Designing the (Pilot) Research

An interactionist model of learning

Looking back at this provisional period of study, it now seems clear to me that I started to put together an interactionist model of learning. To understand what this means it may be worth starting with Crotty’s proposition (1988, p. 3) that there are four interrelated elements of social science research:

  1. Epistemology – the theory of knowledge embedded in the theoretical perspective and thereby the methodology.
  2. Theoretical perspective – the philosophical stance informing the methodology and thus providing a context for the process and grounding its logic and criteria.
  3. Methodology – the strategy, plan of action, process or design lying behind the choice and use of particular methods linking the choice and use of methods to the desired outcome.
  4. Methods – the techniques or procedures used to gather and analyse data related to some research question or hypothesis.

Therefore one of the key decisions a researcher must make concerns which theoretical perspective should be adopted for the research project (Crotty, 1988, p. 13), which for my own project can be identified as a constructionist rather than positivist approach. According to Denscombe (2010, p. 19):

“Positivism” centres on the idea of using scientific methods to gain knowledge, and it regards the observation and measurement of the properties of objects as crucial to the way we find out about social reality”.

However, the scientific ideal of epistēmē – of absolute certain, demonstrable knowledge – has for many proved to be an idol and it seems that “only in our subjective experiences of conviction, in our subjective faith, can we be absolutely certain.” (Popper, 1959, p. 278). Thus although a positivist approach may claim a higher level of objectivity and certitude, “the absoluteness has gone and claims to validity tentative and qualified” (Crotty, 1988, p. 40) . As such, another epistemology – constructionism – suggests that there is no objective truth waiting for us to discover, rather, truth, or meaning, “comes into existence in and out of our engagement with the realities of the world”. (1988, pp. 8-9) Constructionism therefore suggests that human beings make sense of the situation they are in and that social phenomena are the result of human interaction and a suggestion of truth can only emanate from findings as interpretation. As Crotty (1988, p. 41) asserts,

“we are inviting people to weigh our interpretation, judge whether it has been soundly arrived at and is plausible (convincing even?), and decide whether it has application to their interests and concerns.”

It is widely argued that the choice of topic inevitably influences the research approach and strategy (Crotty 1998; Blaikie 2000; Cohen et al. 2007; Bryman 2012, Creswell 2013), and in terms of my own research approach constructionism – the notion that the world is constructed through interaction, association and coexistence – connected appropriately to the theoretical perspective of interpretivism, where research is undertaken to generate new knowledge about individual experiences to gain understandings of a phenomenon, in ways that Guba and Lincoln (2013) see as being truthful and life enhancing. Indeed, Weber (1970, p. 55) considered the individual and his actions as the basic unit of interpretivist sociology and suggested that it is the task of sociology to reduce these concepts to “understandable action, that is without exception the action of participating men”.  Further, Denscombe (2010), Bryman (2012) and Cresswell (2014) recognise how interpretivist researchers construct or produce knowledge by making sense of reality, offering insights into social processes and facilitating new understandings of the how and why.

Cohen et al (2011) look at variations within this approach and drawing on the work of George Herbert Mead, they highlight the approach of symbolic interactionism that directs attention at the nature of interaction, specifically the dynamic activities taking place between people. In focussing on the interaction itself as a unit of study, “the symbolic interactionist creates a more active image of the human being and rejects the image of the passive, determined organism” (2011, p. 20).  As Mead (1934, p. 162) writes, a person is a personality because “he belongs to a community, because he takes over the institutions of that community into his own conduct”. Correspondingly, as put forward by Herbert Blumer (1969), symbolic interactionism proposes the idea that reacting, interacting, responding and developing as a consequence of our found environment is what makes us human. This is an ontological assumption that links epistemology (knowing, thinking, understanding) with fundamental questions of being (ontology). As such, this approach offers a methodological perspective where the researcher is able to interpret, define and understand the relationship between ourselves as individuals and “the other”, which for Mead (1934) is the central mechanism of existence.

Guba and Lincoln (1989, p. 13) see this approach not “as a set of conclusions, recommendations, or value judgements, but rather an agenda for negotiation.” According to Pring (2015, p. 62), the fourth generation of evaluation, proposes that “realities are not objectively out there but constructed by people as they attempt to make sense”. Guba and Lincoln (1989, p. 88) also highlight the position of the researcher who cannot act as an independent observer, stating that “it is impossible to separate the inquirer from the inquired into” and that it is “precisely their interaction that creates the data that will emerge from the inquiry”. They also note that this position undermines the distinction between ontology and epistemology, as the relationship between inquirer and inquired-into are interlocked in such a way that the findings of an investigation are so closely connected to the inquiry process.

For my own research this means that the process of setting up a framework for young people to develop creative talents at school in more structured pathways into creative careers (DCMS, 2008 , p. 4) would become both the method of investigation and the findings. Put another way, the structure that I set up for this research is a framework of social interaction that is a “construction devised by an individual in an attempt to make sense of experiences, which are always interactive in nature.” (Guba & Lincoln, 1989, p. 89)

Research Design

 However, this does not deny the validity of a mixed methods approach and I think most researchers are aware of the ‘paradigm wars’ (Gage, 1989), in which a distinct division between qualitative or quantitative approaches were mutually exclusive, with Small and others suggesting that although mixed methods research is by no means new, empirical research now combine methods in ‘more diverse and, at times, innovative ways.’ (Small, 2011)

 

In terms of my own research, it is possible to trace my own development within the framework of Tripp”s cyclical model as set out in the adjacent diagram.

In the first stage it is interesting to note the plan of action was developed before the plan of research, which for me was to make contact with possible professional partners who would commit to the action plan, essentially taking on board an intern for a specific period in a structured work placement. Subsequent to this I then developed ideas for how and what to research.

In the second stage, the emphasis is to “act thoughtfully” to this end it was important that the action that was implemented was thorough and robust, following for example education guidelines and ethical considerations (of which more will be discussed later in this paper). For example, the action / placement only commenced after a number of formal documents were completed and students were carefully informed and briefed about the process (see appendix for information and consent sheet). A degree of monitoring was put in place with students uploading reflections on each placement day on a blog that I had set up and each placement was supported by a visit to ensure that the action proceeded along expected lines and finally the work placement was completed by an evaluation and review process.

This then produced data for the third stage which Tripp sees as the stage of “action research”, whereby the first data produced is then collated and analysed, this echoed my pilot scheme which took on board the first 9 evaluation sheets from the first placements.

The fourth stage “evaluate action” is a period to review the research process and reflect on the action both separately and together, which coincides with the transfer report in my own research. This process forms a cycle which is then repeated as further developments are put in place, in terms of both action and research which alter and change the nature of both action and research, but fundamentally maintain the same process and model. In other words, each stage of data analysis helps in the next practical step of the project which has enabled me to collect data with the ultimate aim of improving the piece of action (Arthur, 2012, p. 73). Or put another way, I wanted to construct a framework of “interaction that creates the data that will emerge from the inquiry”. (Guba & Lincoln, 1989, p. 88)

Indeed, following Arthur’s framework for action research (2012) it is possible to identify my own research design as sequential steps taken in the following stages:

  • As lead / single researcher I negotiated with local media professionals to set up some work opportunities, agreeing on both format and purpose
  • From these meetings a number of themes were identified as relevant to the project, which were then formatted into an end of placement evaluation – which would be both an informal discussion and a scale chart.
  • I identified a number of students who could pilot the scheme
  • I completed relevant paper work, consent forms, ethics clearances and so on
  • I then placed a number of students in a small number of organisations across a period of 6-8 weeks
  • I asked students to upload their responses to each work placement, outlining what they did and what they felt, with regard to the fact that this was an open network that could be viewed by all interested parties
  • At the end of each placement I then interviewed each student as an informal, semi-structured discussion
  • At the end of each placement I then carried forward critical reflection, for example, how students engaged in the process, what were the expectations, what more could be done to make the project more successful and so on, which overall, enabled me to address my primary research question which was to unpack the benefits of a creative and media work placement for key stage 5 students.

