In a comprehensive review, Mattessich, Murray-Close and Monsey (2001) examined 281 collaborative studies and identified 20 factors that make research collaboration successful. Among other characteristics, they argued for the need of a skilled conveyor who has organising and interpersonal skills, and that there be established and frequent both formal and informal communications between the collaborating partners. For successful collaboration, members of the collaborating group should also share an understanding and respect for each other and their respective cultural norms, values, limitations and expectations (pp. 7–10). In a more recent and interesting large analysis in Science Advances, Hsiehchen, Espinoza, and Hsieh (2015) carried out a study of multinational teams and diseconomies of scale in collaborative research. Analysing the relationship between team size, international composition, and publications and citations, based on a dataset of 24 million articles, they concluded that to a certain point, size matters, but that there is a tipping point when the number of researchers grows too high; that successful collaborations require a core committed team (Hsiehchen et al., 2015, p. 5), and that international collaboration adds to the quality and quantity of project publications. These findings seem to resonate with our experiences of the LPS project (cf. Bennich-Björkman, 1997, for an older but comprehensive review of innovative research environments).
From a perspective quite different from that of Hsiehchen et al. in 2015, a research group called the Matsutake Worlds Research Group have addressed international research collaboration from an anthropological point of view. In an American Ethnologist article, they reflected insightfully on their experiences of understanding the biological, social and psychological contexts of the Matsutake mushroom. They described their work as being experimental, in conducting joint fieldwork, joint analyses and being involved in collaborative writing. All these experiments required group members to be specialised in the different areas required in the project. They described these as follows.
These experiments push us beyond our training, requiring bravery—and opening new possibilities for the discipline of cultural anthropology. We call our process “strong collaboration,” that is, a form of collaboration in which explicit attention to the process is part of the project. (2009, p. 381)
While classroom interaction is not a mushroom, and cultures of teaching are different than the cultures studied in the Matsutake project, classroom teaching seems to be at least as varied, context-dependent and culturally situated as the Matsutake mushroom. In many ways, the LPS project in focus here, adhered to the same characteristics. In another, related study, Scott, Woolcott, Keast and Chamberlain (2018) argued for new measures that shed light on how and why (or why not) collaborative project networks achieve sustainability, removing the current reliance on conventional, linear management and evaluation approaches. Scott et al. (2018) found nine features characterizing the collaborative project they analysed. The project was found to consist of a large number of elements, which interact dynamically, in non-linear ways. Feedback, self-organization and co-evolution are salient features of a holistic system, with history both at actor and system level, enabling functioning under non-balanced conditions (Scott et al., 20,198, pp. 1080–1081). Before we return to the LPS in more detail we give an overview on the development of classroom research.
Teacher focus in classroom research in the 1960 to 1980 s
In the 1960s, classroom researchers became interested in peeking inside the black box of education and began developing methods for observing and recording teaching, and especially the acts of teachers in the classroom. What turned out to become classical studies by Bellack et al., (1966), Sinclair & Coulthard (1975) and Mehan (1979) were published, contributing substantially to a growing empirically based understanding of classroom processes, and establishing fundamental concepts such as the Initiation-Response-Evaluation structure for teaching.
The term black box might initially bring to mind the crash investigation method, where technical log data from the black box of an airplane or some other mode of transport is investigated in order to understand how an accident was caused. This was not the case for the early classroom research. On the contrary, the interest was in finding out how classrooms work. Understanding how things work is much more difficult than understanding why they fail. And despite doing their best with what was available and succeeding well in doing so, the early classroom research did not fully deliver on its promise, and the matter of how inputs are converted into outputs within the ‘black box’ of the classroom continues to be unknown (Cuban, 2016).
Following the early work, teaching has been massively investigated by means of different research approaches (e.g., Wittrock, 1986; Cochran Smith, 2007; Biddle, Good & Goodson, 1998). These studies have contributed to understandings and insights concerning the complexities and diversities of teaching in a multidisciplinary way, establishing different kinds of expertise on teaching within different frameworks. For a long time now, teaching has been regarded as having specific characteristics such as the “persistence of recitation”, that is, interaction based on students’ recitation of the book used in teaching (Hoetker & Ahlbrandt, 1969, p. 163).
