Working collaboratively: reflecting on unexpected outcomes

Authors

Abstract

As collaborative researchers and writers we sought a means to support critical reflection on our practice.  We drew on broadly ethnographic methods when gathering data, and adapted a model we had used elsewhere (Hurford and Read, 2010) as a tool to support reflection.  We wanted to find out if the model was adaptable to and useful in a new context.  We found that the model facilitated the identification of, for example, tacit assumptions about ‘good practice’ to a certain extent.  However, we remain mindful that the model we applied to our practice was one we devised and adapted ourselves.  This raises questions for those engaged in developing strategies to evaluate aspects of practice which are seen as difficult to measure, particularly where the practice evaluated is their own.

Biographies

Donna Hurford is Programme Leader for the Primary PGCE: Flexible Modular at the University of Cumbria with a specialism in Education Studies and Global Citizenship. After teaching in KS1 and KS2 classes in Lancashire schools, with an ICT coordinator responsibility, Donna moved to Higher Education initially specialising in ICT Education. Working in collaboration with Andrew Read, Donna has been involved with a variety of research projects on aspects of Assessment for Learning (AfL); criticality in Global Citizenship and collaborative research. Her current research, which she hopes to develop through a PhD, is focused on student teacher responses to AfL.

Andrew Read is Programme Leader for the Primary PGCE at the University of East London, with specialisms in Education Studies and music.  After teaching in schools in Tower Hamlets, London, Andrew moved into Higher Education initially as an English specialist, later moving into the field of Education Studies.  Working in collaboration with Donna Hurford, Andrew has been involved with research projects on aspects of Assessment for Learning (AfL), criticality in Global Citizenship and collaborative research.  His current research focuses on student perceptions of independent learning and how this perception impacts on pupil experience.

Contact: Andrew Read, Cass School of Education, University of East London, Water Lane, Stratford, E15 4LZ, office 020 8223 6474

Introduction

For a number of years the two authors (the “we” of this thinking piece) worked independently on similar ideas.  When we found ourselves working together on a distance learning module we recognised the common ground and started to collaborate.  Initially this was with the aim of reflecting on the development of materials for the module; subsequently we collaborated to facilitate publication. In a sense, we came across collaboration by neither accident nor design: it simply fitted with our needs.  It was also driven by our similar, if not common, approaches to research and writing.  This contrasts with the contrariness of Ede and Lunsford’s collaboration, their different personalities and “composing processes” (1983, p. 150).  Perhaps it was a recognition that collaboration was for us, in theory, so straightforward that, because of our self-evaluatory and critical natures, self-evaluation and critical reflection became central to our model of researching and writing collaboratively.  However, when we tried to talk about collaborative research with colleagues we found that we lacked a concrete critical model for describing and analysing our collaborative approach.

We turned to a model we had previously written about; indeed, a model we had collaboratively written about: the Continuum (Hurford and Read, 2010).  We had developed the model to enable learners’ visioning of future outcomes as a strategy to support current learning.  However, when we applied the model to our collaborative work we did so retrospectively, plotting key points in the development of our collaborative practice.  This, we feel, enabled us to reflect more critically on the nature of working collaboratively and had implications for the use of the Continuum model in a new context.  The retrospective model also meant that target-setting, which might have led us into seeking to demonstrate a false sense of progress, was eliminated from the process.

An unexpected outcome of collaboration and of reflection on the development of our collaboration was the impact this process had on our practice as tutors and on our thinking about practice.  This apparent cross-over from collaborative researching and writing to something akin to co-coaching interests us and we sought ways in which the reflective framework could be used to capture and analyse this interrelationship.  This thinking piece documents this process of reflection and the identification of implications.

Collaboration for us, and put in the simple terms that underpinned our initial forays into collaborative research and writing, seems most akin to the ’atypical‘ model which Ede and Lunsford (1983, p. 151) identify and refer to as ‘co-authorship‘.  Like Ede and Lunsford, we discover and think through ideas together, talking “through almost every section of the draft together” (1983, p. 151).  However, there are points, often necessitated by geographical factors, where we follow what for Ede and Lunsford is a more typical model: contributing and combining separate sections which are then co-revised.  

