Emergent reflections

A space where I can digest some thinking through the writing process - liminal, emergent and reflective.

Action research and teacher professional development in the Web2.0 world

Margaret.OCONNELL's picture

I've been following the Webheads in Action Online Conference (2007) and the recorded presentations from the live event held a couple of weeks ago.

A couple of presentations stood out for me and one in particular was a presentation by Konrad Glogowski and Christopher Sessums on action research and teacher professional development. Whilst not a highly structured presentation (thus allowing the audience time to ask questions and engage in some reflection during the presentation) the conversation between Christopher and Konrad was insightful and engaging.

In his blog post, Konrad discusses his view of using action research to develop teachers as learners and researchers:

I believe that asking questions about what we do in our classrooms and why we do it is an important step towards engaging in a pedagogy of possibility and participation. When we begin to ask questions about our own practices, we become aware of the impact of reflection and the importance of personal freedom in charting our own course as learners and researchers. That freedom to research our own practice is an important step in understanding why all learners need to be free to explore and follow paths that they find relevant and interesting. It seems to me that teachers who experience the empowering effects of Action Research understand that we are all storytellers that that we need environments that foster the development of individual voices. How can we possibly help our students be co-contributors and researchers if we ourselves don’t engage as learners and experience what it means to construct knowledge? [My emphasis]

Nicely worded don't you think! With the advent of the social web (or Web2.0) we have been able to bring into question the very mechanisms through which we teach and learn, more so than any other technology has done, in my mind. The balance shifts significantly between the teaching role and the learner with the use of social web tools (eg. wiki, blogs, photo sharing, etc), so much so that we really cannot ignore its implications for developing our teaching practices to be more inclusive of the learner, also an active developer of their own learning.

Shiv Singh (2006) neatly sums up the social web in this quote:

The architecture of participation is baked into the architecture of the software.

If participation is the backbone of the social web, is it also fair to say it is the backbone of learning and teaching in an increasingly networked world? How do we refine our teacher PD to take up the baton and how can AR support such development?

Christopher, in his post, reflects on the presentation and offers a definition of AR that is 'teacher research' (see also Cochran-Smith, M. and S. L. Lytle (1999). Relationships of knowledge and practice: Teacher learning in communities. Review of Educational Research in Education 24: 249-305):

Basically, action research is about examining one’s own practice, i.e., practitioner research, teacher research or research with a “little r” as opposed to “Big R” research. While it embodies many formal elements associated with scientific method, starting with a hypothesis, a wondering, and leading through periods of observation, empirical data collection, measuring evidence, and reporting conclusions, practitioner classroom research often lacks the rigor associated with conducting formal reliability studies that are an integral part of most formal research (Big R). Not to say such studies cannot be conducted; however, the idea has typically been to get educators to systematically and intentionally examine elements of their practice in a way that can be clearly documented and openly shared with other practitioners.

How does Christopher challenge your understanding of AR in his definition? In many ways I like his approach in terms of how AR can fit with teaching practice. Yet I wonder if practice-based research is the same as AR? While they are obviously not mutually exclusive, I'm not sure that the terms themselves can be interchangeable. Perhaps it's action inquiry (see Tripp 1995) that is being described here?

I am concerned with the terminology used such as AR, AL, action inquiry, practice-based research, etc...(and more food for thought here!) and the context in which these terms are used, as this will have implications for my undertaking a 'participatory action research' project in my institution (there's another phrase!). i am finding it helpful to consider the views of others through their writings and presentations (like K and C in this instance) as a way to glean an understanding of the landscape around these activities.

As for Web 2.0 in all this? Well, I'll leave you with some words from Konrad:

I believe that the next step is to challenge ourselves as educators to become reflective and critical thinkers who understand that teaching is a form of inquiry. It is not enough to create a blogging community or start a wiki and let the students interact within in. We need to be part of that environment too. We need to enter it as participants, as learners, as researchers. Then, we need to reflect on our experiences and openly share our findings.

Dianne.ALLEN's picture

First connection

Hi Margaret!

Thanks for this which helps me get a better picture about why others are being so enthusiastic about Web 2.0.  For me, at my slower pace of uptake of the technological edge (I purchased my current computer in January before and therefore consciously without the new Vista release, with the xG RAM, and without an operating system that needed xG RAM), I couldn't quite appreciate what all the noise was about.

I would like to share a connection I make with what you have quoted from Konrad ... 'all learners need to be free to explore and follow paths that they find relevant and interesting'.

This makes a connection for me with Maria Montessori's (1870-1952) pre web2.0 stuff.  Montessori's thesis of human development, that underpinned her educational practice, included the view that as humans we have certain behavioural tendencies that help us fulfill our basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, defense, and transportation, etc.  Her list of behavioural tendencies, expressed in a variety of ways tends to come down to: exploration, orientation, order, imagination, manipulation, repetition, precision, control of error leading to perfection and communication (Lillard, 1996, p.11), and usually exercised in that order: we explore and when we find and have mastery we must communicate (my understanding).  Her educational practices tended to rely on allowing the child liberty to choose and then focus on what to learn.   Lillard also notes (p.4-5) Montessori's three propositions about human development ..(1) that human development does not occur in a steady, linear ascent but in a series of formative planes (2) that the complete development of human beings is made possible by their tendencies to certain universal actions in relation to their environment, (3) that this interaction with the environment is most productive in terms of the individual's development when it is self-chosen and founded upon individual interest.   An educational plan (Lillard, p.21) that reflects Montessori's observations involves three essential elements (1) a prepared place (2) a prepared adult (3) and freedom with responsibility.

Here is the (?)beginning of self-directed learning that is the cornerstone of any higher degree, and research endeavour: we are still children (human beings in development) at heart!

Dianne Allen KIAMA, NSW

PS NOW I realise the buddy connection in Tapped IN.  It was your interest in the Webheads in Action Online Conference, not my previous referrals!

Lillard, P. P. (1996). Montessori today: a comprehensive approach to education from birth to adulthood. New York: Schocken.

Dianne.ALLEN's picture

Second connection


When I was engaged in the preparatory steps of my thesis work I set up a file which I entitled 'What's in a name ...'.  Here I tried to keep track of definitions, and the way writers use these terms.  Eventually, the file became moribund.  (1) the process of keeping track and trying to settle on a firm definition is a thesis in its own right (Fendler, 2003 does an interesting job of some unpacking here); (2) language, especially in the social sciences, is notoriously slippery (see Lewis, 1960 Studies in Words, and Williams 1976); (3) after something like five years immersed in the literature field I was much more comfortable with such fuzziness than at the beginning (but see also my approach with you elsewhere, and now with Sandra).  

The practical solution?  Here is what was recommended by one of my supervisors (the one who referred me to Williams): build a glossary of how you understand and want to use the terms you choose to use; then when needed, add it to your thesis, or whenever else you are writing for publication and think the usage may be contested.

Dianne Allen KIAMA, NSW

Fendler, L. (2003). Teacher reflection in a hall of mirrors: Historical influences and political reverberations. Educational Researcher, 32(3), 16-25.

PS thanks for the linkage to Tripp and AR in wikipedia - very helpful!

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