01 SES 09 C, Developing Professional Learning in STEM Education
This paper reports the findings from ‘Across the Divide’, a cross-sector research project designed to question how university-school partnerships can influence university academics’ pedagogic practice in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). This project interprets the imperative of constant change in education reform as a relational, outward looking endeavour, resisting the pressure to focus inwards on the modernisation of bureaucratic systems (OECD, 2015). Findings from ‘Across the Divide’ are offered at time when, in parallel with countries across Europe, schools and academic institutions in England are being encouraged to review and reflect on the quality of teaching and professional development, in line with the Teaching Excellence Framework consultation (2016) and the Standards for Professional Development (Department for Education, 2016). ‘Across the Divide’ seeks to advance the notion of critical reflection on the quality of STEM teaching and learning, by moving to what the OECD (2015, p.15) terms a “’meso’ networked level” of professional development in STEM education.
For decades the concept of the ‘knowledge economy‘ has informed education policy in Europe and around the world. Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) education is considered a vital component in ensuring economic prosperity (The Royal Society, 2014) and, as a result, large amounts of European funding have been allocated to the development of teaching and learning in this field. In a knowledge economy, education, and STEM subjects in particular, are “the new currency by which nations maintain economic competitiveness and global prosperity” (Duncan, 2010). However, research conducted by the OECD (2015,) suggests that in considering how best to reform education, we need to rethink traditional, formal models of separate institutional learning environments and move instead towards’ learning eco-systems’:
interdependent combinations of different species of providers and organisations playing different roles with learners in differing relationships to them over time and in varying mixes…not a “system level” but a complex series of interlocking systems (OECD, 2015, p.17).
This paper illuminates the process of developing professional learning relationships that aim to facilitate such ‘learning eco systems’ in STEM education.
Purpose and Perspective
‘Across the Divide’ starts from the premise that the rethinking of traditional learning environments can only be successful if we first develop professional learning eco systems across different sectors in education. Moreover, this research deliberately challenges the tendency for school-university partnerships to adopt what Greany et al (2014, p.6) term “a hierarchical approach in which the university dominates and practitioner knowledge is devalued.” Instead, in seeking alternatives to universities doing to schools, this paper draws upon the concept of a relational approach to engagement as espoused by Warren et al (2009) to inform its approach. Following Warren (2009), a relational approach in this context is defined as stakeholders getting things done collectively, starting from the point of their “shared interest” ” (Warren et al, 2009, p.2213) in advancing STEM education.
This study poses the question, how can university-school partnerships influence university academics’ pedagogic practice in STEM education?
‘Across the Divide’ aims to empower educators to reflect on and discuss practice and pedagogy in a bid to prompt and scaffold reflection-on-practice (Schon, 1983). The project’s aims were to lay the foundation stones for a professional learning eco-system by:
- brokering learning opportunities between leading secondary and primary schools and the University of Manchester
- engaging academics, teachers and stakeholders in opportunities for knowledge exchange and discussion about STEM practice, pedagogy and philosophy, through focus groups, study visits and film making
- identifying the similarities and differences between university and school STEM provision, exploring the implications to student transition and academic teaching and learning.
DfE, 2016. Standard for teachers’ professional development. Implementation guidance for school leaders, teachers, and organisations that offer professional development for Teachers. DfE, London. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/537031/160712_-_PD_Expert_Group_Guidance.pdf DfE, 2016. Teaching Excellence Framework: year two and beyond. Government technical consultation response. DfE, London. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/557140/Teaching_Excellence_Framework_-_Technical_Con_Response.pdf Duncan, A. (2010), U.S. Secretary of Education, Speech to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) 4th November 2010. Common Core State Standards Initiative. Available at: http://www.corestandards.org/ Greany, T. et al., 2014. School-University Partnerships : Fulfilling the Potential. , (October 2014), pp.1–16. OECD, 2015. Schooling Redesigned: Towards Innovative Learning Systems, OECD Publishing, Paris. Schon, D. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books. The Royal Society (2014).Vision for Science and Mathematics Education. The Royal Society, London.
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