In his seminal work Mehan (1979) analysed interaction in teaching and put forward a specific characteristic pattern in terms of the Interrogation-Response-Evaluation sequence: the teacher asks a question with a student reply which then is evaluated by the teacher in a typical IREsequence. The almost omni-presence of the IREpattern is one of the most stable findings in relation to classroom interaction, and has been shown to be persistently present in classroom interaction. Further, classroom research has demonstrated that student interaction in classrooms is constrained by several factors internal to the organization of classroom communication. In particular, this constraint concerns limits in the number of speakers in the public classroom discussion (Alton-Lee et al., 1993; Sahlström, 1999, 2002). These factors cause pressure for students to become involved in side-talk, talking to their peers when they should not, causing teachers to address disciplinary issues much more often than wished for (Tainio, 2011).
Bringing the international learner into focus in the 1990s
Beginning in earnest in the 1990s, to classroom research was added an interest in understanding student voices in the classroom (Alton-Lee et al., 1993; Hicks, 1995; Bloome & Theodorou, 1988; Sahlström, 1999, 2002). The methods of analysis presented were a further development of previous work in the field, in particular in terms of pursuing local sequential relationships between co-occurring interactions, but also in terms of facilitating a context-sensitive analysis of different student actions in the same classroom. Methods utilised also put further emphasis, among teachers and students, of the co-production of teaching. Parallel recording and transcription made it possible to see not just that students and teachers do and orient to different things at the same time, but that they do these different things recognizably in relation to other co-occurring interactions.
TheXXXnclusionn of students in classroom research occurred as a consequence of simultaneous developments in theory and practice. Socio-cultural theory, as advanced by researchers such as Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (1991), Rogoff (2003) and Sfard (2008), turned the empirical focus toward student interaction. The impact of this paradigmatic change is still in progress, and has led to an ever-increasing number of books, dissertations and articles focusing on the actions and interactions of learners, within a varied and growing body of research.
International comparative classroom studies
At the same time as the socio-cultural shift within classroom research, a rapid growth in international comparative classroom studies emerged, as part of the ever-growing interest in international comparisons. From being almost non-existent, international comparative classroom research has seen a significant increase in both interest and volume. The two most recognized international research programs for comparative classroom research have been the TIMSS Video Study, initiated in 1995 at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Learner’s Perspective Study, initiated in 1999, at the University of Melbourne’s International Center for Classroom Research (ICCR). (For an overview of the design of these and several other international comparative classroom studies see Niss et al., 2013).
The TIMSS Video Study was the first large-scale international video study, looking at nationally representative samples of teaching in the US, Germany and Japan. Its main results were reported by Stigler & Hiebert (1999), in a report in which the authors described what they called “cultural scripts’’ for teaching, with significant differences found between Germany, the US and Japan. The TIMSS Video Study had the aim of representing the average or typical teaching going on in classrooms in the participating countries. The TIMSS-R Video Study (Hiebert et al., 2003) expanded the scope of the original TIMSS Video Study in three very important ways, as follows: (i) The number of participating countries was increased to six; (ii) The focus was explicitly on the classroom practices of countries that performed significantly better than the USA on TIMSS student achievement measures; and (iii) A much more rigorous and systematic approach was adopted, including the development of suitable codes by which to characterise classroom practice.
One immediate result of these changes was the relinquishing of the idea of ‘teaching scripts’’ in favour of allowing for more flexible characterisations of patterns in classroom practice. The TIMSS Video Studies (particularly TIMSS-R Video) provided the research community and policy makers with valuable insights. Perhaps most importantly, the potential value of large-scale international comparative video studies was demonstrated. However, the TIMSS video studies did not explain the differences in student achievement in terms of differences in teaching. Neither did TIMSS video studies document or analyse the learner’s perspective on classroom interaction, hence failing to recognise the importance of studying both teachers and learners in the production of teaching.
The learner’s perspective study
Motivated by the design and results of the first TIMSS Video Study, the Learner’s Perspective Study was initiated in 1999 (Clarke, 2011). Its aim was to expand and in part challenge the ‘cultural script’ theory of Stigler & Hiebert (1999), by studying in detail what goes on in classrooms around the world. One of the ambitions was to situate Australian mathematics teaching in relation to results from the first TIMSS video survey study (Stigler & Hiebert, 1999). Another significant ambition was also to document student desk-work and hence give possibilities of analysing how public classroom interaction relates to the more private work of students at their desks. In interviews both teachers and students were invited to comment on the recorded lessons. To begin with, the LPS involved four countries, namely, Australia, Germany, Japan and the United States.
