Teacher in the Crossroads
By Nancy Stuewe
March 14, 2009
By Nancy Stuewe
March 14, 2009
I come to this work with the assumption we are born into the world with a need to understand our place in it. The nature of this understanding comes from participating in it democratically. Denzin & Lincoln (2008) note, “at the dawn of this new century we struggle to connect qualitative research to the hopes, needs, goals, and promises of a free democratic society” (p. 4). I believe some of this struggle is because we are at a crossroads of sorts in our culture. I also assume technology lends it’s self to exploration and democracy but not unless they are first valued, and not if it is used as a means to an end.
The purpose of this paper is to give me a direction in my research. Some of the questions that drive my curiosity are as follows: What is it like to be a teacher using an Inquiry approach today inside a technological framework? What is education for in the 21st Century? What do we need and expect of technology in the classroom? I wish to awaken an understanding by using reflexive, collaborative and participatory methods. I am not looking for universal truths. I want to think deeply about truth, knowledge and understanding in the digitally connected world. Why study teachers? Because they are me, they are the world, my life-world. So my question to guide this inquiry is, “how can a hermeneutic dialogue with teachers lead to a shared meaning making event and a greater understanding?" The focus of the dialogue will center around Inquiry in their classrooms and how technology supports this.
In order to do this I will first set the stage by exploring the essence of technology and the technological framework we currently find ourselves in. Secondly I will explore how a Hermeneutic dialogue in general will make it possible to release the teacher’s voice. Finally I will explore how and why this voice can be expressed and connected digitally. All of this is meant to be Interpretive in nature and to be an opening up of understanding. I will attempt to work with Gadamer’s metaphor of a fusion of horizons to possibility come to some shared ground (Price, 2008, p. 37). I will attempt to connect my interpretations of what I have read and heard from various sources. This is not meant to be a presentation of one understanding; it is only what I have uncovered as personal meaning while interacting with these sources. I have chosen to represent my understanding in a blog because this format allows for connectivity, interactivity and distributive knowledge that is not fixed so that I, and others may return to in the future. This seems only fitting because in Interpretive Inquiry we are to participate with our own understanding.
A Dialogue Begun - a creative process
I have noticed a crossroads, a cultural shift of direction. Marc Prensky refers to a shift between the Digital Immigrant, and the Digital Native. Others see a shift from web 1.0 to 2.0. Larry Lessig the creator of creative commons suggests we are shifting from a read-only to a read-write culture. He tells us that the 20th century was unique and that we are just now returning to a read-write culture. He has concerns for creativity in a consumer driven read only culture. He speaks about the democratization of culture in a read-write culture. Technology today gives people the potential to participate in a more creative, open sharing of ideas. Emails, Blogs, video, voice-mail messages expand our news and traffic reports.
While I have noticed a shift, I do not know what it means. How should it be interpreted?
I have an artist spirit and think of understanding as a creation of sorts. Stephen Downes describes:
"creativity may be thought of as the manipulation of one's experiences using the tools at one's disposal. The tools – whether computational, linguistic or logical – create a language, in which our experiences are the words, through which one expresses oneself, as a part of an ongoing conversation with those others who, in one way or another, express their perceptions of the world" (¶ 5 2007).
My dialogue begins with a creation of my own, a visual time line of the 20th century through to now. I created this time line with a tool called Cmap . I played with it in an attempt to make sense of a perceived shift. It was in this process of creation that the crossroads was first revealed to me.
(click to view images larger)
Creating this Cmap was initially simply my attempt to track a time line of technology use through the 20th century. I wanted to get a clearer picture of what we have been using technology for, in order to help me unpack the philosophy of technology. It was simply a tool for self-examination. What I began to notice as I added more and more content over time to the map was that it isn't just our use of technology that is shifting. The shift appears to be wide spread. And I wonder is it more correct to call this a crossroads because the word shift suggests we are all moving in a new direction and I do not think the map indicates that. On the map we see in yellow a distinct read only, broadcast culture. Technology is used to project ideas, while in green we see something very different. The technology may have supported this crossroads. People now have an opportunity to participate in the creation and re-mixing of their culture. It appears that in a Web 2.0 environment the tools for creativity have now become more democratic. We now have more possibilities to participate and not have to actually be physically present. People from all over the world can still have a sense of Heidegger's notion of Dasein a "being-in-the-world" experience even though they are not physically there. Interacting with this Cmap has been a very interesting experience. I think of it as a unique dialogue in that I was both the writer and the reader. By engaging in this conversation I was able to make meaning of what I think is a very complex idea. It follows the philosophical hermeneutic emphasis that understanding takes place at the site of the encounter between the reader and the text.
I have also noticed a shift in teaching practice; some teachers encourage their students to make connections by engaging in the growing of their own understanding of the world. They think of their students as participants and want them to think there is more than one way to be right. They think cheating is not working together and data should be used for personal reflection and self-understanding. However when I was a student through the 60’s, knowledge was instructed from the front of the room. I was either wrong or I was right. Cheating was sharing ideas and data (tests) made me feel bad. I am aware that some teachers continue to teach in this way and that I believe is cause for concern.
The Place: A Technological Framework
When unpacking the philosophy of Technology, we may reveal a paradox or a “double edge sword”. It is common to hear people speak of warnings with technology while others speak of possibilities. Some might have certain assumptions regarding technology and view it as autonomous, not that the technology actually makes itself but that we do not have the freedom to decide how technology will develop. It is just beyond us. Others yet may assume technology is a human centred activity.
