Full paper Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Engaging with diverse communities: Analysis of a complex interaction  (#71)

Geoff Woolcott 1 , Dan Chamberlain 2
  1. Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW, Australia
  2. Southern Cross University, Bilinga, QLD, Australia

This presentation reports on a recently completed project that integrated university-based research in science, mathematics and education in collaborations designed to engage the broad educational community. This engagement embraced involvement across the diverse regional and peri-urban educational footprint of six eastern Australian universities. A particular focus of the project was the collaborative development of educational resources as part of a purpose-built Virtual Centre utilising the rollout of the new national broadband platform. The key focus of engagement of the university researchers was with high school teachers and students, but further development of the project is planned in the context of pre-service teacher education. This paper outlines some of the collaborations that were utilised to communicate scientific knowledge at one of these universities and examines ongoing development of collaborative networks that may facilitate the flow of information between research scientists, university educators and the education community. The project included network methodologies to complement the description of the complex growth of these collaborations and to determine the potential interdependence of the factors affecting the effectiveness of project development. This presentation focuses on network construction related to agents and interactions at the social (personal) level in order to facilitate visualization of connections, sometimes overlooked, as they emerged within the complex system that was the collaboration nexus. Network analysis enabled the development of indicators of project effectiveness and project progression and the analysis suggested potential directions for the collaboration nexus in order that the social network remains well connected. The analysis suggested, however, that development of a well-connected network may actually be optimised if pre-service teachers were utilized as adopters, rather than continue collaborations in their present form. Continued network analysis, therefore, might be a useful way of prioritising connections for new participants in order that they are connected across the network.

Subtheme: How can we engage effectively with diverse communities?

It is difficult using current methodologies to determine impact and effectiveness of projects that are essentially complex systems with, as is typical, unpredictable endpoints or continuances. This project was designed specifically to engage diverse communities in an educational context and, even with a focus on a single university, involved a large number of stakeholders acting together in a dynamic way over a two-year time frame. One measure of project effectiveness, network analysis, a widely-used method suited to examination of complex systems. The network analysis was used to determine if the collaboration nexus was effective in engaging community by examining the pattern of connections between collaborators over the two-year time frame based on face-to-face meetings directed at project outputs for the Virtual Centre. Effectiveness was measured by network metrics that evaluated the position of individuals in the network, for example, their importance to the network in terms of the number of links to other individuals or in terms of their acting as connectors for two or more other individuals. The analysis considered how such a network, examined at regular time intervals over the project life, could remain effective if extended across the broader community. 

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