ICT as Political Action

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Chapter 7 – The significance of the research

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When I undertook my research I was experiencing dissonance between my values and my practice (Whitehead 1975). My hope for my research was that it would enable me to achieve a transformative influence in my practice in order to provide new life-affirming opportunities for my students, my colleagues and me. Through undertaking the research I hoped to develop a living theory of my practice. Having carried out the research programme, my living theory of practice, which I have developed, offers a reconceptualisation of ICT distinct from the usual technicist discourses of ICT offering a life-affirming conceptualisation framed within Arendt’s (1958) ideas of political action and Habermas’s (1975) ideas of communicative action.

The development of my living theory of practice which arose from the combination of insights gained from engaging with the literature and learning from the experience of my practice has significance for practitioner-educators and educational researchers in terms of theory and practice. The context of this research within educational ICT has significance for policy and practice within ICT. In the following sections I will explicate the significance of my research for policy in relation to teaching in general and ICT in particular. I will explain how it can have significance in relation to theory about teaching and learning and can play a part in the education of social formations. I show how the research and the two forms of the thesis can offer answers to some of Eisner’s (1997) questions in relation to the validity of forms of representation of data. Further, this research has the capacity to challenge the current linguistic form of thesis writing and offer an alternative multimedia model. I indicate how the multimedia model makes a significant contribution to debates around the knowledge base of education and, in fact, provides a model for such a knowledge base and builds a contribution to that knowledge base.

  1. The significanceof my research for policy
  2. The significance of my research for forms of representation
  3. The significance of my research for theory
  4. The significance of my research for the education of social formations
  5. Contribution to the knowledge base of education

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The significance of my research for policy

An examination of the various reports suggests that official publications tend to focus on statistics, surveys and technicist approaches to technology. In contrast there are non-institutional sources that focus on the work of transformational individuals, the contribution they make and the risks of losing them. This point has been made in relation to the Setanta project. One report indicated that in the event of the loss of the coordinator the project would be at risk (Doyle 2000). Another evaluation suggested that ‘…it has been the initiative, inventiveness and motivation of just a few people that has driven the growing use of the computer at the school and in lessons. At the same time this highlights the fragility of the situation, because replacement of such pioneers frequently poses problems’ (Inspectie van het Onderwijs 2001: 30).

My thesis is significant for the contribution it makes to a non-technicist view of ICT in schools. It captures a picture of ICT in educational settings that is far removed from the narrow technical analyses of official publications. The approach is not to provide a model that is replicable elsewhere. But it provides an approach that may give inspiration to others elsewhere. The approach is based on collaborative ideals recognising the uniqueness and diversity among people and building on the uniqueness and diversity to provide educational experiences that are life affirming. This work has the potential to influence policy in relation to ICT in schools and other organisations and has made inroads in this direction through the presentation of the work and research to political and educational leaders in Ireland and Europe.

The significance of my research for forms of representation

The thesis shows how ICT can offer the potential for a wide range of forms of representation and therefore offers the potential to provide answers to Eisner’s (1997) concerns around the perils of alternative forms of representation. But the thesis shows that ICT goes beyond offering a range of forms of representation to offering a range of forms of participation and may address Gardner’s (1989) concerns around modes of working that support multiple intelligences. The multimedia based approaches to work throughout this thesis provide evidence of the provision of opportunities to those with bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence, spatial intelligence, and musical intelligence, interpersonal, intrapersonal as well as linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence (Gardner 1989: 44). Video conferences have enabled students to work with their linguistic and interpersonal intelligence. When the video conference offered opportunities to participate by playing instruments and singing, it involved musical intelligence. The creation of web sites supported linguistic intelligence along with logical-mathematical intelligences. If the web site had a sporting theme it appealed to those with bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence. The personal reflections on tasks appealed to intrapersonal intelligences. But the multimedia nature assisted students in developing intelligences that did not automatically appeal to them.

These forms of representation gave voice to students in ways that were often absent from traditional modes of teaching and learning. The new mode of representation changed the way the subject was taught. In the same way the multimedia presentation of this thesis offers modes of representation that hold out the promise of offering new ways of presenting data and indeed of presenting non-propositional ideas in non-linguistic ways.

