The Power of Action Research

Image shows the cover of the OTLA Rainbow book, a person views a Zoom webinar with many participants. Caption 'OTLA Anthology of Practitioner Action Research Reports (2020-21)
The front cover of the OTLA 7 anthology ‘Rainbow Book’

It was amazing working as a mentor with seven maths and digital-focused practitioner action research teams as part of the The Education and Training Foundation / CC Pathways’ seventh year of #OTLA this year. All teams conducted powerful action research while managing huge upheaval to their FE practice and to their own and their learners’ lives during the lockdown period and the return to the FE classroom as in-person sessions resumed. This was a phenomenal challenge which they all rose to brilliantly.

The Rainbow Book (pictured above), an anthology of these projects, is now available and documents how 43 FE teams across England investigated how practical interventions could help improve specific aspects of their FE practice using team collaboration and feedback from learners.

One Essential Digital Skills (EDS) team I supported developed impactful new strategies allowing Adult and Community Learners and Council colleagues to access and use Zoom and Teams webinar platforms for work, education and social purposes. Other EDS teams developed curriculum and resources enabling learners to identify misinformation being spread online and to develop learners’ use of digital tools such as Google’s Jamboard or Sheets, collecting valuable evidence for their EDS qualifications.

A team of maths researchers worked with learners to create strategies to make remote ‘bite size’ online maths learning more achievable from home or in the workplace (including learning happening in a vegetable field from a tractor cab!).

A picture of 2 people working on tractors in a vegetable field
Online maths learning continues in the tractor cab!

Other research teams focussed on creating more supportive initial maths assessments, identifying misconceptions related to maths operations and working with learners to identify and manage maths anxiety related to GCSE exams.

Now, in year 8 of OTLA, my mentoring focus is again supporting those working with Essential Digital Skills learners, and is proving just as fascinating. This year I’m working with 3 wonderful Novus teams from prisons in the Midlands and the North.

The first team is investigating how to develop offline digital simulations to help prepare prison learners for the digital world, including online purchasing operations. Another team is developing a supportive mentoring network of prison-based trainers to help share successful digital learning strategies and resources already in use more widely across the workforce. The third team is developing a series of vocationally contextualised, bite size digital starter activities. These will support prisoners to develop the digital skills required for employment in professions including catering and construction.

As ever with mentoring, I am learning as just as much, if not more, than the teams I’m supporting. I’m discovering so much about the access and acquisition challenges around essential digital skills and how we can more effectively develop busy teachers’ digital pedagogy without them taking time out from the training room. This will be of huge benefit when I’m working with EDS learners in future.

I’ll be reporting back on the progress of the 3 projects in due course: research work continues until April and findings and recommendations for fellow teachers will be published later in 2022.

Published by ltaylerson

I am a former FE Computing and Teacher Education Curriculum Leader and ex-BBC engineer and trainer. Worcestershire-based, I specialise in teacher education and CPD, educator mentoring, digital skills and pedagogy, I am director of Real Time Education, an independent provider and a keen commentator on further education and digital skills on social media @realtimeedu. I completed a PhD in Education investigating teachers' use of informal social media dialogues for professional learning in April 2020.

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