As Munn-Goldings (2012) makes clear that an action research project is one that continually alternates between enquiry and action. As I have made clear in my transfer document (pages 11-13), there are clear stages that I have followed in terms of the action that was pursued, but what is perhaps not so clear is the extent to which the theoretical enquiry has developed over the last 3 years.

 

As such, I can now see this as an inductive process of research that is inferring implications from findings for the theory that prompted the whole exercise (Bryman, 2012).  To that extent I initially felt that I wanted look at the relationship between employers and students to identify what key elements, ideas and practical strategies could underline such a relationship.

 

In terms of a theoretical perspective, it now seems that when I interviewed 3 students who had just completed their A level courses and seemed to be interested in pursuing some career path in the creative industries, a number of themes or codes were emerging, for example, the notion that a closer link with local providers could be beneficial in terms of self-esteem, insights into professional working practice, future training needs and career development ideas and so on. It was felt that any further efforts in this endeavour would be beneficial to future cohorts. As such, an enquiry into the theory of relationship could now be developed as this seems to be a key element in the process and a scrutiny of this area is something that I am now looking to revisit as a key theme in an analysis of the data and action that I have already put in place.

 

So it can be seen that in terms of Tripp (2003) the process of Acting Thoughtfully (both implementing action and monitoring action) did indeed lead to Research Action, which produced my first data set – which I could have analysed in more detail and to which I am now intending to revisit, particularly with the idea of coding or theming, of which I shall explain more below.

 

I also applied the idea of Acting Thoughtfully as I went to a number of local providers to seek their thoughts about such a relationship. In this sense, my action research was a two-step model – one which worked with students and then with providers separately, with the intention of matching them up at a later date. At the same time I started to develop a wider reading (literature review) which is also a useful way of identifying key themes relevant to my research project (Gibbs, 2012).

 

This process could therefore be represented schematically, whereby acting thoughtfully (by actually talking to people about a situation) and researching (primary data from my own students, alongside secondary data, researching a literature review) enabled me to put in place a meaningful and structured framework for interaction. I called this framework Creative Pathways.

 

I can also now identify that for each part of the Ed D at Bournemouth I was able to evaluate and reflect on the journey that I was embarked upon. In this sense, I was engaged in the 3rd quarter of the Tripp research cycle, in that I was both reflecting on the action and reviewing the research process, both separately and together. Similarly, the feedback, meetings and interviews (including this response to the post viva request) I was able to reflect and evaluate on what I had achieved and start planning on the next research (and action), which I am currently doing. As Munns-Giddings (2012) writes, ‘each stage of data analysis helps in the next practical step of the project’ p 73.  At present this for me means revisiting all of the meaningful research data that I have (both primary and secondary) and identifying a number of themes and codes that could be useful for me going forward.

 

1.   Research design, methods and data collection

It is widely argued that the choice of topic inevitably influences the research approach and strategy, which in turn will dictate the research design and method in line with the research question or problem (Crotty 1998; Cohen et al. 2007; Bryman 2012, Creswell 2013). As mentioned in the outset of this document, my own approach is influenced by the work of Ball et al and Ashton, who followed a qualitative enquiry into students as workers-in-the-making bringing together voices of individual students who reflected on their own journeys.

As an overarching principle, Archer (1995, p. 6) suggests that research is a “systematic enquiry whose goal is communicable knowledge” and yet, as Helen Kara (2015, p. 16) recognises it is also, “despite all the long words a normal human activity. We gather, analyse and use data constantly as we live our lives.” Indeed, as Saleh and Barkho put forward, social science research aims to “seek constant dialogical communication with its subjects” (2013, p. 6). So, in the last 24 months I have followed this philosophy and put in place a number of initiatives that have enabled me to build up a “dialogic and dialectical approach” (Howell, 2013, p. 81) with the subjects of my research project. Certainly, as Crotty asserts, “only through dialogue can one become aware of the perceptions, feelings and attitudes of others and interpret their meanings” (1988, p. 75) adopting a subtlety “geared towards collecting and analysing data” (p. 83).

To that end, during the 2014-15 academic year (and before I formally started the Ed D at Bournemouth) I spoke to a number of people who appeared to me to be interested in the notion of providing new models for employer engagement and partnerships.  Although this mainly took the form of informal conversations and meetings, at its’ most formal, this took the form of three separate forty minute interviews with three students who had just completed their A level programme and had been/were looking to develop a career progression in the creative industries. Reflecting on this period it was clear that very important interpretative moments came up during conversations in the field  (Schiellerup, 2008), particularly in terms of developing relevant themes, that could be pinpointed and highlighted later in my data collection.

Robert Burgess (1984, p. 102) notes that “there is a long tradition in social science research where interviews have been perceived as conversations with a purpose”, referencing the work of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Burgess posits that they demonstrated how conversations were of greater value than straight questions and answer sessions as they provided rich detailed data that could be used alongside other materials. To this end, I pursued this approach throughout my pilot study as I held a number of conversations with a purpose, with a range of local creative and media providers to discuss the possibilities of the setting up a work placement scheme. I also created a blog and took the first steps in setting up a work placement scheme, which I did in September 2015, with a student called Flora Devenport, who worked as an intern from November 11th – December 15th 2015 at the Photographic Archive known as the Archisle based in the Société Jersiaise[1]. I then placed Richard Allo at the Jersey Evening Post[2] from November 4th 2015 – Dec 17th 2015. At the same time, I was working with a student called Shannon O”Donnell on a number of projects that did not involve an outside placement – a video for the Safeguarding Partnership Board; The JEP/Jersey Museum Takeover Day; all of which took place from November 5th 2015 – Jan 7th 2016.

Overall, there was quite a lot of information that was available for me to use in terms of data collection for my pilot. For instance, the blog uploads made by students during their placement acted as a useful reference point and a permanent record of their experiences and observations during their placement which was useful for me to look over at the end of the pilot period. Therefore, any combination of the following could have been used for my data collection:

  • Blog uploads
  • Semi-structured Interviews
  • Meetings
  • Video recordings
  • Conversations with a purpose

Although much of this may seem like informal research, Helen Kara (2015) extolls the virtues of such an approach, arguing that traditional research does not recognise or value the potential of informal research, although she does suggest that this is beginning to be recognised, with more researchers privileging their informal research findings, that she calls embodied experience, or as I have noted “situated cognition” (Putnam & Borko, 2000). As such, it becomes clear that the set of research tools that appear most appropriate to my own project follow a qualitative enquiry approach – working with  conversations, voices and informal, unstructured articulations.

