This account is based on a self-study of my own practice as I attempt to reduce the dissonance that I experience as a result of the gap between my values and my practice as I work as a teacher of ICT and as an ICT consultant. Because I see this self-study as research, in common with other researchers, I am attempting to develop new understandings about ideas and practices.
In the first section of this chapter I show that any conclusions I come to are reasonably fair and accurate and can form the basis for claims to knowledge. As the theory I am developing is a living theory of practice I will outline new practices that have developed as a result of the projects that underlie this work. I will produce evidence of the quality of these new practices and show how they relate to my ontological values. In this way I will show how I am reducing the dissonance that I experience when my values are denied in my practice.
I will explain how my own thinking has shifted and that I am now aware of how I came to develop my own living theory of practice. I will produce evidence of the development of my living theory of practice and I will relate this development to my ontological values. Finally I will account for my educational influence, in relation to my own learning, my colleagues’ learning, and the education of social formations. I will address the need to justify practice in the light of the morality of exercising educational influence.
The main sections in this chapter are:
In his examination of the difficulties faced by a journal editor in deciding what type of work merits publication, Donmoyer indicated that within the field of educational research there is little consensus about what research and scholarship are and what research reporting and scholarly discourse look like (Donmoyer 1996: 19).
Disagreement around the theme of quality and validity in qualitative research has continued and various views have been expressed (Bullough and Pinnegar 2001; Feldman 2003; Feldman 2007; Lincoln and Guba 1985; Heikkinen, Huttunen and Syrjälä 2007; Saunders 2007 inter alios). The uncertainty regarding the matter of quality has had the effect that practitioner research is not recognised as having strong validity because the practitioner research community, itself, has not worked out ways of establishing validity (Furlong 2000; 2004). However, attempts to suggest methods of establishing validity continue apace. New concepts to replace those of reliability and validity include credibility, persuasiveness, interactivity, vulnerability, therapeutic value, verisimilitude, compellingness, explanatory power, moral persuasiveness (Hatch and Wisniewski 1995: 129; Ellis and Bochner 2000: 752-760). Heikkinen, Huttunen and Syrjälä (2007) have drawn on Winter’s (2000) earlier suggestion of two principles – the dialectic principle and the reflexive principle – to propose five principles that can be used to evaluate the quality of action research. These are historical continuity, reflexivity, dialectics, workability and evocativeness. Feldman has criticised principles of this sort because they tend to focus on the quality of the report rather than the quality of the research (Feldman 2003). Reports can be credible, persuasive, life-like and so on, independent of the quality of the research that was done (Feldman 2007: 22). Feldman suggests a widening of the definition of validity beyond the use of metrics and measurement as a means of providing us with a way to talk about qualitative studies having validity.
The Whitehead-Lomax-McNiff action research community, drawing on Habermas (1987), view a “living theory” as valid if it is comprehensible, faithful to the situation, expresses truthful intentions, and if claims can be reciprocally and mutually justified within the community. A living theory is justified when it suggests a course of intellectual and imaginative action that improves a person’s understanding of practice or situation, supports healthier relationships, and engaged learning (Rearick 1999). Whitehead and McNiff’s (2006) more recent work on validity suggests that validation can be gained by grounding your claim in personal validation and social validation. Personal validation can be based on aesthetic, ontological and moral values: the sense that it feels right or being satisfied, in myself, that my claim is justified. Personal validation is dependent on relying on your own internal processes of critical reflection to validate your beliefs (Whitehead and McNiff 2006: 103). Personal validation is supported by Polanyi’s point that we can take a decision to understand the world from our own point of view as individuals claiming originality and exercising our judgement with universal intent (Polanyi 1966). Social validation is based on the researcher’s responsibility to others to act according to democratically negotiated rules. Social validation for my work has been sought through a series of mechanisms throughout the research. In the early stages of my research I met with a group of fellow researchers who gave accounts of our practice and critiqued each others practice. The LCA team provided critique in relation to the work with the LCA group. The Setanta steering group at regular meetings critiqued the work in relation to the Setanta project. The NCVA Action Learning group critiqued each others practice as part of the process of improving practice.
While attempting to establish that my conclusions are ‘reasonably fair and accurate’ I draw on ideas from Whitehead and McNiff (2006: 97-111) about social and ethical validity and on the underpinning criteria taken from Habermas (1987). I am going to explain to you how I have taken care methodologically to ensure that you know how I am going to make judgments about my work. I am going to articulate my standards of judgement. The standards of judgments that I use are related to my values. I am going to show how I transfer my abstract values into living standards of judgement and how I will use these standards of judgement to assess the quality of my practice, the quality of my research and the claim that I know my practice. In this sense there are two sets of standards of judgement. There are standards of judgement in relation to practice and standards of judgement in relation to research.
