Last week’s theory and philosophy in education and social research was delivered by Yvette Solomon, with emphasis on how sociocultural theory is used to understand learning. The session looks at the Marxist theory connections with social anthropology traditions of situated learning developed by Lave and Wenger (1991). They argue that learning is not simply situated in practice, that learning is an essential component of social practice in the lived world. In other words knowledge comes about through engagement in social practices rather than individual acquisition of skill and knowledge.

Vygotsky sociocultural theory also looked at how society contributes to an individual development. He based his theory upon analysis of apprenticeship models through guided interactions with the more experienced members of society. In addition, children acquire knowledge and problem solving skills which they in turn pass on to younger generation in the society.  Lave and Wenger (1991) put this succinctly that mastery resides not in the master but in the organisation of the community of practice of which the master is a part. Although new comers have less knowledge and skill at the beginning they are important assets to the continuity and transformation of the community.

It could be said that learning is a way of social participation that includes meaning and Wenger (1998, p. 58) sees this as a reification by which practices are given congealed form. These refers to symbolic artifacts like signs, stories, concepts and beliefs which gives new meaning to the individuals and when internalised helped them master their own natural psychological functions of perception, memory and attention.

The session also looked at learning as a community of practice which is about developing forms of joint engagement – what helps and what does not. Knowledge in this context of community of practice ceases to be a homogenous being related to a student’s ability to interpret and comprehend standard written texts but rather as a diverse and heterogeneous phenomenon.

With reference to my research experience, the Education and Social Research Institute (ESRI) programme for example, is based around sociocultural way of learning – dialectical adaptation. Research students (apprenticeship) are assigned to supervisors who helped students with the required skills/knowledge in writing the final thesis. The acquisition of knowledge is intimately related to the appropriation of different tools and interaction with the immediate environment. This theory disagrees with Piaget’s earlier cognitive development theory of learning where learners are expected to be independent agents of acquisition. Finally, for my research interest, sociocultural theory will be used to look at multicuturalism in schools. The issues of culture and learning are interwoven and protected characteristics like gender, ethnicity, equality and diversity will be tested against this theory in our present day education system.

Lave, J. & Wenger, E (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Solomon, Y. (2012) Finding a voice? Narrating the female self in mathematics, Edu Stud Math, Vol. 80, pp. 171-183.

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of practice: learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ethical issues in research

My experience of completing the MMU ethical form for the research topic: Affective futures: girls and the Year 9 transition was an interesting one as it gave me a different perception on how to be an ethical researcher. My previous experience has to do with research involving business organisations and this requires approval from external body or case study organisation and less to do with ethical committees as in the Heather Piper’s story. The topic above is a completely different situation as it involves 13 – 14 years old children, hence the need for a proper and thorough guidelines. Moreover, it should be said that these 16 points MMU checklist is not final as there are no best fit ethical blueprint. This makes the work of the researcher more difficult; as you are required to make specific decisions on the basis of careful consideration of all contributing factors or anticipate all ethical dilemmas that may arise.  Therefore, a check list like this is purposely to convey the notion that the researcher is within the ambit of conducting an ethical research in the field and importantly, has also taken into account the University Academic ethical framework.

Question 13 and 14 on risk and risk assessment is an example of the point I am trying to discuss above. Risk assessment according to Health and Safety Executive (HSE), is taken safety measure to avoid harm. Harm here could simply be an accident like slipping, and safety measures can be put in place, the bottom-line is we may not fully know the reality of what awaits a researcher in the process of carrying out a research work. On a personal note, I feel that this part of the checklist should be completed when the research is in progress or coming to a close.

The last lecture on ethics was very rich and informative as many salient points came to the fore. It should be said that ethics in research work is not just a one off check-list exercise but rather an on-going process that last well after the submission or publication of work. As a researcher you will come across difficult situations while out there in the field, but excellent preparatory work helps to minimise these (ref. to Sylvie Allendyke) and a researcher should be able to adjust, reflect, scrutinise, use common sense and learn from bad experience. In addition, we must not forget that researchers intrude on people’s lives and not every one of the Year 9 participants in our case study example will find this a rewarding experience despite explicit/informed consent, confidentiality and anonymity.

Finally, one other interesting issue from the lecture was the fact that confidential or anonymous data does not enjoy legal privilege. This was new to me and it then begs the question – what is the point for all the anonymity rhetoric if what the participant have said during interviews are traced back by third parties especially the law enforcement agencies?



Research topic?


