The college’s practitioner-led research network was established 15 years ago by a small group of research enthusiasts. From the outset it had an inclusive approach, welcoming research active colleagues whatever their role, and we have always felt it was significant (in organisational learning terms) that this initiative came from within the curriculum rather than the SMT. As the project became more ambitious, including having an annual research conference, coordination was formalised within the college structures.
A key milestone was the network’s 10th anniversary conference. There were contributions from managers, curriculum staff, support staff and business support colleagues; delegates from several colleges, universities and sector bodies; and a keynote from Professor Frank Coffield. We were fortunate to receive sponsorship and support from several sector bodies, notably the Learning and Skills Research Network (LSRN). Shortly after the 10th anniversary conference we were delighted to receive the NFER Research Engaged College Award. In subsequent years the conferences have featured high profile keynotes, such as Professor Bill Williamson, Maire Daley, and this year Mike Bell; but the main focus has remained on contributions from staff within the college, and celebratory research awards for our students.
The sector has experienced constant reform for at least two decades, and it is a cliché that the only constant in FE is change. However, the college’s practitioner-led research network has been an abiding feature of the college community, in part because it has been able to move with the times; and perhaps because there is a growing awareness of the significance of evidence-based practice in improving teaching and learning.
Our most recent innovation is the establishment of a new online portal for research-engaged staff in the college (and the wider sector) called Research Matters. Initially, it grew from a need to create an archive of research where practitioners could develop professionally, engage with each other and (crucially) contribute content in real time. In its previous life, Research Matters lived as a successful newsletter, circulating good practice and research opportunities periodically around the college and college networks.
The development of the website helped us build on this, allowing us to be more dynamic in how we publicise research, share opportunities and encourage discussion. The network has a number of key aims, which we hope to achieve through Research Matters. We aim to facilitate discussion within the college, FE and the wider educational community. Significantly, we also hope to improve stability and consistency of approach in a lively and ever-changing sector.