Internship, Sofia Eleftheriadou, Educational Research, University of Manchester
Thanks to the NWSSDTP Internship scheme, I had the opportunity to undertake a placement at the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) in Melbourne, Australia. ACER is an educational research organisation with a long history in addressing learning across the life span and research expertise in national and international surveys, assessment and reporting, and research to inform educational policy and practice. ACER has also long been one of the contributors responsible for the implementation of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in Australia and internationally. The PISA survey is of particular interest to me since I am using data from this assessment to investigate the measurement of the collaborative problem solving construct, and therefore, when searching for potential places to undertake a placement, I felt that ACER would be a great fit for me.
At ACER I have had the opportunity to develop my skills in advanced measurement models using a specialised computer program. I have met researchers with expertise in educational measurement and assessment, who have helped me with some of the challenges I was facing with my data analysis. From our discussions, I developed ideas that I intend to incorporate into my thesis. Presenting my study and talking to researchers with similar interests also led to collaboration on an additional project and access to a new dataset central to the topic of my PhD.
For my internship, I was hosted by the mathematics and science team in the Assessment and Psychometric Research program of ACER where I participated in tasks related to test development, data analysis and reporting, but I also participated in tasks related to learning progressions within the Educational Monitoring and Research program. Overall, I got a taste of working in a non-academic context in which I observed a variety of team and organisational meetings. I have also had the opportunity to speak with ACER personnel who have worked in the PISA test development, coding and implementation for several years. Being able to talk to these researchers, gave me insights about educational assessment that I would not be able to obtain otherwise.
During my placement, I presented findings to ACER researchers from my systematic literature review on the conceptualisation of collaborative problem solving at an organisation wide seminar. Many questions were generated in that seminar that made me reflect on my study. For example, what is the relationship between the different conceptualisations that I have drawn with the measurement approaches and purposes of studies in the review and whether the territory is changing substantially with an emphasis now placed on collaboration? In the discussions that followed, I was invited to meetings about projects relevant to my interests. One of those was with a dedicated research group interested in the assessment of 21st century skills, in which I also got the chance to briefly present some of my empirical findings with an emphasis on the challenges that I encountered with data analysis and interpretation. Once again, discussions generated were helpful in thinking of ways to overcome certain limitations.
One of the most valuable outcomes of the placement was being involved in a large international research project which is investigating the conceptualisation and growth of collaboration. I was invited to contribute to this project since the knowledge and expertise I have so far developed was very relevant to the aspects under investigation and I was able to make a valuable contribution. I got the opportunity to work with experienced researchers, explore other conceptualisations and data sets measuring collaboration, learn how to engage with new statistical software, apply statistical analysis to the data sets, and compare the results with my own. The outcome of my involvement in this project was an invitation to extend my internship and to contribute to the contents of a journal article presenting a new conceptualisation of collaboration informed by assessment data.
While in Melbourne, I also arranged a visit to the International Centre for Classroom Research (ICCR) which is located within the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, the University of Melbourne and learnt about the Social Unit of Learning project, an innovative experimental study of student social interaction during the completion of mathematics tasks. Finally, I took the chance (through NWSSDTP’s Research Training Support Grant) to attend the annual conference of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) held at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, where I presented a paper titled: “Examining evidence for the validity of PISA 2015 collaborative problem solving measure using the Rasch model”.
The most valuable outcomes of the placement were getting a taste of work in a non-academic field, collaborating with researchers in a large international research project, and engaging with activities that built my own expertise. Reflecting back, when I first discussed the idea of undertaking an internship with my supervisors, I was fortunate to have their support and guidance on this. At ACER, I was also fortunate to firstly, have a supportive supervisor, who spent time from the beginning of my placement discussing my research interests in order to organise my involvement in relevant and interesting tasks, and secondly, to meet with people who showed genuine interest in my study and gave valuable comments and advice for its development. For other students thinking about undertaking an internship, I would definitely recommend that they discuss it with their supervisors and apply!