Complexities of performance related pay (PRP).


An evaluation of performance related pay on secondary school teachers to achieve good results.


To appraise theories and concepts relating to PRP and secondary school teachers performance.

To analyse the motivational effect of PRP and how it will encourage teachers achieve good results.

To assess the emotional, psychological and cultural concerns that may occur from its introduction and implementation.

To develop a PRP model that applies to secondary school teachers.


What is performance related pay?

Sub questions

  • How is PRP different from old system of pay?
  • What is the practicability within the educational system?
  • How is PRP practised in the private and public sector?

To what extent is recruitment and early retirement an issue in teachers’ performance?

Sub questions

  • What proportion of teachers are supply/part-timers?
  • Should ‘job for life’ mentality still have a place in secondary school?
  • What are the issues with teacher’s age and gender and how can this be addressed?

What are the educational and management justification for PRP in secondary schools?

Sub questions

  • What should be the basis of reward among secondary school teachers?
  • How can this be used to change teachers’ behaviour?
  • What are the implications of government intervention?

I would appreciate any comments or criticisms – thanks.


Annotated Bibliography – leave a comment please!

Savage, M. Devine, F. Cunningham, N. Taylor, M. Li, Y. Hjellbrekke, J. Leroux, B. Friedman, S. And Miles, A. (2013) A New Model of Social Class? Findings from the BBC’s Great British Class Survey Experiment, Sociology, Vol. 47, No. 2, pp. 219-250.

Savage et al, suggests a new model of class in contemporary Britain by looking at economic, cultural and social capital variables developed by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1984). Using quantitative and inductive research methods, they show how these three variables combined can provide a powerful way of mapping present-day class divisions in UK. This is in contrast to an earlier work by Goldthorpe (1970) which was based on occupation or individual’s employment position and this fall short from effectively capturing the role of social and cultural process in producing class divisions. Their findings are momentous in that it helps to show that other factors like social and cultural capitals are at the core of the new social class divisions in contemporary Britain and also, the apparently widening gap of social inequality between the “haves” (Elite) and the” have not” (precariat). I will use Salvage et al article in my research to support my argument that acute class polarisation is a sign of inequality mismanagement which in turn breeds insecurity, prejudice, and bullying that can affects the overall educational performance of a child in particular and a nation in general.

McNamara, G. And Norman, J. (2010) Conflicts of Ethos: Issues of Equity and Diversity in Faith-based Schools, Educational Management Administration and Leadership, Vol. 38, No.5, pp. 534-546.

The authors are both education lecturers at Dublin City University, and in this article a quantitative research method was used to argue that faith-based schools are over protected by the state of Ireland. They further suggests that about ninety per cent of the primary and secondary schools are owned and controlled by the Catholic schools, whilst the remaining ten per cent by other churches. Schools owned by churches are allowed to protect their ethos and philosophy by refusing to employ, admit or dismiss anyone who is at odd with prevailing ethos. Their research findings are significant as it strengthens concerns about potential conflicts between faith-based schools and the effective implementation of equality and diversity legislations. For my research interests, I will use this article to lend weight to my argument that, despite the gains from spiritual capitals, equality and diversity management in schools (faith-based, public or community schools) are best served when policies and practices meet the acceptable standard of fairness appropriate in an increasing diverse modern society and not that of a traditional homogenous one.

NB: Topic? Not yet eureka.

Seminar “a way of collaborative thinking and learning”

Seminars are designed to comprehend the idea of cognitive & affective domains. As a method of learning, it can be achieved through debates, communication and interactive experience. The human interaction under the seminar technique develops the skills among participants and provides a good learning and scholastic experience to the member of the group. For example, seminars teach participants to scope for opinion and debate then apply the information to answer questions where there’s no right or wrong answer.

Seminar is essentially held as a discussion group as a way of collaborative thinking and learning. Marr, (2013,) suggests it as an orchestral rehearsal, full of improvisation, rehearsals, experimentation, extended flights of analysis and synthesis. An examination of the seminar learning method shows a semblance with orchestral rehearsal strategy, employed by conductors and performers with the aim of finding a common ground through the use of metacognition strategies.

During seminar sessions, relevant ideas are shared, issues are discussed, questions are raised and intelligent debates are carried out. This process involves the identification of key components skills made possible through group efforts of rehearsals, practice and experimentation to solve a particular task or problem. The success of such collaborative work would not have been possible if one is to work on his own.