Collaboration: modelling practice 

Working collaboratively or being a team worker is often cited as an essential or desirable criterion on job descriptions.  As an aspect of teacher professionalism, the notion that teachers should work as part of ’a network‘, sharing ’collective responsibility‘ underpins the rationale of the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) for Professional Standard Q6, an expectation that teachers “have a commitment to collaboration and co-operative working” (TDA, 2009, p.6).These requirements reflect both the current multi -agency approach to education (DfEE, 2003) and the reality of today’s classrooms where a variety of adults may be working alongside the class teacher.

In preparation for the collaborative expectations of school-based practice, student teachers may be required, during the Initial Teacher Education (ITE) course, to collaborate with peers for group activities and group assessments. Alongside this expectation, ITE tutors may also engage with collaborative module planning, delivery and assessment. It could be said that one role identified with being an ITE tutor is to model professional relationships such as working collaboratively. Collaborative working in higher education institutions (HEIs) may even be a requirement in addition to an expectation. Colleagues frequently collaborate on course development and research, thereby providing opportunities for collaborative writing. However, expectations of collaboration even those embedded in statutory requirements or HEI practices do not necessarily ensure effective collaboration and relevant outcomes.

Challenges presented by collaborative research and writing

Collaboration may be practised in a variety of ways, however, the notion of collaboration implies working together on a shared goal and outcome. When considering collaborative research and collaborative writing the shared goal would most likely be to publish or present the outcomes of the study. The reasons for opting to collaborate on the research and to write collaboratively vary but arguably unless there is agreement about research aims, research approaches and the purpose of the outcome, the notion of working together would be a challenging experience. Whilst engaging with challenges presented by collaboration may force pragmatic decisions or even creative and innovative strategies, they may also be predominantly constraining and limiting.

Elgort and Wilson (2008) conclude from their literature review on e-collaboration that a distinction is often made between learning/teaching collaborations being more “process focused” whilst research collaborations tend to be “product oriented” (2008, p. 3). The focus on a shared outcome in the form of a publishable paper that will pass the scrutiny of a peer review panel may be a more galvanising force than taking time to reflect on the collaborative process and its potential for reciprocal learning.

There is also the need for caution on the notion of collaboration being seen as best practice.  Heller (2003) suggests that the current focus on collaborative writing and authorship may be misplaced and he cautions us to be mindful of the “consequences… when educational theorists exaggerate the practical significance of the analytic distinctions they make” (2003, p. 301). Heller notes the need for more evidence-based rather than seemingly assumption-based conclusions on the merits of collaborative writing.

Furthermore, collaboration may encourage exclusive ownership of the research and its associated models. Research partnerships can become intense relationships which thrive on discovering ‘new’ knowledge and co-developing relevant models. However, during the research process the opportunity to have regular discourse with a co-researcher may result in such embedded tacit understanding that it makes little sense to others. If, as Rust, Price and O’Donovan suggest “tacit knowledge is highly personal and hard to formalise” (2003, p. 152), then knowledge that is co-developed by a pair or in a team may be attributed a ‘received’ status by its developers.  Smyth (1991) suggests this may make knowledge less accessible to others:

Even though we may be unconscious of doing it, we often engage in a dialectical process of conversing with the unique aspects of the settings in which we work so as to generate forms of knowledge of a kind characterised as ‘what works for us’. (Smyth, 1991, p. 27)

Indeed, collaborative researchers and writers may be less receptive to external critique: the credibility of the argument has already been peer-assessed, and the value of their research and finding accorded value through an inbuilt process of peer-assessment and evaluation.

Collaborative writing raises a number of challenges for the hard-pressed academic.  As Noel and Robert (2004) found, collaborative writing takes longer and the reconciliation of writing styles is not easy.  A significant number of participants in their study noted the task became “more difficult” as a consequence of collaboration (2004, p. 73).  Ede and Lunsford (1990, cited in Noel & Robert 2004, p. 65) also list the equitable division of the task and the “diffusion of responsibility” as problematic.  Although the practicalities of collaborative writing should not be problematic where colleagues share an office, or at the very least a campus, where institutions are more distributed, other solutions need to be sought. 

