As part of Eton’s partnership work, a number of masters are designing subject-specific co-curricular courses which will be delivered in our state partnership schools remotely via live and asynchronous lessons. Two of these courses will be piloted this half and today’s blog post explores the inspiration for one of these courses: ‘Material Texts and Archive Research’. In particular, this post is based on a small-scale study conducted by English master and Researcher-in-Residence Kayleigh Betterton in 2015, exploring the impact on pupils when they take part in a co-curricular programme of activities focused on antiquarian books and the archive.
A Review of the Evidence
The American educational sociologist, James S. Coleman, acknowledges extra-curricular activities as an important aspect of the school system in his seminal work The Adolescent Society, published in 1961. Despite suggesting that participation in the extra-curriculum could act as a potential competitor with students’ academic studies and could act to ‘dampen enthusiasm for concentrating one’s energy on scholarly matters’, Coleman also notes that these students were often among the elite in the school and members of what he terms the ‘leading crowd’. Coleman’s study paved the way for a number of academic studies in this field, with researchers seeking to assess the accountability of these programmes and whether or not they had a positive, negative or insignificant effect on academic outcomes.
Over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, several American scholars, including Holland and Andre (1987), Finn (1989), Marsh (1992), and Snyder and Spreitzer (1992), conducted empirical research into the impact of extra-curricular activities on students in American schools; and on the whole, concluded that students’ participation in these activities was generally positive. However, the majority of these studies focused on athletic participation, with much less attention being paid to other activities. Instead, variables such as the number of activities participated in by the student (Holland and Andre, 1987, Gerber, 1996 and Feltz and Weiss, 1984); the actual time spent participating in the activity (House, 2000); and the type of athletic activity participated in (Buoye, 1998), formed the basis of these studies.
More recently, Kaufman and Gabler’s study (2004) focuses on higher education aspirations and more specifically, on the link between participation in extracurricular activities and the probability of these students going on to study at college or university. By differentiating between the type of universities these students go on to, and whether they go on to study at ‘elite… selective’ institutions, Kaufman and Gabler posit that cultural capital, gained from participation in extra-curricular activities, is essential to this process as it makes these institutions accessible to them.
Cultural capital theory stresses that high-level interactional skills are often gained from certain cultural activities; with theorists such as Paul DiMaggio and Pierre Bourdieu arguing that students’ ability to convey their knowledge of and familiarity with high-status cultural forms, helps them to accrue recognition and esteem from people such as admissions tutors. DiMaggio in particular examines how cultural capital might be transmitted in schools; arguing that participation in high-status extracurricular activities, such as playing a musical instrument, is a more valuable way of attaining cultural capital than ‘hobby groups’, such as photography.
Working in tandem with cultural capital, however, is social capital, something which Alexander J. Buoye discusses in his 2004 study ‘Capitalising on the Extra Curriculum’. In this study, Buoye examines the effect of extracurricular participation on social capital and academic achievement; arguing that participation in specific activities operates as a means to obtain membership in an academically orientated peer group. In his introduction, Buoye states that many educational policy makers and social researchers view extra-curricular activities as superfluous, or even contradictory, as was the case with Coleman, to the academic mission of schools. However, he points out that schools are not just places of learning, but are a focal point of students’ lives and are places where they can develop and accumulate social and cultural capital.
One school were in possession of a substantial collection of rare books and manuscript, which they claimed to frequently use as a teaching aid for pupils. The History department, Geography department and division teachers had all brought pupils to the Fellows’ Library for lessons. This was helped, in part, by a dedicated teaching room which was used specifically for pupils. This room consisted of an exhibition space, as well as a seminar table and equipment to look at antiquarian books properly.
At another school an exhibition space had been attached to the library and pupils could visit this space to explore some of the items in the collection. Exhibitions were often mapped onto the syllabus of various departments; for example, an exhibition featuring WWI material had been highly popular amongst pupils.
This Library also ran a successful lecture programme for students, where teachers gave lectures on an area of their subject which was not covered by the syllabus. This was very popular and had high student attendance.
The Eton College ‘Material Texts and Archive Research’ online course will build upon the findings of this study, as well as draw on the work conducted by CIRL and EtonX on designing effective remote courses. If you would like to hear more about these online courses or if you would to partner with Eton and pilot one at your state school, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
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