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Action Research: Mark Smith

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Last updated 31 January 2013 12:22 by NZTecAdmin

View comments from Mark Smith, Director Academic Literacies at UNITEC Institute of Technology, taken at the Symposium in Hamilton, July 2011.

Key content

Action research as a means to transformative, sustainable change in a tertiary institution.


One of the examples that we saw in terms of professional development and changing peoples' approach to their teaching and learning was from Queensland University. Not specifically around literacy and numeracy but in general teaching terms, and that was to involve staff in action research on their own teaching. So we adopted that sort of programme, and fortunately we’ve got on our staff at Unitec in the education department a leading expert on action research who provides us with input and supervision.

The projects probably involve about 34 staff looking at their teaching and learning in terms of literacy and numeracy, largely; designing interventions and then evaluating the interventions. And that, we feel, is a way for them to take ownership of what they need to change, and how they’re going to change what they do the classroom in order to ensure that the literacy and numeracy is embedded.

A lot of the literacy and numeracy stuff for our staff, especially our vocational staff, is around a sense of identity in that they’ve come to Unitec with their area of expertise. So they see themselves as plumbers, or mechanics, or architects or electricians – and we don’t want them to lose that. But in joining an educational institution they need to adopt another identity which is that of educator; and that has to come from within, it has to be transformative. And one of the ways we think we can do that without imposing anything from above – although we have those sorts of systems in place to ensure that there is the transactional approach, I guess, to embedding what we need to do in terms of complying with the rules and regulations – but individuals looking at their own practices and their own identities and changing those, as you say, from within.

One of the things that we’ve tried to do is to take things slowly. And we’ve used the phrase ‘sticky messages’, this is from Malcolm Gladwell’s book on tipping points. Sticky messages being 'things that are simple enough for them to remember and to implement easily'. And so we’ve attempted to actually take quite complex things and reduce them down into smaller incremental steps, in order for them to make sense and to be more easily implemented. So that it’s not a huge change all at once, and it’s not onerous and it’s not too demanding – but walking alongside them in that change process and providing them with the support that they need. And some people make it more quickly than others, or they see themselves as an educator more quickly than other of our teachers. But all the same, just slowly walking and working alongside them, letting things grow organically and at a slower pace than perhaps the funders may want – but I think in order to get the sustained change.



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