Thursday, January 26, 2012

Emerging approaches to educational research - book summary

Through browsing through another new book in the CPIT library, I started to work through the first few chapters in greater detail. The book is ‘the Sage handbook of workplace learning’ edited by Margaret Malloch, Len Cairns, Karen Evans and Bridget N. O’Connor. Chapter 2 by Professor Paul Hager on ‘theories of workplace learning’ provides a good overview of the three approaches , the theories influenced by psychological theories, socio-cultural theories and post-modern theories. So, time to update my knowledge on the post-modern theories through an ebook from the CPIT library ebook collection. The book is edited by Professor Tara Fenwick, Professor Richard Edwards and Peter Sawchuk and called ‘emerging approaches to educational research’. Fenwick presents a summary at the University of Technology last month.

This book provides a good introduction to why research approaches have shifted and moved towards trying to understanding the diverse nature of learning and the various contexts learning take place in. The book introduces, describes, discusses and evaluates the ‘sociomaterial’ research approaches or ‘four arenas’ for future educational research. The four arenas are complexity theory, cultural historical activity theory (CHATs), actor-network theory and spatiality.

Each of the four arenas is based on recent dissatisfaction with the inability of research frameworks to capture, study and explain ‘how people learn’. Each proposes frameworks / methods to try to account for the many material / non-material contributions towards how learning occurs. There is generally no ‘right or wrong’ answer coming through using any of the four arenas as research frameworks. Hence, the use of ‘post-modern’ as one categorisation for a raft of research approaches that go beyond the usual ‘qualitative/quantitative’ debate.

The common premises of the four arenas are:

Not dependent on the individual as being the sole focal point of study

Challenge relationships/binaries on which our understandings of ‘practice’ are founded

Challenge notions of context as being where the action is and allowing for a wider range of ‘contexts’ to be recognised

do not take reductionist stances but recognise the continuous dynamic nature of learning

acknowledge the complexity and ‘mess’ that represents the ‘real-world’.

Accept that learning is fundamentally difficult to pin down or to explain.

For me, the above represents some of the steps I have taken as a teacher/researcher, moving from trying to grasp the ‘known’ to understanding that the ‘known’ is slippery, dependent not only on context but on social/historical/ontological factors and attempts at explanation are always going to be incomplete. The above also challenge my grounding as a ‘socioculturalist’ in trying to explain learning as an ‘equilibrium’ between social affordances and individual agency with contributions from the various social relationships individuals encounter. Shifting towards a post-modern framework requires unpacking my current belief systems and evaluating another new way of looking at things.

There is a helpful explanation of the terms used in ‘knowing organisations:practice-based approach’ (book by Nicolini, Gherardi and Yanow) by Svabo – titled – ‘materiality in a practice-based approach’ also relevant to the ‘emerging approaches to educational research’ book.

No comments: