Fostering competency in educational research: an innovative approach to academic writing

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In the past ten years the place of writing in educational research and practice has been the subject of research in many Higher Education cultures (Elbow, USA; Grant and Knowles, New Zealand; Lee and Boud, Australia; Lillis & Curry, UK; Moore, Ireland). While research and publishing have become part of educational work for many, there are problems with fitting the act of writing into professional and academic time and space. Even eminent and experienced educational researchers find writing problematic (Carnell et al. 2008). A study on productive educational researchers did not reveal exactly what they do to make writing less problematic (Mayrath 2008). 
If educational innovation and creativity are to benefit society, they must be tested by peer review and published to achieve not only dissemination to different audiences, including policy makers, but also development in educational research and practice. It is important to develop this competency across the discipline of Education. Writing competency, at this level, can be understood as a set of skills, but we need to know more about how to perform these skills in our academic and/or practitioner roles.
Research Question
This study addressed the question of where the act of writing sits in educational settings: what do those who write in academic and professional settings do? 
The objective was to document specific practices and generate possible solutions to the problem if writing in academic and professional workplaces.
Theoretical Framework
The theoretical framework for this study drew on Murray and Newton (2009: 544-5), who used Community of Practice theory (Lave & Wenger 1991, Wenger 1998) to show that structured writing retreats develop communities of practice, which enable writing:
1. Mutuality of engagement, in terms of engaging with and responding to other writers and giving and receiving feedback on writing-in-progress;
2. Identity of participation, in terms of building on mutual engagement to develop a new identity as a writer;
3. Legitimate peripheral participation, in terms of experiencing the legitimacy of writing and legitimising the self as a writer.
The rationale for using this framework in this study was that there was anecdotal evidence of retreat participants using the retreat structure in ‘micro-groups’, where they met in two’s and three’s to write. This study set out more systematically to analyse this emerging practice.
The 30 participants were lecturers, doctoral students and researchers at 7 UK universities (Cambridge, Edinburgh, Lancaster, Open University, Strathclyde, West of Scotland, York St John) and one overseas university (Swinburne). One worked in the UK Health Service. All were writing in small groups on a thesis, journal article or research proposal.
Four questions were emailed to participants to prompt descriptive accounts of writing group practices: how would you describe what you do?; how do you describe that to others?; what do you like most/least about writing groups?; is writing different when you write in this group? Follow up email discussions produced details of practices.
Responses produced 17,000 words of text, which were analysed using three components of Community of Practice theory: (1) mutuality of engagement in references to ‘mutual’, ‘group’, ‘trust’, ‘respect’, ‘commitment’ and ‘collective’; identity of participation in references to ‘disposition’, ‘conformity’ and ‘shared practice’; and legitimate peripheral participation in uses of ‘legitimate’. 
Participants wrote in micro-groups of 2-5 people in a range of different timeslots, at different times and in different spaces. What never changed was the composition of the micro-group; they always wrote with the same people.
Mutuality was seen as vital, in terms of having shared goals of wanting to write and giving and receiving feedback on specific, personal writing goals.
Identity of participation was part of the micro-groups, but these participants were not ‘newcomers’ (Wenger 1998: 101) to writing. They found that micro-groups sustained their identities as writers.
Legitimate peripheral participation was already established; writing was a legitimate part of their work, but others in their departments challenged the legitimacy of writing. The micro-groups prevented the act of writing from slipping back into the periphery of their educational work and research.
This study achieved its objective of documenting writing practices that enable writing in educational and professional settings. It showed the importance of developing the capacity to write in different ways with others who write. These findings challenge the belief that writing occurs only in disciplinary groups or research teams. Writing micro-groups can benefit emerging researchers in Education and can create new links with researchers in other disciplines.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2013
EventEuropean Conference on Educational Research 2013 - Bahçeşehir University, Istanbul, Turkey
Duration: 10 Sep 201313 Sep 2013 (Conference website)


ConferenceEuropean Conference on Educational Research 2013
Abbreviated titleECER 2013
Internet address


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