As has been noted the use of qualitative research is growing in recent years and is now of particular relevance to the study of social relations, for instance, Flick (2009) specifically links such approaches to the “pluralization of life”. He cites key expressions for this pluralization “such as the “new obscurity” (Habermas 1996), the growing “individualisation of ways of living and biographical patterns” (Beck 1992), and the dissolution of “old” social inequalities into the new diversity of milieus, subcultures, lifestyles, and ways of living”. Indeed, Flick argues that with the end of “big narratives and big theories” a new sensitivity is required to record and articulate “locally, temporally, and situationally limited narratives.” (Flick, 2009, p. 30) Developing this critical approach further he advocates that “traditional deductive methodologies—deriving research questions and hypotheses from theoretical models and testing them against empirical evidence—are failing” (ibid).

Flick (2009) discusses the reflexive nature of qualitative research and the appropriateness of adopting dialogical, conversational and interactive methods of engaging in an action research project. He notes that qualitative research is an umbrella heading covering various research approaches and underlines how each of these approaches differ in their theoretical assumptions, which could be identified around three basic positions of which the first is the tradition of symbolic interactionism which is concerned with “studying subjective meanings and individual meaning making” where “the empirical starting point is the subjective meaning that individuals attribute to their activities and their environments” (2009, p. 57).

To that extent, as I have moved through the action of this project I have never felt fully satisfied by a single method to use as a process of data collection which seems to me to be informed by an on-going dialogical interaction between all interested parties employing a range of qualitative tools and approaches. Indeed, in this sense the project is an on-going and dialogical form of action-research, able to identify key points of action at key times. Indeed, Arthur (2012, p. 72) makes it clear that “action researchers use any methods that are relevant to their research question”, and highlights the common usage of a mixed-method approach combining both qualitative and quantitative data. As he explains,

“because action research is based in or close to practice, often the existing practice materials/resources are incorporated into the research design as “data”, for example minutes from meetings . . . dance, collage work and poetry” (ibid).

In other words, I was able to use the blog uploads, the informal meetings and the initial induction sessions and form filling exercises to build up a picture of what the participants were thinking and feeling towards the project and importantly how the project could develop and improve. This is a process that I see as dialogical action which utilises a range of available data to look for ways of identifying, improving and understanding the action and the research. It has the ability to identify and prioritise the interested parties, while still promoting interaction and the communal nature of the project, in the spirit of symbolic interactionism – self-reflexive, subjective, varied and individual.

So in summary dialogical action is a method that fits into the ontological perspective of constructionism and an epistemological approach of interpretivism (social interactionism). The methodology is that of action research, with a theoretical approach taken from critical theory.  Nevertheless, what was required, at least for the purpose of the pilot study was the need to provide an acceptable, recognised and concise method of data collection that took into account the range of material that I had at my disposal; with due regard towards key concepts that need to recognised with regard to data collection and analysis, such as: frequency and distribution; sampling and factor analyses; exceptions and / or deviance; reliability; replication; validity and so on (Flick, 2009) (Bryman, 2012). However, Bryman (2012, p. 48) goes on to argue that  although some writers have sought to apply such concepts to the practice of qualitative research (eg LeCompte and Goetz 1982; Kirk and Miller 1986; Perӓkylӓ 1997), others argue that the grounding of these ideas in quantitative research renders them inapplicable to or inappropriate for qualitative research and from my own reading other academics, such as Lincoln and Guba (1985) propose alternative terms and ways of assessing qualitative research, for example by the concepts such as: trustworthiness; credibility; transferability; dependability; and confirmability.

To address these issues in my research I employed a scale chart, or what Bryman (2012, p. 237) terms a “self-completion questionnaire” as part of my end of placement interview and evaluation. This was based on a set of themes I had established during the action research process. I also provided a space for any additional comments (see appendix) which I thought would be useful to allow stakeholders to identify any aspect of the placement that I had not covered. The scale chart was completed during an informal discussion with each interested party which reflected upon the work placement experience.

As such, this did mean that overall, I was using a mixed-method approach to my research in an attempt to triangulate the data. Triangulation is defined by Bryman (2012, p. 717) as “the use of more than one method or source of data in the study of social phenomenon so that findings may be cross-checked”. Cohen et al (2011, p. 195) state that the advantages of a mixed method approach in social research are many, suggesting that “exclusive reliance on one method may bias or distort the researcher’s picture of the particular slice of reality and that the more the methods contrast with other the greater the researcher’s confidence”. Similarly, Flick (2009) also discusses the strengths of combining several methods and Arthur et al (2012, p. 147) reference the paradigm wars suggesting “a degree of pacification which now acknowledges that a combination of methods may prove to be a fruitful option, suggesting that proponents of a mixed method approach thus advocate a pragmatic rather than a principled approach.

In terms of my own action research I was constantly using information from meetings, informal discussions, blog posts among other sources to establish a grounded insight into the key themes of the project and the ways in which I was able to understand and act upon the data that I was given.

In terms of the scale chart, I considered using a Semantic Differential, a tool developed by Charles E Osgood (1964), which appeared to be an appropriate “yardstick for measuring similarities and differences in certain aspects of subjective culture” (1964, p. 174). As Osgood, sets out “in the typical semantic differentiation task, a subject judges a series of concepts . . . against a series of bipolar, seven step scales” (1964, p. 172), which I felt to be an appropriate research tool because it provided a cube of data indicating a degree of meaningfulness which could indicate to me how the work placement had helped to develop students as workers-in-the-making. I also wanted data to illustrate help me unpack the benefits of a work placement opportunity for creative and media students from my school.

Cohen et al (2011, p. 387) underline the usefulness of semantic differential scales in an evaluative context eg valuable-valueless, useful-useless, good-bad. So by constructing a set of separate scale charts for each interested party – staff, student and professional partner – I used the cube of data to indicate the relative success of each placement as part of the evaluative review. However, the scale chart was actually not based around single semantic propositions, but was more recognisably organised along the lines of an interval scale chart, with similarities to a Lickert scale (1932), first introduced as a technique for the measurement of attitudes. In this scale each respondent indicates their level of agreement or disagreement for a series of statements, around a closed format based on a single question, presented as a linear visual analogue scale (VAS). As there is always a central point in a Lickert scale (which distinguishes it from a Gutman Scale for example) respondents are able to visually see how they respond to a set question as a form of symmetry or balance between the two opposing ends of the question. In this sense, “the job of Lickert-type questions is to gauge a respondent’s feeling and if they sit on the fence then the researcher should know that!” (Arthur, 2012, p. 233)

As Cohen et al (2011, p. 386) suggest these are very useful devices as “they build in a degree of sensitivity and differentiation of response whilst still generating numbers”, which was the flexible type of interpretative response that I was looking for at the end of each evaluation, seemed appropriate to my dialogical, conversational and reflexive approach as a teacher-researcher involved in an action research project. However, it is clear that there are a number of limitations with adopting such an approach, for example, the assumption of equal intervals between the categories; or the subjective nature of interpretation whereby each evaluation scale would have different meanings to different respondents and so on.

However, just to remain clear, the data collection and analysis for the pilot study was centred on the information provided by the “data cubes” and for the pilot scheme I tracked the following three students in the following three places:

1.       Max Le Feuvre: Société Jersaise (January 12th – March 1st  2016)

http://www.hautlieucreative.co.uk/creativepathways/author/mlefeuvre05/

2.       Richard Allo: ITV Channel (13th Jan – 4th March 2016)

http://www.hautlieucreative.co.uk/creativepathways/author/rallo05/

3.       Meg Winton: Jersey Evening Post (26th Feb – 8th March 2016)

http://www.hautlieucreative.co.uk/creativepathways/author/mwinton05/

I then plotted the results from the completed scale charts from each stakeholder and divided the total score by the number of individual participant scores to complete a summative and single scale chart and provide me with a “data cube”, which I have set out below.