Facilitating collaborative writing using technology

Technology provides a potential remedy. Indeed, what might be perceived as a technologically facilitated compromise could be advantageous to colleagues working at a distance from one another.  Passig and Schwartz (2007), for example, found that collaborative writing produced in synchronised online environments can be of a higher quality than that produced in face-to-face settings.  However, Rimmershaw (1992, cited in Noel and Robert 2004, p. 65) identifies the exchanging of drafts – a necessarily asynchronous writing strategy – as more common than synchronous writing.  Whilst Rimmershaw’s study is relatively dated, her findings may still resonate with collaborators today, even with the increasing availability of more sophisticated synchronous writing tools such as Wimba, which offered us a range of collaborative tools allowing us to meet and talk online and write together through a screen sharing facility.    Furthermore, Mabrito suggests that synchronous communication is not necessary: “some form of asynchronous communication might be the most effective for collaborative writing experiences” (2006, p. 105).  The implications seem to be clear: studies suggest collaborative writers believe they produce better work when they operate through an online mediated environment, with opportunities to work asynchronously.

Collaboration, coaching and reciprocity

If we consider the professional commitment to collaboration required of student teachers and teachers, The General Teaching Council for England (GTC) notes the value of “professional dialogue” (2004) and “networks” (2005) as tools to support reflective practice.  Similarly the TDA identifies the need to recognise opportunities to “share the development of effective practice” (TDA 2007, p.12, 21).  To this end, student teachers and teachers are required to “be open to coaching and mentoring” (TDA 2007, p. 8, 16). Whilst similar national, statutory requirements do not currently exist for HEI and ITE tutors, institutional practices may include peer review, co-coaching and mentoring as part of the induction and ongoing professional development. If we pursue the notion of ITE tutors modelling collaborative practices for student teachers it may be appropriate to reflect further on expectations of collaboration and coaching in a school context to identify possible parallels with HEI and ITE practices.

Reciprocity seems to be a key feature of proposed models for coaching.  According to the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE), working collaboratively and, in particular, engagement with coaching require a commitment to “reciprocal learning” (2005, p. 4).  This echoes Willie and Howey’s assertion that “the nature of human relationships and issues of reciprocity and trust should lie at the heart of what teachers do among themselves as professionals” (1981, cited in Smyth 1991, p. 86).

Joyce and Showers’s (1995) approach to school-based peer coaching, included on the Department for Children, Schools and Families’ National Strategies website, depends upon effective reciprocity. Joyce and Showers’s approach requires all school colleagues to: agree to join peer coaching study teams; collectively agree to implement the agreed change; support each other and to gather appropriate data. This interpretation of peer coaching indicates an active relationship with a focus on change in practice clarifying the distinction between working collaboratively and coaching. Collaboration implies working together with a shared goal in mind, a process which may or may not require a change in practice. Although CUREE’s (2005, p. 4) definition of co-coaching suggests a similar model for supporting professional change to that of Joyce and Showers (1995, it could be interpreted as being a less prescriptive one,  with its emphasis on “enabling change” rather than “requiring change”. Zwart et al’s definition of “reciprocal peer coaching” sees change as key, and explores whether change in teacher belief precedes or follows change in teacher practice (2007, p. 166).   In general, this seems to suggest that there is some uncertainty around definitions of co-coaching and peer coaching: for the purposes of this discussion, it might be useful to adopt the phrase “reciprocal learning”.

In much the same way that colleagues in HEIs might be expected to model collaborative work, reciprocal learning should, it could be argued,  be evident in higher education’s professional relationships, perhaps particularly amongst those who work in ITE.  Opportunities for reciprocal learning may arise through induction programmes for newly-appointed colleagues, peer review and appraisal.  However this will depend on the institution’s provision for continuing professional development. The success of these reciprocal learning relationships is likely to depend on an enabling institutional culture and colleagues’ commitment to the development of effective and confident learning relationships: Fullan argues that “learning schools”  promote teachers’ “professional growth” and “collaboration&ddquo; (1993, p. 72), and there seems little reason why this should not also apply to learning HEIs.

This takes us back to the opportunities provided by collaborative writing and the notion of unexpected outcomes.  Lowry, Curtis and Lowry (2004) note the negotiation, coordination and communication evident in collaborative writers’ shared focus on “a common objective” (2004, p. 72).  This “common objective” could be akin to the “change” that is central to the co-coaching models of Joyce and Showers (1995) and CUREE (2005).  It could be argued that the reciprocal learning that is central to these models enhances the quality of the collaboratively written product.

