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Project activity and research culture: the case of the NET project in Iceland M. Allyson Macdonald Þuríður Jóhannsdóttir Iceland University of Education.

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Presentation on theme: "Project activity and research culture: the case of the NET project in Iceland M. Allyson Macdonald Þuríður Jóhannsdóttir Iceland University of Education."— Presentation transcript:

1 Project activity and research culture: the case of the NET project in Iceland M. Allyson Macdonald Þuríður Jóhannsdóttir Iceland University of Education ISCAR conference, Copenhagen, Sept 2004

2 The context - the NET project Three year project, externally-funded Project based at one university, all but one of the team either a staff member or a student at the outset –17 researchers originally, in five groups, varying in size; –Two work at other universities –Some in the group were graduate students (M.Ed.) –Two of the group with a Ph.D. –Some students joined the project through senior researchers Several critical incidents

3 Mid-term review Assessment of project during preparation of application for a third year of funding –Internal assessment by project director and project coordinator –Used an activity theory framework to build up the assessment Director had recently considered the research culture at the host university at the time of the assessment; teacher education is the main task of the university in question (Macdonald 2003, 2004) (Discussed later at a meeting of participants)

4 Mid-term review Had proved useful in the earlier work to consider contradictions in the tools-rules-roles triad: –Roles: teaching/research (incl. student motivation) –Tools: methods used, e-references –Rules: assessment of productivity Many project participants part of the evolving research culture where rules and the division of labour seemed in particular to be areas of conflict that were difficult for the individual and perhaps even destructive for the university

5 Mid-term review Decided to compare aspects of the activity system of researchers within the evolving research culture with aspects of the activity system emerging in a large-scale externally funded research project Rationale/value –Several other such projects are underway; also professional groups are being formed around subject areas and research areas –Need to understand better tensions that arise in order to learn and develop from them –External research environment in Iceland is calling for competition and cooperation

6 Culture (Ratner 2000) Cultural phenomena –Socially constructed but not necessarily democratic –Facets of culture include interactions, values, physical artifacts, psychological phenomena and agency –Factors are “interdependent and interlocking as well as distinctive. None of them is reducible to others yet neither does any of them stand alone outside the others” (Ratner 2000)

7 Working definitions University-based traditional research activity –Researcher independence, can work alone or can choose when, where and who to work with someone else; no formal accountability to the university (as yet); academic freedom Externally funded project activity –Preplanned, goal oriented activities, fixed time scale, external resources; tacit commitment to the project goal and based on an assumption of shared responsibility; internal/external control

8 Activities - rules  Project activities take place according to a set of rules (e.g. timetable, manage- ment structure), both written and unwritten, some of which emerge as the project develops. Research activities take place according to a set of rules drawing largely on the academic tradition but also arising from modern management, especially quality management.

9 Activities - rules Project activities  Progress reports and accountability to the project  Reciprocal responsibility Research activities Allocation of research funds Research - annual reports of published work Assessment schemes and income The culture of graduate studies

10 Activities – division of labour  There is a division of labour within the project group, where individuals have different roles, some of which may change with time or vary with the task.  We can identify the roles of senior researchers, (junior) researchers, graduate students and project assistants but the hierarchy is not distinct. There is a division of labour within the research community, where individuals have different roles, and the hierarchy system is reasonably well defined by university appointments.

11 Division of labour as a mediator Issues of ability, credibility and responsibility Interactions within groups Graduate students – notions of apprenticeship and legitimate participation Leadership/management Independence and control Own choice of collaborators Teacher/researcher roles Involvement of students Supervision of graduate students

12 Activities - tools  Instruments/tools such as web-sites, conferences, team meetings, publications are used to mediate project activities. Instruments/tools such as conferences, talks, journals/papers are used to mediate research activities.

13 Tools as mediators  Project proposals, meetings and progress reports  Accountability (to others), shared responsibility Informal interactions Seminars, meetings, written papers, conference papers, talks Choice of research method

14 Community as mediator  A common interest in the research topic; may be a conflict of interest  Staff and/or students Separate interests Staff supervising students

15 Discussion  Assessment scheme  Role of students  Accountability  Mediation of tasks  Writing up research  Co-authorship  Who owns ideas  Shared responsibility  Peer review

16 Conclusion  We have suggested that some difficulties in the implementation of the project can be attributed to the clash between the traditional research culture where the researcher can decide his own agenda and is not fettered by accountability to others and a project culture where activity requires consultation, collaboration and a high degree of accountability to others in the project.

17 What next?  Expansive learning, a concept put forward by Engestrom (1987) is initiated when some individuals involved in collective activity take the action of questioning existing practice, which can then lead to a debate and analysis of the contradictions in the current state of affair, which might again lead to new forms of the activity solving the contradictions (Terttu Tuomi-Gröhn and Yrjö Engeström, 2003).

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