Summative data cube collection for the pilot study

Workplace data cube
It added value to your . . . It did not add value to your . . .
Understanding of young people who want to develop a career path in the creative industries Understanding of young people who want to develop a career path in the creative industries
Daily practice as the work placement student was able to make a significant contribution to work load Daily practice as the work placement student was not able to make a contribution to work load
Understanding of Key Stage 5 (6th Form) education Understanding of Key Stage 5 (6th Form) education
Your commitment to the local community Your commitment to the local community

 

Student data cube
It added value to your . . . It did not add value to your . . .
Insights into professional working practices of the creative and media workplace Insights into professional working practices of the creative and media workplace
Thoughts about a future career development in the creative and media industries Thoughts about a future career development in the creative and media industries
Confidence of being in a work environment Confidence of being in a work environment
Practical skills Practical skills
Understanding of theory Understanding of theory
Creativity Creativity
Achievement at school Achievement at school
Self esteem Self esteem

 

Teacher data cube
It added value to your . . . It did not add value to your . . .
The achievement of your student The achievement of your student
The skills and competencies you expect from your student as part of your course The skills and competencies expected from your student as part of your course
The way in which your student understands the professional context of your subject The way in which your student understands the professional context of your subject
To your own classroom practice with knowledge, skills or an artefact which your student brought back into the classroom that other students could potentially learn from To your own classroom practice with knowledge, skills, or an artefact which your student brought back into the classroom that other students could potentially learn from
Your own relationship with / and understanding of the local creative and media sector Your own relationship with / and understanding of the local creative and media sector

 

Overall, the data cube provided me with a number of positive starting points for my data collection to feed back into the action research. For example, it provided a quick method of data collection from a variety of different stakeholders; it provided a specific focus of how each stakeholder felt about the opportunities provided and helped me to unpack the benefits of a work placement opportunity for creative and media students at my school. It also provided a scale chart that could be analysed in relation to other sources of information, for example the student blog posts.

 

7.     The pilot study: initial findings as a contribution to the field.

So what was found out in the pilot study?

In approaching an analysis of qualitative data, Cohen (2011, p. 537) makes it clear that “there is no single or correct way to analyse and present qualitative data”, further that qualitative data “is often heavy on interpretation, and one has to note that there are frequently multiple interpretations to be made of qualitative data”. As such, Cohen suggests that researchers should abide by the principle of fitness for purpose, with researchers showing clarity on the purpose of the analysis, providing a set of possible intentions. Therefore, it seems to me that my own research was seeking to interpret, to discover patterns, to generate themes and to discover commonalities, differences and similarities. As Cohen puts forward, “the significance of deciding the purpose is that it will determine the kind of analysis performed on the data” (p. 538). The purpose of my study was to investigate the ways in which a collaborative partnership between creative and media professionals and creative and media students in Key stage 5 education could be developed and the ways in which such a relationship makes an impact.

Arthur (2012, p. 72) suggests that when analysing data from action research “we are concerned with learning and implementing change rather than (as in most other forms of social research) on description or constructing and interpretation” As such, it is necessary to think about data in terms of new possibilities for action. It is also worth noting that “in action research data analysis is a collaborative process of negotiation” (2012, p. 73). So that although, as primary and sole researcher in this project, it was important to maintain constant dialogue and discussion (dialogical action) to ensure that each review was used to highlight any matter arising and to ensure that such issues were addressed at the start of the next moment of action. For example, if you look at this referenced post[3] by one participant after her first day you will find 4 comments made by interested parties (her teacher, her 2 work colleagues and herself) which illustrate the “interactionist” nature of this project and this method of data collection.

Looking specifically at the data cubes presented from the educationalists (teachers) a number of interesting ideas are presented, with a high rating afforded to:

  • The skills and competencies you expect from your student as part of your course
  • The way in which your student understands the professional context of your subject
  • Your own relationship with / and understanding of the local creative and media sector

In terms of the workplace the data cube suggests that there was little value to the institution in terms of daily practice as the work placement student was not able to make a significant contribution to work load, indicating that at present local media providers were not really benefiting from the work undertaken by the student on their placement and clearly more work needs to be done in this area to add value to the actual work undertaken and completed by students on their placement. In many ways, this supports my own intuition that for young people to make a difference in the workplace there needs to be structured and focussed plan of action, as well as a supportive mentor programme that provides some form of intervention to ensure work is set and completed that is appropriate to their ability.

Lastly, it was revealing (although possibly not surprising) to identify a number of areas that are not developed in a work placement scheme that perhaps should be? In particular adding value to: Practical skills; Understanding of theory; and Creativity, which seems ironic in that creativity and practical skills are not specifically addressed and developed in a work placement in the creative and media sector.

Nevertheless, although broad ideas can be identified, as above, it remains important to detect and acknowledge individual differences and anomalies that arise out of the data cubes and attempt to at least understand the context of such variances and identify what can be learned from them. For example, in terms of educationalists and the workplace there was already a good relationship with the Société and the school (which actually paved the way for the first work placement to be carried out), as such, in this context there was a much higher score for Your own relationship with / and understanding of the local creative and media sector which came out as a high value, as opposed to the teacher who worked with the students who were placed at the Jersey Evening Post and ITV Channel Television, which scored a lower value.

Similarly, student achievement in their A level course was significant for those who were placed at the Société than other placements, with the teacher noting that the “placement at SJ made a significant impact on his learning enabling him to achieve his target grade of an A*”. Which I would argue is based on a much more developed understanding of each stakeholders’ needs than other institutions who are just forming an understanding.

There were also significant differences to be found in the how different students evaluated the same work place, for example, at the Jersey Evening Post, one student rated Insights into professional working practices of the creative and media workplace at a high value, whereas another rated this much less. Similarly, one student evaluated the same question at different work places – Insights into professional working practices of the creative and media workplace at the JEP and at ITV Channel with different value scores. I was also taken by the fact that a student who is categorised as having a lower academic potential (in terms of an ALiS predicted score) actually found the same work placement to be of more value than a student who is categorised as having a higher academic potential (again using ALiS data). So does this suggest that the work placements are more valuable to less able students?

Most notably there is marked difference between the experience a student receives at a medium sized company, with many employees and a small organisation that only has a couple of employees, which seems to allow for a greater degree of access, communication and cooperation, with students allowed to become much more involved in a greater number of projects with a greater level of practical and creative participation. Whereas in a medium to larger organisation there is greater demarcation of professional roles and responsibilities which means that students have a less “hands-on” experience.

 

Key findings

So to highlight some of the key findings from the semantic differentials I would suggest that:

  • There is clearly much benefit in developing such a relationship
  • There is much work to be done to try to develop an effective working relationship between the classroom and the work room at Key Stage 5
  • The benefit is subjective, particular and interdependent on a range of different factors – the student, the placement, the opportunities or difficulties that arise during that placement, the support offered, the understanding and recognition that is in place and interacting between each interested party.

