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Inequality in Education: Innovation in Methods

In 2013, PhD students Carli-Rowell and Siobhan Dytham from the Department of Sociology were awarded an ESRC doctoral events grant in order to host a one-day interdisciplinary post-graduate student event. On Wednesday, 12th of November 2014, they held their event in the Wolfson Research Exchange and it was every success.  Reflecting on the day, this is what Carli and Siobhan had to say afterwards:

The event was entitled ‘Inequality in Education – Innovation in Methods’ and the conference sought to explore the use of ‘innovative’ research methods in addressing educational inequalities as well as exploring critically the idea of ‘innovation’ – asking what is it, why do it and does it improve our research? The event also sought to provide an opportunity for postgraduate researchers to hear current research within the field as well as affording critical training to students with an interest in innovation within the Social Sciences.

Drafting the proposal
When I received the call for event proposal I knew right away that I wished to host an event on educational inequality. Having met Siobhan one year prior to receiving the call at the British Sociological Associations Education Study Group event ‘Young People’s Educational Identities in Challenging Times’ of which Dr. Nicola Ingram was and is a co-convenor I instantly thought of collaborating with Siobhan. The subsidiary aim of the events grant was to enhance work on individuals PhDs or issues of mutual concern linking two or more PhDs. Thus, it was specified that the conference topic must be close to the areas of the proposers dissertations and that the event should seek to bring together scholars working within that area. It is in this vein that the conference was structured around the themes of inequalities in education and innovation in methods. The title of the event was also of the same name ‘Inequalities in Education: Innovation in Methods’ and reflects our interest in methodological advances within social science research and inequalities within education whether this is within the compulsory education system, special education or within the field of higher education.

Call for papers
The call for student papers was circulated across the UK and promoted via online social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. In total we received 16 abstract submissions. In total we had five student presenters and keynotes from Professor Melanie Nind (University of Southampton) and Dr. Nicola Ingram (University of Bath). Registration for the event surpassed capacity and so we opened a waiting list. In total we had around 40 delegates attend. Delegates were from across the nation form Kent, Manchester, Keel, London and so on.

The day itself
The day was structured around three themes that arose naturally form the abstracts submitted and selected. The themes were that of ‘Race and Class’ and ‘Innovative Research Methods’ followed by Dr. Nicola Ingram’s keynote ‘Boundary drawing? Experimenting with art to understand identity’, which explored the use of visual methods such as Photoshop self-portraits, self-representational video, plasticine model-making, visual diaries and the uses of working with artists for research purposes. During Nicola’s keynote delegates participated in a 20 minute plasticine model-making interactive activity and ended with a discussion and questions from the audience regarding the use of plasticine model-making to explore identity. The final theme was that of ‘Disability’. The day was drawn to a close by Professor Melanie Nind whose keynote ‘Changing the social relations of research – innovation and orthodoxy’ in which she reflected on ‘innovation’ in relation to the social relations of research and broader moves toward the democratisation of research.

The program of the day was thus:

Theme One: Race and Class
Nadena Doharty – ‘Black History Month programmes and Black History on the National Curriculum: A case study of two state maintained Secondary Schools in England’.
Jessica Heal – ‘Research Methods with CYP to Explore effective teaching in schools serving low incomes communities’.

Theme Two: Innovative Research Methods
Farhat Syyeda – ‘A Picture is worth a thousand words: Examining learners’ illustrations to understand attitudes towards Mathematics’.
Keynote: Dr Nicola Ingram – ‘Boundary drawing? Experimenting with art to understand identity’.

Theme Three: Disability
Lauran Doak – ‘Multimodal analysis and video ethnography: a promising combination for reaching preverbal participants with autism?’
Jacqui Shepherd- ‘Interviews are not the only fruit: accessing the voice of young people with autism’.
Keynote: Professor Melanie Nind – ‘Changing the social relations of research: innovation and orthodoxy’.

Keynotes
Siobhan and I invited keynotes based on mutual consultation. Dr. Nicola Ingram was invited due to her research which drew upon exercise of model-making in order to explore the identity of working-class educationally successful teenage boys, due to involvement in the Paired Peers project and due to her collaborations with artists within her current work. Nicola is currently a lecturer at Bath University with research interests spanning issues of social class, higher education, gender, masculinity, social justice and Bourdieu. She is currently an investigator on the Paired Peers project; a six year qualitative, longitudinal study of university students and graduate destinations. This study is now in it’s second phase exploring the classed gendered differences in experiences of post-university transitions.

We also invited Professor Melanie Nind to give a keynote at the conference. Her expertise in both inequality in education, particularly in relation to disability, and innovative and inclusive research methods made her an excellent choice. Melanie is Professor of Education at the University of Southampton. She is a co-director of the hub of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM) and she is Co-Editor of the ‘International Journal of Research & Method in Education’ so we were really excited to be able to invite her to speak about innovation and methods at this event.

Special edition of Exchanges, the Warwick Research Journal
At present and as a follow up to the conference Siobhan and I are in contact with editors from Exchanges, the Warwick research journal and we are currently organising a special edition of the journal as a result of the event. The special edition will include articles from our postgraduate presenters on their piece of emerging research and reflections from our keynotes as well as Siobhan and myself. The special edition will be published in April 2015.

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