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Principles and Practices

Co-authored by an international team of experts across disciplines, this important book is one of the first to demonstrate the enormous benefit creative methods offer for education research.

You do not have to be an artist to be creative, and the book encourages students, researchers and practitioners to discover and consider new ways to explore the field of education. It illustrates how using creative methods, such as poetic inquiry, comics, theatre and animation, can support learning and illuminate participation and engagement. Bridging academia and practice, the book offers:

• practical advice and tips on how to use creative methods in education research;

• numerous case studies from around the world providing real-life examples of creative research methods in education practice;

• reflective discussion questions to support learning.

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Research is conventionally reported in written prose, although other methods such as poetry, story, performance and video are becoming more common. This chapter offers an overview of some of the methods used for reporting education research.

The standard Euro-Western expository method of writing about research is widely regarded as uncreative. We disagree with this; our view is that all writing is creative, because every writer is putting words together to make new sentences, and sentences to make new paragraphs, and ultimately to create new documents. Everyone makes choices as they write, and these choices are ‘simultaneously political, poetic, methodological, and theoretical’ (Richardson, 1997, p 17). It surprises some people to find that non-fiction writers use many of the same techniques as fiction writers (Stein, 1998, p 7). The more we find out about this, the more the division between ‘academic writing’ and ‘creative writing’ seems incomprehensible. After all, some creative writing techniques are almost imperceptible: a metaphor, a change of viewpoint, a sensory phrase can have a subtle but important effect on the reader.

However, the establishment mitigates against the practice of creative research reporting, such as academics being required to publish in academic journals while the majority of academic journals are unwilling to accept creatively written submissions (Rodriguez and Lahman, 2011, p 604). Yet researchers across the social sciences, including education researchers, are increasingly using creative methods to report their research.

The methods we consider in this chapter include fictionalisation and mixed methods, poetry, comics and graphic novels, methods that use technology, collaborative reporting and performative reporting.

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Data analysis sometimes feels like the ‘dark art’ of research. It is often poorly understood, scantily taught and barely explained. Yet analysis is the beating heart of our work as researchers.

This chapter outlines creative approaches to analysing data in education research. You will get most benefit from reading this if you already have a good grounding in when and how to use conventional methods of data analysis. If you lack confidence in this area, we would recommend consulting the relevant section(s) of a good methods text, such as Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2018, part 5), ideally before reading the rest of this chapter.

Creative data analysis can refer to the analysis of data gathered using creative methods such as those covered in the previous two chapters. Alternatively, it can refer to creative methods of analysing data gathered using creative or conventional methods (or a combination of the two). This chapter focuses on the latter, as the former is more fully covered in the literature (for example, Rose, 2016; Lenette, 2019).

The use of creative methods in analysing data makes no difference to good practice in research. Analytic work still needs to include meticulous preparation and coding of data, accurate description and representation and appropriate use of power in interpretation. Creative analytic work can be done by hand, using software or with a combination of methods.

In this chapter we invite you to consider:

  • the potential role of embodiment in data analysis;

  • how to analyse visual data creatively;

  • creative ways to analyse data using arts-based techniques;

  • creative approaches to multi-modal data analysis; and

  • the ethical aspects of analysing data.

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In this chapter we look at creative ways to present our research to audiences. We begin by considering good practice in research presentation. Then we look at representation of data, participants and findings. We discuss some creative methods of presenting research in person, which is always, effectively, a performance. Dissemination – circulating research outputs more widely – is covered in Chapter 9. We also review the ethical dimensions of presenting research.

As we saw in Chapter 7, research is most often reported in writing, though researchers are also using visual, performative and poetic methods to report on their work. Here we look in more detail at how written reports can be presented creatively on page and screen.

Performative presentation is embodied; there is no way to perform without using our bodies (Ellingson, 2017, p 1). Conventional performative presentation can be incredibly boring, such as when someone reads text from a page (Cutcher, 2013, p 39; Evergreen, 2014, p 5). Conversely, using creative performative methods can engage audiences intellectually and emotionally.

Storytelling is at the root of the presentation process, whether in prose, drama, film, dance or any other form of presentation. A good story will inform and entertain an audience. Stories have been described as ‘the creative conversion of life itself to a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience’ (McKee, 1999, p 27). As this suggests, a story is an effective way of making sense of complexity. Also, a story is an accessible way to present information (Kovach, 2009, p 131). It seems that education researchers rarely use poetry in presentations.

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Everyone is creative and has the capacity to work in creative ways. You may be an educator, future educator, teacher-researcher, artist-teacher, education researcher or any other professional working in a formal or informal education setting. Whatever your role, we want to inspire you to embrace working in creative ways and approach this work in ways that suit you right now. This is what we intend this book to provide.

We wrote this book to be accessible for those considering creative methods for the first time who may be unsure where to begin, as well as to provide inspiration for those who are more experienced in using such methods. Our first aim was to demonstrate the practical applications of creative research methods for education research. As such, we have provided a plethora of case studies to offer numerous examples of creative research methods in education practice. We have offered reflective and discussion questions throughout to facilitate individual thought and collaborative discussion to support learning. These have been provided to spark ideas and support possibilities. This approach has been carefully aligned with our second aim, to provide you with an opportunity to engage with creative methods in consideration of your designing of research. This book bridges theory and practice, to inform and inspire you as educators and education researchers to conduct more creative research. We offer a starting point for the opportunity to be inspired and to be creative in your approach to research through all aspects of research.

Creative research methods include arts-based research, digitally mediated research, mobile methods, embodied research, mixed-methods research, place-based research and transformative research frameworks such as participatory, feminist and activist research.

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This chapter introduces multiple approaches to creative research methods and their use in education research. Creativity and creative thinking will be explored in creative research as ways to help make new knowledge and to challenge assumptions and expectations of what creative research methods can do (Ellsworth, 2005; Gauntlett, 2007; Thomson and Hall, 2008; Barone and Eisner, 2012; Harris, 2014; Pauwels and Mannay, 2020). Creative methodologies in education research will be introduced. We invite you to read the chapters in order, or to jump in and out, reading back and forth, or to use a chapter as a touch point while working on your research project. The case studies are examples to help you think through key questions and responses in the developing and doing of research. The last chapter has four activities to help you develop, generate and reflect on your way of doing creative research. In each chapter we offer case studies that show how creative methods can work in practice; however, this does not mean all research projects have to work in these ways.

Within education research, different disciplinary approaches influence the ways in which creative research is practised (Cahnmann-Taylor and Siegesmund, 2008; Smith and Dean, 2009; Barrett and Bolt, 2010; O’Toole and Beckett, 2010; Thomson and Sefton-Green, 2011; Nelson, 2013; Naughton et al, 2018). This book includes arts-based research, digitally mediated research, mobile methods, place-based research and transformative research frameworks such as participatory, feminist and activist research. As evaluation research is a key topic in contemporary education disciplines, we discuss what creative research methods can do to help question assumptions and expectations.

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This chapter attends to the ways creative research design can diverge from the Euro-Western conventions of designing research and how researchers position themselves in and with the research. The process of design directly influences each of the processes of the research and its outcomes. Creative research may be co-designed with research collaborators and participants, other artist-researchers, industry, funders, teachers, artist-students and/or others. Facilitation, collaboration and negotiation are key. This is how different perspectives, ideas and privileges all come into play with varying effects and affects that become a part of the methodological approach. How much of the research design is tied down in the beginning becomes a matter of methodology and the context. It is important to understand your context before you begin designing your research, so this chapter should be read in conjunction with Chapter 3, which covers context setting in detail.

