My responsibilities centre on the design, development and delivery of research informed teaching at doctoral, post graduate taught and undergraduate levels of education, with specific expertise in the teaching of educational and social research methods. Applying the learning from a decade’s worth of funded research activity in education to my own practice as a teacher has meant that I make a distinctive contribution to the Strathclyde Curriculum, both in terms of the practical methodological insights that I can bring to bear, but also according to the empirically derived understanding that human experience is the basis for enjoyable and fundamentally useful teaching and learning.
I lead six modules in the School of Education, including, since 2013, the undergraduate Dissertation in Education. The latter is an especially fulfilling role since it involves managing the progress and assessment each year of approximately 140 students as they complete their first piece of independently directed research during the defining year of their studies. In addition to guiding students about their choice of research topic and methodological approach, the relevance that these might hold for their careers, and providing formative feedback to them individually via a research proposal task in year three, the role also requires that I allocate supervisors to the planned studies on the basis of common research interests, and provide support and development opportunities to supervisors (new and experienced; from PGR students to professors) about the aims and purpose of the dissertation; what is expected of students; what students should expect from supervisors; the assessment and moderation process, including the care, usefulness and goodwill that I expect from superviors in their feedback to students about the finished work. There is no question that the dissertation can be a demanding, daunting experience for students and staff, and it should be understood as placing a demand on the ontological as well as the epistemological domain. It is for this reason that the support that I provide to students and colleagues in the School of Education has authenticity as its criterion and strives to reduce the unanticipated, sometimes messy aspects of the research process and the supervisory relationship, thus increasing the possibility for mutually beneficial learning to take place.
|Course Leadership||Course Management Team|
- BA Primary Education Coordinator of Education Studies
- BA Primary Education
- BA Joint Honours Education
- MEd Professional Practice
- MSc Applied Educational and Social Research
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|Module Leader||Module Tutor|
- Dissertation in Education
- Social Research Methods
- Independent Study Joint Honours Education
- Culture Society Formation
- Understanding Education in the 21st Century
- Exploring Moral and Ethical Issues in Contemporary Society
- Children and Childhood
- Policy and Politics in Education
- Educational Perspectives and Policies
- Research Methodologies and Reasoning
- Professional Learning, Practitioner Inquiry, and Impact
- Educational and Social Research and Enquiry
- Design Strategies in Educational and Social Research
- Data Analysis in Educational and Social Research
- Child-Centred And Child-Focused Approaches To Practitioner Research
- Advanced Qualitative Methods (Strathclyde Business School)
Allan’s research interests have never fully been explained to him. He has some ideas about the enhancement of research and critique in teacher education through a wider literary reference base. However there may be the glimmer of a dark smirk in this – of the kind that goes unnoticed in the transactions of those who regard knowledge as something that can be ‘cascaded’, and which the rules of intransitive verbs do not in any case really permit. So, guided by doubts about how information can be expressed through a language grown detached from it – and with apologies for the inconvenience – let’s just say that Allan has become eclectic in argument, blending the hunches of the seasoned researcher with a range of theoretical and philosophical perspectives. There may be grounds for suggesting that this self-questioning discourse is worthwhile and relevant for inquiry in teacher education. Those who believe in telekinetics might raise Allan’s hand now.
Allan has been a researcher on the European Commission’s Science-Teacher Education Advanced Methods project and, before that, the ESRC/TLRP-funded Early Professional Learning project. The EPL project was conceived to explore the extent to which a grounded theory of early professional learning could enhance the state’s competence-based model for new teachers and contribute to the theoretical and practical formulation of that process. The project employed a multi-method design which used ethnographic data as a basis for model building and testing in a correlational design that involved the development of five quantitative indicators of new teacher development.
The results of the project have since been turned into a book. Allan suggests that if you read only one book this year then it should of course be A Game of Thrones; if you read two, however, make your second Improving Learning in a Professional Context: A Research Perspective on the New Teacher in School, edited by Jim McNally & Allan Blake (Routledge: ISBN: 978-0-415-49340-6). Says the Journal of Non-Euclidean Geometry: ‘this book represents a new high at Pseuds’ corner’.