I have explicated my values in relation to my work and my research. But values, like criteria, are usually communicated in abstract linguistic forms. I am transforming the criteria into living critical standards of judgement for assessing the quality of my research and of my text. In this way I am offering new standards of judgement. These are standards which are different to traditional standards of generalisability and replicability. I don’t believe that the conclusions that I draw can be generalised or the work I have done can be replicated. I believe that others can gain insights from my work and develop new ways of working from the ideas contained within this thesis just as I have gained insights from other people’s research. I have applied these insights to the circumstances of my own research. I have not tried to replicate them. I will show the validity of my claim to know by showing the standards of judgement used in realising that claim. I ground my claim to know in personal validity, my own sense that what I am doing seems right. My personal validity will be supported by social validation. I assess the validity of my claim to knowledge through the achievement of my values in my practice. In this chapter I will show what I believe is the achievement of my values of justice, natality and plurality in my practice and I will make this claim open to public critique.
The values which I have claimed earlier in this thesis – justice, natality, plurality – are abstract values. They are linguistic items. But these abstract linguistic terms can transfer into standards of judgement. I explain how my ontological values – what I believe in – transform into epistemological standards of judgement. They are standards of judgement related to knowledge. My claim to knowledge is that I have achieved these values in my practice. My values have transformed into my own standards of judgement by which I assess the validity of my claim to knowledge.
You may wonder how I can transform justice or natality or plurality into a standard of judgement. I do this by judging my practice in relation to natality or one of the other abstract criteria. I judge my practice in relation to how I have supported people to achieve their natality. The evidence of supporting people to achieve their natality is evidence to support my claim to knowledge which in turn is my theory of practice. My theory of practice is about how I have encouraged myself and others to work in solidarity to exercise our agency through communicative action. I am showing how communicative action can happen through web based relationships and offering a type of virtual communicative action. I am showing the potential of ICT for forming webs of connection for real time and virtual communicative action.
Within this work I am developing a living theory of practice. As a teacher-practitioner and consultant-practitioner I am devising and validating my living theory of practice in, by and throughout my practice. I am creating epistemological standards of judgement in and of teaching, education, educational administration and educational research. In this way, I, as a practitioner, have been transformed into and have become a theoretician and the theoretician has also been a real-life practitioner out there in the real-world (Serper 2004). I am showing practice and research as one and the same. I am therefore linking standards of practice and standards of judgement. Similarly, issues of validity which refer to the validity of my claim to knowledge are grounded in my evidence base. Consequently the validity of my claim to know my practice can be tested by showing that I did what I set out to do. I am supporting my validity claims by offering the evidence of my practice to public scrutiny. In the following sections I will show how the evidence of my practice can withstand public scrutiny and satisfy living standards of judgment. In the accounts in the following sections the reader may consider if the evidence from practice suggests that I have achieved the living standards of judgement set out above.
By presenting my research publicly I can demonstrate the exercise of my educational influence. At the same time, by presenting the evidence base of this research publicly and offering it to public critique in a variety of fora I am hoping to have gained social validation. This has been accomplished by presentations at the SIP Symposium, BERA Conference, Action Research Conference, Setanta Project launch and to several gatherings of educators under the umbrella of Arion study groups. The multimedia version of this thesis is available on a public web site where the work is available to public critique.
Social validation for the research has, I hope, been gained because in many respects the research has been a public practice – practice carried out in public. Not alone has the evidence of my work, that of my colleagues and my students been offered to public scrutiny but in many cases the practice was undertaken in public. The interaction of students with two Prime Ministers was a public practice. The involvement of the Prime Ministers was a public validation of the work. The research has been presented to several international study groups invited to the school by the Department of Education and Science. These visits enabled them to gain ‘an invaluable understanding into Irish post-primary level education in general and ICT in particular’ (McHugh 2002). The recognition by educationalists from fourteen counties of the ‘interesting and informative’ nature of the work undertaken by teachers and students of St Aidans and their collaborators is a validation of the work. The return of two further groups on subsequent occasions emphasises the validation.
You may consider: does this constitute validation of the research? Does this provide some evidence of the innovative practice which gave rise to a living theory of practice?
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