Bedales has set increasing store in its involvement with educational research in recent years, engaging directly with leading research institutions as well as encouraging staff to undertake their own ‘action research’ projects. We have had a relationship with the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) researchers and the associated Research Schools International (RSI) network since 2012, and have worked with Dr Christina Hinton and her colleagues on several projects, each of which you can learn more about in the links below.
n 2013-14, following the general analysis of attitudes and dispositions in the previous year, Bedales undertook to work further with the Harvard Graduate School of Education researchers to explore how we might make better use of active learning strategies, having established in the previous year’s work that this was an effective way to frame learning. In particular we wanted to explore the relationship between active learning strategies, and student enjoyment, since enjoyment of learning is at heart of what we want for our students at Bedales.
We asked the research question: To what extent are students engaged in active learning at Bedales School? What is the nature of this active learning? Is active learning associated with student enjoyment?
The subsequent literature review showed that active learning techniques lead to greater learning and motivation than ‘passive’ techniques. Research shows that when teachers implement active techniques in their lessons, students are more engaged and have better memory of the material being taught. Moreover, active learning techniques support students to learn material in deeper and more flexible ways. Specifically, students who learn through active techniques tend to be better prepared to transfer the knowledge they gained to new situations and creatively solve problems by applying this knowledge.
In addition, active learning techniques promote motivation and interest, which in turn leads to better academic outcomes. Moreover, active learning techniques can actually encourage students to have more positive attitudes toward a certain field of study. For example, research has shown that implementing active inquiry-based science programs can lead students to have more positive attitudes toward science and a greater interest in pursuing a career in science.
A total of 276 students took part in the study this year across two surveys, comprising approximately half of the students in the school population. For Survey 1, a small group of 18 students from the Teaching and Learning (T&L) group completed detailed evaluations of all of their lessons for a week. Subjects were analysed by type of activity undertaken, and relative levels of enjoyment were reported. This was a mixed-gender group comprising students from across all five year cohorts who volunteered to help with improving teaching and learning at Bedales. Survey 2, which was more general in scope, was given to a large sample of students, and also sought to establish the relationship between different types of less activities, perceived levels of learning, and enjoyment. The resultant data was subjected to qualitative and quantitative analysis by the Harvard team.
The findings of the analysis were consistent with the literature review: we found that active learning techniques are correlated with greater perceived learning and motivation among Bedales students. We found a statistically significant relationship between how often students engage in a variety of active learning techniques and their levels of motivation. In addition, Bedales students reported that they learn more deeply in active lessons.
As a result of these findings, which were presented to the staff by Christina Hinton and Catherine Glennon, Bedales has continued to emphasise the necessity of making lessons ‘active’ in their construction, and has sought to ensure that an even higher proportion of the lessons students are exposed to include a variety of active learning strategies.
In the third year of our relationship with RSI and the Harvard Graduate School of Education researchers we embarked on a longitudinal study of the ‘global awareness’ level of our students. We have initiated a new Global Awareness department to increase the international and cross-cultural sensitivity of our students, in line with our school aim: to foster interest beyond the school, engaging with the local community and developing a national and international awareness.
Researchers designed a baseline survey to collect current attitudes and knowledge across the entire school. As the Global Awareness programme develops, we hope to be able to measure the impact of this initiative by re-testing the school two or three years into the scheme.
We are currently deciding what our next steps should be in terms of research. We are interested in how collaboration between students can support learning, and indeed, be assessed.
We are also involved with the University of Winchester and in particular the Expansive Education Network, run by Professors Bill Lucas and Guy Claxton. A number of our staff are furthering their professional development by undertaking their own research under Bill’s expert guidance. We are also connected with Eton College’s Tony Little Centre for Innovation and Research in Learning. Our Director of Learning and Innovation , Alistair McConville, sits on the steering group for the centre.