Further to this I think there are a number of salient points that have been identified during this project, such as:

  • Businesses often require some persuasion to get involved in educational projects and it was felt that businesses are more interested in getting involved in educational projects if:
    • there is a clear connection to their community remit,
    • if it helps them in terms of attracting a younger demographic,
    • if it helps to generate a positive representation,
  • Businesses are often generally not set up to support an-ongoing link with education and often prefer a “one-off” project, rather than one which looks to support, sustain and develop potential young talent
  • Businesses expect talent to find its’ way to them and don’t really mind if talent comes through an organised framework (such as Creative Pathways) or if talent presents itself in another way (ie a proactive student).
  • However, there is a frustration from business that they cannot always find the right person at the right time.
  • Businesses don’t often recognise educational establishments (schools) as working in a similar professional paradigm to themselves, often seeing education as less important or of minor importance to other business concerns.
  • Different students make different impacts in different places at different times – highlighting the subjective interactional nature of each person in each place, but also highlighting the need for structure, consistency and mentorship to ensure that each student is able to reach their own potential in each placement
  • Teachers often find anything “more than” their own work to be a burden and are often reluctant to get involved or lack the commitment and enthusiasm to provide continuous support to such projects, often seeing this as “above and beyond” curriculum expectations.
  • Although teachers have some idea (to a greater and lesser extent) of the skills and competencies required by students for employment in the creative sector, businesses are pretty much unaware what is undertaken in the classroom to prepare students as future employees.
  • The ideology of a creative person (Ball, Pollard, & Stanley, 2010, p. ix) is recognisable in the work place, but is not evidentially identified or supported as on-going CPD programme linked to career progression or creative development.

Overall, the interactional nature of the project has allowed me to work over a significant period of time with local creative businesses, creative and media students and their teachers and it is clear that there is a real disconnect between these three invested parties and as such, I would like to propose a number of recommendations that could be implemented to address a number of areas of contention.

Five recommendations

  1. The need for local communities to embark on an audit of the creative industries – similar to the reports produced by Creative Industries Council (Create Together, 2016) (Create UK, 2014) but much more local in scope and presentation. To identify the scope and scale of local creative business.
  2. A formal structure, such as a local “Creative Skills Council” to be set up that promotes interaction, understanding and development and monitors quality assurance for creativity, education and community work. Essentially organisation that endeavours to link the classroom (theory) and the workroom (practice) more closely together and looks to bind together creative individuals and creative organisations.
  3. A policy intervention in Jersey that recommends and supports creative links with educational establishments which is aimed at supporting businesses. This could be in the form of a small grant, or a recognised skills certificate, or accredited award or standard.
  4. A greater sense of creativity linking the curriculum into valuable professional opportunities – easing the transition in the workplace and recognising the positive impact of early career facilitators, with formal work placements and industry experience of all kinds (Ball, Pollard, & Stanley, 2010)
  5. A greater focus on CPD opportunities in work places to ensure that high academic standards are matched to the professional development of both individual creative workers and creative institutions. To that end there needs to be some provision for a high level (possibly post graduate) programme of creative study on the island

 

8.   Ethics: reflection on ethical issues

During the project I have been aware of a number of ethical considerations and I have always aimed to maintain a high standard of practice during this pilot study. As an overarching framework I have worked by the BERA (British Educational Research Association) Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research (2011) and the good practice guide for Educational Research Writing.

As such my own ethical position in relation to this project echoes the humanistic, person centred approach (empathetic, respectful etc) as put forward by Rogers et al (2014) and as underlined by the BERA guidelines (2011) which celebrates the diversity of approaches to educational research and promotes respect for all those who engaged with it. Putting this into practice meant following a number of “necessary steps to ensure that all participants understand the research process” (2011, p. 5). I therefore followed formal procedures and key modes or administration and organisation that identified and engaged with above the line ethical issues. For example, I designed a participant information sheet (PIS) and consent form (see appendix) specifically for this project, to ensure that I was given voluntary informed consent. The PIS was approved by the ethics committee of Bournemouth University for the purposes of the pilot study and in the spirit of collaborative and participatory action, it was always made clear that taking part was voluntary and refusal or withdrawal was always possible at any time. Research participants were also given a full explanation of what was to be done with their data.

I was also vigilant towards the range of formal procedures and good practice that was in place as part of the Education Authority of Jersey, such as administration and completion of relevant paperwork, communication with parents, senior school managers and appropriate teachers and mentors. Such measures are put place to safeguard young people, under the legal duty of care for those who have responsibility for young people and is a necessary course of action, as a preventative measure to avoid potential danger from both negligent and non-negligent harm. For example, liability cover for both organisations and individuals is needed to ensure cover for any errant action or process that may cause harm. Identifying possible harm from a lack of due diligence, lack of care, an omission of duty or an act of carelessness towards a participant in the research project was always a possible, albeit minor risk, that I was vigilant to monitor.

There were also issues of disclosure of personal information, as students were encouraged to keep a blog diary of their professional placement and there were duties of confidence and trust associated with working in a media (news) environment, which presented a number of legal and ethical duties, which participants needed to be aware of before they became involved in the scheme.

In terms of below the line ethical issues, Bryman (2012), Creswell (2014), Pring (2015) and Kara (2015) identify a number of possible problematic areas. For instance, the ethics of working in a small community, of drawing on favours that could impact on the impartiality of the research. The impact of a personal (insider) involvement in the research process, is complex and contradictory and can easily blur the boundary between teacher / participant / researcher, as well as research aims and research reliability. As Pring (2015, p. 146) notes, the privileged position of the teacher in educational research “raises questions about the objectivity and impartiality of the researcher”, his answer is that,

“Objectivity is achieved in taking the necessary steps to eliminate bias or subjective interpretations of the evidence, and that is ensured by seeking wide and continuous criticism of the conclusions provisionally reached.” (2015, p. 157)

Of note, in my own position as teacher-researcher, is the risk of inducement which may involve the offer of an incentive or enticement which was a real concern for me in my pilot study. For instance, the fact that this project was driven by me, necessarily drew upon a certain amount of persuasion, coaxing, pleading and determination for me to both set up possible real-life work opportunities and to encourage both participants and professional partners to engage in the process. Thus raising internal ethical issues, as discussed by Floyd and Arthur (2012, p. 4) in relation to students taught by “relatively inexperienced researchers”, which adds further layers of “complex ethical issues.”

At times this can be seen as detrimental to the process of critical insight and perspective, particularly at the early stages when it was crucial to encourage participation from all stakeholders. It was also interesting to reflect on the ways in which a participant was selected for the project, which I tried to keep locked into the aims of the project – emancipatory, liberating, changing, challenging. In other words, seeking participants for whom a real life work experience offered possibilities for real world or authentic learning ­ (Ashton, 2011)

Similarly, as Cohen et al (2011) have pointed out a lack of long term gains and goals, could easily have an impact on the project. Although structured and encouraged by this Ed D course at CEMP, I wonder what the long term aim will develop into? Or what would happen if I wasn”t there? Although as Pring (2015, p. 156) notes, “there is no end to this systematic reflection with a view to improving practice”

9.     The next steps and areas for development

Looking forward, I have set out below a time-line plan for the next steps in my research project and in terms of action, following on from the pilot study I placed Shannon O Donnell at the Société (9th March – April 27th)  made links with the organisers of Jersey Live to secure another placement in the summer break based around the Jersey Live Festival[4]. I have also put in place a small four week project whereby a whole year group of students worked on a video art project for Jersey Live to be screened live at the Festival[5] . I have also held a number of discussions with other possible partners, many of whom are interested in taking on board a student as part of the placement research scheme. I am also working with the Jersey Education Careers department looking to increase the provision from the Creative and Media sector at the Jersey Skills Show 2016[6] and once again trying to connect students, schools and creative and media employers.

