The Further Education in England: Transforming lives & Communities research project is commissioned by the University and College Union (UCU). It aims to understand and provide evidence of how the further education (FE) sector is vital in transforming lives and communities in 21st century Britain.
From the outset, the project has used a digitally orientated research methodology. To date, the interviews for the project (40+) were video recorded, many with a digital SLR, others with hand-held smartphones. The prevalence of smartphones meant that some participants were able to record their own contributions and subsequently forward them to us to be edited. The editing process made us acutely aware of ourselves as creating narratives from the videos.
Our aim was to draw on film what was true to the participants’ voice, with coherence and accessibility. We did not want the lens to objectify the participants. The videos were hosted on a dedicated Youtube channel and embedded on the project website.
The digital platform, importantly, fed into the ethical way in which the project and its democratic aims progressed. In order to gain further approval that they were comfortable with the video narrative the videos were shared with participants by email prior to being placed in the public domain.
In several cases, the videos were re-edited in accordance with the wishes of participants. This was not surprising as many of the narratives were of an intensely personal nature and, indeed, the lens provided learners, teachers, family members and their communities with the opportunity to tell their stories through voicing their experiences and trajectories in education and the impact of this in the personal and public domains of their lives; each narrative exposed the distinctiveness and power of FE. The narratives also expose how transformation and the construction of positive educational identities allow for the reclaiming of spoilt identities.
A further aspect of the digital scaffolding that supports and enhances the project is the use of a dedicated Twitterfeed. This has enabled us and our participants to share interview data as the project evolves, thus allowing the building of a virtual community, which includes learners, educators and policy makers, and subsequently allows us to garner further responses and contributions from that virtual medium.
The voices in our study clearly illustrate transformative learning and teaching. The use of videos is an illuminating and powerful tool for disseminating the emerging findings from the study to draw on the experiences of students, teachers, family members, employers, college leaders and the local and wider community. The aim is to provide a 360˚ perspective of the impact that FE can have on individuals, their families and communities.
Jimmy offers a teacher’s perspective; his work with young and sometimes disaffected people highlights how ‘respect’ for the learners is essential in building a positive and productive learning environment where they are facilitated to thrive and reach their potential. His approach recognises that simply recreating a school environment in college isn’t the way forward. Instead, FE offers a distinctive learning experience that includes a more democratic classroom where, for example, learners use first names for their teachers and are encouraged to take leadership roles in group activities to facilitate the development of confidence and essential skills, for example, organisation and critical thinking. There is also a well-defined pastoral aspect to the programme of study, which allows for a holistic approach to meeting the needs of diverse students. As such, students’ background stories are drawn upon to address any actual and potential barriers. From this caring student-centred approach, new educational identities are constructed, ones with hope, that are engaged and forward-looking.
Claire, a former FE student and now FE teacher, gained from her FE course access to a new world in which for the first time she was listened to and importantly grew in confidence and found her own voice.
This led to her positioning herself differently in a world whereby she could move from being passive and instead take agency, for example, challenging gendered stereotypes in the private and public realms of her life. She began to see from a fresh and more empowered perspective. This change in her view of herself in relation to the world was integral to her transformation and to her success as a learner.
The virtual tools which include the twitter account and YouTube channel have provided a platform whereby the emerging data is made public in accessible virtual spaces. These different media are united in the project website through which we extend on the democratic process having invited comment and contributions from viewers for whom the stories resonate. This has created a powerful snowball effect, adding to the depth and breadth of the study.
Vicky Duckworth, Reader in Education at Edgehill University, and Rob Smith, Reader in Education Co-Director CSPACE Birmingham City University
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