Grant Ritchie, Fellow and Associate Director at CDN reflects on the great work achieved through CDN’s Research and Enhancement Centre over the last year…
About a year ago CDN asked me if I would be prepared to come and work alongside a team setting up the Research and Enhancement Centre. After 30 years in the sector I was always acutely aware of the lack of research into all things ‘college’. Where was the data to support curriculum staff develop methods and practice? Where was the guidance and collective knowledge available to support staff and board members? Where, indeed, was the assembled knowledge and experience available to senior managers?
The lack of systematic research, verifiable data, and sectoral wisdom, to coin a phrase, was a gaping hole in the collective support mechanisms for colleges. This is not to dismiss all the previous work of sector subject groups and the management training available. Far from it, but it is to point out that taking a systematic research approach to trial, experiment, collect data and to influence change and professional development is a very different thing from what we were doing previously. It is fact that successful performance in colleges is woefully under-researched.
So what has been achieved in the last year, and how has the sector responded to the Centre?
Let’s just start with noting that the idea for the Centre has been uniformly welcomed from all parts of the college community; lecturers, support staff, sparqs, board members, sector agencies – even principals! Every stakeholder has responded enthusiastically to the idea of generating original and active research.
What has also been remarkable is the output from the Centre and the requests for support.
So far we have seen two influential reports published, ‘Co-creating the leaner journey’ on school-college partnerships and ‘Pathways from poverty’ on the role colleges play in supporting learners and their communities. In both cases, look out for the next phases of work including further case studies and other support materials. Reports have also been published on the role of the governance professional and an overview of board external effectiveness reviews, as well as work on digital competencies for college staff.
In the next few months there will be a report on college leadership during the pandemic as well as work on colleges and philanthropic funding and research into the delivery of higher education courses in colleges. The Centre is also collaborating with Colleges Scotland on a project to provide key planning data for the sector and with the SFC on the next stages of work around the recent tertiary review.
Just launched is Step Forward, the new action research programme from the Centre, which will support projects in colleges around three areas initially: school-college partnerships, pathways from poverty and sustainability. Step Forward will support staff in colleges to develop their action research skills while also developing new provision or enhancing existing delivery to learners. A growing number of practitioners from a wide range of colleges are coming forwards with ideas and with energy to take part
All this is in addition to the ongoing action research work that started last summer in four key areas of learning and teaching: high impact learning, approaches to curriculum design, student experience, and professional learning.
So from a standing start the CDN Research and Enhancement Centre has taken off and is tapping into a sense that the colleges need to be doing their own work to tell the story of what we can achieve, how we do it, and how we are going to plan for the future. In a couple of years’ time we will look back on a growing body of work that will record our times and help us plan and prepare better for the challenges ahead with a solid evidence base of research and data.