The LPS project gradually grew and research groups from additional countries were invited to join. Eventually the collaborations involved 16 countries. In each country, a sequence of at least ten consecutive lessons in mathematics was studied at three different schools. Both the teacher and the students were recorded, and both teachers and students were interviewed immediately after the lessons with the actual recordings as stimulated recall. The elaborate technical design has since become a virtual standard, with worldwide adoption within the field of classroom research. Clarke et al., (2006a) put forward a set of seven overarching questions ranging from addressing issues concerning the presence of coherent and culturally specific student and teacher practices, over relationships between these practices, to variability within classrooms and countries as well as amongst classrooms and countries. In contrast to other large-scale international studies, the LPS stood out by not being anchored in an international organisation such as IEA, OECD, or ICMI. Instead, it originated from researcher driven interests and was conducted by research teams from the participating countries (Niss et al., 2013).
Researchers involved in the LPS examined the patterns of participation in eighth grade mathematics classrooms. The scope of the research was to document not just the obvious social events that might be recorded on a videotape, but also the participants’ construal of those events, including their memories, feelings, and the mathematical and social meanings and practices which arose as a consequence of those events. Because of the highly selective nature of the classrooms studied in each country, no claims can be made about national typification of practice, however any regularities of practices sustained across thirty lessons demand some consideration of the possible causes of such consistency. Whether or not such identifiable learner characteristics exist as cultural traits, the LPS project was predicated on a belief that international comparative studies are likely to reveal patterns of practice that are less evident in studies limited to a single country or community (Clarke et al., 2006a, p 3).
A significant characteristic of the Learner’s Perspective Study was the documentation of the teaching of sequences of lessons, rather than just single lessons. The data related to each lesson comprised classroom videos, teacher questionnaires, video-stimulated student and teacher interviews, field notes from classroom observation, students’ productions, and resources used by the teacher. For classroom videotaping, three cameras were used (teacher camera, student camera, whole class camera), including the onsite mixing of the teacher and student camera images into a split-screen video record, which was then used in the student and teacher interviews to stimulate reconstructive accounts of classroom events. In each of the participating countries, three 8th grade classrooms in government schools in major urban settings were chosen according to the common criteria of teacher competence (as defined by the local community), demographic diversity, and the avoidance of atypicality in the student group.
The project was originally designed to complement emergent national norms of student achievement and teaching practices with an in-depth analysis of mathematics classrooms in Australia, Germany, Japan, and the USA. Since its inception, research teams from other countries have joined the Learners’ Perspective Study. The research teams participating in the Learners’ Perspective study were based in universities in Australia, China (both mainland and Hong Kong SAR), the Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, The Philippines, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the USA. This combination of countries gave good representation to European and Asian educational traditions, affluent and less affluent school systems, and mono-cultural and multicultural societies. The results of the Learner’s Perspective Study have been reported in many papers and chapters. For an overview, please refer to the five volumes of the LPS book series (Clarke et al., 2006b; Clarke et al., 2006c; Shimizu et al., 2010; Leung et al., 2014; and Kaur, et al., 2013), published by Sense Publishers.
In sum, the most distinctive differences between the design, scope and organisation of the LPS and the smaller project-based classroom studies of the 1960s lies in the LPS ambition to capture the complexities in the classroom rather than focussing on the organisation of interaction. In the 1990s students were given clearer voices, and technology used to generate data became more sophisticated and included video documentation. Beginning with the first TIMMS video study the international comparative interest grew (cf. Niss et al., 2013). Extensive efforts were made to typify the classroom nationally in terms of ‘teaching scripts’. The LPS represents a different type of study both in its acknowledgement of complexity and in its multi video and audio set-up to capture the voices of both teachers and students. However, the most significant and distinctive difference between the LPS and prior classroom research is in how the study was set up to allow for and cater for collaborative work between different research groups, representing local expertise in relation to the mathematics classroom in each setting. The LPS also facilitated additional development of such collaboration. In the next section we develop these distinctive features further.