drops in the ocean - Which practice and educational research for today’s society?
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Some teachers and pedagogy scholars have been pursuing, for about two years, a project inspired by straightforward collaboration between academic research and educational practice, aimed at bringing educational improvements designed and developed by protagonists to light
A simple and exciting idea, in summer 2010, attracted a growing, number of participants of the web community lascuolachefunziona.it# (LSCF), in a collective effort aimed at spreading worldwide the many fine insights and educational achievements stemming from the dedication and passion of those people working for the Italian school.
Within a few weeks, more than fifty experiences were collected from the participants, described in english in a concise and effective summary, that could be developed and circulated through an international publication
Underlying that summertime rush was probably also the urgent need to tackle the continuing pressure by the government institutions and mass media influence that discourage teachers, impoverish and bring discredit on public school. By contrast, grassroots experiments flourished in the last decades; teachers as well as of cultural associations and other important parts of the civil society, joined in the creative development of educational situations, broadening environments and devising new methods.
Sadly, many effective experimentations and successful results remain unknown outside the small group of stakeholders; moreover they cannot be long lasting, not being able the promoters to extend their commitment over time. They are drops in the ocean, which do not seem to change the education system as a whole. On the contrary, they will do, if we will be able to capture the spirit of those who ventured into improving education, so that every drop will leave its trace, any ocean it will happen to fall into.
The idea we had floated initially was about working on a publication of good academic level. Over several months, the goal was developed and framed in much more general terms; in discussions with many people within the LSCF, and thanks to the collaboration of Luigi Guerra, Dean of the Faculty of Sciences Education of the University of Bologna and Elena Pacetti, a researcher at the same institute, the implications of greater scope that the momentum already contained were clarified.
Luigi Guerra and Elena Pacetti finally joined the editorial board with us.
A further co-editor, Jonathan Bishop, later got on board, with the lead role as english style reviewer.
Our first objective was to highlight the improvements in teaching, implemented directly by those who designed them, stressing the importance of personal relationships in educational success, compared to the methodology and technology used.
While not every teachers can get the same results by employing given methodologies and tools, because of different specific skills, knowledge and dispositions, original solutions can be a source of inspiration for many, provided that they have been clearly outlined, difficulties of implementation
From these convictions, a natural development of the current publication project would lead to the dissemination of experiences through the voices of the protagonists themselves, so that every witnessed experience have stronger impact on the audience
Another idea, we were considering connected to the above one was about fostering a confrontation space where real life stories can be acknowledged by pedagogy and sociology scholars, so as to provide them with elements to assess and compare the original traits of the experiences and to extend their potentials.
Both aims contributed to ground our publication plan, as detailed below.
So the Drops in the Ocean project is gradually maturing a further purpose: to help to create a place of permanent confrontation between all the parties involved, looking to a society committed as educating community. We hope straight relationships between people involved in education will grow in the future, under the direction of an authoritative council, to underpin local initiatives by emphasizing those principles, shared by all beliefs and culture, underlying education of rising generation.
An international publication
The opportunity that gave rise to that explosion of ideas that spread through the LSCF web community, summer 2010, came from the IGI-Global publisher, based in Hershey, Pennsylvania (USA), that spurred the editors to work out a plan to collect contributions for a book that was to meet the following requirements:
Giving appropriate emphasis to the successful practices devised by teachers or other realities of local civil society, along with pedagogical lines emerging from the activities that had been described.
Giving authors the opportunity to indicate research directions to those people working in academic.
Presenting results of teaching experiments suitably framed so that scholars in pedagogy and social sciences can easily determine all the valuable aspects.
Following our purposes, as stated above, we firstly turned our attention to the originality and the success of the experiences, in the specific conditions in which these had been carried out, then we made our attempt to establish a communication channel from the bottom up, to open a space where story tellers have the opportunity to provide suggestions about possible research directions, highlighting aspects that deserve to be explored.
We believe that the study of pedagogical and social issues can get interesting insights from transposition of the views of some protagonists involved in learning experiences. So efforts to establish reliable and profitable relations between the two should be enhanced in the future.
Within the horizon of a civilized community unanimously committed to the education of young generations, this tension will acquire meanings that only in the emerging knowledge society will be possible.
Our third aim meets the needs of social and education scholars, looking for objective characteristics and homogeneous traits that can be abstracted from narrations, in the attempt to elaborate evaluation criteria and perform comparative analysis, so as to work out a guide through the overwhelming variety of educational experiences that come to life every day in our society.
It is with this objective in mind that a group of scholars at the Bologna University was charged to carry out a comparative analytical work, covering the whole collected experiences. Results of that analysis will be part of our publication.
Steps of the project
Providing the publication with all these characteristics has required us to devise a suitable layout (insert n.1). Authors had to follow those guidelines to prepare their write up, where story narration was properly bounded by a distinct section.
Notably, editors had set the special section FUTURE RESEARCH DIRECTIONS, where authors were asked to indicate the directions of research that, in their opinion, would be worth looking into, to better understand and to better perform in the future, the educational experience they had just described. See Annex n. 1 and insert n. 1. Reviewers were asked to pay special attention to th.at ention, while assessing manuscript contents. (See the reviewer’s Model, Annex n. 3).