The significance of my research for theory

The goal of my research was an improvement in the quality of my practice as a teacher and as an ICT consultant to a national awarding body. My thesis offers descriptions of what I did and explanations for doing it. Together these become my living theory of practice (McNiff 2006: 149). Within the thesis I am offering my own living theory based in my practice. The theory is located within and generated from within practice and influences the development of new practices. I have indicated how Deane (2000) has shown that the formation of the Action Learning Group in NCVA led to new practices. The work of the Action Learning Group supported the members of the group in changing their practices. Some of the group presented our changing practice publicly at an action research conference. By telling our stories and providing explanations for those stories we were generating theory. By making this work public professional educators and educational administrators were reclaiming their professions as their own (McNiff 2006: 120).

I started my teaching life believing that theory was something generated by professional researchers, mainly in the universities. As I carried out a self-study of my practice I came to understand that I could generate theory too. As I worked with my students on their WebQuests I came to realise that my students were generating their own living theories.

With this insight I began looking for evidence of theory generation in my students’ work and I found it. In their web site reports, and elsewhere, my students were providing accounts of their learning and explanations for learning. These were not presented in academic language but were accounts of theory nonetheless.

The significanceof my research for the education of social formations

Bourdieu talks about social formations as groups of people coming together, and the way that groups of people behave are premised on certain normative rules (Bourdieu 1977). Bourdieu claims that each social formation has it own set of rules. They are unspoken and unquestioned normative assumptions. The rules are unrecognised and unchallenged. Metz (1978: 98) argued that ‘…routines, confidently established, take on an air of inevitability [as] students come to see them as an inherent part of school’. She sees this as part of the social control that teachers can impose without appearing to be impositional. Such controls are internalised by the students who impose them on themselves. Teachers within schools may be as likely to internalise control as students. These ideas are similar to Foucault’s ideas of the panopticon (1977; 1979; 1980). It can lead to the idea that ‘culture is the way things are around here’ (this phase has become so common place that it is difficult to find the originator. It has been used by Jones and George 1998; Holtz 2004; Reichers and Schneider 1990; among others.)

When Whitehead (2003b; 2003d; 2004) speaks of the education of social formations he is talking about influencing people to think about social formations, to surface taken-for-granted assumptions, to make them explicit, to challenge to see if they are appropriate, and where necessary to change them. In Chapter 2 I have referred to the importance of keys in my school. Keys play an important part within the habitus of a normative institution. They are an unspoken means of establishing the authority and position of some parties relative to others. Controlling access to computers is another aspect of such a habitus. The work of the LCA, the Setanta project and others challenged the habitus by challenging some of the assumptions about ‘the way things are done around here’.

Contribution to the knowledge base of education

In 2001 Catherine Snow in her presidential address to the American Educational Research Association called for the development of a knowledge base that would collect and systematise the personal knowledge of teachers (Snow 2001: 9). This would provide ‘a wealth of knowledge about teaching that cannot currently be drawn upon in the preparation of novice teachers and debates about practice’. Snow was addressing issues within the educational research community about the relationship between research and practice. There is a large knowledge base supporting traditional forms of theory. This is not the case for new forms of living theory. The discussion of a new knowledge base focuses on new forms of theory and new forms of knowledge, in particular the knowledge of skilled practitioners. Hiebert et al. (2002) have extended the discussion by proposing in a detailed fashion what they believe the knowledge base should be. The contribution that my thesis can make to debates about a knowledge base could be part of the significance of this work in terms of encouraging forms of learning which are grounded in each person’s capacity to exercise their creative and critical capacities.

I am suggesting a contribution to the knowledge base grounded in a virtual community of practice, where the claims made within the thesis will be open to public scrutiny and public critique. It has been claimed for an activity to be designated as scholarship three characteristics are needed: It should be public, susceptible to critical review and evaluation, and accessible for exchange and use by other members of one’s community (Hutchings 1998). The multimedia thesis, which I conceive of as the main thesis, this linguistic version being a subset of the multimedia version, will be available on a public web site. The web site will include descriptions and explanations of my practice along with the evidence that supports my claims to know. The web site will provide multimedia tools that allow others to critique the thesis. In this way the thesis will be subject to the same dialogue and criticism that my practice was open to. This is a living thesis. In this way it will respond to Snow’s and Hiebert’s calls for a knowledge base for the teaching profession and meet Hutchin’s criteria for scholarship.

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