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When folks ask what we actually do at Cambridge Mathematics, we respond with answers that always include the word ‘design’: we’re designing a framework which we hope will be of use to others who want to design curricula, assessments, resources or professional development. This description sometimes puts us at odds with the acknowledged educational research community where educational design research can be perceived as a less rigorous aspect of academic research. In fact, it has more in common with engineering research than educational research, as described by McKenney: ‘What sets educational design research apart from other forms of scientific inquiry is its commitment to developing theoretical insights and practical solutions simultaneously, in real world (as opposed to laboratory) contexts, together with stakeholders.’ This description beautifully exemplifies what we’re doing at Cambridge Maths.
The International Society for Design and Development in Education (ISDDE) was founded to bring together the international community of educational design researchers, such as us, who are working in mathematics and science. Established in 2005, the highlight of the ISDDE year is the annual conference. And if all of this sounds a bit dry, an insight into the Cambridge Maths team attendance at the Berkeley conference this month should counter that perception…
California’s not a bad place for a conference. The welcome, weather and wine were equally good. The programme was arranged so that we had opportunities to listen to eminent designers (for those in the know, speakers included Eli Luberoff - the CEO of Desmos - and Sherry Hsi from the Concord Consortium), react to research presentations and contribute to symposia. The most intense sessions were those where we worked in strands together with others who shared our interests. This year the strand choices were: Designing with Technology; Designing Curricula and Materials; Designing Assessment; Designing for Professional Learning and Designing for Diverse Learners. Here we worked together on issues of mutual concern. Products or solutions were shared in the final session and many of the groups will continue, via electronic means, to work together until we meet again next year.
It’s fascinating to work with colleagues from other jurisdictions. Firstly it forces reflection on our own context – it’s not always that easy to tell a coherent story, for example, about our assessment structures here in England. Hearing about others’ projects, how they got started, the thorny issues and the unexpected discoveries, the surprising synergies between our work and theirs, or the different ways and outcomes that others have achieved all expand our understanding of the field. From a Cambridge Maths point of view we enjoyed deep discussions with the writers of the US Common Core, with the Edumap designers from Israel and the re(Solve) team from Australia. We’re developing working relationships with designers across the world who are interested in what we’re doing and how we might collaborate. And we’re now processing what we’ve learned and how that might be incorporated into our work.
If all that sounds a bit intense well, it was. But as ever, the most engaging, meaningful and profitable conversations at the conference happened in the spaces between the arranged activities - accompanied of course by an excellent glass of wine.
McKenney and Reeves (2017) Conducting Educational Design Research Routledge
ISDDE www.isdde.org see details of this year’s conference at https://sites.google.com/view/isdde2017 or follow @CambridgeMaths on Twitter to see videos of keynotes.