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THE CHALLENGES OF PRACTITIONER RESEARCH.doc - THE...

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THE CHALLENGES OF PRACTITIONER RESEARCH: SOME INISGHTS INTO COLLABORATION BETWEEN HIGHER AND FURTHER EDUCATION IN THE LFLFE PROJECT James Carmichael, Anniesland College of Further Education, United Kingdom Kate Miller, University of Stirling, United Kingdom This paper examines the advantages of practitioner research and some of the difficulties that have arisen as a result of an ongoing collaborative project between two institutions of higher education and four institutions of further education. In coming together for a research project, there is the necessity to recognise the distinct histories and cultures of colleges and universities. Arguably, the 1990’s witnessed the imposition what might be described as the industrial/managerial approach to teaching in schools and colleges. What is taught is largely prescribed and students have to undergo standardised tests. At the same time, colleges are inspected at regular and frequent intervals to ensure they are being properly managed and the teachers are performing their duties adequately. Verma and Mallick (1999) remark that the nearest analogy to this process is that of a large industrial concern where raw materials arrive at the factory gates, are subjected to various prescribed processes and finished products are sent to market to realise their added value. They also add that, to the best of their knowledge, few, if any, of the changes brought about by the 1988 Education Reform Act, which instituted these changes, were based on research findings. By contrast, educational research in HE is informed theoretically by the perspectives of the time in various disciplines that feed into educational theory. Quantitative methods are associated with positivistic claims for objective research, whereas qualitative methods are associated with phenomenological claims for meaningful interpretations of social practice. In reality the distinctions are not so clear cut. Quantitative methods are sometimes rejected as positivistic, but as Davies (quoted in Walford 1987: 243) points out, ‘All sociologies… are empirical and positivistic if they collect and generalise about data’. Quantitative research can also involve qualitative assumptions and vice versa. Most research projects are predominantly qualitative or quantitative but usually have elements of both approaches. The LfLFE project is no exception using mixed methods within a largely ethnographic framing. This gives a particular orientation to the project, which may jar with the industrial/managerial culture asociated with FE. The Project Members of teaching staff in four different FE Colleges were to be recruited as participant researchers within the LfLFE project. The research began with the perspective that a collaborative, team-driven approach was desirable, as ‘asking how participants understand, value and construct ideologies around what is being done, clearly points to the collection of first-hand, “insider” accounts in which subjects talk/write/reflect about their own literacies’ (Street 1995: 258). The use of participant-
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