Australian Catholic University

Welcome to the first #AARE2023 blog of the conference

Day One, November 26, 2023.

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Blog four!

Voices from the panel

Three amazing academics shared insights and experiences from the journeys they have travelled as early career researchers. Dr. Simon Knight (University of Technology Sydney), Dr. Eve Mayes (Deakin University), and Dr. Victoria Rawlings (University of Sydney) joined our panel to talk about those critical junctures they encountered that led them to where they are now in their research careers. 

Voice, truth, and place, as the AARE 2023 conference theme, resonated for each with the importance of amplifying voice, speaking to issues of social justice, and the challenge of addressing injustices that pervade education and society as key to their work. As Eve stated, we need to open ourselves up to “unlearning ourselves”, and Victoria went on to ask the audience to think about: 

“Who’s voices are important in your research? Who is silenced? How can we amplify their voices?”

Even further, how do we research in places that make global links without, as Eve suggests, “flattening local peculiarities.” 

Each of these academics was cognisant of understanding their purpose of research and being a researcher. 

Victoria spoke about the fact that “schools [as places] need to be bold” to make changes that will make a difference, and we, as researchers, have an important role and one in which we are given considerable trust and responsibility to support them to navigate this work.  

The panel discussed the meaning of being a researcher, and Victoria talked about the many different responsibilities that researchers have to their communities and everyone they work with, including emerging researchers. Simon raised the fact that education suffers as a marginalised discipline globally, and yet, it is such a rich and broad space.  

“It’s why I work in education… education research points to thorny and difficult dilemmas and that’s the stuff that I enjoy”.

Eve furthered this by adding a provocation about the privileging of particular actors’ research, providing a wonderful anecdote as to how deeply students themselves will theorise about schooling and education. 

“As researchers, we need to think about how we can be responsive to the questions and needs of our schools, and in helping communities to answer these questions, we all benefit”. 

When asked what message they would like to leave the postgraduates and ECRs with:

 “Work out why you are doing it” (Eve)

“Work out what are the things you care about and look at the opportunities that come to see what will help you….and there is no unswerving path to your research career, and speaking with others will help you”

Victoria likened academia to a football game in the rain- it might be scrappy and muddy, and there are very few perfect goals and just try and get some possessions along the way- it will build up partnerships and small grants, and if all else fails get a cat”. 

Blog three! Ellen Larsen reports from the Lightning Talks!

The future of education research is in good hands

The buzz was tangible and the excitement obvious as we headed into the break-out rooms for the
Lightning Talks. A highly anticipated part of the Preconference Day is the Lightning Talk session. These talks are an opportunity for postgraduate and early career researcher participants on the day to deliver a lightning-fast two- to three-minute snapshot of their research, with a chance to respond to questions and receive invaluable peer feedback from their conference colleagues.
Over the hour we heard a total of 21 Lightning Talks! We were both inspired and excited by the
breadth and depth of the education research undertaken by these emerging researchers. Their research
has challenged us to think differently about curriculum and pedagogy, issues of social justice, and
contemporary challenges facing education both in Australia and internationally.
These Talks have highlighted the considerable theoretical and methodological expertise among these
AARE members, and the quality of these presentations was reflected by the enthusiastic participation
of the audience and the discussion generated. Congratulations to all contributing researchers in this

Clearly, the future of education research is in good hands.
Feedback from the session reflects the collegial ways of working of this next wave if researchers the
“I couldn’t even imagine that I would see connections between my research topic and some of the
others I had the privilege of listening to, but I did. We really are working together to progress
“What an opportunity to be immersed in such a wide range of ideas and thinking about education. A
brilliant session and I am excited to keep learning about these projects over time.”

Our second contribution is from Jessica Holloway. Read Kevin Lowe’s post below.

How to be generous as a researcher – our collective tapestry

In the landscape of educational research, I find myself contemplating the collaborative nature of knowledge creation. Like the threads of a rug converging, our diverse backgrounds and expertise intertwine to create a collective tapestry of understanding. While this metaphor may sound overly romantic, it encapsulates the essence of how I see our scholarly pursuit. I shared my thoughts on educational research with those attending the AARE pre-conference. What follows are some of the ideas I discussed earlier today.

The theme was: “Truth, Voice, Place: Critical Junctures for Educational Research” so I explored the intricate interplay between expertise, knowledge creation, and the shared responsibilities within academia. 

Within the intricate tapestry, questions about individual and collective expertise come to mind. The act of citation, particularly the principle of making labour visible, plays a crucial role. Citation goes beyond mere acknowledgment; it is a deliberate choice that shapes discourse and determines whose voices and traditions are recognized in our collective knowledge creation.