However, this assumes that the “common objective” of research and writing collaborators is change: their aim might simply be to record, rather than develop, current practice.  The aim itself may not be reciprocal: Harlin and DiBello’s study of the use of video-taping to support peer coaching (2001) identifies it as an effective method, but they emphasise “shaping behavior and reinforcing effective teaching strategies” (2001, p. 85), which suggests an acceptance of values rather than an openness to negotiation.  Furthermore, it is quite possible that collaborative researchers and writers are not aware of, or choose not to acknowledge, their engagement in reciprocal learning.

Methodology

This is, essentially, an ethnographic study of collaborative practice.  Our approach to working together and to reflecting together has the features of ethnographic work identified by Hammersley and Atkinson (2007).  Our small-scale research focused on the way we, as researchers and writers, worked.  The research took place in an everyday context, insofar as it is possible to have an ‘everyday context’ when collaborating at distance.  Observations and “relatively informal conversations” were our principle sources of data.  There was no “fixed and detailed research design specified at the start”.  Our data are “verbal descriptions, explanations, and theories” (Hammersley and Atkinson, 2007, p 3).

However, there was no decision as such to research our practice in this way because no question had been identified before we set out to work collaboratively.  The study is essentially retrospective.  The data we refer to, the recalled dialogues and ideas captured on the backs of envelopes, were not collected because we planned to write a study on our practice: that is just how we worked: there was no research intent.

Nevertheless there is purpose to this study beyond the retrospective accumulation of data.  We sought a concrete, critical model for describing and analysing our collaborative approach. We turned to one we had collaboratively devised to support learner ownership in school and university, the ‘Continuum’ (Read and Hurford, 2010). By reflecting on our practice, we hope to place, retrospectively, our approach to collaboration within the Continuum.  In so doing this may allow us to communicate more effectively with others about our practice.  More significantly it may provide an opportunity to test the validity and usefulness of the Continuum model by applying it in this new context.   Ultimately, the purpose of this study is to argue for the use of the Continuum as a transferable model to be used to support critical reflection on aspects of practice which lacks a critical framework. 

The Continuum model in theory

We originally devised the Continuum to encourage student teachers to identify stages (at the start and end of the course) in their development as learners, and to anticipate future self-expectations in keeping with our perceptions of a self-regulatory approach.  Participants would formulate a view of where they are now, i.e. at the time of the Continuum activity, see Figure 1.  We encouraged participants to engage with elements which might underpin their own learning: values, attitudes, skills, knowledge and understanding.  Once the ‘now’ was established we asked participants to record where they wanted to be in the future, and then to identify ‘struts’, the approaches or strategies that would enable them to get from where they are now to where they anticipate being (or hope to be) in the future.

[Figure 1 about here: The original Continuum model]

Where I am now Identify “struts” or strategies

 

Where I want to go
Attitudes/Values

 

Knowledge/ Understanding

Skills

“I need to …”

 

 

 

“I need others to…”  

 

 

“I need these resources”

 

 

Attitudes/Values

 

Knowledge/ Understanding

 

Skills

However, when we applied the Continuum model to our collaborative development we did so retrospectively: the starting point, ‘Where we are now’, marked a provisional end point in the research process where we started to reflect on our collaborative practices, using the headings identified in Figure. 2.  We then shifted our focus to the start of our research collaboration, ‘Where we were when we started writing collaboratively’, applying the same reflective process. Having identified these two points we then identified the ‘struts’ or strategies which we had put in place to facilitate our development as researchers and collaborative researchers. Through the application of the Reflective Framework-Continuum model we noted how reciprocal learning and peer coaching were evidenced in our practice.

