Ontological commitments in self-study?
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.
Martha Graham, quoted by Agnes DeMille, Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham
The Art of Possibility. (Zander, R.S. & Zander, B. 2000)
This paper explores the contribution ICT can offer to the development of educational knowledge, and in particular, to the development of new standards of educational judgement. The paper examines how the growth of one’s own educational knowledge occurs in relationship to the development of the knowledge base of other people, and how this process can be shared through use of ICT. In this stepping forward new living standards of judgement emerge for a particular group of practitioner-researchers, who have undertaken to research collaboratively into their individual enquiries.
While each individual researcher brings his/ her unique constellation of embodied values into the academy as a set of living standards of judgement, each practitioner-researcher also acknowledges the collaborative nature of their enquiries, through the ‘web of betweeness.’ This web is intended to be creatively and critically responsive to each enquirer and his/her own creation of knowledge. The value of co-operation, dialogue and participation is present within the ‘web of betweeness’, a mutually supportive and participative environment. It constitutes a holistic process, involving an intellectual, emotional, spiritual, aesthetic, social interactive process.
I will be showing how each self-study is unique and each is contributing to a ‘web of betweeness,’ http://webpages.dcu.ie/~farrenm/educators.html. “As in the rainforest, a dazzling diversity of life forms complement and sustain each other; there is a secret oxygen with which we secretely sustain one another. True community is an ideal where the full identities of awakened and realised individuals challenge and complement each other. In this sense both individuality and originality enrich self and others” (O’Donoghue, 2003). The ontological and epistemological significance of moving from ‘I’ to ‘We’ emphasizes the relational knowing in ‘I-We’ relationships in which the ‘I’ is not lost in the ‘We,’ but engages in relational processes of educational enquiry involving the ‘I-We’ relationships.
Shulman, the President of Carnegie, makes the point that a scholarship is only a scholarship when we make our knowledge public to a community and share with others in the community. He outlines the characteristics and criteria of scholarly work:
"For an activity to be designated as scholarship, it should manifest
at least three key characteristics: It should be public, susceptible to
critical review and evaluation, and accessible for exchange and use
by other members of one's scholarly community. We thus observe,
with respect to all forms of scholarship, that they are acts of mind or
spirit that have been made public in some manner, have been subjected
to peer review by members of one's intellectual or professional
community, and can be cited, refuted, built upon, and shared among members of that community. Scholarship properly communicated and critiqued serves as the building block for knowledge growth in a field."
I hope to show how I am contributing to a knowledge base of teaching using ICT, and how I communicate this to others with standards for judging the validity of our claims to know our educational influence on others. This practitioner- based knowledge can, I believe, add to the knowledge base of teaching that I and researchers such as Snow (2001), Hiebert, Gallimore and Stigler (2002) seek.
Growth of my educational knowledge
Here, I intend to analyse my educational influence in terms of the transformation of my embodied knowledge into public knowledge, by showing my educational influence in the learning of others as a teacher-educator and supervisor. I will also present an analysis of my educational influence in the social formation of teacher researchers/ teacher-participants, as they create their own living educational theory through Masters degree research. The analysis will explain how I have focused these teacher-participants on exploring their own embodied values in their own self-studies, as they have designed, developed, integrated and evaluated digital media in their own learning and in their classroom practice.
I will show how my educational knowledge has developed through my practice, as I have engaged teacher-participants in enquiries into their own learning as they ask and research and answer the question: how can I improve my practice? I am referring to educational knowledge as professional knowledge i.e. knowledge that is intrinsically linked to practice. The growth of my educational knowledge involves a dual role: myself as a learner, as I enquire into my own learning, and myself in relation to others, as I endeavour to engage learners in a process of reflection and enquiry into their own educational practice using ICT. I believe that in order to support teacher-researchers to reflect on their own practice, it is necessary for the teacher-educator himself/herself to reflect on their own practice. The process is not a constructivist process, in which the teacher-participants might simply construct their own understandings of their practice as they communicate and interact with their learners. It is important that the teacher-educator be open to becoming influenced by this process, while influencing the process as well. In short, the process is an individual, collaborative and interactive process. With regard to the production of knowledge, Shor (1987) points out that ‘Knowledge is produced in a place far from the students, who are asked only to memorize what the teacher says. Consequently, we reduce the act of knowing into a mere transference of the existing knowledge. And the teacher becomes the specialist in transferring of knowledge. Then, he or she loses some of the necessary, the indispensable qualities which are demanded in the production of knowledge, as well as in knowing the existing knowledge. Thus the qualities required e.g. action, critical reflection, curiosity, demanding inquiry, uneasiness, uncertainty – all necessary to the cognitive subject, to the person who learns! Knowledge is thus seen as something created away from the teacher as opposed to co-created by students and teachers in their classrooms.’ More recently, Barnett points to the importance of the qualities outlined by Shor in relation to higher education. He states,
‘The main pedagogical task in a university setting is not that of the transmission of knowledge but of promoting forms of human understanding appropriate to conditions of supercomplexity (the state of affairs where one is faced with alternative frameworks through which one make sense of one’s world, and acts purposively in it)’ (Barnett, 2002). In conclusion, I do not see my role as imparting knowledge, but working with teacher-participants as we co-create knowledge through an enquiry approach which includes action, critical reflection, curiosity, uneasiness and uncertainty.
