGREGATED COMMUNITIES:

Northern Ireland society is segregated along ethno-sectarian lines between an Irish Catholic group and a British Protestant group. This is reflected in its school system, so most pupils from a Protestant community background attend Controlled (de facto state) schools (in which the Protestant churches have a formal role), and most pupils from a Catholic community background attend Voluntary Maintained schools, owned by the Catholic church. There is also a small number of integrated schools, which are attended by children and staff from Catholic and Protestant traditions, as well as those of other faiths, or none.

From the survey results, it was clear that the 

schools were serving very segregated communities. Thus, the majority of Controlled school principals described the communities their schools served as mostly Protestant, and the majority of Catholic maintained school principals described them as mostly Catholic. Only a few described them as mixed or fairly mixed. Surprisingly, all three principals from integrated schools described their communities as mostly Catholic.

 

In both Catholic and Protestant rural communities, the churches appeared to have a significant role, with most principals (90%) identifying them as key institutions in the communities their schools served. However, we found a clear difference between school types. While 91% of Catholic Maintained school principals identified the sports association as another key organisation, only 12% of Controlled school principals did so. That is because in many Catholic communities, the GAA club is very influential. GAA stands for Gaelic Athletic Association, and it is Ireland’s largest sporting organisation (which promotes Gaelic games). Community voluntary groups and cultural associations were less likely to be identified by principals, and they were selected by a larger proportion of Controlled school principals rather than principals in Maintained schools.

2. CHALLENGES:

According to the principals surveyed, the main challenges these schools were facing were similar to those found in other research in different European countries. The ones that were most identified by the survey respondents were:

  • financial pressures and lack of funding (selected by 74 out of 90)
  • staff’s intense workloads (72)
  • increasing numbers of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (47)
  • declining pupil numbers (45)
  • pressure or threat of potential closure (28).

However, in contrast with other studies, difficulties in staff recruitment and retention were barely ever selected as current challenges (just two principals did).

Some of the comments written by principals highlighted the main challenges they encountered:

“… Our school, that twenty-thirty years ago would have had 7 straight classes, now is struggling with 4 composite classes.  Our parents ARE supportive of our school but small numbers means we are struggling to survive in this community.  ….”

There is now so much paperwork and accountability not just educationally but from a health and safety and financial perspective that I feel the role of a teaching principal is no longer feasible.”

Unfortunately, the threat of closure is ever present and this has stopped some families enrolling at the school thus resulting in a fall in our enrolment numbers which are hard to recover from. Our physical site also needs a lot of investment but this does not fail to materialise because of question marks over our future which results in the local community not having faith that our school will remain open and so they choose to travel further away.”

3. AT THE HEART OF THE COMMUNITY?

The connection between the schools and the families and wider community was generally described as strong. Most principals (80%) considered the school as a key institution or organisation of the community they served. This is also clear from many of the principals’ open-ended comments:

“Our school is the heart of the rural community. Our families often have no other outlet or community-based organisation to support them. We offer support for parents and work closely with community groups to offer social events. Many of our parents do not drive and have no public transport, meaning they live isolated lives apart from their connection to the school.”

“The local community is very important. Pre-pandemic we had good contact and well attended events. We had a great Mums and Tots group.  Our PTA are fantastic at organising and promoting school events.”

“The school is a central part of our rural community. Enabling local groups to access our facilities assists local groups and clubs to exist.”

The most common ways schools engaged with the communities they served were:

  • Church/ religious leaders coming regularly to the school to visit pupils and teachers (78%)
  • Community leaders being on the board of governors of the school (77%)
  • Pupils being actively encouraged in the school to get involved with particular community organisations (63%); and
  • After-school (or outside of school hours) activities organised by community/sporting/religious organisations/institutions taking place on school grounds or being advertised by the school (64%).

We asked whether the pandemic had had an impact on the level of engagement of parents/families and the wider community with the school. As expected, most principals believed that the pandemic had a negative impact – 88% believed there had been less engagement between the school and the wider community, and 57% believed there had been less engagement between the school and parents/carers.

In conclusion, small rural schools in Northern Ireland face similar challenges as other small rural schools in Europe, but their situation differs mainly because of the segregated environment in which they are immersed. Also, small rural schools in NI are not a homogenous group. Some schools appeared to be experiencing more challenges than others, some have more resources than others or are considerably bigger/smaller, etc., and their community contexts are also distinct.