Interestingly, a seminar and rehearsal learning methods reveal the relationship between cognitive and social issues. In the course of the sessions, new ideas, problem solving skills, understanding are composed in a friendly environment to solve social phenomena through intelligent group discussions as well as collective decision making.

There are various ways of preparing for and carrying out a seminar. For a seminar to be successful the subject matter of the text should be paramount and personal opinions should be discarded. Moreover, mutual respect for all the participants is equally important as well as a good listening skill. Seminars encourage open mindedness and control a one-sided idea from the participants. It builds better social values, self confidence, good learning experience and tolerance levels in the minds of the participants.

There are also some limitations for the seminar learning methods as some in the group may be passive observers and may not contribute anything to the group and this can defeat the reason for having the seminar. Finally, a seminar as an instructional technique on a particular social issue, idea or a question should conform to the learning experiences that are important to the students or participants.


Evaluating research design

I have chosen a journal article written by McNamara et al. (2010) from Educational Management Administration and Leadership, titled Conflicts of Ethos: Issues of Equity and Diversity in Faith-based Schools.

The research discusses the perceived concerns and implications of conceding control of ethos and philosophy of schools to churches in Ireland which may result in policies and practices that are at odds with fairness appropriate in a democratic society.

McNamara et al. (2010) uses a descriptive research design (p.535). This design is mainly concerned with ‘what’ is going on questions and in this paper, this was the potential conflicts between faith-based schools, equality legislation and revised curricula in the field of sex education in Ireland. In addition, the research employed a quantitative strategy using survey and postal questionnaires with closed and open ended questions. A web site was also made available where any interested parties could leave comments anonymously.

The authors selected this design due to a previous research undertaken in 2004-2006 to which the findings of this research were compared. Therefore, this design became appropriate for the researchers to guarantee validity and reliability.  Moreover, this design was decided on to ensure that the researchers obtained sufficient data that will enabled them answer the initial questions raised as unambiguously as possible. For example, the provision of a message board on the website was to encourage anonymous feedback due to the nature of the issues being investigated.

One of the advantages of this research design decision was that it protected the identity of those respondents who may have acted against the ethos of their employers. The use of a website and postal questionnaires allows for anonymity and encouraged frankness in sensitive areas. The use of SPSS provided a quick, credible, quantitative data that were totally independent of the researchers and the large samples of postal questionnaires sent out were analysed in less time. Finally, the use of a website to post comments anonymously would have been disadvantageous to many respondents who would not have a computer and the means to go online.

Doing this research, I would have adopted the same line of inquiry and probably added more data through an in-depth qualitative interview. On page 541, fifty one percent of the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) coordinators had known lesbian and gay students who attended faith-based schools. More useful data could have been collected from them through snowballing technique to add validity to the findings.


McNamara, G. And Norman, J. (2010) Conflicts of Ethos: Issues of Equity and Diversity in Faith-based Schools, Educational Management Administration and Leadership, Vol.38, No.5, pp. 534-546.


How is philosophical and / or theoretical thinking useful in research activities?

Research philosophy refers to the way in which researchers believe that knowledge is constructed. It relates to the nature of the research, the subject and their relationship (if any) with the researcher. Broadly speaking, two major philosophies dominate social science research – positivism and interpretivism (Grix, 2002).

Philosophical and theoretical thinking are useful in research activities because it helps the researcher to understand the assumptions behind the research tools we may decide to choose. In addition they help to explain the methods that is used to others who may be reading the researcher’s work. Understanding philosophical and research thinking gives the researcher the confidence to build on his strengths and better understand our social world.

In the context of social sciences, philosophical and theoretical thinking centres on the conviction that there is a reality’ out there’ to be studied. And it is believed that social realities are non static, instead they are constantly changing.

Today’s session was very dry but has set me thinking in a number of ways. Most importantly, it has consolidated my belief about the distinctiveness of humans against the natural order. And Abdul’s mother case proved that one’s perception of ‘reality’ is not always a straight forward account of what it actually is; instead one could argue that reality is firstly shaped by an individual’s own perception of reality, which is of course influenced by their own values and beliefs. In other words, there is no best fit approach as there are different ways of viewing the world and gathering knowledge.

Finally, one question that has arisen from today’s session is the interrelationship of the key components of research. Grix (2002) suggest that there is a directional relationship between ontological assumptions leading to epistemological assumptions which give rise to methodology. Mason (2002) has a different opinion, and she substituted methodology with methods. Is there a logical sequence of doing this or should up and coming researchers simply ignore it?