The notschool project is a research project aimed at young people who have been out of conventional education for an extended period of time. (The published eligibility criteria give full details) The needs of the 100 notschool students in this pilot vary. There are teenage mums, phobics, school refusers, those in childrens homes and those who are profoundly ill; in fact a whole host of reasons.
Using a qualitative research model we hope to establish what works and is achievable with this wide range of participants, in order to reinvigorate their desire to learn and to reengage them in the learning process. In most cases this will be access to post 16 education of some kind.
The project has two broadly similar but quite distinct models; one in Essex and one in Scotland. The major distinction between the two models is that in Scotland, schools retain closer links with the young person. Essex is likely to support a wider range of young people by the sheer fact that it has a much larger number of participants , ie 84 as opposed to 16. In both pilots all formal education such as the home tutoring service, or part time education has not been successful or has had limited success.
The pedagogical techniques and practices involved in using ICT in this context, in themselves producing measurable learning gains, will be established and embedded in the notschool philosophy over the span of the project, and will themselves provide a useful model for online teaching and learning with disaffected young people.
The required outcome of this research project will be a blueprint of a notschool model. This will be available to local authorities and to other organisations both here, in Europe and indeed world wide.
The methodology used is proactive ethnography . Ethnographic research has been widely used in social anthropology to gain greater insight into the lives of others by involving the researcher in entering the world of those to be studied. Ethnographic research can be considered on a continuum from the total immersion documented above to becoming part of the group to be studied for a short period on a regular basis.
All participants will themselves be encouraged and indeed expected to be action researchers. Adults who develop dialogue with the pupils over the time of this project will be able to enter the 'world of the pupil'. The tutors will actively encourage the end result - learning - to be achieved. Tutors and mentors will take the role of 'action researchers' as they encourage, document and facilitate the pupils in their learning.
Usually ethnographic research produces large text descriptions and outlines of the social situation of the area in which the study takes place and the activities which are carried out in that setting. Conversations, often in the form of informal 'chat', can be recorded or remembered and these are transcribed at a later date forming the main part of the ethnographic record. These recordings and descriptions could be accompanied by video footage, still images and work examples. When combined with the text description, these capture a sense of the real world of the pupil, rather than some idealised version of events. These then form the basis of research diaries.
This is an intensive activity. Although this approach does allow great insights to be achieved it does result in a quantity of data which needs to be codified and examined for meaningful patterns to emerge.
Most of the research data will either be collected from within Think or collated from within Think, which is the software used by the project and where a record of the learning gains will take place in both a qualitative and quantitative format. The use of both qualitative and quantitative data will ensure triangulation will take place. The use of quantitative data will ensure that issues highlighted can be identified and thus persuaded using the in depth and detailed approach that qualitative data collection ensures.
The main tools which will be used are:
1 Critical events research and contact diaries
A requirement for all tutors to keep a research diary, highlighting critical events. They will be expected to provide a brief weekly report via Think.
Tutors will also be expected to document in their diaries contact with participants to enable an examination of styles of effective support which may signify and/or demonstrate learning gains. We expect there to be social, psychological cultural and educational aspects. For example there may be evidence of interaction with tutors, mentors or the curriculum team where contact has previously been very limited. There may be some quite tangible evidence where accreditation via an external body has been gained
A requirement for all mentors to keep a research diary and provide a report as indicated above, initially for every 10 hours spent on line with their notschool partners.
A requirement for the curriculum team to provide research data about their involvement with tutors and the young people involved in the project
2 Software Tools
Structured discussion and debate within Think, using the existing tools, eg brainstorm, debate etc. This is likely to involve all key participants, ie tutors, mentors, curriculum managers and the 100 young people in the project, both separately and in overlapping groups.
Collection of materials within Think , such as student debate and dialogue, work done, articles written etc
3 Participant observation
Although the software encourages asynchronous communication tutors and mentors observations and comments will be a significant part of the research . Tutors and mentors will interact with the pupils and the fruits of these interactions (what worked and what didn't) will form a substantial element in the research.
It should be noted that in this research project input from pupils will also be credible research data. Questions to pupils on, "what worked for you?" will be asked and pupils answers recorded. These responses will be considered in the light of learning gains.
4 Quantitative data
Think captures and logs the amount of activity by individuals and by the number of "hits " that specific articles and areas take, providing some measurable data about use.
Think is available for all schools and educational institutions to use, so that collection of research data from within the software has a particular significance, and provides for future scalability
Further data will be collected in electronic format using the notschool web site where questionnaires, which will be used to highlight in depth areas for quantitative research, can be placed from time to time as the need arises. Individual Learning Plans will be in electronic format as the project progresses, and these will provide valuable data about pupil progression.
As the project develops the need for in depth case studies may emerge. This will be addressed if the need becomes apparent.