At the same time, expertise is not a solitary possession; it is a mosaic formed by weaving together various ideas, traditions, and experiences. Navigating an academic landscape that oftentimes amplifies specific voices over others requires a critical examination of citation practices, recognizing their material consequences within a power-laden dynamic.

Furthermore, accepting that we each play many roles within the knowledge creation process (e.g., researcher, author, editor, supervisor) can help us not only fortify resilience in the face of rejection, but also foster a sense of unity within the academic community. I hope for a steadfast commitment to ethical research practices and a perspective that views individual contributions as integral components of a broader intellectual pursuit. In other words, the work is bigger than each of us individually.

Bearing this in mind, expertise also requires a degree of intellectual humility and curiosity. The loss of my dad to COVID-19 entirely reshaped my own perspective on matters of truth and knowledge. It forced me to accept the limitations of analytical tools in capturing the complexity of human existence. It also made me realise that not having the answers can create a valuable space for curiosity and the emergence of new insights.

Finally, I want to raise generosity as an often-overlooked aspect of academic endeavours. Fostering connections, building relationships, and creating space for others can help assuage the potential isolation in our profession. This collective effort can sustain us through the challenges and joys of our scholarly journey, and it will ultimately lead to better knowledge creation.  

As we look forward, it’s crucial to recognize that the ideas and traditions shared today will contribute to the ongoing construction of the academic fabric. Each stitch, informed by our collective efforts, adds to the rich tapestry of knowledge. Grateful to be part of this academic community, I anticipate the remarkable contributions that each of you will make.

Our first contribution is from UNSW’s Kevin Lowe, who gave the AARE Pre-Conference Keynote

The role of educational research is one of immense responsibility, both in the conceptualisation and execution of studies that aim to bring deeper understanding to the range of issues that seem to impact the life trajectories of many students in schools.

This keynote presentation showcased the foundational principles and research practices that have been underpinned by the Culturally Nourishing Schooling Project. The target audience is higher-degree research students and early career researchers.

This presentation focuses on three interrelated ideas and the projects that ensure from them, with the hope that they provide valuable insights and propose effective strategies for the education of First Nations students in schools throughout Australia.

The presentation focussed on:

Building a research platform for consequential action: A four-year project. The initial focus looks to the question of deepening our understanding of the field such that we can push back on education systems assertions on ‘research-informed’ policy and practice change. I will focus for a moment on why I and others spent three years to undertake a comprehensive review of recent Australian research on the education of First Nations students. I will discuss the purpose of this work, and then orientate my comments to the impact of this landmark project on the future development of a critically informed educational program. 

Secondly, the presentation explained how these systematic reviews were used to develop the Culturally Nourishing Schooling Project. The initial iteration of this project has been implemented in eight schools across New South Wales as a practice/research initiative between 8 researchers, 5 staff and 8 schools. Its aim is to promote a whole-school approach, where schools are seen to work with First Nations families and communities to shift schooling practices. I will briefly describe how the project works with teachers to deepen their understanding of the histories and cultures of local communities, and how this consequently impacts on their beliefs and teaching and learning practices. It also examines curriculum theories in relation to teachers and indigenous knowledge. Lastly, it provides support to teachers in developing a relational pedagogy that aligns with discipline-oriented practices.

Finally, the presentation delved into an investigation of how deeply entrenched epistemic constructs regarding Indigenous peoples, knowledge, and culture are ingrained in the fundamental constructs of educational policy. This discussion aims to uncover how these assumptions are embedded in ways that are considered normal and foundational, and therefore, persist over time to the detriment of educational opportunities for First Nations students.

Our goal is to create sophisticated programs that can tackle intricate problems effectively. We conduct research with the aim of making a tangible impact in the world.

Kevin Lowe ( is a Gubbi Gubbi man from southeast Queensland. He is a Scientia Indigenous Fellow at UNSW, working on a community and school focused research project on developing a model of sustainable improvement in Aboriginal education. Kevin has had experience in education as a teacher, administrator and lecturer. He has expertise in working with Aboriginal community organisations on establishing Aboriginal language policy and school curriculum implementation. Recently Kevin has worked with colleagues to review research across key areas of schooling and established the Aboriginal Voices a broad-base, holistic project which is developing a new pedagogic framework for teachers. 

Images by Ellen Larsen

To understand AI today, we need both why and how

We know AI is such a big deal that just this week the President of the United States, Joe Biden, signed an executive order to try to address the risks of a technology he described as “the most consequential technology of our time”.

So it is no wonder that the proliferation of both AI tools and of conferences during 2023 continues unabated.

And how seriously are we taking the challenge of AI in Australia? Our focus is disproportionately focused on “how”, while larger questions of “why” seem opaque. 

