30 ONLINE 24 A, Paper Session
MeetingID: 844 3420 4776 Code: 78EuZb
As increasing numbers of people across the education establishment are waking up to the enormity of the climate and ecological emergency facing us, there are increasing calls for a meaningful response from formal education. Changes are called for both in terms of curriculum but perhaps more crucially, in the pedagogy that is used. As a result, there are many attempts to move away from teacher-led, classroom-based learning to embrace a more collaborative, open-ended approach that might build students’ resilience and action competence as they learn to not just navigate an uncertain future but take a hand in defining it. This form of learning is not easily achieved in secondary schools that are subject to increasingly strict accountability measures so funding from the European Union Erasmus+ programme was secured in order to engage six secondary schools from different European countries (Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Spain and Turkey).
Building on an earlier investigation into student-led school-community projects, this paper starts out with an account of this latest research into the impacts of such projects on students and teachers. The following research questions were posed at the outset: 1. To what extent do such projects develop action competence in students? 2. What other skills, knowledge, competences are developed (as recognised by the students themselves and their teachers? 3. Where does this leave us in terms of next steps - other than to simply promote such projects (or not) as a 'good thing'. This final question forces us to consider the philosophical dimension of any key challenges (and benefits) before working on further guidelines for policy and/or practice in schools.
We used a mixed methods approach to tackle our questions. To measure the acquisition of action competence we used a modified form of the SPACS-Q developed by Olsen et al (2019). The other questions were open-ended and demanded a grounded approach that would respond to the context and perspectives of our research subjects (Cohen, Manion & Morrison 2018). This avoided the positivist habit of imposing an external structure on subjects that might predetermine the parameters of findings. The question required us to understand learning at individual and institutional levels and possibly the wider educational system. With this multi-layered interaction in mind, the research was framed using Cultural-historical Activity Theory (CHAT) as described by Engeström (1987). CHAT explores actions and relationships at three levels: the individual, the collaborative (e.g. within a school department) and the systemic (e.g. the school and community). This multi-layered approach offers “a non-reductionist view of human activity” (McNicholl and Blake 2013: 295) paying attention to cultural and historical dimensions of the activity system elements: i.e. tools; rules and culture; division of labour and community. The 'change laboratory' is a distinctive approach of Activity Theory. Normally this takes the form of a facilitated stakeholder workshop but given the lockdown conditions prevailing at the time of the project we had to rely on a series of online focus group discussions with students and teachers involving over 30 students and 10 teachers. It is expected that additional data will come from interactions with 50+ students who are expected to attend a two-day gathering In March 2022. Participants involved in this have completed consent forms and parents of all students gave their consent to audio and video recordings.
The investigation reveals a by now familiar pattern of (a) challenges and (b) benefits to engaging in such work with students. Chief among the former is the challenge of embedding this type of learning into schooling models that focus on accountability while the rewards of doing so are evident from a long list of transferable competences acquired by the students. This in turn provokes questions around how such an open-ended, often idiosyncratic model of learning might be assessed. The paper ends by outlining a new cycle of research into ‘assessing the unknown’.
Cohen, L., Manion, L. and Morrison, K. (2018) Research Methods in Education. London: Routledge. Engeström, Y. (1987) Learning by Expanding: An Activity - Theoretical Approach to Developmental Research. Available online: http://lchc.ucsd.edu/mca/Paper/Engestrom/expanding (accessed on 17 July 2018). Engeström, Y. (Ed.) (1999) Perspectives on Activity Theory; Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK. Jensen B B & Schnack K (1997) The Action Competence Approach in Environmental Education, Environmental Education Research, 3:2, 163-178 McNicholl, J. and A. Blake. (2013) Transforming teacher education, an activity theory analysis. Journal of Education for Teaching: International research and pedagogy 39, no. 3: 281-300 Trott, C. D. What difference does it make? Exploring the transformative potential of everyday climate crisis activism by children and youth. Children's Geographies, 2021, forthcoming special issue; https://doi.org/10.1080/14733285.2020.1870663 Vare P. (2021) Exploring the Impacts of Student‐Led Sustainability Projects with Secondary School Students and Teachers. Sustainability, 13, 2790. doi.org/10.3390/su13052790
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