If you would like to find out more about our study, please visit our study blog.

Montserrat Fargas-Malet

Montserrat Fargas-Malet

Research Fellow

Montserrat Fargas-Malet is a Research Fellow at the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s University Belfast. Her background is in Sociology (BSsc), Women’s Studies (MA), and Education (PhD). She has over 15 years of experience in social science research and an excellent publication record.

Professor Carl Bagley

Professor Carl Bagley

Professor of Educational Sociology

Carl Bagley is Head of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s University Belfast where he holds a Chair in Educational Sociology. He has held research posts at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) and the Open University (where he obtained his PhD) and previously held a Senior Lectureship in Sociology at Staffordshire University, before Joining Durham University in 1999, obtaining a Chair in 2008 and serving as Head of the School of Education from 2013-2017.

Managing Digital Learning during COVID-19 and Beyond

Managing Digital Learning during COVID-19 and Beyond

It is undisputed that Covid has had a massive impact on education and the way it is delivered, both in the UK and internationally. Whilst there have been a number of papers on the ways in which teachers have innovated during this time, and the impact this has had on their workload and mental health, there has been little on how school leaders and their senior teams have taken a strategic overview of online and blended learning. This post takes a look at a funded research project and explores why this area is so important for school leadership, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

The recent pandemic has led to unprecedented challenges for school leadership teams and their staff. Almost overnight, they have had to create policies and working practices in a very short timeframe. One leader reported that a strategy meant to take three years had been achieved in three weeks!

In England, secondary schools have been shut down for the duration of two lockdown periods for all but the children of essential workers. Evidence from our pilot project suggests that school leaders have not only changed policies and practices but in many cases, their vision for education. The project, leading school learning through Covid 19 and beyond: online learning and strategic planning through and post lockdown in English secondary schools, investigates how senior leaders strategically planned for online learning – before, during, and after the pandemic. Our sample includes interviews with 70 senior leaders from English secondary schools, along with a questionnaire sent out via project partners to 4000 schools, and an analysis of 200 school websites.

 

level I – this is the lowest level of digital planning, in which technology is used passively by particular teachers in particular subjects to support learning. This level is termed – substitution. Level II this is where traditional pedagogy is adapted for online, this level is termed – augmentation. Level III – modification – this is where strategic thought is given to the design of online learning and enhancements that add value are implemented. Level IV – strategic planning for online learning – this links to a whole school or departmental approach.
Figure 1 : Strategic Planning for Online learning: Level 1 to 4, adapted from Puntedura, 2021.

Our project classifies the different levels of strategic planning for online education, via an adapted version of Puntedura’s (Puentedura, 2010), SAMR Model, in which the lowest level of planning is termed substitution, the second level is termed augmentation, the third level is termed modification, and the final and most advanced level is termed strategic planning for online learning. (See figure 1). It adopts a strategy as a learning approach which we have used successfully in previous projects relating to educational leadership and management (Baxer & Floyd, 2019; J.  Baxter, 2020; J Baxter & John, 2021).

Challenges

Analysis of the pilot project suggests some key themes that are emerging in both qualitative and quantitative data. It is clear that school leaders made some substantial changes to the management of online learning in the period between the first lockdown in March 2020 and the second principal lockdown in the winter of 2020/ 2021. For example, school leaders reported considerable issues with hardware and connectivity, particularly during the first lockdown. Evidence suggests that they have subsequently been creative in acquiring these elements, ensuring that learners were properly equipped to engage with learning during lockdown two.  

One of the major categories that has emerged within the study is well-being and care: this in terms of both teacher and learner welfare. School leaders appear to have placed the well-being of their staff and learners first and foremost. They report considerable stress amongst staff, and challenges in relation to learners, particularly those with particular learning needs, and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. This aligns with the findings of a report by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development).

Leaders have also reported the considerable investment of time needed in building the competencies of parents and carers. This has offered both challenges and opportunities with engaging parents more fully in the learning processes of their children. Communication with parents and learners, and not least in managing online teachers and teams, was also a challenge. Yet again, out of the crisis, there appears to have been some considerable learning taking place, with senior leaders speaking to SEN students and their carers, in some cases on a weekly or even daily basis.

Leaders report that one of the most important tasks during lockdown has been establishing a baseline for effective teaching. Some schools cut down on curriculum to focus on the essentials. Sorting out policies and protocols with staff, governors, and unions, has taken up a great deal of management time, but respondents largely feel that it has been a worthwhile task going forward.