Living Educational Theory
The concept of teaching, based on a ‘living educational theory’ approach (Whitehead, 1989, 2003), suggests a theory that is in being, yet not static, but becoming. We may be said to be beings in becoming. This signifies a dynamic process, yet one that is grounded on the values of one’s person, or being. Living theory is grounded in the descriptions and explanations that practitioners give for their own learning as they ask, research and answer the question: “how can I improve my practice?” Generating theory from practice is integral to the living educational theory approach.
I hope to show from the grounds of my own educational practice how I have created knowledge in collaboration with teachers. I am now aware of these qualities and values that constitute who I am and what I am doing. I offer descriptions and explanations for my own educational development and the educational development of teacher-participants. My understanding of epistemology is a theory of knowledge that involves a methodology and that involves defining and justifying my standards of judgement. The challenge for me in my research is to generate new knowledge and to develop standards of judgement that can be used to validate any claims that I make. In this way ontological values become epistemological standards. The process of systematizing my knowledge focuses on the transformation of embodied values into educational standards of judgement that can be used to test the validity of my knowledge claims.
I wish to show my development and responsivenss to individuals and groups of learners over time. As I tell the story of my learning, I am clarifying the fundamental values that underly my practice. Thus, I am highlighting the importance of the reflective capacity to clarify my own learning and particularly the knowledge that I am in the process of creating.
The educational values of independent reflection, dialogic-collaboration, empathetic connectivity and responsive presence, as represented by the ‘web of betweeness’, can be communicated as my living standards of judgement to test the validity of my claim to educational knowledge. A quality that I believe underpins all others is that of empathy. Koestler (1978) point out that empathy ‘is the source of our intuitive understanding – more direct than language – of how the other thinks and feels….’ I believe that the value of empathetic connectivity has engaged the creative responses of teacher-participants and enabled them to embark on the narratives of their learning. O’Donoghue (2003) points out that creativity endeavours to bring some of our hidden life to expression in order that we might come to see who we are:
When we are creative, we help the unknown to become known,
the visible to be seen and the rich darkness within us to become
illuminated. No human being is ever actually there. Each of us is
emerging in every moment. When we discover our creativity, we
begin to attend to this constant emergence of who we are.
(O’ Donoghue, 2003)
I am learning with my learners, as I encourage them to bring their learning into the public domain and gain academic accreditation for the stories of their educational development as they work to improve student learning. Bernstein (1996) refers to the recontextualisation of knowledge and the pedagogisation of knowledge. In my research this involves one's
own embodied knowledge and making it public with communicable standards of
judgement in its legitimation within the Academy.
In developing my understanding of the meaning and significance of the concept of pedagogy of the unique, I have been influenced by Van Manen’s (1991) concept of ‘theory of the unique.’ This is “a theory that knows how to address the particular case, the practical moments of teaching in which emotion, morality, and reason cannot be disentangled” (Van Manen, 1991). He believes that researchers and theorists tend to forget that pedagogy is an embodied practice and that pedagogical research and theorizing too, are pedagogical forms of life.
Krishnamurti (1969) emphasizes the importance of observing ourselves in relation, and points out that all life is relationship. He emphasizes the value of self-reflection as fundamental to his philosophy and without it, he believes that our actions become repetitive and habitual. He claims that our whole mental, psychological make up is based on authority, and in order to create and in order to be creative, there must be freedom from authority. I believe that critical reflection is a creative process. I understand this as a systematic process of evaluating what one has, planning, monitoring and setting new targets, in the teaching and learning processes. I have also been influenced by Carl Roger’s theory of learning, that is not solely based on mental models. According to Rogers, learning is facilitated when
1. The student participates completely in the learning process and has control over its nature and direction
2. It is primarily based upon direct confrontation with practical, social, personal or research problems
3. Self-evaluation is the principle method of assessing progress or success.
He also stresses the importance of learning to learn and openness to change. On reading ‘On Becoming a Person,’ I was impressed by his focus on his own learning. What emerged for him was his understanding of the need for each of us to understand our own values in any human relationship.