Insert n. 1 - Predetermined sections to report Authors’ experience.
Sections titles; are in capital letters; subsections in small letters.
The only section name that Authors had to change was MAIN FOCUS, to be replaced by an appropriate title. 'Stages' subsections, not mandatory, were to be replaced with the titles of the successive stages of the narrative. Titles of the subsections of INTRODUCTION have been removed, by editorial decision, to allow a more fluid reading.
MAIN FOCUS OF THE CHAPTER
Special aspects of the experiment
Strong points, failings and critical issues
Solutions and Recommendations
FUTURE RESEARCH DIRECTIONS
ADDITIONAL READING SECTION
KEY TERMS & DEFINITIONS
Our Call for contributions
As our plan was drawn up and ready, we started by elaborating our call for contributions in which to explain our purposes, in a few effective lines, to be circulated the more widely as possble. Annex no. 2). .We realized that our first hurdle was to collect a good number of valuable experiences. We knew there were plenty of them out there, but we were well aware that it was not easy to get a positive response to our request from teachers, because working in schools absorbs all their time and energies. That situation was also confirmed by Luigina Mortari, members of our Advisory Board.
Our concern was therefore to give potential contributors a boost to describe their experience. To this end, the most rewarding aspects were highlighted by the authors, in the Call for contributions. First, the publication would have had an international circulation and it would have reached a very well qualified readership, through university and research centers libraries in the world, thanks to the publisher’s channels.
In addition, the editorial board undertook to spread the Italian version of the contributions, at a later stage, so that Authors could enlarge their audience and get the attention of colleagues, near and far.
In the next six months, the editors tried hard to disseminate and propagate the Call, both nationally and internationally, ready to welcome proposals, until the June 30, 2011 deadline.
Our request was circulated through the usual channels, that is email to personal contacts or to discussion groups and advertisements in web-forums, as well as distributed at conferences focused on issues about education.
People who were interested had to write and send by email a summary, about hundred words in length, in which the pedagogical issue addressed had to be adequately stressed. The author to be able to recognize the pedagogical problem that had been faced was virtually the only condition for accepting proposal and to invite to submit the full report (called 'chapter', in the publisher’s terminology)
In fact,. a summary is never clear enough to understand whether the proposal meets the criteria set by the editors; better then to read the whole paper before making a decision. At this stage, we needed to discriminate very technical arguments and completely abstract topics, that could not be part of the publication we had in mind.
About 120 summaries were accepted, by the closing of the deadline. Authors were then notified and invited to submit their complete write-up, that had to comply with the directions of our chapter template (see Annex n. 1), by september end. The deadline was later extended to november 2011.
Writing up Chapters
Compared to writing a narrative, preparation of a scholarly article requires a much greater commitment, which may discourage those who never went through this experience.
Work of the editorial board has therefore become essential at this stage, in which we did our utmost to provide all the assistance that writers needed. Each author was personally assisted, in a variety of ways: email, chatting, skype contacts and phone calls, mostly.
A personal collaborative web area, through the wikispaces facility, was made available to authors who needed major help. So, thanks to a team of volunteers, coordinated through the LSCF community, the editors were able to provide free assistance to about some thirty Italian authors during the whole the summer of 2011, directing their efforts into fitting manuscripts to the chapter template and translating texts from italian into english. We are especially grateful to Claude Almansi, who devoted much of her professional energies in translating a number of italian texts into perfect english.
The LSCF web community also arranged a monthly web audio conference, in which authors and the editors could exchange ideas.
Despite some withdrawals, by November 2011, about hundred full-length manuscripts were submitted, more than half from italian authors.
The Reviewing process
Before the work submitted were accepted for publication, would have to go through the critical reading of at least two experts in the field.
Therefore, the editorial board took steps to contact several dozens of experts worldwide, respectively competent in the area of each work to be examined, asking their availability to read and analyze the content of at least a couple of manuscripts and to return their response, touching on all aspects of interest for our publication.
Manuscripts, authors’ names having been removed, to lower the risk of biased judgment, were then sent to reviewers, together with the evaluation model the editorial board had set up to highlight the criteria by which manuscript contents had go through#.
Each response contained an overall judgment on the value of experience told and compliance to the aims of publication, followed by the reviewer’s direction about improvements to be made to bring the manuscript to the level required by the editors. See Attachment no. 3.
Responses were then forwarded to the authors, hiding the name of the reviewers, to avoid suspicion of biased judgments.
As a rule, every manuscript received at least two detailed comments by experts in the field; afterwards authors set to work to make the adjustments required.
Chapters in their final form arrived during the following months, between february and march, for most. Unfortunately, some manuscripts did not succeed, because they could not be approved by the reviewers or because the authors were not able to meet the reviewers’ demands.
The Final version
The definitive collection of the work completed, june 14, 2012.
After about one year and a half of work of the editorial board, the collection is ready to go into print, next september, in the form of 'Handbook of Research', under the title: Didactic Strategies and Technologies for Education: Incorporating Advancements.