Opportunities

There is considerable evidence of pedagogical innovation and creativity, particularly during the second lockdown when school staff were taken less by surprise. Leaders report evidence of new ideas being tried and tested by teachers, free from the normal constraints. They also report new roles being created as a result of an enhanced focus on digital learning. For example, a new head of digital strategy and innovation at one multi-academy trust; a new head of digital training and development for both teachers and parents in the same MAT.

There is also evidence that some senior leaders are beginning to view education in a different way: one head of a multi-academy trust had already brokered a relationship with Apple to move the whole curriculum online. New and innovative practices adopted during Covid, born out of necessity, are reported as now being ‘business as usual’. An example of this is parent evenings – once held face-to-face and often poorly attended, particularly in schools in challenging areas – which have been much more successful online. Several school leaders state their intention to continue this practice and extend it to governor meetings and, in some cases, staff meetings too.

 In terms of quality assurance, this is one area that presented school leaders with their biggest challenges. But from the second lockdown onwards, some schools had already introduced strategies for peer observation of teaching, virtual learning walks, and other innovations to promote and sustain good practice. Some respondents reported using online engagement statistics to measure learner engagement.

One particularly interesting area reported by one senior multi-Academy trust leader: a number of teachers and headteachers across over 15 schools reported that quieter pupils, those who didn’t normally respond well in class, had engaged far more fully with lessons when delivered digitally. This is a potentially intriguing area that could be taken forward concerning introverted students and their more extroverted peers.

Going Forward

The central part of the framework links to well-being and access to learning in the next concentric circle moving outwards, is trust, communication, data privacy. The next concentric circle contains four quadrants, four aspects of digital learning in secondary schools: one – design differentiated learning experience for all students; two – build competencies of teacher students parents and carers; three – collaborate in multilateral strategies with teacher voice at the core; four – develop the digital environment with a combination of approaches. Outside the circle are for headings these headings indicate that the subjects are overarching in relation to the other quadrants of the circle: pedagogical innovation, flexibility and partnership, resources and infrastructure, equity ability and inclusivity.

The pilot research has revealed some interesting findings that will be taken forward into the main phase. It has also resulted in a theoretical framework for our research. This is illustrated in figure 2.

As can be seen in the framework, we place well-being and access to learning central to the future development of digital innovation in secondary schools.

The second part of our framework includes:

  • designing a differentiated learning experience for students
  • the importance of building the competencies of teachers, students, parents, and carers
  • collaboration in multilateral strategies with teacher voice at the core
  • developing a digital environment via a combination of approaches.

We look forward to continuing our reporting on the project, which will give rise to a free online course for school leaders hosted on the Open University’s open learning platform.

 Further details of our project, or to take part, see our website at: https://www.open.ac.uk/projects/leading-online-learning/

 or follow us on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/Covid_EduLeader

References and Further Reading

Baxer, J., & Floyd, A. (2019). Strategic narrative in multi‐academy trusts in England: Principal drivers for expansion. British Educational Research Journal, 45(5), 1050-1071.

Baxter, J. (2020). Schemes of delegation as governance tools : the case of multi academy trusts in education under review.

Baxter, J., & John, A. (2021). Strategy as learning in multi-academy trusts in England: strategic thinking in action. School Leadership & Management, 1-21. doi: 10.1080/13632434.2020.1863777

Jewitt, K., Baxter, J., & Floyd, A. (2021). Literature review on the use of online and blended learning during Covid 19 and Beyond. The Open University The Open University

Dr Jacqueline Baxter

Dr Jacqueline Baxter

Associate Professor in Public Policy and Management The Open University Business School

Dr Jacqueline Baxter is Associate Professor in Public Policy and Management and Director for the Centre of Innovation in Online Business and Legal Education (SCILAB). She is Principal Fellow of The Higher Education Academy, Fellow of The Academy of Social Sciences and Elected Council Member of Belmas. She is outgoing Editor in Chief of the Sage Journal Management in Education (MiE) Her current funded research projects examine the interrelationship between trust, accountability, and capacity in improving learning outcomes; and the strategic management of online learning in secondary schools during and beyond Covid19.

Dr Baxter is based in the Department of Public Leadership and Social Enterprise at the Open University Business School.

