Education and Arts

Academic Staff Research Projects

ACU's current research intensification strategy and expansion of interdisciplinary and Institute-based research is built upon a solid bedrock of research activity at the School-level. Academics in the National School of Education continue to make original and high-impact contributions to the field of education and teaching professions through their pursuit of superior quality research.

Read on to sample some of the research projects currently underway in the National School of Education.

Dr Gerard Effeney and Carmel Turner

This project pilots a novel method for enacting the Australian Curriculum: Design and Technology in primary school classrooms. The method uses a 'literary bridge' model in which teachers' pedagogical strengths in literacy are used as a foundation for, and a bridge into, engagement with design and technology. In this pilot, quality picture books are used as a stimulus and a means of framing a design and technology focused, problem-based learning sequence. It is hoped that this model will help to provide learners with the opportunity to design, construct and assess responses to interesting 'hands-on' problems.

Dr Robyn Bentley-Williams, Dr Christine Grima-Farrell, Associate Professor Janette Long and Dr Catherine Laws

Since the introduction of anti-discrimination legislation, including the Australian Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Disability Standards of Education 2005, there has been an increasing demand on all schools to cater effectively for more students with disabilities within an inclusive school community context. This investigation explored a proactive partnership model designed to equip pre-service teachers with deeper role understandings in teaching students with disabilities. This collaborative model involved sustained professional experiences in schools on four mornings each week over 38 weeks, offered in conjunction with final year teacher education studies in Diversity and Inclusive Education. A unique emphasis of this qualitative study was its focus on identifying real-life experiences and ideal teacher qualities conducive to undertaking challenging inclusive practitioner roles. Findings highlighted the perspectives of school leaders, special education mentors and pre-service teachers in improving inclusive learning outcomes for all students while developing an effective collaborative partnership model for teacher education.

Associate Professor Lauren Stephenson, Dr Barbara Harold and Rashida Badri

This collaborative research project, conducted over a ten-year period, explores critical significant events, successes, challenges, mentors/role models/collegiality and the leadership styles of five female Emirati educational leader participants, resulting in five jointly constructed stories. The research recognises, through the stories of lived experience, the expertise and contributions of five Emirati women to the fields of education and educational leadership, providing exemplars for local UAE experiences of educational leadership and demonstrating the successes and challenges the previous generation of women faced in order to achieve their positions as successful women and members of the UAE, the GCC and the global community.

The research methodology used draws on case study and narrative inquiry (strategies including reflexive ethnography, personal experience methods and narratives of the self). Participants and their mentees were invited to share their stories over several years whilst being observed. These stories were then written up by the researchers and checked by the participants and mentees to ensure that they captured the essence of the narrative. The researchers then identified key narrative elements, and identified themes across the stories. This collaborative research holds important implications for theory as well as practice. To our knowledge, no other study has focused on local women educational leaders’ success stories, their learning and the development of their leadership skills. While there has been considerable research into educational leadership, there has not been much attention paid to women in the Arabian Gulf and the role of gender and culture on leadership and their individual and collective learning. This research holds importance in helping men and women, teachers, administrators and university members to identify influences on leadership and learning particularly within the UAE culture and context. The project’s research methodology is also significant because narrative inquiry and reflexive, personal experience methods have not been used in a wide range of educational leadership contexts.

Dr Robyn Bentley-Williams
(funded through Teaching Development Grant 2015)

A new qualitative reflective moderation process systematically linked quantitative and qualitative moderation processes together, facilitating timely differentiated teaching and assessment adjustments. The collaborative Diversity team reflective approach increased staff’s capacity to provide effective and efficient student feedback and make appropriate adjustments aligned with the Graduate Teaching Professional Standard: 5.4 Demonstrate the capacity to interpret student assessment data to evaluate student learning and modify teaching practice. Lecturers and tutors engaged in mutual sharing of practices. including assessment criteria for grades, identifying what students did well and what areas needed improvement and engaging in timely online moderation using Turnitin with team members’ bank of comments. The outcomes of this project fed into a further Teaching Development Grant, Improving Student Outcomes through Innovative Connections in Early Years and Teaching.

Dr Robyn Bentley-Williams, Dr Cathie Harrison and Dr Sarah Heinrich
(funded through Teaching Development Grant 2016)

This project is designed to facilitate further collaborative connections and knowledge sharing between NSW ACU teaching staff with a background in early childhood education and early learning pedagogies and colleagues with a background in primary and secondary education and/or other disciplines, in order to improve the quality of student learning.

Dr Anne Forbes

Dr Forbes is the driving force behind MyScience, an award-winning project that engages students with science knowledge from outside the school to support the teaching of science in primary schools. The program aims to enhance capacities of primary school science teachers and their students in conducting authentic scientific investigations. Primary students are mentored to conduct their own curiosity-driven investigations. The educational model underpinning MyScience was co-developed with Gerry McCloughan from the NSW Department of Education and Communities (DEC) to improve primary school science education and encourage students to take an interest in science and technology. There has been strong interest in the MyScience model from school communities across Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

Dr Forbes recently completed her PhD, which involved researching participants' views of their involvement in MyScience. Her thesis identified key factors for the successful development of communities of practice, where learning occurs through participation. Research findings also identified numerous benefits to participants, primary teachers, primary students and mentors. These findings have been published in Research in Science Education.

MyScience is also the focus of an exciting collaborative project - Great Teaching and Inspired Learning in Science through Community of Practice Partnerships - which involves researchers from ACU's Institute for Positive Psychology and Education, NSW DEC, NSW Catholic Education Commission, and the NSW Board of Studies. The project will investigate the implementation of MyScience in DEC and CEC schools in urban and rural locations, with the findings contributing to an Australian Research Council Linkage application in late 2016.

Dr Jennifer Charteris (UNE), Associate Professor Susanne Gannon (UWS), Eve Mayes (USyd), Dr Adele Nye (UNE) and Associate Professor Lauren Stephenson (ACU)

The highly imagined and contested space of higher education is invested with an affectively loaded ‘knowledge economy optimism’ (Cuthbert & Molla, 2015). Drawing on recent work in affect and critical geography, this research considers the e/affects of the promises of the ‘knowledge economy’ on its knowledge workers. We extend previous analyses of the discursive constitution of academic subjectivity (Petersen, 2007a, 2007b) through the figuration of ‘emotional knots’ (Thrift, 2008, p. 206) as we explore three stories of the constitution of academic subjectivities in institutional spaces. These stories were composed in a collective biography (Davies & Gannon, 2006) workshop, where participants constructed accounts of the physical, social, material and imaginative dimensions of subjectivities in the ‘academic-city’ of higher education spaces.

Identifying moments of ‘perturbation’ (Berlant, 2011, p. 6) in these stories, this paper considers the micro-contexts of ‘becoming academic’: how bodies, affects and relations become knotted in precise times and places. The figuration of ‘knots’ provides an analytical strategy for unravelling how subjects affectively invest in the promises of spaces saturated with ‘knowledge economy’ discourses, and moments of impasse where these promises ring hollow. We examine the affective bargains made in order to flourish in the corporate university, and identify spaces of possibility where ‘optimistic projections’ of alternative futures might be formed (Berlant, 2011, p. 263). These stories and their analysis complicate the metanarrative of ‘knowledge economy optimism’ that is currently driving higher education reform in Australia.