It can be hard to please people sometimes.  The morning sessions of the recent GeSCI Workshop were busy and informative.  But over lunch there was a discernible sense of frustration among the participants that there were not enough opportunities to converse and debate. So on a hunch, I decided to take a more dialogical approach to my own session than originally requested and planned.  I worked out rather well…

We opened with a brief introduction to the panel and a short scene setting exercise that involved elephants in corners – those things we all know but don’t always feel comfortable acknowledging. In this case; the extraordinary disconnect between policy making and research of any kind, and the particular challenge we all face in education with the emergence of ubiquitous computing and web 2.0 modalities of learning. We explored briefly the nature and intent of the major players in the ICT4E arena and the various forces driving various agendas forward. This scene-setting generated a considerable amount of discussion in the workshop.

We then approached the task of structuring a discussion in a simple and direct way.  A question was displayed on screen, one or two of the panel offered an initial response and then the conversation moved to the floor. Of the five questions we had hoped to address we covered four.

Things that work…
Initially, a number of very different and very geographically diverse projects were identified that fitted this description in terms of ICT usage in education. However, serious issues around continuity and sustainability were raised where many such project interventions are concerned. It became clear from the discussion that it was very difficult indeed to point to examples of sustained ICT4E where research, policy and good practice were successfully combined. The idea of ‘brokerage’ was advocated as a useful means of connecting leading edge practice and policy making.

What ‘education innovation’ looks like…
This was an interesting discussion and at the end of it we were still not totally sure we could agree what it looked like. But we were pretty much in agreement about the usefulness of keeping on looking for it! Different conceptual understandings of innovation were discussed; industrial models versus educative models, the linkage between innovation and ICT at both general and field-specific level, and the policy implications of buying-into one model as opposed to another. Several speakers emphasises the moral and values aspects of education – and the challenge of retaining these in a world where economic ideals were more often emphasises.

Policy making as practice….
We discussed two issues under this heading: the value and utility of networks and lessons form policy work North and South. The discussion was lively and productive. We agreed that policy was a complex and layered process, all too often misunderstood or only partially understood by those encountering the process for the first or at least first significant time. We got some way into the task of identifying who the policy makers are and how and why they operate as they do. We also made some gains in terms of placing teachers and other field practitioners at the rightful heart of the process. And we unpicked some of the more general problems and benefits of operating in and through networks for change.

Networks and partnerships…
A spin off from this last discussion saw further exploration by the workshop of the contributions and opportunities to participate that might usefully exist with a research network or partnership in ICT4E. The primacy of really understanding the practice context and the context right to the school level of the proposed intervention – with all its myriad challenges and opportunities – was emphasised. The various ways that governments and NGOs can contribute to framing and supporting policy for intervention and subsequent action were explored. And finally the role of the academy was emphasised – in terms of providing policy research expertise, focussed assistance where requested and in honest and constructive policy evaluation that focuses on lessons-learnt rather than target gain.

We closed the session on a slightly mischievous note by discussing the need to be able to know the difference between ‘the good guys’ and ‘the bad guys’ in policy and research terms. There were no clear outcomes from this particular area of the forum other than the conversation – both light hearted and more serious – it engendered subsequently over coffee and in the following sessions.

All in all an enjoyable and I think useful event. Though it falls somewhat under a pall of gloom when set alongside the recent news  from Irish Aid…

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