Generation REDI for a different future

It has been predicted that 65 per cent of jobs that primary students will perform when they enter the workforce don’t exist yet. With digitisation and other forces causing such rapid change, preparing the next generation for their futures has never been more important. Led by a team of five international experts, the staff and postgraduate students at Deakin’s Research for Educational Impact (REDI) Strategic Research Centre are influencing education research, policy and practice, from early childhood to tertiary levels, across Australia and beyond.

REDI Director Professor Julianne Moss observes that new understanding about how individuals learn, combined with the opportunities offered by digital learning, has seen the education research knowledge base expand exponentially over the past decade. Ensuring that this knowledge is translated into practice and that the REDI group asks the big questions of educational research underpins all REDI’s activities.

“Our hallmark is distinctive; REDI is all about high quality research that generates new knowledge and conducting ‘research for education,’ rather than ‘research on education,’” she said.

“The test for REDI is to remain committed to a clear program of research that is underpinned by strong equity principles, with an emphasis on finding ways to support all learners, including those on the margins, who may have different cultural backgrounds, disabilities or high learning needs.

“Today, we are lucky to have the opportunities of a digital environment, but it is critical that we have a social justice approach and look to equity principles. It is very satisfying that REDI is addressing these challenges and influencing policy that will affect our nation in the future.”

REDI received international recognition in the 2015 Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) ratings, with Deakin gaining a score of 4 out of 5 for Education (above world standard).

Women make up 80 per cent of REDI’s members, and with three of four research streams led by women, REDI is a great example of successful female leadership and collaboration. The four world-class scholars who lead REDI’s distinctive programs are central to shaping its research agenda, with each stream addressing critical contemporary education issues.

Professor Amanda Keddie, who leads the stream “Children, Young People and their Communities,” emphasised that collaboration is fundamental to REDI’s activities. This encompasses strong teamwork between the 44 REDI researchers from disciplines across the University, and consultation with the many external stakeholders, such as government departments and professional bodies, advocacy groups, international scholars, kindergartens, schools and universities.

“For all of us, this requires a heavy time commitment, but we know the benefits of long-term relationships with the community, educators and all stakeholders, so engagement and communication with our stakeholders is integral to everything we do,” Professor Keddie said.

Professor Catherine Beavis returned to Deakin from Griffith University in 2016 to lead the “Curriculum, Assessment, Pedagogy and Digital Learning” stream. She brings an outstanding track record to her research, with two ARC Discovery and two ARC Linkage grants, focussing on identifying the best ways for Australian students to develop 21st century digital literacy skills.

“I have been working closely with the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) and many other professional and curriculum-related groups,” said Professor Beavis. “We know that this is how you achieve change and build understanding. You do it by sitting around a table and talking to people.”

Alfred Deakin Professor Jill Blackmore AM leads the “Education Policy and Governance” stream. Professor Blackmore was made a Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 2017 Australia Day awards, in recognition of her “significant service to education as an academic and administrator, to social justice and equity, and to policy reform.”

Over the past 20 years she has prioritised research mentorships, building teams and innovative thinking in education research, and she has been very active in service contribution, particularly as former President of the Australian Association of Research in Education.

“Through the lens of leadership, I have considered educational restructuring and governance in higher education, technical education and schools, and what that means for teachers’ and academic work and equity,” she said. “This work has informed rethinking of professional and institutional autonomy, responsibility and accountability.”

Alfred Deakin Professor Russell Tytler leads the “Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education” stream. He and his team have been leading innovation in science and mathematics education through research and partnership programs in STEM that focus on the fundamentals of student learning and teacher learning processes, currently with a strong focus on disadvantaged schools. Their emphasis on student generated representations foregrounds imagination in the science and mathematics learning process.

“There is a critical need to research the nature of identity work in the STEM disciplines that is so central to gendered responses to these subjects, and to develop inclusive pedagogies and broader policy that address stereotypes in the physical sciences and engineering in particular,” he said.

A number of other REDI researchers are focussing their efforts on improving educational opportunities for girls and women. Dr Linda Hobbs is researching ways to encourage women to study science and STEM subjects. She is working with teachers to create engaging STEM learning opportunities and foster aspirations to follow STEM career pathways. Associate Professor Deb Ollis specialises in understanding the role of sexuality in education and whole school approaches to gender equity in the prevention of violence against women and girls, and has established many critical national and local partnerships.

Associate Professor Ly Tran and Dr Radhika Gorur work with cross-national networks in Asia, Europe and the US to engage in research on educational governance and policy. Associate Professor Tran, who is supported through a prestigious ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA), is investigating student mobility and internationalisation of teaching and learning, to prepare students for an increasingly interconnected and globalised world. Dr Gorur is examining the work of global policy networks and education policies and practices in middle- and low-income nations to develop sustainable accountability practices.

The women at the helm of REDI and their many male and female colleagues bring a vast range of experience and knowledge to their research. One of the attributes they share is an understanding that it is through strong partnerships and collaboration that they will be most likely to help young people of all backgrounds and abilities be ready for their futures.

The four research streams at REDI:

  • Children, Young People and their Communities.
  • Education Policy and Governance.
  •  Curriculum, Assessment, Pedagogy and Digital Learning.
  • Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education.

Expanding choices for rural women teachers

Teaching jobs are highly competitive in Melbourne and major cities, but in rural, regional and remote areas positions are harder to fill. They require a particular set of skills, if teachers are to make a successful transition to a new community – and remain for the long-term.

REDI researcher Associate Professor Bernadette Walker-Gibbs works with student teachers, most of whom are women, at Deakin’s Warrnambool campus, and schools and communities across South West Victoria, in order to support these transitions. She also has students from Deakin’s other campuses and, through Cloud Deakin, supports students from Tasmania, ACT, NT, and WA.

An established leader in the field of rural education and pedagogy, Associate Professor Walker-Gibbs has an international reputation in research for her leadership of large scale, longitudinal studies in teacher education, and for international comparative studies in rural education. She has been Chief Investigator in longitudinal projects such as the ARC Linkage “Studying the Effectiveness of Teacher Education” and the “Teacher Education and Workforce Study,” developed by Deakin for the Commonwealth Department of Education.

Having grown up in Mackay, Queensland, where there were few jobs or choices for women, she is passionate about broadening options for rural women and men.

“I am helping to ensure student teachers have a quality education and access to choice and opportunities,” she said. “It is very important that new teachers are familiar with the context of the communities they are going into, so they understand their students’ backgrounds – and that the teachers themselves are confident in their abilities to transition to a new community.

“We also work with community groups, councils, schools and businesses, to ensure they understand their role in creating cultural communities that welcome and support new teachers.”