by Philippa Cordingley, CUREE
Knowledge creation and management – building an enquiry and research strategy for a networked learning initiative
In 2003 the English National College for School Leadership established a research and development initiative to promote “Networked Learning Communities” (NLCs). The programme invited volunteer networks of schools with either Higher Education or Local Education Authority partners to prepare proposals for supporting networked learning for pupils, adults, school leaders and groups of schools over a three year period. Successful bidders were to be offered £50,000 per year and the opportunity to work with other similar networks. Forty networks started in September 2002 and a further 40 started in January 2003 involving some 1000 schools in total. The initiative was supported by the Networked Learning Group (NLG) at the National College, comprising approximately 50 professional and administrative support staff including a group of facilitators whose role was to support networks. During the Autumn term 2002 a small group of facilitator-researchers worked with the author, an external consultant, to start to develop the oriented research strategy for the programme highlighted in the symposium submission. This included preliminary work on defining what such a strategy might mean and the nature of its relationship with professional learning, practitioner enquiry and more traditional research.
This paper explores the process or developing an appropriate research strategy within an initiative oriented towards knowledge production. It does so through an examination of early strategic decisions relating to programme values, empirical and theoretical approaches to research utilisation, drawing in particular on the work of Huberman (1993) and concludes with case study examples of early research related work. In doing so the paper enters contested territory in full acknowledgement that the efforts of the programme make pragmatic compromises; the reflections here are offered tentatively to the world of academic critique for debate, refinement and exploration, not as simple solutions.
There are three core features of the Networked Learning Communities Programme that set the context and framework for developing its research strategy:
• its comprehensive attempt to embrace the complexity of networked reform in education communities;
• its emphasis upon enquiry oriented learning; and
• its claims to contribute to knowledge creation for and on behalf of others.
The NLC programme is positioned on the boundary between schools and teachers and university-based research. Some, but by no means all NLCs have strong links with universities and have specific research aims. An early question for the initiative, which will ultimately shape the direction of the Programme’s research strategy, is how far can or should knowledge creation be defined in traditional research terms and what is the connection to be made between programme approaches and those of academe? The scale of the programme, its 3 year timescale and its capacity to link policy making, practice and research all have the potential to complement established approaches to research but not necessarily to duplicate them.
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