From this perspective I am now looking to measure the progress of this scheme not simply from the placement of a particular student in a particular environment, but from a series of interactions that connect – students, education and industry. From this angle the success of the project may not rest on an individual story, but more on the success of the framework of interaction that has been set up.

Moving forward I am aiming to draw on the evidence that has been presented through the data cubes to draw conclusions that have implications for future action, which still has at its” core the intention to connect the class room and the work room more closely together and allow for a much greater understanding and connection between the two. For instance, I will look to work more closely with those institutions who have received 1 or 2 placement students to identify ways in which more creativity and practical skills can be developed. I will look to link a greater sense of creative thinking to those involved in the project, to this extent I am planning to set up a conference that will allow a greater transference and transparency of thinking towards creative and media theory specifically identified and linked to working in a regional creative and media environment. I also need to embed more school work into the placements so that a greater value of academic achievement can be realised through the placements.

At present I will look to develop my research instruments and sharpen my skills of data analysis and I will continue to generate a wide range of information, ideas and data from the methods I have been using so far, and specifically I will look to:

  1. Conduct semi-structured interviews at the end of each placement
  2. Continue to use data cubes to evaluate project as a whole
  3. Go through interviews and blog uploads and attempt coding system to identify key themes, ideas and issues
  4. Contextualise findings in reference to key literature on subject.
  5. Move description (what people said) to analysis (how can what be said be interpreted as critical and analytical data?), to develop a sense of theory

From my pilot study I would now like to develop this initial approach to use the data to form greater insights into the experience and help to form a more coherent piece of research. For example, by

  • Analysing the information from the blogs and the interviews using “coding” or “tagging” around the themes that I was exploring
  • Drawing upon existing literature to examine the extent to which my findings supported or contradicted what is already known about this topic
  • Aiming to set up an on-going work experience programme that could be used as part of the school”s G&T / “above and beyond” and careers advice provision that helped year 13 students
  • Exploring the possibility of using professional work based experience in a creative and media sector to help students to secure more informed career decisions.

 

Final thoughts

The pilot project was clearly a useful element of the research as it certainly brought a lot of ideas and approaches together and to some extent I am surprised by how much I have learned and developed by undertaking this pilot. I still think that I need to clarify and develop my research questions and I think I need to design the main project in a way that allows for time boundaries, towards this I think that I need to “ring-fence” a number of placements for the main research, while still allowing the project to develop itself organically, which is similar to the way in which this pilot has been structured.

Ideologically I still believe in the project and I know that this has already made a difference to my own professional practice and I hope that it will also serve to impact on the local creative community in which I work providing “new models for employer engagement and partnerships between education and the creative sector”  (Ball, Pollard, & Stanley, 2010, p. 70), which in many ways was one of the initial starting points to this project. Indeed, as the Jersey Education Business Plan 2015-18 sets out there is a need to “research current and future skills needs of the Jersey economy” where “industries will be able to influence the development of vocational programmes to meet identified needs” (Jersey, 2015). Thus in many ways this research project has been a response to that plan and it is hoped that a discussion can ensue that enables a shift in policy and as well as a shift in attitude, even if this is just on a small scale in a small community.

I also hope that this research project has engaged with some of the ideas and debates that were identified as part of my literature review. For example, in reference to the report, Creative Career stories, Creative Graduates, Creative Futures. As an example, it was suggested that those looking for a career in the creative and media sector make “a lifestyle choice” when they choose a creative education and a creative outlook is already “a way of life”. Where even after graduation, “goals and aspirations remain focussed on creative practice”“ (p. ix) a sense in which “creative practice” provides “an ideology that they take with them into their personal working lives” (p. xi). I have certainly recognised and become more aware of this “way of life” during this research process and I feel that at present the real value of this project is in supporting and contributing to this ideology. As one candidate wrote on her blog on the last day of her placement with the JEP:

Being in editorial in particular made me extremely motivated to pursue journalism as a career, because I enjoyed every single task I was given there and I gained a really intriguing insight into life as a journalist. In addition to this, I am very pleased that I have managed to get proper experience of being in the workplace, because it means I have an idea of what to expect when I enter the world of work. I am very grateful for all the opportunities I was provided by the JEP and by the Creative Pathways programme, and I look forward to using this experience in the future

http://www.hautlieucreative.co.uk/creativepathways/author/mwinton05/

I also hope that there can be a much more sympathetic understanding of media and creative students which can inform teaching practice and help shift the epistemological stance of Media and Creative curriculum provision at Key Stage 5 in the classroom and provide a much more supportive and nuanced approach to teaching students who are about to embark on a search for employment or towards a HE pathway. As set out at the start of this paper, “it is vital that we have an education and careers system that inspires, equips and nurtures current and future generations to work in the creative industries and the broader creative economy” (Create Together, 2016, p. 26) and if anything contributes to the field of enquiry, then this is perhaps close to the aims of this research project.

 

 

[1] http://societe-jersiaise.org/photographic-archive

[2] http://jerseyeveningpost.com/news/

[3] http://www.hautlieucreative.co.uk/creativepathways/2016/03/09/archisle-work-experience-day-1/

[4] http://www.jerseylive.org.uk/

[5] http://www.hautlieucreative.co.uk/photo17a2/author/m-mckinlay/

[6] http://www.jerseyskillsshow.com/

 

Although it is clear that as the research project progresses I will adapt, adjust and modify the approaches that I will take, I think it is still possible to identify a number of important tools that I have both started to use for my research project and intend to use as the project develops. As such, I will broadly discuss several recognised academic approaches that seem pertinent at this stage of the process, whilst still recognising that other methods, tools and approaches may be useful and incorporated into the project over time.

At present, it looks as though I will investigate several cohorts and I am not sure if I will track every member, every time I take a sample. In other words, looking specifically at my own study I am looking to track a small number of students that I have taught. As such, I started this process at the end of the academic year 2013-14, when in the September of 2014 I wrote to 35 students who were part of my A2 Media Studies A level and asked them if they would like to be part of my research study.

Subsequent to this initial contact, a small sample did agree to join the research group and I have spoken to several of them separately about a number of ideas related to my research topic. I have also started to formally record interviews with members of the group. So far I have interviewed three people in three separate interviews lasting about 25-30 minutes and from this initial research, it appears at present that I am looking to track students over time, but sample them at different points across the study, most likely according to the needs to the project.

So in the first instance, it was to talk to students about how they had progressed since leaving school and in the second instance it was a much more formally structured interview based on the same format of questions, with the interview taking place pretty much in the same control conditions – same room/location, equipment, questions and format. With pretty similar supplementary questions used to expand and explore the set questions.

In terms of the approach I have taken so far it is clear to me that I have conducted a number of provisional, semi-structured, informal & semi-structured formal interviews and meetings. I have done this to explore a range of initial ideas and attitudes to looking at the links between the classroom and the workplace, whilst accounting for the role of HE in this relationship. For instance, I have spoken to students, staff, parents, government ministers, civil servants and business leaders.

