ERG SES G 12, Studies in Education
Networking is becoming increasingly recognised as a vital component of the lifelong learning process, especially within the academic careers of emerging or early career researchers (Coromina et al. 2011; Capó Artigues et al., 2007). As stated by Hoveid et al. (2014), the role of people within an organisation is crucial, but, at the same time, the interaction and combination between people and the organisation structure is mutual and influences both, creating cultures. In this regard, one of the main aims of the European Educational Research Association (hereafter EERA) is to lead educational research in Europe, promoting the culture of international networking, in order to create dialogue and collaboration that involve not only a geographical connection (Moos and Wubbels 2014). Within this framework, the Emerging Researchers’ Group (hereafter ERG), one of the Networks of EERA, demonstrates to have a key role in promoting targeted activities in order to facilitate and encourage networking among early career researchers. In fact, as declared on the EERA website, the ERG’s ‘main strength lies in the support it offers to 'new' researchers in providing a space for discussion and collaboration with peers across Europe’ (2016).
As members of the ERG, we became interested in how emerging researchers are first introduced to the notion of networking and in understanding what it means for them in the early stages of their academic careers. Our research questions make inquiries with regard to the actual role and influence of such targeted networking activities, both in the long- and short-term, and the effectiveness of specific features of these activities from the perspective of early career researchers. In order to investigate this topic within the EERA background, we drew this study aiming to:
1. explore the range of EERA networking activities/events available to early career researchers.
2. understand early career researchers’ motivations for participating in EERA networking activities.
3. examine early career researchers’ expectations of EERA networking activities prior to participation.
4. examine how the expectations and actual experiences of early career researchers correspond with the goals and aims of EERA networking activities/events (as defined by EERA).
5. discover the long- and short-term impacts/influences of EERA networking activities on the lives of continuing researchers.
6. identify the most effective networking activities and tools in facilitating collaboration between early career researchers.
Realising the importance of choosing a theoretical framework that would enable us to consider the impact/influence networking opportunities can have on learning, career development and collaboration within both academic and social contexts, it seemed appropriate to examine the role of targeted EERA networking activities through a social constructivist lens (Baynham and Prinsloo, 2001; Street, 1995). Social constructivism emphasises the social context of learning, that is, ‘both the context in which learning occurs and the social contexts that learners bring to their learning environment’ (Kim, 2001). Consistent with Lave and Wenger’s idea that ‘learning involves a deepening process in participation in a community of practice’ (1998), our focus is on the opportunities EERA provides for interaction and immersion in such groups or communities. Other key factors considered in our research, involve early career researchers’ academic motivation and expectations. According to Bong & Skaalvik (2003), the self-concept/efficacy beliefs rely heavily on social comparative information as it reflects the judgements from significant others. Hence, it should be highlighted that since learning is socially and culturally constructed, it implies that learners act as social agents collaborating with other people and using the different tools and resources available to them in their surrounding environment (Kalaja et al., 2011: 47).
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