“Research and observation working groups” consists of group work around a general topic proposed by a mentor in relation with contemporary topics, and with the mentor’s academic knowledge and/or knowledge of the field. After having sought and read relevant bibliography, collected relevant empirical material (through meetings, in-place observation, discourse analysis and/or other methods), and chosen a more focused question, the group produces a written synthesis of the research and then presents it to the whole class for it to be discussed. Outcomes are: production of knowledge and horizontal sharing about a contemporary topic in relation with the master’s program; familiarisation with scientific inquiry through the practice, depending on the encountered needs; team building, self-confidence in one’s own skills, and awareness of the specifics of working together for intellectual purposes.
Context in which the method was developed
The method was developed very locally, within the pedagogical team of the master. It was passed along the generations of its members, from professional trainers to academics. The links between “theory” and “practice”, between individual and collective work, between training and professional activities, and between production, transmission and discussion of knowledge, have always been crucial in the development of the exercise. It also allows to deal with subjects which are important at a given time, but not (yet) covered by the program as such (virtual reality, sexism, participation, climatic change…).
There is a general continuity since the beginning, but also “interpretations” by mentors, students, and coordinator, in each of its actual implementation (does the group have to do actual observations, or “just” to read? Is the proposed topic mandatory, or can it evolve during the research process? What are the relations between the group and with the mentor supposed to be? Etc.).
Generally, and unfortunately, this methods relies only on individual (mostly oral) transmission within the master by now.
Settings and participants the method is best suited for
This method has only been implemented with students (including adult students in continuing education), but from various academic, geographical, professional… backgrounds. When properly implemented, it allows (relatively) heterogenous people to work together while taking advantage of their differences.
There are no specific requirements for the participants in terms of skills, knowledge, etc., given that the method serves a clear and explicated purpose, with a mentor, and with some time to be dedicated to it during a few months (3 to 9, in our implementations).
Requirements: no, as the project is developed by confronting the encountered constraints (delimitation of the subject, accessibility of the resources and people, availability of the participants, etc.)
Skills and relations: creativity and adaptation, collective work; good coordination and communication between coordinator and mentors, mentors and members of their group, members of the groups
Many generations of MA students and pedagogical team experimented this method. A lot of the written synthesis (in French) are also available online (see http://www.masterdpaci.com/ressources/aro/, password “ressources”)
Unfortunately, I am not aware of additional resources about this “local” exercise. That is why I think it is relevant here, because (in my opinion) it worth be shared wider.