Monday, 18 March 2013

International Journal of Research & Method in Education: Special Issue

International Journal of Research & Method in Education

Special Issue

Understandings and Enactments of Inclusive Research: Progress and sticking points in developing participatory and emancipatory research in the field of education

Guest Editors:
Professor Jane Seale, Graduate School of Education, University of Exeter; Professor Melanie Nind and Dr Sarah Parsons, School of Education, University of Southampton

 The International Journal ofResearch & Method in Education calls for scholarly papers for a special issue focused on inclusive research in education. For our purposes inclusive research is an umbrella term to encompass research which might also be defined as emancipatory, peer-led or user-centred, involving participatory methods or participatory design. It is understood as research that seeks to involve those who tend to be the subjects or objects of research, such as learners, practitioners or parents, as agents in the conduct of research; it addresses issues that are important to them and includes their views and experiences. Such inclusive research tends to have a practical agenda of improving educational experiences as well as being concerned with democratization of the research process.

Inclusive research is the subject of considerable claims-making and celebratory narrative. In this Special Issue we are seeking reflective critiques of inclusive research that advance and challenge thinking around the benefits and quality of inclusive research, and papers that address the messy detail and sticking points in the reality and rhetoric of inclusive research. The issue will be distinctive in that all the papers will also concern educational research, where inclusive research is under-discussed and developed compared with health, social work and other arenas. The following are some questions that authors may wish to pursue:

 How is inclusive research understood and enacted in education?

 How might we better understand the claims regarding the benefits and potential of inclusive research in education?

 Where do the challenges and sticking points lie when applying participatory or emancipatory principles and how are these being worked through?

 Does the rhetoric of inclusive research hide a messy reality? How is this messiness managed within projects and what impact does it have on outcomes, participation and motivation?

 How can we progress the contentious blurring of boundaries between research and advocacy/consultation?

 How can we judge the quality of inclusive research in education?

 Submitted papers should not have been previously published nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere. A guide for authors along with other relevant information can be found on journal’s homepage, Papers should be either:

 approximately 7,000 words in length, giving comprehensive consideration to the issues raised by the questions above, or

 approximately 2,000 word research papers co-/written with/by lay people (teachers, parents, children and young people) shedding light on the themes of the special issue.

 Submissions should be marked as for the Special Issue and made online at the International Journal of Research & Method in Education Manuscript Central site: by 7th September, 2013.

For further information or queries regarding this Special Issue, please contact either Jane Seale (, Melanie Nind ( or Sarah Parsons

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

NNDR 2011 Conference Report

I have promised Sarah Lewthwaite via Twitter that I would report on the NNDR 2011 Conference held in Reyjavik, May 27th-28th; so here goes....

I was only able to attend the 2nd day due to prior commitments in the UK, but here are the highlights of the day for me:

The keynote speaker, Professor Steven J Taylor, gave an interesting talk entitled " The repeated cycle of exposes and reforms on instiutions in the US". In his talk Steven looked back at the history of mental instiutions/asylums in the US since the early 1900's and attempts to bring about change by exposing systematic violence and mal treatment (watchers of May 31st Panoroma program on abuse in Bristol care home for people with learning disabilities, will be very familiar with this topic!). Despite various exposes lead by indiviudal philanthropists and collective activist groups such as World War 2 conscientious objectors wo were sent to work as attendants in the institutions; nothing really changed in the institutions. Exposes would garner newspaper headlines for a few days and then the status quo would return. Steven argued that change only happened in the US when disabled activists and self-advocates lead the campaign for change. This point, although well made, was not evidenced or expanded upon and it would have been nice to see as many photos, extracts and pictures of self-advocates as there were of conscientious objectors and the instiutions in which they served. Nevertheless it was a powerful message that the conference audience really engaged with.

Patsie Frawley, Janice Slattery (self-advocate) and Annie O'Shea from Australia spoke about a peer education model they have developed where people with learning disabilities are trained to work with their peers to support them in thinking about relationships and sexuality. They used stories to talk about staying safe and being treated right. With my interest in positive risk taking and presumed capacity I was fascinated to hear that many of the professionals surveyed about the value of the peer educator model thought that it would not work because people with learning disabilities would find the concepts too difficult.

With a focus on India, Srikala Naraian spoke about " Schools, friendship and families: locating indiviudal capacity in social contexts". Srikala looked at disabled children's self-reports of the friendships they made at school. What many counted as friendship, could be perceived as "help". This is not to deny that genuine friendships cannot be developed from a helping (perhaps sympathy-based) relationship. One conclusion was that attending mainstream school was not enough to guarantee that disabled children were not socially isolated. Furthermore, assuming the competency of disabled children can be at odds with cultural norms of parental responsibility where parents feel it is their duty and obligation to provide for their children rather than supporting different forms of independence.