Research design may become influenced by emergent forces through facilitation, collaboration and negotiation, and the gathering and analysis of data, which can be developed if allowance is made for the affordances and constraints that may occur. The chapter demonstrates how research design has a key relevance to the research to be carried out. We invite you to consider:

  1. how to design creative research for use in formal and informal educational settings;

  2. generating and working with research questions;

  3. engaging with partners and collaborators;

  4. developing over time: installations and participant engagement;

  5. creative cultural practices: weaving knowledge;

  6. designing good-quality research; and

  7. ethical considerations.

Designing research has as much to do with the research topic or question as with the process and outcome of the research.

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When we think about data gathering we are considering a process that may require us to collect, produce and/or measure information on one or more variables of interest. Some data is produced, collected or observational, for example. How we approach and work with data can be influenced by our context, research questions and methodology. In this chapter we focus on data gathering, especially with children and young people.

Data is often gathered in a systematic way, or through a process, with the aim of enabling you to answer research questions, explore a hypothesis or evaluate outcomes. With a creative research methods approach this is no different. When considering data gathering through creative methods the ability to be creative in approach and mindset supports the very act of creativity: engaging with ideas while recognising and supporting the use of imagination, intuition, ingenuity, insight and inspiration. Really, this is an overt acknowledgement of how researchers have always worked.

Data gathering through creative methods is exciting. But we do note that gathering data in creative ways can be so much fun that at times we can forget to stop, and so end up with too much data and a headache at the analysis stage. In the case studies we acknowledge this through the inclusion of subheadings on tips and traps. These are designed to help you recognise some of the thinking required behind creative data-gathering processes.

This chapter presents some examples of creative research data gathering in educational settings as a way to inspire possibilities for how you might work when gathering data.

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This chapter approaches the context of research and looks at different ways in which the researcher can work with creative methods to position self and others. In each case study the positionality of participants and/or researcher is unpacked to consider different ways of working in education research contexts. There is a focus on how educators work with different creative methods to illuminate lived experience, and specifically how this contributes to identifying the context. The chapter demonstrates how context has a key relevance to any research. We invite you to consider:

  • why context is important in research;

  • how to identify the context;

  • the place of the literature review in establishing the context;

  • different creative methods that support context setting;

  • creative ways to position self and others; and

  • ethical considerations that honour the context.

When we are researching, context is crucial. Context can be considered in multiple ways, such as the field you are researching in, the location of the research environment, your own context or positionality and the contexts of your participants and other actors within your research. The concept of context is a complex one. This chapter is designed to help you understand the importance of context(s) in research and gain insight into why and how you can work with context in your own research.

Your research needs to be positioned within the context of the field you are researching in. We often do this through a literature review. However, you need to be aware that not all research includes a literature review. For example, evaluation research often does not, though it may use a document analysis instead.

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As we saw in Chapter 4, creative approaches often involve techniques that invite participants to engage differently from conventional methods employed in education research such as interviews and focus groups. The over-reliance on interview techniques has been widely critiqued (see Delamont, 2012), and many researchers have turned to more creative forms of data production to address the limitations of this question-and-answer approach to fieldwork (Mannay, 2016; Kara, 2020). Creative methods of data gathering can provide an opportunity to move beyond standard talk-and-text-based techniques to explore our multidimensional experiences (Bagnoli, 2009). However, as you will see in the case studies presented in this chapter, participants often discuss the creative data they produce with the researcher. This discussion is referred to as an elicitation interview. In this way, creative methods can be combined with talk-based approaches to better understand the meanings that participants assign to the creative materials they produce.

In Chapter 4 we explored creative approaches to data gathering with children and young people, focusing on the techniques of digital portfolios; photography; graphic organisers as learning and teaching artefacts; and cartoon storyboards. However, education also involves adults as students and practitioners, and creative approaches have been used effectively to generate data in a wide range of studies with adult participants. Considering creative techniques as something ‘just for children’ or ‘just for adults’ overlooks the opportunities that these hold for all participants to reflect on and represent their educational experiences. This is why we have chosen to offer examples of data gathering with children, young people and adults in this book.

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