The benefit of a semi-structured meeting is that is allows for a flexible, exploratory and probing discussion, which at an initial stage of research seems to be a good tool to allow a range of participants to explain, clarify, discover, interact and prompt each other so that some way forward is found, which for me can be then developed through an action based research plan. As a method interviews are seen as very effective, as Dooley notes the potential for face to face encounters builds trust, rapport and cooperation (2001, p. 122), which allows for intervention of interviewee and interviewer to seek clarification or development. Interviews usually allow for follow up and development and in my own case if I have conducted a formal or informal interview it has certainly put in place a follow up meeting or target.

The specific conditions of an interview usually provide a controlled environment in terms of time allocated, specific spaces, low noise levels and other distractions that could impact on the quality of exchange of information and understanding. As Fowler has noted ‘the effective interviewer is business-like and assertive whilst being friendly, engaging and kind’, (2009, p. 128) and I certainly hope that I have fulfilled these criteria. I certainly think that my own position of standing in a relatively tight-knit and small community has provided access to information, people and structures that could (in another environment) have proved prohibitory.

On the other hand it is worth recognising some of the limitations of this tool. For example, the lack of standardisation in terms of questions, setting, responses and so on, may affect consistency and thus reliability. For example, even the same questions have different meanings for different participants and may of course be phrased, delivered and communicated in a range of different ways which can significantly impact on inference and understanding. Similarly, I have found that difficulties in availability and scheduling have meant that most interviews have come at the end of a very long period of request and communication to find a suitable time and place. Therefore, it is difficult to get quick results and a fast moving project when reliant upon this tool. As a final point it is worth noting that interviews are prone to subjectivity and bias on the part of the interviewer and certainly I feel that I have my own agenda and can recognise that my own impartiality and bias are in many ways the underpinning framework and structure of the interview process. Particularly, as at present I am convinced that there is a divide between classroom and workroom are not currently bridged and I really want to put some structures in place to bridge this divide.

Nevertheless, as put forward in Cohen, the conception of an interview as ‘pure information transfer’ – a  transaction which necessarily has bias and an encounter necessarily sharing many features of everyday life seems to be an appropriate and useful method for conducting and carrying out at least the initial research into this project. As Cohen states the purposes of an interview is to gather data and to test a hypothesis, as such an interview appears to be a principal means of gathering information which will have a direct bearing on the research objectives, a principal means of testing a hypothesis, and a good means of following up unexpected results.

Therefore through a direct verbal interaction between individuals – as distinct from say a questionnaire the informal interview allowed me to raise a number of key issues to be discussed in an everyday conversational style. In other words, it was free from any technical or specific language. It was essentially centred around a discussion in how students progressed from formal Key Stage 5 education towards their end goal which was a career path within the creative industries. It struck me that a number of different strategies were put in place by a range of varied individuals, most of which chose to pursue a course at HE as the most obvious and accepted process of development. However, there were a small number of individuals who chose not to pursue this route, for a number of different reasons and felt that an alternative may be found within the local media community. Again some students had some success and some did not. Overall, this lead me to think that more could be done to make the option more supported and reliable as a valid career pathway.

Overall, these initial approaches have lead me to start thinking about what I now understand to be action research.

Methods and approaches to gathering information

Thinking in more detail about this approach would be to classify my action research as a participatory programme of research which ‘concentrates on undertaking research with people rather than on or about them’ as Howell continues:

Participants are involved the research process and situation, which will usually take place in their own groupings or organisations. Participants are involved in the data gathering and analysis and plot the success and direction of the research; this means developing questions and answers as shared experiences (2013, p. 96)

Thus, I am looking to develop a framework of opportunities to draw information, which will include a blog, where each participant is able to upload a reflection of their work placement as a reflective diary. This method also allows individual participants (and those associated with the project – business leaders, other teacher, parents etc) to see the programme as a whole, as individual blog posts are available for all to read. The blog also allows anybody interested or invested into the scheme to make individual contributions as comments.  I am also asking the student participants to produce a short video that represents their own experience of the scheme, which again will be uploaded and published on the creative pathways blogsite (http://www.hautlieucreative.co.uk/creativepathways/).  Similarly, I will also conduct semi-structured interviews with participants that allow them to express their own ideas, thoughts and experiences in a format that still seeks to answer the key questions of my research proposal.

The benefits of using semi-structured interviews, a collaborative video and a shared blog, is that it allows for a flexible, exploratory and probing nature of research data collection. Such an approach is reflexive and discursive, which fits into an action research model that is prioritising theory/thinking, action/doing, evaluation and reflection. It seems to me to provide a set of useful tools to encourage a range of participants to explain, clarify, discover, interact and prompt each other forward.

Crucial to this process is a ongoing interaction that prioritises face to face, through meetings, visits, chance encounters and formal meetings which builds trust, rapport and allows for intervention of interviewee and interviewer to seek clarification or development cooperation (Dooley, 2001). Similarly, it is worth reflecting on the specific conditions of an interview to provide a controlled environment in terms of time allocated, specific spaces, low noise levels and other distractions that could impact on the quality of exchange of information and understanding. As Fowler has noted ‘the effective interviewer is business-like and assertive whilst being friendly, engaging and kind’, (2009, p. 128) and I certainly aim to fulfil these criteria. On the other hand it is worth recognising some of the limitations of this tool. For example, the lack of standardisation in a semi-structured interview, the variation in setting, responses and so on; which may easily affect (among other areas) consistency, validity and reliability.

Similarly, difficulties in availability and scheduling can mean that interviews occur at times not always conducive to consistency, authenticity and reliability. Talking to a HR manager in the middle of busy day in a creative environment can implicitly set its own agenda, based around notions of time, usefulness and priority. Similarly, talking to a work placement student, in a work placement environment, may not always be conducive to honesty, critical reflection or distance. I also need to bear in mind that interviews are prone to subjectivity and bias on the part of the interviewer and I can already identify instances when my own agenda, lack of impartiality and bias are significantly influencing a number of conversations, meetings (ie research) and action. Indeed, as I have already identified I am never absent from this project which in many ways underpins the framework and structure of the data collection process. Nevertheless, the conception of an interview as put forward in Cohen et al (2011) as a ‘pure information transfer . . . a transaction which necessarily has bias and an encounter necessarily sharing many features of everyday life’, (p. 409) seems to me to be an appropriate and useful method for conducting and carrying out research that has at its heart a belief in co-creation, participation and reflection.

Similarly, opportunities for my participants to make a short video and upload regular ‘diary’ comments to the blog are methods which allow me to shape and control the structure of the project, whilst still allowing for notions of co-creation, cogeneration, interaction, reflexivity and participation, characteristic of the methodological framework of theoretical position. It also recognises the objective nature of the research action (the work experience scheme) as reconciled to the subjective experience and understanding of its participants. As Howell writes, ‘for the participatory paradigm of inquiry, knowledge is organic and firmly based on the critical subjectivity and practical understandings of the researcher and the researched’ (2013, p. 95). Or as Hall (1996) has noted, ‘reflexivity is an integral element and epistemological basis of emancipatory action research’.  As such, there is a self-consciousness and awareness (that I have already experienced as being part of this project) which raises issues of ethical concern and the need for a range of intervention strategies.