She tweets @drjacqueBaxter and her profile can be found at: http://www.open.ac.uk/people/jab899. Her latest book is: Trust, Accountability and Capacity in Education System Reform (Routledge, 2020).

Dr Katharine Jewitt

Dr Katharine Jewitt

Research Fellow and Educational Technology Consultant at The Open University

Dr Katharine Jewitt is a Research Fellow and Educational Technology Consultant at The Open University. Katharine works across four faculties (Faculty of Wellbeing, Education & Language Studies, Faculty for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics, Faculty of Business and Law and The Centre for Inclusion and Collaborative Partnership) and teaches at access, undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Professor Alan Floyd

Professor Alan Floyd

University of Reading

Alan Floyd is a Professor of Education and his research and teaching activity focus on two substantive areas: educational leadership and doctoral education. Specific areas of interest include:

  • Academic leadership
  • School leadership and Multi Academy Trusts (MATs)
  • How people perceive and experience being in a leadership role
  • Distributed and collaborative leadership
  • Leadership development
  • Career trajectories
  • Identity Insider research and associated ethical issues
  • Supporting doctoral researchers
Results from a Survey on Post-Primary Teachers’ Experiences with Calculated Grading during COVID-19

Results from a Survey on Post-Primary Teachers’ Experiences with Calculated Grading during COVID-19

In May 2020, as a result of Covid-19, the high stakes assessment at the end of post-primary education in Ireland (the Leaving Certificate Examination – LCE) was cancelled replaced by a system of calculated grades. In documentation sent to schools, the Department of Education and Skills (DES) made it clear that a calculated grade would result from the combination of two data sets:

  • an overall percentage mark and ranking in each subject awarded to each student by their teacher (the school-based estimation process)
  • data on past performance of students in each school and nationally (the standardisation process)

Following the issuing of results to students and the completion of the appeals process, an online questionnaire survey was conducted in the final months of 2020 by researchers at the Institute of Education, Dublin City University, with the aim of investigating how teachers’ engaged with the calculated grades process in their schools.  Data from a total of 713 respondents were used in a report published by the Centre for Assessment Research, Policy and Practice in Education (CARPE) on April 15th 2021. This report is now available to download from www.dcu.ie/carpe.  The following are some highlights from this report.

 

Assessment Evidence Used

Teachers considered many different types of formative and summative assessments when estimating mark and ranks for their students. Particularly important were final year exams prior to lockdown (98%) and final year continuous assessments (92%). Four out of every five teachers indicated that knowledge of how previous students had performed in the LC influenced their decision-making.  Significantly, 88% said that formative assessments were important also. One respondent noted:

Personally, I feel very competent in assigning the predicted grades to my LC students in 2020 since I had assessed their performance in detail over a 2-year period…. Each exam/ portfolio/homework was assigned a weighting and a record of their performance updated to our Schoology platform. Students could readily assess their own progress over this period and all this data enabled a solid predicted grade for each student.

 

Teachers’ Reflections on the School-Based Estimation Process

At least 90% of teachers indicated that they were able to apply the DES calculated grades guidelines strictly when estimating marks and ranks for the majority of their students. However, some reported experiencing difficulties in adjudicating marks at grade boundaries.  For example, 61% said that they gave 5% or more of their students the benefit of the doubt and gave them a mark that moved them above a grade boundary, with 21% saying that they should have awarded a failing mark but didn’t.  One-third of respondents said that they awarded a higher mark for 5% or more of their students because they thought the national standardisation process might bring the student’s grade down.  While 73% said that the moderation process to align grades within their schools worked well, 26% reported raising a mark and 17% lowering a mark following engagement in the process. Significantly, the vast majority of teachers (92%) felt that the marks they awarded were fair.

 

Other Reflections

One in three respondents added commentary at the end of the questionnaire, with many focusing on the stress brought about by the fact that they lived in the same small communities as the students they were grading. Many identified parents, school management, media and politicians as sources of the pressure they felt.  One teacher expressed it thus:

I believe that while it would be ok for more teacher involvement in urban centres, the nature of rural and small town Ireland made the entire process very uncomfortable and I am sure that teachers will feel the rippling exponential impact of this for some time.