More recently, Allan was a researcher on the Work of Teacher Education project. Funded by the Higher Education Academy through an ESCalate subject centre grant, the Work of Teacher Education project involved collaboration between researchers at three universities: Oxford, Brunel and Strathclyde. The project sought to open up for discussion the nature of teacher education as work in the higher education sector; where possible, to note similarities and differences in both practical activities and institutional conceptualisations; and to generate data that would be useful in setting a 21st century agenda for the development of teacher education. Participatory in design and framed by cultural-historical activity theory, the analysis of data is suggesting that the division of labour within HE education departments is formative in structuring the social relations of the work of teacher education, with teacher educators themselves coming to be regarded as a proletarianised class of academic worker.
A Work of Teacher Education project symposium was programmed at the 2012 BERA Conference in Manchester, and the project is being replicated by researchers at the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne and the Universities of Otago and Auckland in New Zealand. A special edition of the Journal of Education for Teaching - The Work of Teacher Education: Policy, Practice and Institutional Conditions - was published in 2013.
Allan was the University of Stirling, 2002 Edward and Thomas Lunt Medal winner in English. He paid for his education at this time by writing book reviews and literary pieces for the Daily Express newspaper, and The Bookseller magazine.
- Making a successful application to SiS: A Case Study of the S-TEAM Project
- Teaching Scotland's Future: the role of research and professional enquiry in implementing the Donaldson recommendations.
- Invited speaker
- Tapir Academic Press (Publisher)
- Editorial board member
- Journal of Education for Teaching (Journal)
- Guest editor
- Promoting Inquiry Skills for a Curriculum for Excellence in Science for Stevenson College of Further Education
- The Work of Teacher Education Dissemination Seminar
More professional activities
- Pupil Voice in the Professional Development of Beginning Science Teachers
- McNally, James (Principal Investigator) Blake, Allan (Co-investigator)
- This project is intended to enhance the practice of beginning science teachers in inquiry-based teaching by evaluating the use of pupil voice as a formative instrument for professional development in the classroom.
The proposal combines two topical fields of educational research: the contribution of pupil voice to teacher development in schools and the promotion of inquiry-based methods in the science curriculum. The synthesis of these fields focuses on the development and evaluation of a pupil opinion survey instrument that can be administered by teachers, by and for themselves, in the classroom:
- Professional attitudes: balancing head, hand and heart in student learning project.
- McNally, James (Academic) Blake, Allan (Academic) Soltysek, Raymond Ronald (Academic)
- This pilot study aims to identify changes in professional attitudes within cohorts of students studying professional qualification courses in law, education, social work, and speech and language therapy. In this context, professional attitudes are defined “as a predisposition, feeling, emotion, or thought that upholds the ideals of a profession and serves as the basis for professional behaviour” (Hammer, 2000 p.456). The project aims to compare similarities and differences of professional attitudes between students across different disciplines; to pilot the proposed methodology for cross-disciplinary research in developing professionalism; and to establish a research and theoretical basis for interprofessional collaboration that would inform teaching programmes and establish a foundation for future interagency working.
The project should allow the researchers to compare the preparation provided for the different professions, and across undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. The research findings will inform structure and content of these courses at the University of Strathclyde in the future.
- The Work of Teacher Education
- Ellis, Viv (Principal Investigator) McNally, James (Co-investigator) Blake, Allan (Researcher) McNicholl, Jane (Researcher)
- The project sought to investigate the practical activities and material conditions of higher education-based teacher educators’ work in England and Scotland. We worked with a small sample of 13 teacher educators from a variety of institutions in England (8 participants) and Scotland (5 participants). The participants had a range of experience, subject specialism, level of academic qualification and phase (although most were, nominally at least, secondary subject specialists). We interviewed and observed participants at work and asked them to complete work diaries at two different points in our year-long study. We made both quantitative and qualitative analyses of our data.
