Thursday, 17 March 2016

Transition within university: Christie et al

This was a paper I read for a reading group at work. The title on transition interested me, and the authors suggest that it is a novel piece of research as it is a longitudinal study, following students through university, as they transition from year to year. Furthermore, its novelty lies in exploring transition between years once within university, rather than concentrating on transition into HE.

Christie, H., Tett, L., Cree, V., & McCune, V. (2106). 'It all just clicked': a longitudinal perspective on transitions within university. Studies in Higher Education, 41(3), 478-490.

The paper starts by setting the scene for the gap in the literature. I was taken by the sentence in the introduction "...students need to be better prepared for studying at the university level." (p. 478). The paper suggests that universities are interested in the topic of transition and retention of first years due to the financial and reputational issues.

Whilst the authors link their findings to Lave and Wenger's situated learning and legitimate peripheral participation, it is hard to see where the communities of practice, and the requirements for these to exist, actually come into the paper. What does scream out at me is the idea of organisational habitus and the students developing this as they progress through university, in relation to academic skills.

An interesting paper, and I'm sure that the original research perhaps made the link more clearly to communities of practice than is evident in this paper. I realise that with our subjective views of truth, we conceal as we reveal. Perhaps with my interest in researching Bourdieu, I look at everything with the expectation of seeing habitus and cultural capital. However, in this case, I can really see the link. I'm surprised the authors didn't.

A topic to explore further for my assignment - I was looking at this in relation to transition with vocational learners from FE to HE, but perhaps there is more of a gap in transition through the university. Lots to think about.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Social theorists in education: Notes from module 2

This new  module is slightly less of a mental workout initially. Only initially. The weekend sessions were taken up with discussing a few social theorists who are linked to education. We looked (briefly) at Dewey, Wenger and Eraut.

Numbers relate to the slide numbers on the presentation.


11. Dewey stresses the importance of progressive education, and that "the most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning" - it is our duty to educate to promote the importance of learning.

12. Dewey is concerned with the outcomes of education - the learner voluntarily subjecting themselves to the learning process as an enduring feature of their life.

13. Education resembles democracy - education does not occur within a vacuum - the education system must be democratic for democratic citizens to be produced. Authoritarian education cannot produce democratic citizens - "freedom, decency, kindness" - these word of Dewey are from 1938, when they had a much stronger meaning than they would appear to now.

14. The argument for freedom - why do we want to live in a democracy? What features make democracy good? Why shouldn't we use these features within education? Working in a democratic way gives a better experience. what's the alternative?

15. Dewey insists that teachers shouldn't enforce control (even of they fear chaos).

16. Teachers should not impose authority. The children should believe that the rules are there for the good of them. Problems occur if they believe that the rules are there for the benefit of authority; then, they challenge that authority. Learning is imposed by the teacher when there isn't establishment of shared responsibilities. When you say you need to know this because of exams etc., learning becomes an imposition  upon the students - give the children responsibility for what they want to learn, then there is a shared responsibility.

17. Why do we educate? Education is dynamic - why we learn is always changing. The pupil is a participant in the formation of the reasons why they are learning. This links to Friere.

Participation is not just doing an activity but determining what is taught and why it is taught.

18. Quality of the education experience: progressive education is hard work for the teacher - they need to find out what the pupils want to learn, then resource it and manage individual differences. Therefore it is impossible to realistically achieve.

19. Boxed knowledge: there is no way that traditional teaching is a shared experience. Knowledge is given to pupils in order to pass a test, etc. Have a look at Hannah Arendt's view of this as 'human culture'.

20. Habit - Bourdieu's habitus largely comes from Dewey's 'habit'. A diet of authoritarian education and boxed knowledge cannot lead to democratic individuals.

21. Experience, for Dewey, is constituted by interaction and continuity. Lived experience provides a richer, deeper understanding. Continuity relates to the experience beyond school being brought into the classroom (i.e. the habitus of Bourdieu).

Wenger and Communities of Practice

This theory was introduced in relation to learning outside of formal institutions. It is a social form of learning, - a community which coalesces around a practice. Its original setting was situated learning (Lave and Wenger).

It is important to remember that the theory developed outside of formal education, so if used within formal education as a theory, this needs to be explored and considered - there may be a transference issue.

22. Lave and Wenger - Situated Learning: There is a drawing in to practice, from the periphery - like on an apprenticeship - all informal social learning. Situated learning solely looks at the learning taking place in the situation - how they pick up the knowledge. Knowledge is CO-CONSTRUCTED, developing through practice between people within a particular social and physical environment. even getting the 'in jokes' is a co-construction of knowledge within that particular community.

