News . Our Blog User Advisory Board and best practice teachers discuss open-ended scenarios and engagement at school level

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The CONNECT User Advisory Board (UAB) met online in February 2022 to discuss results from the project phase 1 and challenges faced in phase 2. The focus was on engagement, more specifically on two key aspects of CONNECT: the CONNECT open-ended scenarios as well as the engagement at school level, exploring the problems and opportunities for community engagement and the leverage factors to facilitate change towards open schooling.

It was moreover an honour and a great pleasure not only welcoming the always engaged and committed UAB-members but also many of our recipients of the CONNECT Best Practice Awards. Almost 40 teachers who have done an excellent job in implementing the CONNECT resources joined the meeting, received their awards, and participated in the discussions.

Divided in two groups, UAB-members, teachers and project partners discussed the two key aspects of CONNECT mentioned above:

Leverage factors to facilitate change towards open schooling

Promoting the adoption of Open Schooling as a way to create a flexible and inclusive learning environment inspiring the students to explore the world through science is one of CONNECT main pillars. But, how to facilitate the change towards open schooling? The educational community and other key stakeholders find some barriers to achieve this goal and we need to identify the key leverage factors to overcome such barriers in order to focus our efforts on them.

At the last Plenary Meeting of the CONNECT consortium (Feb 9-10th) this topic had already been addressed in a workshop. The objectives were to explore key problems and opportunities to implement Open Schooling and to identify and prioritize key leverage factors. During that workshop, participants also shared existing initiatives to work on the identified leverage factors and finally, they designed recommendations for implementation partners to work on the leverage factors in the context of CONNECT.

The main objective of this UAB meeting break-out session was to complement this previous work done by the partners. First, we introduced the leverage factors to the participants and they were asked to prioritize them through a voting session. Not surprisingly, the participants prioritization matched with the one done by consortium partners, and, therefore, we concluded that there are 3 key leverage factors that need to be addressed:

  1. Engagement of research centres (i.e. through outreach departments)
  2. Reflection with teachers and researchers for change (i.e. accompanying measures for teachers to reflect and design action plans for implementing the necessary changes at school level to make OS a reality)
  3. Engagement of teachers (i.e. the need to motivate them to be engaged and how to do it, as they have a lot of pressure because of the lack of time and the curriculum requirements and sometimes do not perceive the relevance of the CONNECT extra work).

Afterwards, the examples of existing initiatives to address each leverage factor were presented and the participants added others that had not been collected previously by the partners. Some of the resulting existing initiatives for each of the leverage factors included:

  • Initiatives to engage research centres: science events (such as researchers’ nights or congresses for scientists and the education community organized by partners), shared networks among researchers and teachers (such as children universities and other networks of universities, science communication associations or networks of museums), communities of learning (such as eTwinning or open discovery space)
  • Initiatives to reflect with teachers and researchers for change: participants first recommended that these reflections should also include evaluation stakeholders, policy makers and representatives of non-formal education, and next they came up with existing initiatives such as the implementation of participatory research projects or the creation of transformative networks (such as Fit4FoodBcn) to change towards open schooling with open platforms with open calls to engage stakeholders. Also, sharing knowledge about open schooling through educational materials (e.g. MOOC online courses for university students) and, last but not least, publishing policy reports that support this change from policy departments.
  • Initiatives to engage teachers: networks of teachers innovating in STEAM education, initiatives that engage schools in rural areas, or school competitions (such as Lego League).

Finally, the recommendations obtained from the previous work with the partners were presented and validated by participants, who also added some extra ones

1. Advocacy with policy makers:

    • organise events and multistakeholder workshops at national and international levels
    • publish policy reports at national and international levels

 

2. Recruitment:

    • Recruitment of scientists (as experts and as coaches): communicate with research centres and researchers’ networks, participate in outreach events and organise webinars and initiatives where researchers enter the schools and establish a direct relationship with teachers, students and the whole educational community which could help to engage them as key actors for promoting open schooling.
    • Recruitment of teachers and coaches: communicate with existing networks of teachers and of science museums, recruit coaches through an annual open call strongly disseminated, make sure teachers are motivated through recognition and reflection actions…
    • Recruitment of vulnerable schools: proactively involve teachers in contact with the most vulnerable communities
  1. Actions to promote reflections for implementation of OS:
    • Events to reflect on key leverage factors and to design action plans with different stakeholders: e.g. congresses with students, scientists and policy makers, workshops, …
    • Facilitate new or join existing communities of learning with professionals such as teachers and researchers…
  2. Actions to empower students to promote reflections for implementation of OS:
    • Develop science actions for students to stimulate reflections in schools (with teachers, students and coaches)
    • Engage students from universities to perform research projects that involve schools, policy makers and other stakeholders
  3. Actions to engage families in OS
    • Design science actions with simple and visual educational tasks to perform between students and families with the help of science museums
  4. Actions to stimulate research on Open Science:
    • create an OS Together network of researchers working on OS and on policy strategies

