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.
Hiebert et al.’s (2002) question, “A knowledge base for the teaching profession: what would it look like and how do we get one?” largely ignores the presence of an existing knowledge base for practitioner researchers. I refer to the knowledge bases housed at www.actionresearch.net and www.jeanmcniff.com and others. These knowledge bases provide the evidence of teacher-researchers who have created and tested the validity of their own living educational theories through their self-studies of their teacher-education practices (Whitehead 1993) and offered them to public critique through publication on the World Wide Web. Substantially, these knowledge bases have been textual knowledge bases but recently have been supported by other media like photography and video. The discourses around the potentials of multimedia are still linguistic discourses. The multimedia version of this thesis moves the discourse to another dimension by developing a living knowledge base, by showing the creation and existence of a knowledge base through ICT. I am claiming that I am making a contribution to the knowledge base that Catherine Snow (2001) has called for. I have developed it in relation to ICT. I am showing the knowledge base not only in relation to substantive issues of ICT in schools but into how ICT can be a form of creative experience with potentials for developing an interconnected community of practice (Brown and Duguid 2000; 2002; Lave and Wenger 1991; Wenger 1998).
Much recent work around ICT and multimedia and its potentials in educational research are taking a minimal approach. When Hiebert et al. (2002) write about multimedia they are referring mainly to videotaping classes and making them available on the Internet. I have little video of a class being taught as such. I am increasingly of the view that teaching is about removing obstructions to learning. In contrast it seems to me that other people are speaking of using ICT to support teaching in a didactic way. I see video within this thesis in the same context as word processors, web sites, databases, digital cameras, and digital video. They are all different aspects of the ICT tool. To me the use of ICT and multimedia is about students using these to achieve their purposes. So where I have video clips they are of students. For example, one video is of a student who is using the video recorder to record other students who are interviewing a third student about something he is doing in technology. I am not using the video as an objective observer. The purpose of making video is not specifically to record what is happening. Instead it is being used by a student as part of his learning. But while he is taking control of his own learning he is recording various things which are happening. He may be recording a student who is interviewing other students. In turn the student who is interviewing is taking control of his learning by interviewing. He may be learning interviewing skills or he may be learning from the student he is interviewing. The student whom he is interviewing may be talking about some project he has carried out in technology. In all these things the technology is being used as part of a process of learning. It is not simply to record as an alternative to taking minutes or as an easier way to remember what took place; it is being used as part of a learning process. This is a ‘thick’ use of technology (Geertz 1983).
One of the issues that Snow (2001) raises about personal knowledge, and this applies to local knowledge, is in relation to its generalisability and applicability to other situations. She is, of course, speaking out of traditional paradigms. My position is that my research is not generalisable or replicable. I draw inspiration from many sources, including traditional research, from things that people say and do, things that have a resonance for me in the work that I am doing. I expect that the work I am doing, my descriptions and my explanations, may have similar resonances for other people so that they can learn from my experiences and explanations. I am not suggesting that others should get their students to build wrestling web sites, but others listening to my account of the WWE project may find a resonance for them in something which has nothing to do with web sites or WWE or perhaps even ICT. The work will not provide a formula to follow, a recipe for success or a textbook for research, but what it may provide are ideas, possibilities and approaches that other people may want to take a look at and, perhaps, incorporate into their own ideas and practices.
There are fundamentally two separate questions to be addressed here. One is in relation to knowledge acquisition and the second is in relation to the knowledge base. Throughout this thesis I have outlined ideas about the acquisition of knowledge. These ideas centre on learning through communities of practice, that is, through relationship. 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.
In this section I have outlined the significance of my thesis in a variety of spheres. Because of its grounding as a living theory of practice drawing together insights gained from critical engagement with the literature and careful reflection on experience of practice it has particular significance for theory, for forms of representation and for the knowledge base of the teaching profession. Because of the reconceptualisation of ICT as a social practice and its potential for supporting political action it has significance for policy in relation to ICT and for contributing to the education of social formations within schools and other institutions.