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Meet the Research Development Officers

When Higher Futures and Aimhigher South Yorkshire recognised their mutual need for evaluation, the idea for a practitioner research network was born.

Margaret Lewis and Louise Ritchie were appointed as Research Development Officers in early 2008 and began to provide practical help and support to practitioners across both networks.

They launched the programme with a series of workshops, running between March and June 2008, which provided an introduction to research methods, showcased current research and evaluation activities and explored ideas for small-scale investigative projects. Nearly 40 colleagues participated.

"We are delighted that so many practitioners have become involved in the research network," said Margaret, "And an impressively large number are undertaking their own small investigative project."

"In particular," added Louise, "We are enjoying the challenge of supporting practitioners from a wide range of backgrounds and organisations."

They are currently supporting 16 projects, 11 led by Higher Futures colleagues, which are intended to complement and add value to the practitioner's existing work. These range from investigative projects, to evaluating activity, to impact assessment.

Projects currently underway include a study of the experiences of community researchers, an exploration of the impact of Higher Futures' activities on progression to HE, and an investigation into the experiences of work-based learners on Foundation Degree programmes.

Sector-specific projects include a study that will explore why learners on Level 3 Early Years CACHE courses at one FE college are not generally progressing to HE, and an investigation into how the Foundation Degree in Community Development impacts on the lives of undergraduate learners.

"Practitioners have told us that they appreciate the chance to take time out from their day to day activities to share thoughts and experiences around research and evaluation, and to reflect upon their own work, with other members of the network," reported Margaret.

As well as sharing ideas and good practice with colleagues, enjoying ongoing one to one support and developing transferable skills and techniques, practitioners also have the opportunity to gain accreditation for their work via the MA module in Applied Professional Studies in Education (APSE) at the University of Sheffield.

The practitioner research network is already being recognised as an example of good practice in staff development, and Louise and Margaret have showcased the scheme at two LLN National Forum events.

"This is an opportunity for us both to develop our own skills and expertise, and build upon our previous experience of supporting practitioners to conduct research in a wide range of settings," acknowledged Louise.

"This very much aligns with our ethos of learning from and with each other."

Margaret and Louise are based at the University of Sheffield. For further information on the practitioner research network, you can contact them at or, or on 0114 222 8121.

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