Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Closing of the E4 Project

Today is the closing conference of the E4 project after two and a half years of really excellent research. One of the benefits of being an academic is the opportunity to get involved in research projects regularly. Ernest Boyer in "Scholarship Reconsidered" suggests that the four functions of scholarship are; Discovery, Integration, Application and Teaching. Discovery is the search for new information, Integration is about considering the cross-disciplinary context, Application considers how knowledge can serve the community, and Teaching is about informing, inspiring and learning from others. The best of research projects combine all four of these elements.

The E4 (Education for Employment) project set out to develop pathways to third-level education for disadvantaged students. In particular by working with post-Leaving Cert Schools on teaching techniques and technologies that aid learning, the students are able to develop new ways of understanding and comprehension. My role in the project was to explore which techniques and technologies best suited particular groups of students, and to train teachers in their use. I like to use the phrase "the Tech" to incorporate both the TECHniques and TECHnologies in one conception. By identifying correct combinations of the tech students were able to learn well.

I loved the training element of the project; visiting various educational institutes, meeting with the teachers/lecturers, and exploring the reasons why we teach and ways to do it better. There were often very strong disagreements as to the nature of our jobs, and in particular the role of assessment in teaching, but it is only through these types of discussions, where views are exchanged frankly, and teachers become unafraid to "show their scars", that we can all learn to be better teachers. As a result of these conversations one of the outcomes of the project that I am most pleased with is development of a handbook for "Teaching and Learning in Further and Higher Education" which I believe should be given to every lecturer and teacher interested in improving their teaching skills. I have included a link to an online version of this handbook below (it's a large PDF so it might be better to right-click and "Save As...").

The other really interesting element of this project was working on a number of creativity techniques. It was clear from the start that the techniques developed by Dr. Edward de Bono were the most powerful approaches available, and part of my research in the project was to extend some of these techniques to match our requirements. As a result of my work Dr. de Bono was kind enough to visit on a few occasions to see what we were doing and give some really useful feedback and very kind comments. Pictured below is one of Dr. de Bono's visits where he sat in on a class I was giving (he's the leftmost person in the picture) where I was teaching using one of his techniques, the Six Thinking Hats.

The lead partner on the project was the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) who I have worked with on a number of occasions on other projects, and they are a group of people I love to work with because through their work they are making the world a better place in a clear and discernable way. That is why today the closing ceremony of the E4 project is being held in Clontarf Castle, near the CRC. Such ceremonies are always bittersweet affairs, we celebrate the things that went well, the successes and triumphs, and we hopefully learn from the things that didn't work out. As with all of these projects, some people started off strong and disappeared in the middle of the project, whereas others shone brightly when the occasion demanded it of them. It's all part of the process.

For me personally, not only do these projects allow me to keep up-to-date with various kinds of research (which in turn informs my teaching), but more importantly they forge long-lasting friendships.

No comments: