Travelling to the UK from Kazakhstan: learning from a study visit


During November 2016 a fifth cohort of academic colleagues from universities across Kazakhstan took part in the Learning and Teaching in Higher Education programme at Newcastle University.  The programme was hosted and facilitated by staff from ECLS and managed through the North Leadership Centre.  Our visitors had a busy schedule of taught sessions and workshops during which they were offered insights in to a wide range of academic practices.  At the same time the visitors experienced British life – both in Newcastle and further afield.

We asked them to reflect on why they were here.  What were they hoping to learn more about? Why did this matter to them? What first impressions did they have?

Here are some of their responses …

Cultural experiences – academic and beyond

We see Education as a constantly developing, renewing process, though our basis is in Kazakhstan a traditional one. Teaching and learning in different countries can have similarities and differences at the same time. In order to develop and to improve education teachers share their experience.

Let’s first of all discuss the similarity of the ways of teaching.  Almost all the teachers use such methods as group work, role play, communicative approach, non-verbal communication and others. As far as the differences are concerned in Kazakhstan we still have a traditional system of education. We consider that learning styles of students in our country differ from British ones (independent work of students, project work). In addition, communication is more formal than in Britain. Even writing a blog is unusual for us. However, changing our experiences is a significant way to develop and to improve the process education.


Professional learning-improving own knowledge and skills

The North Leadership Centre at Newcastle University’s School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences ‘Learning and Teaching in Higher Education’ (LTHE) programme is an essential thing for us, those who are in teaching. We have had a very great experience here, and would like to emphasize the following aspects which we want to improve and study more. Firstly, co-teaching and academic culture impressed us and it would be nice to use it in our practical work at home. The second thing that made us think about was a different view on working in small groups. Can we ask you a question: How long did the process of improving group work take you? And what are the criteria of assessment of group work? We are underway, but still have some difficulties with organizing it during workshops and lecturing. Thirdly, unfortunately, we haven’t got accustomed to feedback, it’s challenging but, it would be appropriate to use this practice in all levels.


Developing students experience – innovative technologies and e-learning

In a global world education becomes international as well. Students from developing countries should be a part of a global community and able to study online. In order to promote this idea, we need IT services support and updated curriculums.  In Kazakhstan we are on the way of this process. For example we have distance teaching and learning as well as newly updated masters programs including disciplines to be studied online.

Innovative technologies let students participate in global e-conferences, blogs, forums and different on-line courses. All these contemporary opportunities let students gain optional education, support long-life learning and self-development for future carrier.

The LTHE programme is helping us as teachers to be trained to get practical skills on e-learning and innovative technologies in order to deliver them at the domestic universities to improve the situation locally and help students to gain the necessary skills.


Learning from and through collaboration

Following on from the LTHE programme we propose the following ways of learning from and through collaboration to support and promote teachers’ and students’ professional, educational and cultural development. Collaboration gives both as for teachers and students a splendid opportunity to grow and improve themselves and their endeavour.   After such global collaboration they become specialists who can work successfully not only in own country but also abroad.

  • New forms of education through collaboration between KZ and UK
  • Sharing professional experiences and skills
  • Exploring intercultural and academic communication
  • Developing professional abilities
  • Acquiring new ICT
  • Learning new trends in pedagogical and psychological knowledge
  • Digital literacy Teacher (online teaching, e-learning, forums. Blogs, networks, conferences, etc.)
  • Languages Practices from collaborative study
  • Students and Teachers Academic Mobility


To draw this blog to a close we asked the programme leader Dr Anna Reid to reflect on the initial impressions formed by the cohort and considered above:

‘The opportunity to work with colleagues from universities in Kazakhstan is special.  There is so much that we can learn with and from each other.  Two weeks is hardly long enough!  I am hoping to receive e-mails in the coming days and months sharing how the theories and practices developed in Newcastle have been translated to the Kazakh context.  That is the aim of the LTHE programme and it is proof of its overall success.’

“I’ll get by with a little help from my friends” (part 2). A different type of ‘safe space’; creating collaborative learning experiences for PGCE students.

Over the last few months there has been considerable debate regarding the establishment of ‘safe-space’ on university campuses around the world, with the anxiety expressed that they act to shut down free speech.  In a world apparently dominated by post-factual political rhetoric the need for debate and the interrogation of diverse views seems more important than ever.  This is well exemplified by the columnist Timothy Garton Ash.  So, I guess putting the phrase ‘safe space’ in a blog post could be considered attention seeking. Actually it is not. It is a phrase which has emerged from a series of research projects in which I have been capturing views of a new and established teachers and lecturers, from primary, secondary, Further and Higher Education settings about practices and environments in which they experience professional learning.

The significance of ‘safe-space’ is evident in my last blog post, in which I concluded with the question, How do we create modern day collaborative learning experiences in which our student teachers will experience solidarity with each other and with the learners, will be given permission to be productively creative and do so in a safe space in which each of them can become the best teacher they can be?   This post picks up the theme where I left off, and also draws on the keynote I gave at the UCET annual conference.


The focus for this second post is the link between opportunities to learn collaboratively and learning as ‘conceptual change’.  Whilst I have frequently in the last 15 or so years described learning as change to my PGCE and Masters students it is only recently that I have come across the idea of conceptual change. For this I thank Peter Davies at Birmingham University for creating a team of researchers from three universities. So Peter and I, along with Celia Greenway (also of Birmingham University) and Dan Davis and several of his colleagues (of Cardiff Metropolitan University) are exploring student teachers experiences’ of their own learning to teach using ‘conceptual change’ as our theoretical basis. In essence conceptual change is the experience which we go through when we have to consciously rework and reframe an idea or understanding that we have previously accepted. This idea has been particularly well demonstrated in children’s learning of scientific phenomena. Take for example the fact that typically children conceptualise the world as flat because that corresponds with their early experience of it. Developing an understanding that the world is actually a globe requires a reworking of the flat earth construct. This is known as conceptual change.

In our current recent research we are trying to determine the nature of conceptual change in learning to teach and some of the factors that might promote this change. Without attending to the entire research findings there are some key aspects to note and one of those is that the phenomena of learning to teach is essentially a complicated one. Part of the complication is that student teachers are not inexperienced in the phenomenon of teaching, indeed they have had years of experiencing teachers and teaching through being taught. For many this leads to a naïve, but possibly strongly held, conception of what it means to learn and act as a teacher. Because it is a strongly held conception student teachers may be resistant to more systematic scrutiny of the phenomenon of themselves learning to teach.  And of course this is doubly complicated because the phenomena in which they are immersed, rather than being something which they can simply be instructed in from neutral territory, is an experiential learning phenomena in which they participate. So whilst we may understand the need for a conceptual shift or change during a period of training or education for student teachers this may be a difficult thing to make happen.

This is where collaboration comes in.  In our research we have been interviewing students at different stages of their initial teacher education to try to reveal the dimensions of learning that they experience in learning to teach. Using analytical methods appropriate to conceptual change theory it has been possible to identify several key dimensions of learning to teach. Amongst others these include the contexts in which learning happens and the various modes of learning as described by the student teachers. And what we find in analysis of their interviews is that the student teachers highlight interactions with others, but just like other identifiable dimension there is variance evident in in these descriptions.  So learning to teach from and with others is evident and this typically include one or more of the school mentors, other colleagues in school, the University tutor and their peers.  These ‘others’ have the potential to create a social context for learning.  Our analysis of these descriptions has resulted in three broad categories:

  • that of recipient of learning from another
  • that of a lone enquirer capable of seeking out opportunities evidence and advice but typically doing it individually
  • and finally that of co-constructor.

It is this latter group who talk about their learning as a collaborative process. Our analysis of the interviews and combination of the dimensions of learning is leading us to conceptualise patterns of conceptual change experienced by student teachers and to recognise affordances and constraints in this learning. So, for example it is clear, for those people who we describe as co-constructors that they link collaboration and their own learning. It is also clear in the ways that they describe these experiences that sometimes collaboration happens by chance and sometimes it happens by design.  This research is ongoing, but even at this early stage it is worth reflecting on.

I am going to do so by focusing on one aspect of my role, as a teacher educator in initial teacher education, through which I and my colleagues apply curriculum and pedagogic decision-making. Sometimes a core aim is to enable student teachers the chance to learn through collaboration by our design. While this might seem an entirely logical approach, it is clear that for many student teachers now genuine opportunities to work collaboratively on real workplace related tasks has become limited. In other words they are not there by design.  At this point I think I should re-iterate my view of collaboration (rather than co-operation), as highlighted in the first blog post. I am drawing on the definition of collaboration which was used in a piece of research that Ulrike Thomas and I undertook a couple of years ago.

‘Collaboration is an action noun describing the act of working with one or more other people on a joint project. It can be conceptualised as ‘united labour’ and might result in something which has been created or enabled by the participants’ combined effort.’

To briefly illustrate this here are two such ITE design decisions that we have made over the years at Newcastle University.

Enhancing mentoring through the use of video

We have been interested in mechanisms through which to enhance the mentoring experience and whilst we know from the research cited above that mentoring is not necessarily experienced as collaboration there are some means by which this can be promoted. Altering some of the power structures within a student and mentor relationship can aid the experience of collaboration, and this can be altered through the use of appropriate tools, such as video. As we demonstrated in earlier research this can help the mentor and student teacher work in more co- constructive fashion as the student teachers gain insight into themselves as teachers rather than simply await feedback from others.  As a result video can help them to build more open and confident relationship, thus supporting collaboration. Our current cohort of secondary PGCE students (including School Direct) and Employment-based PGCE students (whose QTS training provider is Newcastle SCITT) are being introduced to VEO as one possible tool for enabling video to enhance mentoring as a more collaborative learning experience.

Embedding Lesson Study in the curriculum

As part of our Secondary and Employer-based PGCEs we also use lesson study as a means to ensure that all student teachers experiences peer-collaboration.  Lesson study is the practice-based learning element of an M.level module which invites students to develop critical perspectives on teaching thinking skills.  During a two day conference they are introduced to thinking skills, metacognitive talk & lesson study.  They use Lesson Study to co-plan, teach, observe and co-enquire into this pedagogic approach in their placement schools.  This is frequently conducted between subject areas.   Students then jointly present their learning outcomes to peers & individually write a reflective commentary. Last year James Rivett, an MFL PGCE student who had worked in partnership with a science student went on to publish a blog post in which he described the experience as one which went beyond ticking boxes to something which felt real and enabled a deeper process of learning. We are looking forward to our 140 students having similar experiences in January and February next year.

In the evidence of student teachers and mentors experiences related to the above examples there is a resonance with the definition of collaboration as an experience of united labour from which something of value is created or enabled by combined effort.  They bring me back to the concept of ‘safe space’. For me it is critical that university teacher educators are proactive in answering the question, How do we create modern day collaborative learning experiences in which our student teachers will experience solidarity with each other and with the learners, will be given permission to be productively creative and do so in a safe space in which each of them can become the best teacher they can be?  This is because it seems that for some student teachers, at least, collaboration enables them to experience learning as change. At Newcastle University we hope to continue to design experiences that allow this to happen.  It is only by achieving this that we will achieve our goal of ‘Inspiring teachers; changing lives and building futures’.

Written by Dr Rachel LofthouseHead of Education, Newcastle University.

Pedagogic research methods: An analysis of the methodological traditions in the UK and Netherlands

This study was inspired as a response to an Erasmus Mobility Grant to the Netherlands. Anecdotal conversations with colleagues there led to a discussion about the different approaches being taken in conducting pedagogical research in the UK and the Netherlands. In order to ascertain if these impressions of different epistemological and ontological stances were borne out by evidence, a content analysis of three higher education pedagogic journals was undertaken. The analysis addressed the main research question: ‘To what extent are the methodological positions in pedagogic research different in the UK and Netherlands?’ The initial focus was on assessment research in Higher Education, but this was extended to pedagogic research in Higher Education to obtain enough studies to draw inferences from. The journals analysed were ‘Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education’ (2014-2016), ‘Studies in Higher Education’ (2012-2016) and ‘European Journal of Teacher Education’ (2006 – 2016). The journals chosen all had an international scope and were happy to accept both empirical qualitative and quantitative research. The research reported was then categorised as using qualitative, quantitative or mixed- methods. The type/s of data analysis were also used to indicate the approach that had been taken. Studies that compared a number of countries including the UK or the Netherlands were also counted. The analysis could have been strengthened with the use of peer-debriefing (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Arguably the type of data collected and reported shaped the interpretations of reliability and validity and can therefore be used as a shorthand for understanding how reality is understood.

The findings (see Table 1 below) indicated that social reality is interpreted in different ways by pedagogic researchers in the Netherlands and the UK.

Table 1: Analysis of research methods and data collection in the UK and Netherlands

Journal Qualitative Quantitative Mixed methods
  UK Nlands UK Nlands UK Nlands
Assessment and

Evaluation in

Higher Education

17 0 8 1 13 1
Studies in Higher


6 0 8 12 5 3
European Journal of

Teacher Education

30 11 4 11 9 13
Total 53 11 20 24 27 17

Table 1 indicates that the UK conducts more qualitative research than the Netherlands. The findings may also suggest that qualitative research is more likely to be conducted in the Netherlands alongside quantitative research in mixed methods studies. The findings although preliminary and relatively small in scope do suggest that there are methodological differences in the types of approaches that are used by the two countries. A more in-depth analysis of the articles indicates differences in approaches to reliability and validity, for example the emphasis in many Dutch articles was on inter-rater reliability, whereas UK articles may have focused on validity in terms of credibility and transferability.

A comparison of the two countries in terms of the history of the development of pedagogical research, political drivers and differences in culture with regards to research by and with practitioners may be useful avenues to explore in explaining these differences. This is supported by the work of Dutch researchers such as Luneberg et al., (2007) and Ten Dam & Volman (2001). However, perhaps most significantly the findings show that the two countries have much to learn from each other. The different strengths that the two countries bring in terms of data analysis could be utilised in building very strong, comparative pedagogical research. It is also an exciting opportunity to collaborate and engage in dialogue about our understanding of validity and reliability and creating new interpretations of these.


Lincoln, Y.S. & Guba, E.G. (1985) Naturalistic Inquiry, Beverley Hills, CA: Sage.

Lunenberg, M., Ponte, P. & Van de ven, P-H. (2007) Why Shouldn’t Teachers and Teacher Educators Conduct Research on their Own Practices?  An Epistemological Exploration, European Educational Research Journal, Vol 6, (1) pp. 13-24

Ten Dam, G. & Volman, M (2001) The leeway of qualitative educational research: A case study, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, Vol 14 (6), pp. 757-769

Written by:


Sam Shields is a Lecturer in Education in Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University. She is interested in pedagogic research particularly focusing on assessment, research methods and research cultures.

Taken from the BERA blogs.

“I’ll get by with a little help from my friends”: Learning from the past to understand the significance of opportunities for collaborative teacher learning in ITE

This blog post is drawn from part of a key note that I gave at the UCET (University Council for the Education of Teachers) Annual Conference in November 2016.  I chose to draw on the lyrics of John Lennon for my theme, because while each student teacher has to demonstrate individual competence against Teacher Standards (thus gaining QTS) and submits their own work for Masters level assessment (for the award of PGCE), we know that for many of them the opportunities to learn from and with others is critical in their professional and academic development.  In my keynote I considered the significance of learning through collaboration from initial teacher education, through to career long learning, and indeed our own opportunity as teacher educators for learning through collaboration.

I am drawing on the definition of collaboration which was used in a piece of research that Ulrike Thomas and I undertook a couple of years ago.

‘Collaboration is an action noun describing the act of working with one or more other people on a joint project. It can be conceptualised as ‘united labour’ and might result in something which has been created or enabled by the participants’ combined effort.’

In this blog post I will focus on Initial Teacher Education but with a twist. I am interested in what we can learn from the past, and I will draw on three narrative accounts to illustrate this.  We go back several decades in each case.