Rohhss Chapman and Liz Tilley reported on their two different research projects in which they had studied how different self-advocacy groups worked. They discussed the extent to which self-advocates had genuine and meaningful power and control over the activities and directions of their organisations. Through this discussion they highlighted real tensions and paradoxes:
i) Self advocacy groups that relied on funding often found their agenda was dictated by the funders; which was not necessarily the same as the members' agenda;
ii) Non-disabled trustees and directors tended to bypass disabled members when it came to complex matters such as finances and budgets. But, even in these organisations where this happened, there were examples of "good" advocacy support;
iii) Disabled Trustees were not always adequately prepared for the role of being legally responsible for the organisation;
iv) Advocates supporting people with learning disabilities varied in the extent to which they facilitated or dominated the agenda of the group/organisation.

In a session on Inclusive Research, Annie O'Shea spoke about how she used Photovoice as a method that facilitated "honest accounts" of the lives of people with learning disabilities in a way that was accessible to them. Annie reflected on how participants were asking at the end of her PhD prohect about what was going to happen; would their life change as a result of being in the project? Annie had not promised this, but it is not unusual for participants in inclusive research to hope that their own personal circumstances will change. Katherine Runswick-Cole gave a fascinating talk which was less about the method of using photographs with disabled children and more about the influence of analytical frameworks in how these stories might be interpreted. She used an example of Rosie, a young girl with Autism,who took photographs of herself at home with important objects and people. She then demonstrated how different analytical frameworks (Autism canon; social model of disability; Nordic person-environment model; social-constructivist model) presented Rosie and her parents in both positive and negative lights. Katherine argued that the purpose of expsing these different "readings" was to disrupt dominant views and discourses. At the end of this session my colleague Melanie Nind posed an interesting question " Are we asking too much of inclusive research"? It has to be ethical, it has to have local, national and global impact AND it has to keep all stakeholders happy.

A thought provoking conference, I know I missed some great sessions, but hopefully this has given a flavour of both the potential and realities of life for disabled people today.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Transforming the process and outcomes of assistive technology research: Reflections on the use of participatory research methods with disabled univers

On March 4th 2010 I gave a presentation at an ESRC funded seminar series called " Researching the use of assistive technologies by children and young people: interdisciplinary perspectives", organised jointly by Chris Abbott at Kings College, London and Jannet Wright at De Montfort University. The talk was organised in 6 sections (see slideshare for copy):

1.The LEXDIS Project: Understanding disabled university students experiences of e-learning and technology
2.Defining participatory research methods in the context of the LEXDIS Project
3.Learner voice as a potentially useful conceptual framework that brings with it aspirations and challenges relating to transformation
4.What was transformational about the participatory research process used in the LEXDIS project?
5.What was transformational about the outcomes of this participatory research project?
6.Implications for Assistive Technology Research.

The crux of my argument in this talk is that using participatory methods to research learners experiences of using technologies has the potential to produce an authentic picture of technology use and in doing so transform our understanding and take us beyond the familiar and what is already known. However in doing so, we may be frequently challenged about our ability as assistive technology reseearchers to really see things differently.

Also speaking at the seminar were Al Roulstone who reminded us how things have (or should have) moved on from the 1980's where technology was viewed as a fix or cure for disability. Technologies therefore absorbed and represented the broader social contexts in which they were being implemented. They are not socially neutral. Disability was seen as a loss and a deficit, technologies therefore normalised. Technology offered a new future for disabled people only if they were prepared to trade their identity as a disabled person, and submit to be being "fixed" and wait for their "epiphany moment" when technology allowed them a proxy for sight, walking etc. Al talked about how he had used the term "enabling technology" to mean technology that enables disabled people to access their environment without problematising their disability and requiring them to leave their identity as a disabled person. This takes us from world that "happened to" disabled people, to a world where disabled people are capable of influencing it. This has real resonance for me in terms of current digital inclusion initiatives, where technology is seen as a fix for social exclusion. Not using technology is viewed in terms of loss and deprivation- there can be no good reason to not want to use technology and all those deemed to be digitally excluded must aspire to economic productivity or civic participation in order to be deemed worthy of being given access to technology...

Michael Clarke, also gave a talk focusing on the methods he used to to try and engage children with communication diffiuclties in AT research. While Sarah Parsons gave a thought provoking talk on how AT can be both the focus of research and a tool for research. I particularly liked Sarah's reflections on whether AT could be used as a tool to gain informed consent from disabled young children.

All in all, a really good day, that took me back to my roots and gave me all sorts of ideas!