How have I supported dialogue through a ‘web of betweeness’?
From 1999-2002, I taught teachers on a Masters degree programme in Computer Applications for Education, in the School of Computer Applications. I taught the following modules: Interactive Multimedia and Design (semester 1, year 1) Computer Applications for Education (semester 2, year 1) and Network Information Management (semester 1, year 2).
During the previous term, I had already taught on the Interactive Multimedia and Design module. During this time, I had recognized some contradictions in my own practice, in that I emphasized the importance of teachers being knowledge creators and designers of multimedia and web based artifacts. However, the assignments that I had set did not provide the opportunity for teachers to research their own practice in the context of their use of ICT. I believe that it is important for teachers to show how they are improving teaching and learning through use ICT. At the start of the Computer Applications for Education module, I discussed my own educational values with the group and talked about how I wanted to develop the modules in collaboration with them. In adopting this approach, I was inviting their contributions and judgements in developing the course. In other words, learning was being developed as learner-centered. They were being asked to participate in a reflective process through setting goals, monitoring their own progress, assessing their progress, making changes, where necessary, and setting new learning goals, developing curriculum artifacts that reflected their educational values in their teaching approach in their own classroom.
Boud (1995) reminds us that knowing our practice is central if we are to learn to reflect upon it. The reflective process involves looking back and looking forward. Thus, it is pointed towards future action as well as our past action. There are three elements of reflection, as put forward by Boud. I used these in my teaching. At the start of the the Computer Applications for Education session, I asked each person to reflect on their experience of the previous module, Interactive Multimedia and Design module and relate to the following three points.
I invited each teacher to explore the direction they wish to take according to their own concerns. I invited them to engage in reflecting on what they have learned from the previous module and how they wish to develop learning further. What Barnett calls for in higher education is a way of enabling students to handle their own disturbances and this calls for a pedagogical transaction in which the student has the pedagogical space to develop their own voice. Barnett attempts to reconceptualise the discourse in university with the view to helping students to live and work in a supercomplex world in which there are no ready made solutions. As a higher education educator, I believe that I am developing a new type of discourse in the teaching and learning context. I am encouraging teacher-participants to live and work in the classroom context and deal with uncertainty, and to try to resolve this through enquiring into their own educational practice. I am providing them with the opportunity to explore their own practice and I am linking teaching and research in this way that teachers contribute to the knowledge base of teaching. They show their understanding of learning theories and instructional design theories in their work on the Website http://webpages.dcu.ie/~farrenm/educators.html. However, it must be said that they are not fitting their practice into a particular theory, but bringing their own unique values and contributions into the academy.
Although some of the teachers had been hesitant at the start of the 12 week module, I will show video of presentations that demonstrate each of their capacities to reflect on the way ICT could be integrated into her work context. Thus, my focus on embedding the pedagogy and technology within the module’s structure provided the opportunity for each participant to explore the way they could design, develop and integrate ICT into their context.
During the follow-on module, Network Information Management, (2001), I integrated the use of online technology into the module. I invited each participant to document their own learning online through the creation and use of their own online learning journal. Participants on the programme had access to the discussion forum so the learning journals could be shared with other participants on the programme. In the presentation of assignment, I suggested that they use the following questions outlined by Whitehead (2003):
§ What am I concerned about/what do I want to improve?
§ What am I going to do about it?
§ What data will I need to collect to enable me to make a? judgement on my effectiveness?
§ Act and gather data
§ Evaluation of? effectiveness
§ Modification of concerns, ideas and actions in the light of evaluations
§ Submission of description and explanation of my learning in the educational enquiry, ' How do I improve my practice?' to a validation group.
The action research assignments carried out as part of the Network Information Management module 2001 can be accessed at http://webpages.dcu.ie/~farrenm/educators.html
As I had introduced teachers to an action research approach during the Network Information Management module, I wanted to continue to support teachers if they wished to use an action research approach within a Masters dissertation. However, this was a new approach to the one used within the School of Computer Applications at D.C.U. Quantitative methods had been the only research methodology taught during the programme. In 2002, I supervised four teacher-researchers who wished to carry out research into their own educational practice (two from the School of Education Studies and two from the School of Computer Applications). Elliott’s (2004) recent paper “The Struggle to Redefine the Relationship between 'Knowledge' and 'Action' in the Academy: Some Reflections on Action Research” confirms my belief of the importance of each individual contributing their theory to the knowledge base of teaching. He points out that “one can provide a meaningful account of action research as a process of theorizing about a practical situation. This will involve challenging the assumptions that the term ‘theory’ exclusively refers to generalisable representations of events, which can only be produced under conditions that are dissociated from the intentions of agents to effect change in practical situations.”
