Equity and innovation for organisational professional development

This research has achieved a step-change for innovation in professional development across teacher training, policing, higher education and developing world contexts. A driver for these innovations has been to support equity between practice and research. This work has internationally transformed understanding for professional development as well as introduced innovative approaches and evaluation methods that have changed the way organisations work. This world leading research group has not only internationally inspired people it has in turn led to economic benefits through commercialisation of the work with organisations procuring technologies (simulation based training for child witness interviewing) and requesting consultancy contracts (tricky topic workshops for PASGR across Africa and College of Policing in UK). The excellence of this research has been recognised as world leading in a series of awards:

  • Wise Technology Innovation Award 2017 (Sponsor Goldman Sachs given by HRH Princess Anne).
  • International Serious Games Gold award 2017
  • Educational Technology Silver award 2017

Equity and innovation in professional development

Over the past 8 years the work from this group, focusing on professional development, has attracted over 6 million pounds in highly competitive funding from government and industrial bodies. For example, the work on teacher training started with ‘Juxtalearn’ [2.1 million euros] which brought together universities, research institutes and an SME in 5 countries. We researched into using a device ecology for STEM learning. A co-created process was developed between teachers, academics and an SME using Mobile, tabletop devices and large screen displays linked through creative co-owned activities (participatory video making) to increase effective school-based learning for deeper understanding.

Tricky Topics

Previous innovative pedagogy projects led to further co-created research (ESRC funded) with Oxford University based upon Threshold Concepts feeding into a practice based Tricky Topic process. This process supports teachers identifying tricky topics and using them to guide technology enhanced innovations to practice. In particular, it supports identifying, deconstructing and developing appropriate assessments of student barriers to developing a deeper understanding of topic, rather than students adopting simple memorisation approaches. The process has been successfully introduced in schools, prison education, police training and higher education across the UK and Africa. This research has also directly fed into academic training across faculties within the Open University on the application of tricky topics in learning design to identify students’ barriers to understanding and increase the quality of teaching and learning provision.

ELearning Design and Games Based Learning

The development of our research from teaching into a safety critical system domain was made possible by UK home office and HEFCE funding [£1.3 mil] for the ‘centre for policing research and learning’. The centre has 18 police forces across the UK paying membership contributions with interest expressed from Australian and Canadian forces to participate. These forces and the OU have developed an equitable partnership to research where ‘research informs practice and practice informs research’. This has enabled the effective co-design of e-learning and specifically games based learning for CPD purposes with the police (in particular Lancashire, Thames Valley and the Met – and evaluated also with Bedfordshire). A randomised controlled trial across three police forces in the UK have identified the statistically significant increase in understanding produced through a child interviewing game for learning compared to the current face to face training (which actually decreased understanding). Further findings identified how the effective design of this innovative approach for professional development positively increased perceptions for all e-learning approaches producing a wider ‘change impact for this application. These results have led to the commercialisation and procurement of these systems for professional development purposes. Further research with CEPOL (EU funded policing learning centre) has applied our co-design processes into the specification of their international e-net system.

Knowledge Exchange

This work with the police produced a step-change in methods for safety critical professional development through ‘evidence cafes’. In particular, we have research into the role of equitable knowledge exchange as a pathway to effective professional development. A total of 18 cafes have been completed with police forces and with academic research projects. This has led to a series of ripple effect activities within each police force in the form of ‘think-tanks’, ‘culture change cafes’ and ‘practitioner cafes’.

The research that informed this method is underpinned by knowledge exchange across discipline boundaries that we have published in Transactions of CHI looking at ‘boundary creatures’ and ‘catwalk technologies’. In particular, we have implemented evidence cafes as a way to generate equitable understanding through the evidence typology (based upon information science and evidence based practice literature). This approach has also now been implemented in HE and across Africa (ESRC MIAG network) to support knowledge exchange between policy makers, entrepreneurs, industry, public bodies and academics. Both academics and practitioners have found this approach as invaluable in enabling a different way to view a topic:

For Academics:

‘…I found it fascinating and was so impressed with how the model encouraged individuals to think about the intersection between the strategic and operational issues related to the chosen topic. It was also very interesting to reflect on how this approach can be adapted to consider how people approach and engage with different issues across all areas of an organisation.’ (HE Executive Dean)

For Police:

‘… made a significant impression on me. It completely encapsulates the essence of what the Continuous Improvement Team I work in, attempt to do. I have never really been able to articulate this quite so succinctly to colleagues across the organisation but armed with this typology I now feel I can. I’ll certainly be recommending an in-house Evidence Café, amongst others!’ (Police continuous improvement team member).


Core researchers in the Professional and Digital Learning programme are Professor Allison Littlejohn, Dr Koula Charitonos, Dr Jude Fransman, Dr Anne Adams, Dr Jo Iacovides, Tina Papathoma, Vicky Murphy, Vasudha Chaudhari, Sarah Bridgman and Gosia Iwaniec-Thompson and includes co-supervision from Rebecca Ferguson, Doug Clow, Bart Rienties, Simon Cross and Chris Kubiak.