A number of events that transpired following the submission of school data to the DES were also highlighted as problematic.  The fact that the DES provided students with their rank order data came as a surprise to teachers and caused great disquiet. The removal, in late August, of school historical data from the standardisation process, following controversy about its use for calculated grades in the UK, was a source of great annoyance, especially among those working in high achieving schools. That said, some teachers noted that calculated grades had been an acceptable option in the context of a pandemic and that many students benefited from the fact that the grades awarded in 2020 were the highest ever.

 

Conclusion

The implementation of calculated grades in Ireland was a historic event as, for the first time since the introduction of the LCE in 1924, post-primary teachers engaged in the assessment of their own students for certification purposes. While difficulties arose, all those involved worked diligently to ensure that the class of 2020 could progress in their education and/or careers.  In 2021, Irish teachers will be asked to engage in a similar process while at the same time they will be preparing their students to take the traditional LC examinations.  The plan is that the two assessment systems will run side-by-side, and students will be given the option of choosing their best result in each subject.  Our hope is that findings from this survey will be useful to all those responsible for overseeing and implementing this challenging task.

References and Further Reading

Doyle, A., Z. Lysaght and M. O’Leary. 2021. Preliminary Findings from a Survey of Post- Primary Teachers Involved in the Leaving Certificate 2020. Calculated Grades Process in Ireland. Dublin: Centre for Assessment, Research, Policy and Practice in Education (CARPE), Dublin City University. Accessed April 15, 2021. https://www.dcu.ie/sites/default/files/inline-files/calculated_grades_2020_preliminary_findings_v2_2.pdf

Doyle, A., Lysaght, Z., & O’Leary, M. 2021. High stakes assessment policy implementation in the time of COVID-19: The case of calculated grades in Ireland. Irish Educational Studies, 40. DOI: 10.1080/03323315.2021.1916565 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03323315.2021.1916565 

Prof. Michael O'Leary,

Prof. Michael O'Leary,

Prometric Chair in Assessment, School of Policy and Practice, Institute of Education, Dublin City University

Michael O’Leary holds the Prometric Chair in Assessment at Dublin City University where he also directs the Centre for Assessment Research, Policy and Practice in Education (CARPE). He leads a programme of research at CARPE focused on assessment across all levels of education and in the workplace.

Dr. Audrey Doyle

Dr. Audrey Doyle

Assistant Professor, School of Policy and Practice, Institute of Education, Dublin City University

Audrey Doyle is an assistant professor in the School of Policy and Practice in DCU. A former second-level principal of a large all-girls post-primary school in Dublin, she achieved her Ph.D. in Maynooth University in 2019. She now lectures on curriculum and assessment across a diversity of modules in DCU, contributing to the Masters in Leadership and the Doctorate in Education.

Dr. Zita Lysaght

Dr. Zita Lysaght

Assistant Professor, School of Policy and Practice, Institute of Education, Dublin City University

Zita Lysaght is a member of the School of Policy and Practice and a Research Associate and member of the Advisory Board and Advisory Panel of CARPE at DCU. She coordinates and teaches classroom assessment and research methodology modules on undergraduate, masters and doctoral programmes and directs and supervises a range of research and doctoral projects.

Making Connections in Higher Education

Making Connections in Higher Education

Relational Pedagogies

What does it mean to teach and learn in higher education today? And more importantly, what should, and could, it mean? These are fundamental questions that speak to the values that underpin our practice, and that shape the cultures we foster and work within and the experiences our students have as they transition into and through university. In recent work, we have suggested that despite the dominant discourses that focus on student satisfaction, that depict higher education as a product, and construct students as consumers, meaningful interpersonal relationships remain of paramount importance to both students and staff. Meaningful connections enable learning, and situating connections as fundamental to higher education can offer openings to reorientate the way we experience our work as educators.

This is a theme we have explored in our recent work. For example, using a creative story-completion method, we examined how relationships impact upon students’ experiences of higher education and surfaced the importance of relational pedagogies, where meaningful relationships are positioned as critical to effective learning and teaching. In this article, we drew upon data from a longitudinal study, in which students were invited to complete stories that enabled them to surface experiences and discourses surrounding relationships at university. Our data suggest that meaningful connections are crucial to accessing support. Most notable within the data were a number of key themes that recurred within the students’ stories and interviews.