I agree wholeheartedly with this point. In supervising action research enquiries, I value the contribution that each teacher-researcher contributes to the knowledge base of educational practice. I would like to mention here that each of the teacher-participants in the photograph that includes Chris Garvey, Bernie Tobin, Mairead Ryan and Fionnuala Flanagan, (image 1) were carrying out action research studies, and each of them was presenting their work to the academy for the award of M. Sc. degree.
Bernstein’s idea of pedagogisation of knowledge in the creation of a higher education curriculum has been referred to earlier. During the supervision period, I organized group validation meetings to encourage each teacher-researcher to discuss their research and to provide evidence of how they were attempting to improve their own practice. In supporting teachers to bring their own living educational theory into the academy, I engaged with Bernstein’s idea of the pedagogisation of knowledge and the process of pedagogisation of the embodied knowledge, through recontextualising the knowledge into libraries, conference presentations, and on the world wide web where it can be communicated to others.
Image 1(Chris Garvey, Bernie Tobin, Mairead Ryan, Fionnuala Flanagan, Margaret Farren)
The validation group meetings were carried out in a shared forum where each individual could make their contribution. The meetings were carried out in such a way that teachers were able to incorporate feedback from their peers and include these in their final dissertation write up. In this way, I believe that I show in part how I have influenced the education of social formation. I can show how I have been successful in enabling teacher-researchers to gain accreditation in the academy for carrying out research into their own educational practice and creating their own living educational theory.
In one of our Validation sessions, we used videoconferencing technology to link up with Dr. Jack Whitehead, School of Education at the University of Bath, U.K.
Chris Garvey, as teacher-participant, is seen discussing his research with Dr. Whitehead. Video Chris Garvey
Jack Whitehead’s response. Video Jack’s Response.
In my work, I have made use of online learning journals, that provided teacher-participants with opportunities to document their own learning and educational development over time. The shared online journals that developed over time became a forum for teacher-participants to respond to each other and contribute to each other’s learning and educational development. This allowed for dialogic-collaboration. Bohm’s (1996) view on “Dialogue” is that it comes from the Greek word dialogos. Logos means “the word”. And dia means “through” – it doesn’t mean “two”. A dialogue can be among any number of people not just two. I have attempted to support this form of dialogue through a ‘web of betweeness’. Bohm believes that dialogue will make possible a flow of meaning in the whole group, out of which may emerge some new understanding. The image of the threaded discussion below (image 2) from WebCT shows, in visual form, real postings by members of the group. Although each person was carrying out individual self-studies, each were contributing to the ‘web of betweeness.’ Zander ( 2000) claims that the ‘We’ story defines the human being in a specific way. “It points to a relationship rather than to individuals, to communication patterns, gestures, and movement rather than to discrete objects and identities. It attests to the “in-between.”
233. Enda Patrick Lydon (lydone2) (Mon Dec 01, 2003 17:29)
243. Fiona Williams (williaf2) (Tue Dec 02, 2003 14:47)
253. Enda Patrick Lydon (lydone2) (Wed Dec 03, 2003 21:22)
254. Fiona Williams (williaf2) (Wed Dec 03, 2003 21:36)
255. Darragh Christopher Patrick Power (powerd3) (Thu Dec 04, 2003 08:51)
256. Fionnbarra Seamus Hallissey (hallisf2) (Thu Dec 04, 2003 13:53)
265. Margaret Farren (es572) (Thu Dec 04, 2003 22:13)
266. Enda Patrick Lydon (lydone2) (Thu Dec 04, 2003 23:06)
268. Brendan Ryan (ryanb23) (Fri Dec 05, 2003 00:32)
(Image 2: Examples of Online Learning postings using WebCT)
In light of the above, I would like to point to the development of online learning in the programmes. Online learning has developed according to how the teacher-participants on the programme choose to make use of the environment. They have fashioned the environment to their needs and interests of their learners and the intrinsic value that the environment holds. The idea of the online environment being used as a knowledge building environment where teacher-participants build knowledge online through dialogue, and then presenting their own artefacts and enquiries to show how they have developed their educational practice with others. We are all contributing and supporting each other through shared dialogue. I particularly want to refer to Bohm’s understanding of the word ‘participation’ and he believes that it has two meanings. An earlier meaning was “to partake of,” as in people all eating from a common bowl. The second meaning is “to partake in “ to make your contribution. The value of participation is a value that I can show developing through the online learning environments.