[Figure 2 about here The Reflective Framework – Continuum model]

Where we were when we started writing Identify “struts” or strategies

 

Where we are now
Attitudes/Values

 

Knowledge/ Understanding

 

Skills

 

“I need to …”

 

 

 

“I need others to…”  

 

 

“I need these resources”

 

 

Attitudes/Values

 

Knowledge/ Understanding

 

Skills

The Continuum model was designed as a dynamic model, which should be reviewed and updated if participants are to be fully engaged, potentially autonomous learners. With this in mind the final column in the Reflective Framework – Continuum marks the point in our collaboration when we stopped and reflected on where we were and identified the struts or strategies we had implemented. The next stage would be to vision where we would want to be as researchers in one, three, five years time and to identify the potentially necessary struts or strategies we will need to implement. It could be argued that we will be supported through the visioning process by referring back to our original Reflective Framework as it provides an insight into our journey this far and there may be elements we would choose to replicate, adapt and re-apply, or avoid.

Discussion: mapping collaborative  practice  on the Continuum 

Where were we when we started writing collaboratively?

Whilst it is difficult to identify the original source of our motivation for developing a collaborative research and writing partnership there were and are significant factors. At the time of this research we worked for the same HEI which has sites in the North West of England and London. We taught and assessed the Education Studies modules on a Distance Learning Professional Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) Programme for student teachers working towards Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). One of us taught on a North West campus and the other on the London site. As the same Programme is offered at both University locations we offer a common Programme through a blended learning approach. The need for commonality provided the impetus for a tutor-team approach: we worked together with other PGCE Education Studies colleagues, to re-develop the online study materials and the face to face sessions. We were also at a stage in our careers in HE where we wanted to develop as researchers and we were aware of a degree of institutional coercion to improve research profiles.

We were committed to designing modules and materials that enabled and required student teachers’ independent approach to learning. However, although being an independent learner is a PGCE Programme requirement, student feedback suggested that this commitment to independent learning was not shared or welcomed by all students (Read & Hurford 2008; Slater et al. 2009). This dilemma was evident to us from reviewing module evaluations and informal focus group sessions. We had therefore embarked on a collaborative research study through an evaluation of the changes we had implemented in the Education Studies modules.

This focus on school-practice based issues is recurrent throughout all of our collaborative research. Our research is either focused on student teachers’ engagement with changes we have introduced to modules or on the engagement of school pupils, both primary and secondary, with our emerging model for independent learning. Much of our research started with module evaluations and student feedback which in turn led us to practitioner or action research. Our meta-reflection on our focus on independent learning and why some students were reluctant to engage encouraged us to engage more deeply with the associated issues. During this process we became aware of our shared interest in learner ownership and Assessment for Learning (Assessment Reform Group, 2002). This shared interest provided impetus to develop the “Continuum” (Read & Hurford 2009) model as a visual, participatory way for learners to generate their own success criteria and to identify support strategies for their learning.

The development of the Continuum model exemplifies the ways in which we tended to collaborate including face to face and virtual communication. We capitalised on opportunities when we were both in the same geographical location, London or the North West, for work related meetings. Although more formal module planning sessions generated team discussion and sparked new thinking much of our more radical thinking has been captured on the ‘back of an envelope’ as we travel to and from meetings and conferences. It may be significant that these impromptu yet focused discussions about new ideas tend to be synchronous and generally face to face, although video-conferenced discussions have also contributed to the creative flow. 

‘Struts’ or strategies: I need to

Without consciously being reciprocal learners our approach suggests that our struts or strategies included the adoption of peer or co-coaching skills. We are interested in each other’s thinking; we encourage experimentation; we co-develop ideas through listening and questioning; we probe more deeply into their validity and reliability, reviewing them from alternative perspectives. Focusing on a “common [research] objective” (Lowry et al. 2004, p. 72) is fundamental to our sustained engagement with research projects however this can result in our “tacit knowledge… [being] highly personal” (Rust et al. 2003, p. 152). This is evidenced in some peer reviews of our research articles presented for publication. Our reliance on a shared tacit understanding has not always resulted in a sufficiently detached and critical perspective and we have, on occasion, attributed received status to our ideas. This suggests the need for caution when co-researching. Although it could be argued that an independent researcher may reach a similarly self affirmed tacit understanding of his/her thinking it would then be incumbent upon the independent researcher to seek others’ comprehension of the ‘new’ idea if it is to have currency. However, it appears that during our co-researching, especially in the early stages, we probably thought that as we both understood the idea, and we thought we had been sufficiently rigorous in our peer critique, the idea had currency. Cautions considered the value and productiveness of our dialogues about new ideas warrant recognition for without them; it is not clear how our development as researchers would have progressed.  However, we are mindful that these notions of value and productiveness are rooted in our own perceptions and could be said to lack reliability in comparison to other approaches.  Heller’s caution in relation to assumptions about collaboration (2003) resonates.

