Community spirit

Ruth Johnson reflects on the Association for Educational Assessment – Europe's Glaswegian gathering, and considers how a discussion space can shape researcher identity

Molten lavaI recently wrote about how helpful I found Bauman's (2000) theory when considering my own identity as a researcher. Bauman compares identities to patches of crust that harden for a while on the top of liquid lava then melt again into the lava flow; he suggests that the search for identity is an attempt to slow down or stop the flow.

Since I started my job with CERP a few months ago, I’ve been conscious of an identity in flux: while my doctoral research project focused on assessment, it was conceptualised through sociological theory, which is unusual in assessment research. I wondered whether my kind of assessment research had a place – and if so, where? So, when my paper was accepted for the annual conference of the Association for Educational Assessment – Europe (AEA-Europe) I felt very nervous. How would my sociological self feel in the world of assessment research? Would I feel at home or like a fish out of water? I hoped that attending the conference would help the lava flow of my researcher identity slow and take shape.

Sure enough, I found it inspiring to spend time in a wider research community. Hearing from researchers located in different assessment systems took me outside my common-sense acceptance of how assessment works in England and challenged my thinking. It was exciting to discover that researchers working within different research paradigms were calling for a greater focus on social equity in research into assessment – from Bruno Zumbo talking about the imperative for ‘ecological’ research that looks at assessment in vivo to Jannette Elwood calling for research into gender and assessment that allows for socially constructed complexities rather than a blunt male/female duality.

Above all, it was heartening to hear presentations from people with such a wide range of backgrounds, who all share an interest in making assessment work. This put me in mind of Lave and Wenger's (1991) work about the importance of communities of practice. A community of practice is described as a group of people who share a common passion for something they do and, crucially, learn how to do it better through interaction. The conference represented what a community of practice can and ought to be. It made me think about interaction in research communities and the importance of continuing that interaction outside the conference space.

For me, attendance at the conference was certainly a means of learning more about my craft, but it was also a way of discovering more about my researcher identity. I found that the things I care about matter to others too and that there is space for me in the world of assessment research. For the period of the conference, the liquid lava of my researcher identity slowed – and I felt like I fitted.

Ruth Johnson

CERP researchers presented a variety of papers at AEA-Europe – read the abstracts. Find out more about the conference at aea-europe.net. Follow tweets via #aeaglasgow.

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