 

Open-ended scenarios – challenges faced, and lessons learned from phase 1

In CONNECT participatory methods are being adapted to open schooling processes, which are called open-ended scenario. In total three open-ended scenarios will be developed with a point of departure in three different participatory methods. Two have already been developed and are available in the CONNECT Platform: the Jury Format and the Consensus Format.

In this group the discussion took a point of departure in challenges that was presented in the previous UAB-meeting where partners and UAB-members shared their experiences with implementing the Jury Format open-ended scenario. The discussion was initiated with a presentation of and reflections on three common challenges brought up in this previous meeting:

  • Difficulties with involving the local community due to COVID-19.
  • Challenges with sticking to the methodology of the open-ended scenario. Teachers tended to deviate from the process, e.g. from having students pick topics themselves, mainly due to curriculum restrictions, or following the process step by step.
  • Deviations from final steps of the process as most classes ended up producing different kinds of communication materials rather than recommendations that were disseminated to local decision-makers.

As a response to the challenges the principles behind the process were also revisited:

  • Understanding scientific knowledge in the context of society – teaching students to approach science with and for society.
  • Using scientific knowledge for decision-making processes – putting knowledge into action.​
  • Democratic and well-informed decision-making processes.​
  • Following an action-oriented process – someone (ideally local decision-makers) should act at the end of the process.

Need to sell it better

The group of UAB-members, teachers and project partners agreed that these principles behind the open-ended scenarios and its purpose should be communicated better for the teachers to understand why the process of the open-ended scenarios is constructed the way it is.

One participant pointed out that the open-ended scenarios are more demanding and difficult than the CONNECT structured scenarios and thus the material for the teachers “need to sell it better” and hereby make the teachers more interested and intrigued by the process. Another participant pointed out that this perspective of the open-ended scenarios being a set of principles that the teacher and the students follow is a relevant perspective that also could be communicated better in the open-ended scenario resources.

Curriculum restrictions

Another topic which the group were very focused on were the open topic approach of the open-ended scenarios. In both the Jury Format and the Consensus Format it is, through different processes, up to the students to come up with and decide on a topic they want to work with through the six steps of the open-ended scenario. It is a debate that is quite the source of disagreement, as it is in theory a very well-received approach, but in practice it is quite challenging, particularly because of the curriculum restrictions that are faced in many countries. It was thus debated how strictly the open-ended scenarios should stick to the principles they build upon oppose to accommodating the needs of the teachers and the curriculum restrictions they are dealing with.

Different approaches and compromises were suggested by the group. Some participants suggested that teachers should simply be able to decide the topic for the class or they could come up with topics suitable for the curriculum as well as within the teacher’s area of expertise. Others suggested comprises such as having the teacher give an overall topic, having the teacher approve the topics suggested by the students or to give the teachers different options on how to decide on the topic and hereby by let the teacher decide on how strictly they want to stick to the principles of the open-ended scenario. Finally, it was also suggested that the teacher took part in deciding the topic by guiding the students or gently pushing them in a certain direction.

Support for teachers

Finally, as this is a rather challenging and novel approach it was suggested to consider how teachers can be supported in the implementation of the open-ended scenarios. One very specific suggestion was to create a group in the CONNECT Platform where teachers can come together and brainstorm on topics, share their experiences, as well as support each other. It was moreover brought up that it is important to let the teachers know how they can find support for their implementation of the open-ended scenarios, such as through the coaches and the CONNECT Platform.

 

The input and feedback provided in this breakout sessions will be used in the development of the third and final open-ended scenario, which will take a point of departure in co-creation. This Co-creation format is set to be finalised in August 2022.

 

The CONNECT User Advisory Board will meet again 13 June at 14.00-16.00 CEST.

 

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