This chapter has five main sections. The sections focus on projects that are the vehicles that drive the action of my research. At the same time the projects show the development of my own thinking. In the first section I give an account of my first faltering attempts to provide a learner focused approach to teaching ICT through the development of self-instructional notes.
Secondly, I address a significant leap in my thinking around young people taking control of their own learning through the North/South schools link. This work gave rise to the Setanta Project which forms a superstructure around the projects that followed in that many of the key ideas underlying my living theory of practice were developed through the Setanta Project and its offshoots.
In the fourth section I move my focus from my school-work to that undertaken in NCVA. NCVA provides a rather different environment to school but involves similar approaches based on recognising that people are valuable and have a contribution to make to their own and others well being. Introducing the NCVA work at this point is important because it is central to my ideas around holism. Although it is a different organisation, carrying out different work, it forms part of my web of connection that ties me into communities of practice that influence my work and my ideas wherever I am and whatever I am doing.
In the fifth section I return to ongoing work in school. This final project which involves supporting a student-teacher from the nearby university forms another part of the web of connection. This offers a particularly complex web in that it involves supporting her in working with students who are involved in what many would consider an alternative programme. The complexity of that web involves the interactions between student-teacher and teacher, between university and school, between pre-service training and in-service learning, between mainstream traditional school and innovative programmes.
- Project 1: First faltering steps – Self-instructional notes and self-directed learning
- Project 2: North/South schools link
- Project 3: The Setanta Project
- Project 4: Action Learning and interconnecting branching networks
- Project 5: Supporting teacher education by LCA and Political action
- Theorising my practice in the light of the preceding projects
These sections are not all on this page. You can use the links above to take you to the relevant pages.
I have described how my thinking in relation to my teaching and other aspects of my practice was leading me away from traditional approaches which were often authoritarian and controlling in nature toward practices that recognise that people are able to think for themselves and are able to offer explanations for their own lives, provided constraints are removed. I have described the development of my thinking that leads me away from a fragmentary approach to understanding my world to one that actively seeks holistic approaches. Such approaches avoid technicist views and seek creative and innovative ways of doing things. These approaches will be apparent in the chapter as I describe and explain the work I have undertaken as part of my programme of research. In doing this I will draw on a range of projects undertaken within school and NCVA.
The use of the five projects supports the idea of a ‘web of connection’ between various activities. While describing these projects I will draw on the ideas presented in the previous chapter in relation to reconceptualising ICT as political action. The focus of these projects is on moving away from didactic classroom practice and deterministic ideas of ICT, whether of the technicist or sceptical variety, and drawing on social constructionists’ views of learning and ICT (Feenberg 1999; 2000; 2002; 2003; 2004; 2005) to move toward developing ICT as a social practice (Brown and Duguid 2000; 2002; Bromley 1998) by developing the ideas of communicative action (Habermas 1979; 1984) and political action (Arendt 1958) within ICT.
I show how ICT can support a model of learning that departs from the traditional didactic model (Dewey 1997) toward a model that is collaborative in nature and life-affirming for those involved. Inherent in this reconceptualisation is movement from the dualism of teacher/student to a unifying view of collaborative learners. The research needs to be seen not at the level of individual participants but at the level of their joint interactions (Brown and Duguid 2002: 432). The model draws on Arendt’s (1958) concept of plurality, recognising that while participants in the classroom or workplace may have different roles or responsibilities, each is a learner. My experience is that within the complex learning environment that is life, all learners are not learning the same things at the same time. One learner who is normatively referred to as the student may be learning ICT skills while the learner who is normatively known as the teacher may be learning how to support other learners in their learning of ICT skills. In the strange world that is the collaborative classroom it may be that the learner, known as the student, may be helping the learner, known as the teacher, how to learn ICT skills!
At this point I would like to place some of what I have described above within the theoretical frameworks that I have said that I favour. Arendt’s ideas on human activity and in particular her distinction between three types of activity, namely labour, work and action is a key framework (Arendt 1958).
When the LCA students were carrying out their assignments through the medium of ICT they were involved in labour, work and action (Arendt 1958). In Arendt’s terms labour is routine behaviour required to meet basic needs. ‘… it leaves nothing behind, the result of the effort is almost as quickly consumed as the effort is spent’ (Arendt 1958: 87). The labour for the students was the basic ICT skills like logging-on to the network, saving files and printing documents. When they produced multimedia artifacts like web sites and PowerPoint presentations they were involved in work. Work includes activity by artists and craftspeople to make lasting objects that comprise the human world. ‘[Work]… fabricates the sheer unending variety of things whose sum total constitutes the human artifice (ibid: 136). However, as they took control of their own lives through these activities they were taking action. To act is ‘to begin’ or ‘to lead’ to ‘set something in motion’ (ibid: 177) Action requires collective interaction to determine what is good and just (Sutherland 2001: 1). They were involved in action in that they got to know themselves better, they got to understand their capacities better, and they were able to articulate those capacities better. This was achieved through the medium of technology on the one hand but also the provision of an environment which supported collaborative work. That environment was not created on its own. The work of the LCA programme was the work of a team of teachers working together with their students; some of them using ICT but some of them using other methods to arrive at the same type of outcome. ‘ICT as political action’ was not operating in a vacuum but within the context of a group of people who were working collaboratively to support non-traditional forms of learning.
Within this thesis I am showing how I have engaged with the relations of power, worked with others to create an alternative power base that is grounded in a capacity to create certain kinds of educational relationship with those that one is working with and, through this, transformed obstruction into opportunity.
The accounts I provide within my thesis are based within my personal theory of practice.