From September 6–11, Leapfrog had the pleasure of attending and presenting part of its work at the 8th Triennial ESREA Conference, hosted in Maynooth University, Dublin (Ireland). ESREA aims to encourage and support high quality research on the education and learning of adults in European countries and beyond. Indeed, at the conference there were researchers from Europe, Australia, the US, Canada and other countries. ESREA is a very diverse research society with several networks such as adult learning and communities, active democratic citizenship and adult learning, as well as life history and biographical research.
The first day, I participated in the PhD workshop. There were sixteen PhD students from around the world and four facilitators: Dr Antonia Darder, Dr David McCormack, Dr Ted Flaming and Dr Aislimm O’Donnell. The workshop consisted of an introduction followed by a reflection session on the requirements of PhD students in order to satisfactorily carry out their investigation. Then we were divided into groups of four and we spent some time with each of the facilitators. We had the opportunity to reflect on different aspects of the PhD process. Some of my takeaways from this workshop were: 1) try to write everyday, this helps to reflect on the activities and readings being done; 2) the relationship between theory and practice is like a dance in which the student lies in between, so they need to be balanced if they are to inform each other. An invaluable bonus was meeting a great group of PhD students and therefore enhancing Leapfrog networks.
The conference provided a platform for investigating alternative futures for adult education and questioning the power relationships that are established among different learning scenarios. On this matter one interesting point was to find out how educational disciplines are looking at informal learning environments as alternative models for adult education. It was in this section in which I presented a Leapfrog ongoing research focused on the major project called Peer-to-Peer Community Engagement, conducted on the Isles of Mull and Iona, in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The presentation outlined PhD research that aims to analyse the impact of co-design practices within community development. On the one hand, community development has recently been gaining prominence. Increasingly people come together in grassroots organisations and movements seeking to enhance their quality of life. They do so because they want to solve current social problems as a consequence of cutbacks in resources and public services. On the other hand, learning in adult education is expanding over time. This requires creative and intellectual rather than physical skills. One of the insights I presented at the conference is that co-design practices have the means to help foster creative thinking. I also found that a greater awareness of context helps design researchers to form a sound in-depth understanding about the participants’ goals and motivations. So, designers become better prepared to support and trigger social initiatives. Another insight is that co-design workshops are informal learning environments in which participants learn by participating within a social setting. In these learning settings, people can learn what and how they want to learn, enhancing their possibilities of choice and encouraging both solidarity and a more direct participation in the world.
To sum up, it was great to be part of a conference capable of accommodating different approaches to the same theme. I really enjoyed participating in the theatre workshops and plenary sessions about current societal issues. I believe that this experience is going to enable me to bring a degree of innovation to Leapfrog as a result of experiencing how other disciplines go about researching community engagement.