 

Ethical consideration and intervention strategies

It could be argued that the framework I am choosing to use highlights the absence of a scientific approach, an approach where action masks theory, where the distinction between social activism and, or professional development take priority over valid research concerns, where communities and individuals could be manipulated and exploited by researchers who have either an agenda of their own, or a relationship between researcher and researched that is too close for critical distance and objectivity.

In my own project, it is clear that I already have a clearly defined relationship to my participants (teacher/student) and it is important to reflect on the way in which that relationship could change during the research process. I am also aware that the scheme I am working on was conceived and developed by myself and has already demanded a lot of time, energy, drive and commitment to get it started, which necessarily would suggest a relationship and impact in terms of how I reflect objectively on both the aims and ambitions of the scheme, the research and importantly the way in which I interact with particular individuals and organisations. This raises a number of questions, in terms of the project itself: what happens to the research scheme when my research has finished? What happens if the scheme expands or if it disappears? Is it possible to track the impact of the scheme beyond the research framework? In terms of an ethical consideration it raises a number of issues that will need to be contextualised and monitored such as the impact of ‘participant-as-researcher-and-practitioner’, as clearly there is a personal involvement in terms of perceptions, feelings, emotions, actions, opinions, which Tricia Le Gallais explored in Wherever I go there I am: reflections on reflexivity and the research stance (2008).

Similarly, as previously mentioned, criticism can be levelled against small projects which often raise questions about how generally their findings are relevant, valid and reliable, and how generally they can and should be applied in policy and practice. These questions are both scientific and ethical, when research findings might be inaccurate, misleading and used to support unhelpful and even damaging policies. On the other hand, small scale studies can offer more in-depth knowledge of people’s views, experiences and reactions, as well as more detailed descriptions and analyses of processes, complications and apparent contradictions.

As my research is ‘overt’ (ie not covert) and aims to build on participatory involvement, there are a number of tools and approaches which should help to ensure a sense of separation, objectivity and critical distance. For instance, the research includes an on-going public platform (the blog), I am using a number of administrative documents, such as a signed consent form (the ‘gold standard’) which includes signatures from parents, a participant information sheet, an induction hand-book and other letters home. I also ensure a set of (two tier) pre-placement meetings with students and myself, and then with the student, the placement mentor and myself, before each placement starts. I have also produced an number of information sheets that outline what each placement entails. I also maintain an on-going conversation with the Senior Leadership of my own school, as well as communicating with parents and the Education Department. I am CRB checked and I am aware of my own professional responsibilities towards my participants which at times is above and beyond my duties as a school teacher, for example, in arranging and attending meetings in their work placement environment. Such meetings are an important part of the process and could easily be overlooked, but meeting with company representatives to ensure that a range of above the line issues such as health and safety liability, duties of care and negligence and appropriate insurance issues are clearly discussed and understood, is vital to ensure wellbeing, security and good practice..

Similarly, the pre-placement procedure includes a number of recommended tasks for the participant to complete before starting the placement – such as researching the company, producing a CV, reflecting on issues of professional behavior in a creative workplace and potential health and safety hazards. With regard to the work I have already undertaken, issues of confidentiality and disclosure in a news room and more broadly within a professional organization have been highlighted as a very sensitive issue, particularly, where a participant may be working across several different media outlets as part of their overall workplace experience.

Pre-placement interaction also seeks to explain the purpose and background of the study as clearly and simply as possible and to highlight and address the rights and responsibilities of those taking part. Most importantly, that taking part is voluntary and that participants can refuse to take part or can withdraw at any time without the requirement to provide a reason. It is also important to separate the participation in the scheme from their progress as a student, or as a potential employee or indeed just from their own emotional wellbeing as a human being with access to clearly defined rights and privileges as set down in law.

There are also a number of ‘below the line’ issues, which at times are hard to notice and separate. For instance, the notion of deception or inducement could easily find its presence on the scheme, particularly as without a willingness on the part of the student/participant to take up the work experience placement, the scheme/research could potentially fail. Equally, there are potential risks in this area with regard to those employers who are being encouraged and enticed to become invested into the scheme. For example, there is a responsibility toward future research and working relationships, which issues of inducement and deception could contaminate. To that extent I believe that the layers of interested representatives who I have involved in this scheme will provide the necessary checks to intervene, or to change, alter or even terminate the research process. For example, the course structure at CEMP, where I am bound towards the responsibility I have made to my own University Ethics Committee, is one method of ensuring critical distance, as are parents, the student participants, institutional representatives, educational managers and so on – who are all able to intervene, question and check the ethical nature of the research programme. As such, I feel that I comply with the concept of deontology concerns duties associated with justice, respect and doing no harm. It involves strong principles and acknowledges that research is first and foremost a moral activity about human relationships, a complicated balancing between many opposing options (Hallowell N, 2004).

Pilot Structure

Implicit within the structures that I have set up so far, there are a range of other methods that could be used to provide data for this research project. For instance, observation, personal account & portfolio building are all possible through mentor visits and meetings and through visual and written evidence uploaded to the blog. There is also the possibility of review and evaluation questionnaires, either during, starting or at the end of the work placement scheme. There is also the possibility to obtain data from informal and formal progress, review and evaluation meetings. As students on this scheme are studying within my own Faculty, it is also possible to retrieve and analyse a range of documentation relating to academic performance that appear to be useful methods of retrieving information and data for this study.

However, as I have already made clear the type of methods I want to use must fit into the philosophical methodology that I have already identified. The research for this pilot study also needs to fit into the time-bound framework of my course at CEMP. As such, I have four students who have agreed to be part of the Creative Pathways scheme. The scheme maintains different work placements for different students at different work places, the placement generally last for 7-8 weeks, with students spending a number of hours (at least 2, at most 7, depending on the placement) at a specific institution, in a framework that has already been agreed and understood.

At present three local media and creative companies that have agreed to be part of the scheme: ITV Channel Television, the Jersey Evening Post and the Société Jersaise. The fourth student is part of the project working on a 30 second moving image advert for the Safeguarding Partnership Board (http://www.hautlieucreative.co.uk/creativepathways/2015/11/24/meeting-with-the-early-help-project-spb/) which does not require her to be in an outside location for a set time period unlike the others.  As such, once I have obtained ethical clearance I will be looking to obtain research data from these four participants from the methods I have already described: semi-structured interviews, blog posts and participant video.

.Final Thoughts

My pilot project will also help me to adapt, reconcile and understand a number of academic approaches that seem pertinent to my project, so that I am able to maintain an open and fluid approach, as appropriate for a research project based on the theory of symbolic interactionism.

A key area of study that has made some impression on me is the notion of American Pragmatism. Not only because it resonates in a lot of reading that I have engaged with so far, but also because it appears to have sympathy with ‘philosophical conceptions and practical results’, (incidentally this was title of a lecture delivered by William James on 26th August 1898 to the Philosophical Union, at the University of California, Berkley).  As Richard Bernstein stated in his lecture at Beltoit College in 2013 ‘to be pragmatic is to be eminently practical, to know what the real world is really like and to adopt to its realities’.

In other words, this is an approach to philosophy, which holds that the truth, or meaning of a statement is to be measured by its practical or ‘pragmatic’ consequences.

Referring to my own intentions I would be disappointed if my own research and efforts did not result in more than an 80,000 word commentary, as it is my intention to formulate and develop not only a better understanding of classroom and workroom practice, but to actually put in place a number an objectively real structure that looks to provide a ‘transformational pathway’ for creative young people.

 

 

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