TLRP/TEL Digital Inclusion Briefing

I have just finished work on a Digital Inclusion briefing for the TLRP/TEL Programme. The briefing is a Beta version of a research update on digital inclusion. As such, it focuses on existing research, and outlines current themes and issues in the field of digital inclusion. Its main focus is to begin a discussion within and beyond the TEL programme and projects, which will push forward the state of the art in the field. The briefing challenges projects within and beyond TEL to assess and critique all aspects of their work as it relates to digital inclusion, from conceptualisation of terms to evaluation of outcomes. There are 6 chapters:

1. Definitions of Digital Inclusion
2. Why is Digital Inclusion Important?
3. Where does Digital Inclusion happen?
4. What kind of learners might benefit from Digital Inclusion?
5. How does Digital Inclusion Happen?
6. What can future research contribute to our understanding of Digital Inclusion?

An online version of this briefing, which offers members of the Digital
Inclusion community the opportunity to comment and suggest additions or revisions, can be found at:

The TEL Programme will be using this briefing as a springboard to launch an editorial task group who, led by myself, will work together to produce Version 1.0 of the Digital Inclusion Research Update in late 2010, early2011. Version 1.0 will synthesise and update current research in the field of digital Inclusion, drawing on themes and outcomes of relevant TEL projects, to highlight and discuss research challenges for the future.

Developing a retirement plan for the magic fairy of digital inclusion: identifying the challenges for digital inclusion practice

On February 9th 2010, I gave an opening Plenary presentation at the one day conference organised by ALT and TechDis called "Rewiring Inclusion". I didn't have long, just 15 minutes, to set the scene for the day and to offer some challenges for delegates to think about. I drew on my accessibility work, and experience working on the LEXDIS project to identify three main challenges or imperatives for digital inclusion work. The need to:

1. Examine our conceptualisation of digital inclusion and in particular who is dominating these conceptualisations and therefore determining for learners, what meaningful use of technology is.

2. Examine digital inclusion practice and in particualr involve all stakeholders in determining what "best" practice is and upon what evidence judgements about "best practice" are made.

3. Examine notions of success and failure in relation to digital inclusion projects to address the extent to which learners are empowered to decide what constitutes success or failure andalso to allow for "organisational slack" so that projects have the freedom to stray from project objectives where appropriate, take some risks or engage in some possibility thinking in order to potentially increase or enhance digital inclusion opportunities.

By addressing these challenges it is my argument that we can move beyond the wishful thinking of digital inclusion and therefore seek to retire the magic fairy of digital inclusion.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Digital agility and digital decision-making: Conceptualising digital inclusion in the context of disabled learners in higher education

As part of a final dissemination phase of the LEXDIS project which explored the e-learning experiences of disabled students at unviersity, I have just submitted a paper to the journal, Studies in Higher Education. Here is the abstract:

Digital inclusion in higher education has tended to be understood solely in terms of access and accessibility. This view of digital inclusion is over-simplified and does little to further our understanding of the role that technology plays in the learning experiences of disabled students in higher education. In this paper, we propose a conceptual framework for exploring digital inclusion in higher education that attempts to broaden the way in which digital inclusion in higher education is understood. The conceptual framework draws on work in the non higher education sector and encompasses two strands: one that focuses on technology, personal and contextual factors, and one that focuses on resources and choices. This framework will be used to present and discuss the results of a study which aimed to explore the e-learning experiences of disabled students at one higher education institution. The discussion will focus particularly on concepts of digital agility and digital decision-making and will consider the potential implications for the empowerment of disabled students.

For more information about the LEXDIS research project see: The results of the project have been used to design and implement a database driven website that is populated with student provided information about how they use technologies to support their learning, and can be searched for information about how to support students and successful strategies for using technology. See:

The ideas presented in this paper support the arguments that Len Barton made (see about inclusion being complex.

This paper also has relevance to the new TLRP digital inclusion forum that I am convening in which I am hoping to stimulating debate about how we define or conceptualise digital inclusion, see

TLRP-TEL Digital Inclusion Forum

The TLRP (Technology Enhanced Learning) Programme is launching a new Digital Inclusion Forum this month. Led by myself, the main aim of the forum is to engage with both the TEL(Technology Enhanced Learning) projects funded through TLRP as well as the wider research communities, in order to identify the key inclusion-related research questions and issues for TEL research.

The forum will seek to discuss and evaluate the contribution that the TEL programme can make to the digital inclusion research agenda. The initial focus for activity will be the development of an online space for sharing resources, discussing inclusion-related issues and scoping priorities for digital inclusion research. In the longer term, the forum will be a platform for the collaborative writing of a contribution from TEL on the theme of inclusion.

If you are interested in digital inclusion research please do join the forum at:

One of the things we are asking bloggers with an interest in digital inclusion to do is to tag their blog with the keyword: teldigitalinclusion, so that we can link to them from our site: See