Using action research to tackle constraints to collaborative university work: a case of widening participation

Webster-Deakin, Tara D.L. (2022) Using action research to tackle constraints to collaborative university work: a case of widening participation. EdD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Abstract

This thesis focuses on my work as a professional member of staff in one academic School in a higher-status UK university (Midtown). Specifically, it explores the process of tackling the constraints to collaboration between professional university and academic staff through the medium of action research and using the case and location of my work, widening participation (WP). The research was motivated by my desire to understand why academics often appeared reluctant to engage with WP work, and by my interest in action research as a mutually supportive approach to delivering the WP agenda. The research, therefore, was informed by action research principles of collaboration, co-construction of knowledge and action for social change and involved me, and three academics.

There were two phases to the research encompassing two aspects of WP: access to higher education (HE) in the form of ‘taster’ sessions for secondary schools; and participation in HE, during which phase the three academics experimented with more inclusive forms of pedagogy when teaching undergraduates. Empirical data included: meeting notes, teaching observations, lesson plans, session feedback (academic co-researchers and pupils), research project evaluation, co-researcher interviews and my research diary notes. Data analysis was thematic and based on action research principles and the principles of inclusive pedagogy. Insights that were generated included finding how pedagogic considerations are common to thinking about how to improve both the access and participation elements of WP; and how four disparate individuals overcame considerable constraints to evolve towards a collaborative collective during the research. More broadly, the research contributes to knowledge by furthering understanding of how university-based professionals and academics might work more effectively in partnership in arenas such as WP.

The research involved a transformative process of surfacing professional and academic anxieties and accepting the differences that hindered collaborative cross-boundary working. Through affording the time and space that was needed to address the institutional and relational hierarchies, the action research approach provided opportunities to co-produce effective taught sessions and understand what was needed to engage students at both the access and the participation stages. I argue that for HE professionals whose work involves collaboration with academics, pursuing action research principles opens communicative spaces, enabling mutual learning and development across the academic/professional divide and developing more inclusive and richer working relationships which yield better outcomes for staff and for students.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (EdD)
Supervisors: McLean, Monica
Henderson, Holly
Keywords: Action research in education; College teachers; College administrators; Educational equalization
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher education
L Education > LC Special aspects of education > LC 65 Social aspects of education
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Education
Item ID: 69170
Depositing User: Webster-Deakin, Tara
Date Deposited: 27 Jul 2022 04:40
Last Modified: 27 Jul 2022 04:40
URI: http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/69170

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