The core aim of the Transforming Autism Education (TAE) project is to promote equity and inclusion in autism education by enhancing the skills, knowledge and understanding of teachers and other school staff who work with autistic children aged between 5 and 10 in Greece and Italy. This scheme is underpinned by the theory of communities of practice (Lave and Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998) which posits the creation of a ‘learning partnership among people who find it useful to learn from and with each other about a particular domain’ (Wenger et al., 2011, p. 2).This theoretical concept is realised through a practical and professional system provided by the Autism Educational Trust (AET), a model consisting of a national partnership between Universities, local authorities, voluntary sector organisations and schools in England, the content of which was developed by the University of Birmingham's Autism Centre for Education and Research (ACER). Thus the theoretical foundation provided by the concept of communities of practice, which enables learning to arise via a complex interrelationship of individuals and communities (Guldberg and Mackness, 2009), is realised through the practical construct of the AET programmes and an alliance of partners, which includes representatives from the AET, ACER, the Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation (Piraeus, Greece), the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore and the Ufficio Scolastico Regionale per la Lombardia (Milan, Italy).
In keeping with these schemata, and in an endeavour to avoid the ‘persistent disconnect between research and practice’ (Parsons and Kasari, 2013, p. 1), the project employs a participatory and collaborative methodology with an emphasis on knowledge co-creation (Parsons et al., 2015). Arranged in six interlinked phases, each research tranche nevertheless contains its own specific aims, methodological emphasises, data collection and analysis methods.
Guldberg, K. and Mackness, J. (2009) Foundations of Communities of Practice: enablers and barriers to participation, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 25, (6): 528-538. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2009.00327.x
Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991) Situated learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Parsons, S., Charman, T. and Faulkner, R. (2013) Bridging the research and practice gap in autism: the importance of creating research partnerships with schools. Autism, 17(3): 268-280. DOI: 10.1177/1362361312472068
Parsons, S., Guldberg, K., and Porayska-Pomsta, K. et al. (2015) Digital Stories as a method for evidence-based practice and knowledge co-creation in technology-enhanced learning for children with autism. International Journal of Research & Method in Education, Special Issue: E-research in educational contexts. 3: 247-271. DOI: 10.1080/1743727X.2015.1019852
Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wenger, E., Trayner, B., and De Laat, M. (2011). Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: a conceptual framework. Rapport 18, Ruud de Moor Centrum, Open University of the Netherlands.