In the first story there was a young enthusiastic secondary history student teacher. She was studying at Sheffield University. One day at the start of the session her tutor arrives and tells the PGCE group that they have two hours before a minibus is collecting them to go to school to teach a large group of pupils about the Crimean war. By the time they had been dropped off at the school they were armed and ready. There was history, there was drama and of course some imaginary horses. A couple of decades later this was recounted as a particularly memorable early professional learning experience.

Our second story stars an equally young and enthusiastic PGCE primary student teacher. She attended Charlotte Mason College and on this occasion she was taken out of the Lake District to Manchester alongside her peers. On arrival they staged a school take-over. The student teachers were now in charge. They had to quickly orientate themselves to a new and unknown school and then in groups of five or six they had to work as a team to teach a primary class for three days. What this student teacher remembers are the resulting role-plays, simulations and debates about local issues.  Pupils and student teachers were engaged in an immersive learning scenario and there wasn’t a text book or standardised summative assessment that could help them. Twenty-five years later this school take-over is considered to have been a high impact experience for professional learning.

Both of these stories were shared during a small focus group I was conducting for a piece of research on the relationships between developing educational practices and professional learning. Both of the focus group participants are now teacher educators, and indeed hold senior roles in their respective institutions.  With their permission I can share their identities. It was Kerry Jordan-Daus, now of Canterbury Christ Church University who led the charge in the Crimean War episode, and Sam Twisleton of Sheffield Hallam University who was jointly responsible for the school take-over.  They have clearly never looked back.

Kerry Jordan-Daus

During our focus group we analysed what had made these events stand out in long careers of professional learning.  Kerry believed that there was significance in the “Safety in numbers, which allowed [the student teachers] to be creative, to take risks.” She stated that “Collectively we were experts;

some of us knew something about the Crimean War, some of us were drama queens.  We pooled our knowledge and did something incredibly exciting.” Sam reflected on how “We were working intensively together, we were all in there”.  She went on talk about the importance of “observing each other informally, stopping to talk about what we were doing as the learning unfolded.  This allowed us to get inside the teachable moments, creating a dialogic creative context based on a lot of peer constructed learning.” 

Sam Twisleton

So, what about my memories of PGCE? Well, I am sure it would no longer be the ‘done thing’ for my tutor (then David Leat) to arrive at a school with a spiral notebook to observe my lesson and ask afterwards if I’d like the notes ripped out for their later reference. I have a folder in my attic with these and other artefacts from my PGCE and there are no tracking documents, no standards referenced reports and no action plans.  I do however have very strong memories of problem solving lessons with David, indeed at one point a piece of turf from his garden was drying out on his log burner to simulate desertification for a lesson I was due to teach. Some of my most lasting memories of learning during my PGCE, like Sam and Kerry’s, include those associated with collaboration, with tutors, mentors and peers.

The Geography PGCE cohort of 1990-1, Newcastle University, with our tutor David Leat.

So, by luck, design and desire people like Sam, Kerry and I now have a responsibility for today’s student teachers. Unlike us they are exposed to QTS standards, target setting, the implications of OFSTED, new and not fully tested routes into teaching, and other controls on the ITE system.  Add to that the fact that in any mixed group some are sitting on generous bursaries and others are scraping by. How do we, in this complex and in many ways fractured initial teacher education sector, ensure that our current student teachers learn from the sorts of experiences that Kerry and Sam suggest had so much impact on power? How do we create modern day collaborative learning experiences in which our student teachers will experience solidarity with each other and with the learners, will be given permission to be productively creative and do so in a safe space in which each of them can become the best teacher they can be?

Some of our current Newcastle University PGCE students

In a subsequent blog post I will start to address this question, illustrating how we support student teachers to learn through productive collaborative learning opportunities. You might ask why this matters when it is the individual who is awarded the professional qualification and has to stand on their own feet in their classrooms as teachers.  Well, I will address that too. It’s not just about adding a social experience to build in more fun, but because learning as a social practice can make a world of difference in challenging contexts like the teaching profession.

Written by Dr Rachel LofthouseHead of Education, Newcastle University.