24. Shared domain iNTEREST indicates a DESIRE to learn - only a desire to learn can lead to these informal learning practices, otherwise there is no interest in learning about it.

25. COMMUNITY: can be very loosely defined and fragmented.

26. PRACTICE: the doing. Learning continues in informal ways, always rooted in practice.

27. The community has to exist previously so that new members recognise the traditions/history and knowledge is passed on over time. Participants must believe that they're part of the tradition and know and be able to narrate their place within that tradition It is ontological - your 'being' as part of that CoP, and a belief that you will acquire that knowledge.

28. Trajectory through the CoP: entering, belonging and outbound. The identity develops in relation to the community, developing a sense of belonging, engagement and alignment.

29. There is the development of stories/narratives/fables about the community an its practices. Participation vs reification: the binary. Participation: what you do, e.g. a plumber; reification: the symbolic aspects - documentation, adverts, formal/informal rules, regulations: there is a disjunction between the two. The binary is often paradoxical, with contradictions e.g. in teacher education, there are the teaching standards and then there is actual practice.

What am I going to do with this?
Well, I have to write an 8,000 word discussion of a particular theory relating to social theory of education. I was quite excited to read about Wenger's communities of practice and could relate that to an experience from my previous job. Dewey's work is more limited in its interest to me. I can understand the argument, and find it of interest, but it's so far removed from 'reality' for me that I don't feel moved to think about how it could relate to my work.

The other theorist we looked at, Eraut, initially piqued my interest with his discussion of different types of knowledge, and that practical knowledge is looked down upon by those who pursue epistemic knowledge. However, the theory we explored is, again, of not so much interest. I find myself leaning towards developing my understanding of Bourdieu, which I started in the first module. I need to go away and think about how I can explore Bourdieu's theories of habitus, field and cultural capital in relation to the development of academic skills.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

The end of the module...

No blogging for quite some time as reading and research took over all the time I had available to devote to the EdD.

Since my last post, I have interviewed three participants, transcribed the interviews, analysed them using IPA and completed an 8,000 word assignment discussing both my theoretical perspectives and the research project. Well, 8,791 words to be precise, as we are permitted +/-10%. The first draft ended up being 11,003 words, so serious pruning was required. The finished assignment didn’t really have the depth I wanted in some areas, especially in relating my findings to wider literature, but 8,000 really wasn’t enough.
What have I learnt?

1.       I *loved* doing this assignment. From initial total confusion at entirely new concepts, to moments of clarity as when the fog shifts and you can see your destination before the fog closes back in to obscure your route again. There’s still a lot of fog, but with islands of clarity. I suppose I should wait and see what the feedback is before I consider how fog-bound I remain. 

2.       The more I read, the more I found that just about every area of research into transition has been done to death. It’s an area I’m still really interested in, but quite where the gap in the research is that I can make my own, I just don’t know. Around two weeks before submission I felt I had nothing to add. How on earth do you find that slight gap in the knowledge that you can add to, especially as there is a lag between research being completed and publishing?

3.       I was so lucky with my first interviewee – he could talk the hind leg off a donkey. My interviewees became progressively more reticent but that was good experience, of a sort.

4.       Immersion in the data is easy when you’re as slow at transcribing as me.

5.       Oh how I loved those ‘aha’ moments when I noticed something in the way an interviewee said something – not just what they said, but how they said it: repetition of a phrase such as “I know x, I know y, I know z, I’m ready…” or the change from the very personal ‘I’ to using ‘you’ when talking about how other people perceived one participant.

6.       Despite what some articles say, don’t try to arrange your themes into superordinate themes using pieces of paper. It’s so much easier to cut and paste and move things around on a PC.

And what did I find? Well, my reflexive thoughts prior to the research were that students from vocational backgrounds would feel at a disadvantage to students from the traditional A level route with regard to academic skills used at university. However, what I actually found was a group (albeit small and idiographic) of confident, self-motivated learners who felt more than ready for study at HE, and considered themselves better equipped with academic skills than their A level colleagues. I started to consider this in relation to Bourdieu’s concepts of cultural capital and habitus, but that is where my word count ran out.

With the new module starting tomorrow, I hope to explore this area of educational theory in more detail, and just keep looking, looking, looking for the novel angle through which I can take this topic through to the final thesis.