The research revealed that relationship maintenance was an almost defining characteristic of teacher educators’ work. Relationship maintenance involved activities directed at partnerships with schools but also a great deal of work on individual student teacher wellbeing. Superficially, the activities underlying this category included email and telephone correspondence and informal conversations in school or the university or college. On closer analysis, however, we found that these communicative activities were in fact aimed at maintaining (and in some cases building or repairing) relationships with students, staff in schools (professional tutors or mentors) and colleagues at the university. Partnership teacher education – in which schools work with universities and colleges to train teachers – works and there is abundant existing evidence in support of this fact. But our small-scale study across England and Scotland shows that it is the higher education tutor who seems to make it work, often at the cost of research-informed teaching and research.
In talking about their work, teacher educators characterised it as socially important and highly pressurised. More experienced teacher educators tended to regret policy-determined changes in their role towards quality assurance and away from higher-level teaching. Their experience as teachers was an important, perhaps necessary, foundation of the work, but it was the cumulative experience of assessing many lessons by student teachers in many different schools that provided teacher educators with a distinctive if not unique breadth of contextual perspective on the developing beginner.
- The PGDE Evaluation of School Experience project
- Soltysek, Raymond Ronald (Co-investigator) Gallagher, Hugh (Co-investigator) Blake, Allan (Research Co-investigator)
- The traditional structures of Initial Teacher Education have been under pressure for some time. Universities, eager to develop research capability and to economise during a downturn, have disinvested from ITE through reductions in teaching space, staff numbers and visits to schools, as well as rationalisation into larger Humanities Faculties, and economies in the structures of courses. Secondly, in staffrooms and populist columns in the national and educational press, those who work in ITE find their credibility challenged by a vociferous minority, despite many who speak enthusiastically about the quality of new entrants to the profession.
The underlying philosophy of both the Universities’ and the teaching community’s attacks on ITE is the same: it is the belief that serving school teachers are the best advisers of students, and that those involved in ITE, who no longer teach in schools, merely duplicate what teachers do. In an effort to test the hypotheses that ITE tutors’ visits to students in schools merely duplicates the processes occurring in school, and that teachers are more adept at giving professional guidance to students, the researchers commenced a small scale investigation of students' perceptions of their development on placement.
The research suggests that feedback from schools is conceptually different from that of tutors. School input deemed helpful concentrates on the particularities of the lesson, the class and the school, such as advice on “the identification of practicalities and routines to which pupils were familiar” or “information regarding individual students”. In contrast, University tutors' feedback appears to facilitate professional reflection, with comments such as “the tutors are able to better assess my development as a professional movement”, “a continuous reminder [of] the big picture” and “ensuring students know exactly why we’re doing things” being common. University tutors do not merely duplicate the role of school staff, but fulfil an entirely different and essential role which student teachers seem to value exceptionally highly. In the light of this, and with the Donaldson Review considering all aspects of Teacher Education, the way ahead for ITE must surely be in ensuring closer partnerships between Universities and schools in the knowledge that each plays a vital, complementary role in the development of new teachers on placement.
- Cognitive Elements in Learning and Engagement in Student Teacher Education
- McNally, James (Principal Investigator) Blake, Allan (Research Co-investigator) Byrne, Charles (Co-investigator) Harris, Linda (Co-investigator) Winter, John (Co-investigator)
- Contemporary research reveals learning to teach to be a process of identity formation involving context-specific dimensions of experience: emotional, relational, structural, material, cognitive, ethical, temporal. Rather narrow definitions of cognitive development continue to shape professional learning however, and arguments for more dynamic models tend not to be substantiated with much empirical evidence. Building on interviews with 26 student teachers, this study reveals, in more specific detail, the contingent web of socio-professional interaction that shapes cognitive development in teaching, and suggests that beginners’ identities evolve as part of a co-creative learning process, rather than as passive subjectivities of a deterministic professionalism.
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