Firstly, students reported that they desired the individuality of their experiences to be recognised. This resonates with other recent work examining how students experience belonging in higher education and highlighting the situated, granularity, and diversity of students’ experiences. Such work indicates a need to move away from understanding students’ experiences as universal and uniform. Second, our article surfaced the importance of achieving connections with others, and the experience of alienation when interactions are not genuine, or when communication breaks down. For students, feeling that they are understood and that they matter can be a fundamental part of their learning experience. In a broader sense, we can understand learning as situated within a wider web of relations, in which students do not exist independently and in isolation, but intra-act (Barad 2007). This leads us to ask new questions about how we want to engage with both our students, with one another, and encourages us to look again at the broader networks in which learning occurs.

From Metrics to Mattering

However, relational pedagogies, and the need for students to experience a sense of mattering, are situated against a backdrop of tensions within higher education learning environments that mean that such relationships cannot always develop. The higher education landscape has shifted dramatically towards a predominant focus on accountability and student satisfaction. At the same time, a wider era of global economic and health uncertainty means that students and staff often work and learn in contexts that are challenging for engagement. Within the neoliberal university, the student is positioned as a self-governing agent, as a consumer. Staff are under increasing pressures and experiencing high levels of workload and burnout. Our findings suggest that a greater understanding of the need to interact care-fully with our students is essential. In particular, we suggest that students need to be understood as more than customers, with diverse experiences, and that adopting such an understanding may enable more generative pedagogic relationships to develop. However, we also advocate the need to prioritise relational pedagogies, to find spaces for new conversations around relational learning to take place, and, crucially, for staff to be recognised and supported in their work developing learning.

Future Directions

There is further work to be done to understand more about what meaningful connections for students look like. This is an evolving area, generating key questions such as how we might foster connections when learning and teaching, as well as what broader sociomaterial actors might be involved in learning interactions, and how might we trace these practices and relations. Future work on relational pedagogies, connections, and mattering, to be published in 2022, will examine further the role of the relational within higher education and will argue that such a perspective offers an enriched understanding of higher education pedagogies that can be potentially transformative in creating the higher education pedagogies and practices we might want to be a part of. For now, we suggest that asking who and what matters within higher education, as well as acknowledging the importance of the relational, may be the first steps in moving towards creating opportunities for supporting staff to prioritise their connections with students. This might be in terms of increasing time for student-staff interactions, prioritising the value of teaching within institutions (and providing further resourcing), attending to the diverse day-to-day practices of learning interactions, or even just creating spaces for conversations regarding relational pedagogies to take place.

References and Further Reading

Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Duke University Press. https://www.dukeupress.edu/meeting-the-universe-halfway 

Gravett, K. and Winstone, N. E. (2020). Making Connections: Authenticity and Alienation Within Students’ Relationships in Higher Education. Higher Education Research and Development. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2020.1842335

Gravett, K., Kinchin, I. M. and Winstone, N. E. (2020) ‘More than Customers’: Conceptions of Students as Partners Held by Students, Staff, and Institutional Leaders. Studies in Higher Education, 45 (12), 2574-2587. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2019.1623769 

Gravett, K. and Ajjawi, R. (2021) Belonging as Situated Practice. Studies in Higher Education. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2021.1894118

Gravett, K. (due 2022) Connections and Mattering in Higher Education: Reimagining Relational Pedagogy, Practice and Research.  London: Bloomsbury.

 

Dr Karen Gravett

Dr Karen Gravett

Lecturer in Higher Education

Dr Karen Gravett is a Lecturer in Higher Education at the Surrey Institute of Education, at the University of Surrey, UK. Her research focuses on staff and students’ experiences of learning and teaching in higher education. In particular, she explores the role of connections in learning, and the impact of discourses and narratives in higher education. Her work also considers how theoretically informed approaches (posthumanism; poststructuralism; sociomaterial studies) can help us to understand how we learn. Karen is co-convenor of the SRHE Learning, Teaching and Assessment network, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, Associate Editor of the Higher Education Research and Development journal, and a member of the editorial board for Teaching in Higher Education.
Dr Naomi Winstone

Dr Naomi Winstone

Reader in Higher Education, Director of the Surrey Institute of Education

Dr Naomi Winstone is a Reader in Higher Education and Director of the Surrey Institute of Education at the University of Surrey, UK. Her research focuses on the processing and impact of instructional feedback and the influence of dominant discourses of assessment and feedback in policy and practice on the positioning of educators and students in feedback processes. She is also an Honorary Associate Professor in the Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning (CRADLE) at Deakin University, Australia. Naomi is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a UK National Teaching Fellow.