Now is a good time to reflect on where we are with AI. We might now have much greater capacity to generate data, but whether this is leading to knowledge, let alone wisdom, is up for serious debate.

A time to reflect

The number of AI tools and their applications to education is overwhelming, and certainly way beyond initial angst about ChatGPT and cheating that set the tone for the start of the 2023 academic year. 

But, as Maslow once wisely mused, only having a hammer makes us see every problem as a nail. If we have these powerful technologies, knowing how to use them can’t be the only issue. We need to talk more about why and when we use them. This goes to the heart of what we hold as the purposes of education. 

The case of the smartphone provides a useful comparison. First launched in 1992, it took until 2007 for the iPhone to disrupt the technology conversation. Some dreamed of, and seized, the opportunities in education such a device enabled. Others exercised caution, waiting to follow the early adopters only once the path was cleared.

UNESCO advice

Sixteen years later, though, responses have sharpened. UNESCO recently advised that smartphones should only be used where they benefit learning, advice that admittedly seems self-evident. It has taken so long for such a statement to emerge, though, it suggests the “tool” is having ongoing impacts well beyond learning. Sadly, too many examples from schools attest to the harnessing of smartphone power for abusive and manipulative purposes, particularly with sexual violence. The rise of AI has only exacerbated some of these concerns.

The potent combination of learning disengagement and social dysfunction continues to create challenges for how technology is used in schools. There is a rising chorus in support of more handwriting. Some jurisdictions have moved to wholesale banning of mobile phones at school

How we’ve dealt with smartphones should give us pause for reflection, particularly when some early warning signs about AI are clearly evident. 

When AI whistleblower, Timnit Gebru, first started in AI research, she lamented the lack of cultural and gender diversity amongst developers. Things have improved, no doubt, but cultural and social bias remain significant problems to be addressed.

Flat-footed prose

Much lauded creative possibilities of generative AI are still needing development, and also come with serious ethical questions. Margaret Atwood recently lamented the lack of creative artistry of outputs based on her own works, concluding that its “flat-footed prose was the opposite of effective storytelling”. 

Worse, she argued, was that the texts used to train these models were not even purchased by the company, instead relying on versions scraped – stolen – from the internet. That, in turn, meant any royalty payments she might otherwise have earned were withheld. Australian authors have similarly expressed their frustration. Eking out an existence as an author is challenging enough without pirated works further stealing from these vital cultural voices.

We seem to have a larger challenge, too, buried deep in little discussed PISA data. Much of the focus on PISA is about test results.

Sobering results

But here’s what is in Volume III : students’ perceptions about bigger existential questions on the meaning of life, purpose, and satisfaction. The results, all of which are below the OECD average, are sobering:

  • 37% of students disagreed or strongly disagreed that “my life has meaning and purpose”;
  • 42% of students disagreed or strongly disagreed that “I have discovered a satisfactory meaning in life”;
  • 36% of students disagreed or strongly disagreed that “I have a clear sense of what gives meaning to my life”.

And this data was collected before the traumas of Black Summer in 2019 and COVID-19. There is much anticipation about what story the more recent round of PISA data collection will tell.

Based on this data, we clearly have much more work to do on our second national educational goal to develop confident and creative individuals who “have a sense of self-worth, self-awareness and personal identity that enables them to manage their emotional, mental, cultural, spiritual and physical wellbeing”. 

What can AI do in pursuit of these goals?

Much of the conversation about AI has been focused on the first part of the first national educational goal – excellence. How can AI be used to improve student learning? How can AI reshape teaching and assessment? More remains to be done on how AI can address the second part – equity.

These concerns are echoed by UNESCO in its recent Global Education Monitoring Report. The opportunities afforded by AI raise new questions about what it means to be educated. Technology is the tool, not the goal, argues the report. AI is to be in the service of developing “learners’ responsibility, empathy, moral compass, creativity and collaboration”.

AI will no doubt bring new possibilities and efficiencies into education, and to that end should be embraced. At the same time, a better test for its value might be that posed recently by Gert Biesta, that we must not:

lose sight of the fact that children and young people are human beings who face the challenge of living their own life, and of trying to live it well.

Attraction to the new, the shiny, the ephemeral, the how, is to be tempered by more fundamental questions of why. Keeping this central to the conversation might prevent us from realising Arendt’s prophecy that our age may exhibit “the deadliest, most sterile passivity history has ever known”.

Dr Paul Kidson is a senior lecturer in Educational Leadership at the Australian Catholic University. Prior to becoming an academic in 2017, he was a school principal for over 11 years. His teaching and research explore how systems and policies govern the work of school leaders, as well as how school leaders develop and sustain their personal leadership story. He previously wrote about artificial intelligence for EduResearch Matters with Sarah Jefferson and Leon Furze here.