Our research recognises the power of further education and the enactment of a transformative curriculum, to challenge rather than reproduce social inequality, this research project offers a frame for understanding learners’ narrative accounts of their educational and personal journeys. The Further Education: transforming lives and communities research project sought to illuminate learners’ narratives, the overarching aim being to recognise and understand their narratives against the backdrop of wider socio-economic, political and historical contexts (Duckworth 2013, Duckworth and Smith 2016, 17).
We drew on film – our aim being to be true to the participants’ voice, with coherence and accessibility. We did not want the lens to objectify the participants. The videos were hosted on a dedicated Youtube channel and embedded on the project website. The digital platform, importantly, fed into the ethical way in which the project and its democratic aims progressed. In order to gain further approval that they were comfortable with the video narrative, the videos were shared with participants by email prior to being placed in the public domain.
Using digital technology to tell learner stories
In several cases, the videos were re-edited in accordance with the wishes of participants. This was not surprising as many of the narratives were of an intensely personal nature and, indeed, the lens provided learners, teachers, family members and their communities with the opportunity to tell their stories through voicing their experiences and trajectories in education and the impact of this in the personal and public domains of their lives; each narrative exposed the distinctiveness and power of FE. The narratives also expose how transformation and the construction of positive educational identities allow for the reclaiming of spoilt identities.
A further aspect of the digital scaffolding that supports and enhances the project is the use of a dedicated Twitterfeed. This has enabled us and our participants to share interview data as the project evolves, thus allowing the building of a virtual community, which includes learners, educators and policy makers, and subsequently allows us to garner further responses and contributions from that virtual medium.
The voices in our study clearly illustrate transformative learning and teaching. The use of videos is an illuminating and powerful tool for disseminating the emerging findings from the study to draw on the experiences of students, teachers, family members, employers, college leaders and the local and wider community. This provided a 360˚ perspective of the impact that FE can have on individuals, their families and communities.
A new direction for adult learning
The instrumentalist skills-supply way of viewing adult education seems to have reached a critical point. The need to move on from this reductive perspective is pressing as many of us who work within further and adult education have known for many years that it isn’t working. Or rather, it does work for some, but that appears to be down to the huge efforts of teachers battling against demoralising structures and funding-driven cultures that morph and twist in response to the policy whims of the latest government.
Jimmy offers a teacher’s perspective; his work with young and sometimes disaffected people highlights how ‘respect’ for the learners is essential in building a positive and productive learning environment where they are facilitated to thrive and reach their potential. It shifts from a reductive instrumentalist drive. His approach recognises that simply recreating a school environment in college isn’t the way forward. Instead, FE offers a distinctive learning experience that includes a more democratic classroom where, for example, learners use first names for their teachers and are encouraged to take leadership roles in group activities to facilitate the development of confidence and essential skills, for example, organisation and critical thinking. There is also a well-defined pastoral aspect to the programme of study, which allows for a holistic approach to meeting the needs of diverse students. Local pedagogy and praxis is well positioned to respond to the lived experiences of these communities. Transformative teaching and learning can promote sustainable development because it is catalysed by self-reflection leading to different worldviews and a change in behaviour orientated towards social justice. As such, students’ background stories are drawn upon to address any actual and potential barriers. From this caring student-centred approach, new educational identities are constructed, ones with hope that are engaged and forward-looking.
Depth and breadth
Transformation for sustainable development in the classroom is a driver for collective awareness, the aim being for it to bring leaners together to think, reflect and act. If adult education is to fulfil its potential for providing transformative educational experiences, to realise these priorities, then the triple lock of objectification that currently shackles adult education providers has to be broken.
The virtual tools which include the twitter account and YouTube channel have provided a platform whereby the emerging data is made public in accessible virtual spaces. These different media are united in the project website through which we extend on the democratic process having invited comment and contributions from viewers for whom the stories resonate. This has created a powerful snowball effect, adding to the depth and breadth of the study.
Vicky Duckworth is a Professor in education at Edge Hill University. Her research and teaching spans over two decades, in this time she has developed a national and International reputation for research in Adult Education and Literacy. As such, Vicky has developed considerable expertise in Adult Education and Literacy and is deeply committed to challenging inequality through critical and emancipatory approaches to education, widening participation, inclusion, community action and engaging in research with a strong social justice agenda.
Rob Smith is a Reader in Education at Birmingham City University. His body of work explores the impact of funding and marketisation on further education. He has researched and written extensively in collaboration with FE and HE practitioners. His recent research with Vicky Duckworth focuses on further education as a space for transformative learning. Other research projects include Social Justice and Leadership in Further Education (funded by the Further Education Trust for Leadership) and he has a developing interest in researching educational architecture.
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