I refer to Arendt’s idea of action. She points to three basic modes of human activity: labour, work and action. She believes that action is the highest form of human activity. ‘Action’ involves initiating change in a social situation to bring about something new in a web of social relationships that constitute it. Arendt believes that action is carried out in communication with others and requires the qualities of plurality and natality. ‘Action’ is plural in that the agent reveals one’s own view, but it is developed in communication with others and accommodates their own distinctive outlooks.
“People define themselves, creating their own unique identities and the possibility for action in relationship with others” (Coulter, 2002). Equally important for Arendt is the agency of others – their natality. “Each person has the capacity to begin something new, something totally unforeseen” (Coulter, 2002, p199). This view reflects my own view of how teaching and learning can be developed.
Darragh Power is a participant on the current 2003-2004 M.Sc programme. In fulfillment of his assignment work for the Online Learning module, Darragh developed a web- based artefact – http://webpages.dcu.ie/~farrenm/educators.html. In his evaluation of my teaching on the programme, he describes my influence on his learning and on the learning of the group.
Darragh: From my perspective, Altricher, Posch and Somekh’s idea of a ‘hierarchy of credibility’ where by credibility of a ‘practitioner researcher’ (Schons terminology) depends on their position in relation to the policy makers or the theorists of the academy is challenged by Margaret's approach. (ibid 1993: 202). I am grateful that the ontological values which informs the epistemology of practice that Margaret employs in her ‘pedagogy of the unique’ allow me as a practitioner, in this case a practitioner of learning, in a group of learners, to have credibility in my own learning context, and being given space in this paper is evidence of this for me. For me the context of this narrative is a social one, and the ICT modules represented the first time in my educational experience I was asked what I wanted to study, in other words, it is the first time the curriculum was a co-creation of a mine and the other students and a lecturer. Margaret for our group represented not a gate-keeper of knowledge, but a de-constructor of gates, which allowed our individual and group narratives to emerge in our own practice contexts where we are credible and knowledgeable of our own practice and practice contexts. My experience of Margaret's approach is that it is one where the ‘web of betweeness’ is one, which is defined by sharing and not hierarchy, we are credible sources of knowledge in our own practice, and our experiences are shared, valued and publicly available to each other, which is what my artifact is about.
In our individual self-studies, the dialogical nature of our relationship means that we can use ‘We’, without a feeling of loss of integrity of each individual enquiry.
Since I first started teaching on the M.Sc. programme in 1999, I have integrated a range of new technologies into the programme. I have invited experts working in education and industry to contribute to this programme. Teachers who have completed the M.Sc. programme have been able to share their knowledge and expertise with current participants on the M.Sc. in Education and Training Management. This has contributed to the collaborative nature of the programme structure and teaching and learning approach.
In my work as higher education educator in the context of professional development of teachers on Masters in ICT in Education, I strive to value and foster each participant’s creativity. In the work assignments, I have encouraged teachers to create their own multimedia and web based curriculum artefacts, that reflect their own educational values and beliefs. They have attempted to take cognizance of, and incorporate relevant learning theories and instructional design, contained in the theoretical literature, into the planning and development of their curriculum artifact. While I believe that it is important that we learn from and value what relevant literature has to say, I also believe that it is important that teachers are provided with the space to be creative and are enabled to take ownership of the teaching and learning processes by developing and articulating their own educational values, as these emerge in classroom practice, “educational theory offers models for teaching, approaches to disciplines, techniques for teacher effectiveness, and yet we suspect that this is not enough that it is not enough to apply some technique, follow a program, or trust social policy” (Van Manen, 1991).
This developmental process involves various strands: in relation to their thinking; in relation to the literature; in relation to other teacher-participants, and the teacher educator, who values their unique and essential role in knowledge creation. Teacher- participants deserve our commitment to helping them develop the capacity to be creators of education knowledge, by learning to take an increasing level of responsibility, that involves, among other things, learning to make their own educational judgements, based on sound educational values and criteria.
During the programme, teachers have creatively engaged in developing a range of multimedia and web based curriculum artifacts. The world wide web can connect and disseminate the embodied values of educators and allow for a sharing of these values. Each teacher can share and show how they are developing their own living educational theory, from their use of ICT in the context of improving student learning. Thus individuals' collaborative self-studies are contributing to the development of sustainable global educational networks of communications.
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