The University of Cumbria was founded in 2007 making it one of the youngest universities in Europe. This youth provides opportunities for us to develop in a distinctive way, not necessarily following the pathway and mistakes of older institutions which may be tangled up in traditions and ways of thinking. In relation to our teaching we provide many programmes in professional fields and generally use professional development workshop approaches with small groups of students and tutors who have proven expertise as practitioners in the field. In relation to research activity we are distinctive, especially compared to traditional universities, because we place a high value on practitioner research and on collaborative research and development projects which attempt to co-create knowledge with practitioners. We refer to this as ‘real world’ research to emphasise that it is close to practice – close to the real world of school teaching, nursing, sports coaching, business management, social work and so on. Our aim is to support the development of research-informed practice in these professional fields.
In a recent research and development project entitled ‘Mastery Approaches to Mathematics’ I have been privileged to work as a research mentor with teacher researchers in Primary schools around Merseyside. The teachers have been involved over the last two or three years in a curriculum development project implementing a mastery approach to teaching mathematics based on a ‘Singapore Maths’ textbook scheme. This scheme generally means that each lesson begins with all of the children working on a single ‘anchor’ problem.
The research and development project used analysis of classroom video with interviews and focus groups to investigate the teachers’ perspectives and changing beliefs as they implemented this new reform approach to teaching mathematics. The study found that teachers were rejecting well-established strategies of putting children into groups with tasks at different levels of difficulty based on prior attainment. Perhaps more significantly the teachers felt they were developing as mathematicians themselves by engaging with the textbook scheme and were changing their understanding of mathematics as a discipline. This is related to social justice in education because the teachers were raising their expectations that virtually all of their children could learn, could succeed and could reach high standards in this new kind of mathematics. The teachers showed signs of developing a growth mindset in the specific domain of school maths – a belief that the more you practice at the edge of your current level of performance, the more intelligent you can become.
Real world research aims to develop contextually and socially robust knowledge, meaning knowledge that is recognisable and believable to practitioners in the field. Real world research encourages open access research publications, so that practitioners around the world are able to access it. Two research papers from the Mastery Approaches to Mathematics project, co-authored with one of the school-based researchers, are open access. One paper is focused on strategies and one on beliefs. We also published an online professional development resource which includes professionally filmed mastery approach to mathematics lessons.
Our mastery mathematics project is just one example, in this case from educational research, of the kind of real world research that we value at the University of Cumbria. We have research centres and groups in education (LED), sustainability and research (IFLAS), regional development (CRED), national parks and protected spaces (CNPPA), active ageing (AARG), social issues in medical imaging (SIMI), arts research (ARI) and mental health (MHRG). As alumni, we hope you will be ambitious to work with the University of Cumbria to develop research-informed practice. This might be through further study, for example at masters and doctoral level, or through engaging with us in a collaborative research and development project.
Pete Boyd - Professor of Professional Learning and Director of the LED Research Centre