‘Struts’ or strategies: I need these resources

In view of the geographical distance between us we have had to rely on alternative modes of synchronous communication and this need has often provided the necessary impetus to find a more appropriate IT application, provided by our institution. Opportunities to communicate through virtual meetings have enabled us to collaborate on a range of research activities including discussion, collaborative writing and editing. Although IT applications have provided opportunities for collaboration – such as video conferencing, using desk-top web-cams and file sharing programs like Marratech and Wimba – they have also constrained communication. At best we can view, discuss and edit a shared file, simultaneously available on both our computer screens; at worst we waste time tackling technical problems, resorting to a phone discussion about a text which one edits, whilst frequently emailing reviewed versions to the other. However, without IT enabled opportunities to discuss and review our writing the geographical constraints would have limited our interaction and productiveness.

During our research partnership it is evident that our use of IT applications has changed. This is partly due to the nature of IT applications available but more particularly because of the development and confidence in our ideas and our increasing readiness to write sections independently, coming together to edit rather than co-writing drafts. In contrast with Passig and Schwartz’s findings (2007) we have moved away from synchronous initial writing preferring to allocate sections and review each other’s drafts by email before meeting for either a face to face or an online synchronous editing session. This change in our writing practice indicates our development from a co-dependent to an inter-dependent writing partnership. This notion of a developmental process highlights the need for a variety of modes of communication enabling collaborative writers to select the most appropriate IT application at each stage in the emerging research partnership. Our development as more inter-dependent writers could be seen as a result of effective “reciprocal learning” (CUREE, 2005, p. 4).

Where are we now?

Initially we needed to clarify our ideas to develop our own shared understanding and much time was spent in discussion. Once we embarked on writing we tended to write synchronously, using Marratech to discuss, view and develop a shared text. Marratech however does not manage Word documents so time was always needed to reformat the text.  The most recently available IT application at the institution, Wimba, offers all the features necessary for virtual meetings, desktop sharing, co-writing and co-editing from our desktops at work or at home. The flexible access to Wimba and its comprehensive range of applications facilitated all aspects of collaborative research and writing: we could both view and be fully engaged with the whole writing and editing process including checking online references.

However having the right tool for the job is not necessarily enough to ensure job completion. Noel and Robert (2004) note collaborative writing is “not an easy task” (p.80), because it requires commitment, compromise and negotiation.   Nevertheless, the agreement to prepare for virtual meetings at specific times has provided us with a supportive framework. Time for research and in particular shared research time is a scarce resource which we value and for which we take responsibility. This sense of “consideration” (Light and Cox, 2001, p. 42) to each other and responsibility for the shared outcome are often significant factors in ensuring we meet deadlines. Although we have a contractual entitlement to research time, deadlines for papers and presentations often clash with teaching and marking commitments and as practitioners we find it impossible and possibly inappropriate to prioritise a research role over a tutor role.

It seems evident that our openness to redrafting and to critically reviewing each other’s writing are important contributing factors to our collaboration. We often draft a section and hand it over to the other for further work so even though we start by allocating sections we develop a shared ownership of the whole research paper. We knew we would need to be mutually critical friends however our confidence in sharing our writing with each other in the early stages was more tentative. Possibly the testing process of submitting co-authored papers and having to respond to critical reviews contributed to us “establishing confidence in the relationship” (CUREE, 2005). Whilst critical reviews contribute to our development as clearer writers and more rigorous researchers we can feel bruised by the feedback: a salutary lesson for tutors more used to giving feedback to students. This emotional response may be heightened because we have committed our time and energy to the collaborative process in the belief that ‘two heads will be better than one’. However, by experiencing an emotional response to feedback we are demonstrating that we value our research and our writing and we are motivated to improve our shared output.

Conclusions

Our experience of collaborating as researchers and writers indicates that it has been a productive relationship: our engagement with practitioner based research has resulted in publications of our research findings. However this study is not principally about the benefits of collaboration, but focuses on how we might analyse this process. Mapping the Continuum model on to our collaboration guided us through the analytical process, requiring us to adopt a more objective view of our collaborative practices. In effect this was the first time we had applied the Continuum model to our own practices. Having developed it with other learners in mind, we now found ourselves testing it out. However, as mentioned, our focus was not on testing the model but on finding a way to analyse more critically the value and productiveness we attributed to our collaborative practice.

Our reflection on the collaborative nature of our research and writing partnership suggests that the challenges presented by this mode of working can have positive implications.  We argue that the very challenges inherent in collaborative partnerships have provided the catalyst for our development as more rigorous researchers and clearer writers.  As we developed as more interdependent writers we needed to be flexible, to seek and adopt different IT applications and modes of communication. We surmise that this development is evidence of our reciprocal learning as we drew on skills and attitudes associated with co-coaching models.

However, this leaves us with a question: how does the Continuum model contribute to our understanding of our practice that just talking and informal reflection does not?  By employing the model we obliged ourselves to spend time identifying change and finding a way to articulate this change.  This meant that we could not rely on the easier, tacit assumptions about collaborative practice being ‘good’.  Because we had a history of collaborative publication, we had been invited to share the strengths of this approach with colleagues.  Arguably, this left us vulnerable to overstating the benefits and successes of collaboration.  The application of the model seems to have led to a more objective and thorough evaluation of the significant strategies supporting our development.  However, the model we have used is our own; we have adapted the model to suit our own purposes; we have applied it retrospectively.  We remain mindful of this and recognise the need for continuing critical vigilance when evaluating our own practice.

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Appendix 1

Reflective Framework: Continuum Model
Where [I am now] were we when we started writing collaboratively?  

Identify “struts” or strategies

     

 

  

Where [I want to go] are we now
Attitudes/ Values

Research context: shared interest in AfL, embarking on research, publishing and presenting findings.

Reciprocal Learning: sense of co-responsibility; understanding working environment. Cautious about peer feedback; need critical friend, tentative approach; favoured mainly synchronous writing

Knowledge/ Understanding

Research context: some shared understanding of independent learning; wanted to evaluate effects of module changes on student engagement.

Reciprocal learning:

I’m not sure we  gave much thought to this at the start.

Skills

Research context: IT literate; time management; focused; creative ideas; some independent writing experience;

Reciprocal learning: co-coaching approach to learning how to use different IT resources; trouble shooting; synchronous writing using IT or face to face (immediate feedback)

“I need to …” (I) 

Meet our deadlines

Protect collaborative research/ writing time

Give and receive critical and supportive feedback in appropriate ways

Be open to new ideas; to being challenged

Show understanding and to be flexible

Look for new IT resources that could be more appropriate

Develop my critical engagement with independent learning

“I need others to…” (O)

Institution to provide and technicians to support use of IT  enabled synchronous writing tools: Marratech, WIMBA and VC meeting tools

Line managers to protect research time

Colleagues to be critically constructive readers and reviewers

Students, pupils and school-based colleagues to agree to be involved in our research

“I need these resources”(R)

IT enabled synchronous writing tools: Marratech, WIMBA

VC meeting tools:

VC access; desktop webcam access

Non office based because of office constraints

Use time alongside work related meetings as opportunities for face to face research/ writing time

Attitudes/ Values Research context: maintained interest in AfL with specific areas of individual interest emerging, published and presented findings.

Reciprocal Learning:consistent sense of co-responsibility. Less cautious about peer feedback; value critical friend, more confident approach; favour mainly asynchronous writing; more aware of ‘received understanding’ and more confident about sharing work with other critical friends

Knowledge/ Understanding

Research context: deeper shared understanding of independent learning (led to integrated writing approach); experienced in evaluating effects of module changes on student engagement.

Reciprocal learning:recognise each others writing styles; recognise each others strengths and areas to support; experienced exclusivesness of  ‘tacit’ understanding;

Skills

Research context: more IT literate; more effective time management (asynchronous writing); focused; creative ideas; much more independent and interdependent writing experience;

Reciprocal learning: co-coaching approach to learning how to use different IT resources; trouble shooting; asynchronous writing using IT or face to face; responding to critique from peer reviewers.

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