These two dualistic assumptions can get a little more complicated when we add values. One tradition we have is a legacy from the Greeks. It is the notion that there is harmony in nature and while this is a rather simple explanation it is a tradition that is value-laden. It contains the notion that the key to understanding reality is through our experience and action with it.
The other tradition is value free and has its origins from the enlightenment age . This view was a departure from the church being the authority. It led towards more freedom of thought for individuals. Scientific authority began to displace religious authority. It is a view that nature must be commanded and obeyed. Embedded within Enlightenment was the ideal of advancement and progress. Andrew Feenberg largely influences this thinking (2003) as well as Martin Heidegger (1977). I have created another Cmap in order to make meaning from what they said:
A Substantive view
With a substantive lens we may think of technology more in lines of a religion (Feenberg, 2003, p. 6). Using technology for a purpose would be a specific value choice in itself. Once we go down this path we will be transformed into a society dedicated to the values of efficiency and power. Neil Postman (1992) tells a tale of caution for those with this view. As a society he worries that we are more concerned with efficiency and are to the point that we are blindly devoted to technology. “Efficiency and interest is a technical answer—an answer about means, not ends—and it offers no pathway to a consideration of educational philosophy” (p .4). The means and the ends are all trapped together in this system. I do not believe my research will fit here.
Another view might be that technology can extend our abilities and that we need to adapt to it, or get out of the way. You would see the need to be more efficient but feel helpless. In this case there is also a concern that a devotion to technology would blind us to what education is really for. When I hear teachers say.” I can’t keep up with the technology I believe they live here. They feel the need to master technology in order to live well in this world. My research does not live here.
Many of us today think technology is simply a useful yet neutral tool to satisfy our needs. We may think of it as the means towards an end. From the map you will be able to see that this comes from the tradition of Enlightenment. Yet even though it comes from a value free tradition it has embedded within it the notion that technology will make us more efficient and powerful. Still here is the pressure for teachers to master the technology. I was raised with the scientific method at the centre of my reality. Facts needed to be measured, proven and written down for all to read and verify. While cause may lead to effect with in a lab, this kind of thinking can be limiting when talking about knowledge and learning. Giddens (1985) writes that Habermas believed the study of human social life should not be studied as we study the natural sciences. Rather we should use self-reflection, and take some control to learn. “Because the analysis at that point becomes concerned with things that happen to the individual rather than things which the individual is able autonomously to control” (p. 126). My research will need to be a human centred activity and have the value of hope and harmony. I think if we stopped "preparing kids for …" and actually make their education meaningful and relevant right now, a by-product will be they will actually be better prepared for what ever may come their way. I believe education should prepare our students to be creative and connected in a world of ambiguity. It isn't about the technology really. It’s about learning to live well together within a technological framework.
Connectivism and Critical Theory
What hope do we have for our future? Feenberg suggests we step outside of this relationship with technology. We cannot understand technology by looking at how it functions. We perhaps need to think of technology not as a thing that we use but as a place. “That the real world of technology is a network, not a system, but a network that encompasses a system within it” (2008, p. 22). You might say that there is an essence of technology that must be understood in order to comprehend the technological world. A Social-Constructionist view might be that technology has no essence of its own. Feenberg (2003) informs us that Heidegger argues from a substantive perspective, although we may control the world through our technology, we do not control our own obsession with control. Feenberg uses Critical Theory to try to free us and take us outside of this double edge sword by taking the positives from both. He believes human beings need not wait for God to change their technological society into a better place to live. He believes we have a choice, and recognizes the consequences and freedom in technology (p.7).
I believe in the unseen. I believe that knowledge is not a something to look for - it is revealed by acting in and being connected with the world we live in. (Biesta & Burbules, 2003, p. 44) tells us that Dewey would say that knowledge is found in the happening of experience. It is this kind of thinking that allows us to think differently about cause and effect and the positivist school system. However I think even Dewey would agree in a digital world our understanding of knowledge must be expanded. I believe our understanding of the nature of knowledge must adjust because of how we live in the world has altered.
One altered notion is Connectivism. George Siemens describes it as: "the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing"(¶ 24 2004). It is here in this critical connected place that I want to explore with teachers.
The Plan: A Hermeneutic Dialogue – Making a Space for Understanding
I wish to arrive at an understanding dialogically “Engaging together in dialogue means thinking and reflecting on the daily events of our lives and experiences in the contexts of our shared social and moral traditions”(Freeman, 2006, p. 91). I wish to have my dialogue with teachers within a system that Feenberg describes - in a deliberate and democratic manner. In this case I wish to put my own understanding at risk to leave myself open to possibilities. The Sage Dictionary of Qualitative Research (2005, p. 70) describes dialogue as having several forms and functions. In each case the speaker would present an idea for others to understand. However I am more interested in dialogue that would lead to connected knowledge in a digital age, one that would lead to a shared understanding. The dictionary goes on further to say that the work of Gadamer (1900-2002) regarding dialogue considered it to be a particular way of life, a way of understanding our selves as beings in the world (p. 71). “In Gadamer’s hermeneutics, meaning occurs in the mediation of dialogue that occurs between the action to be understood and interpreter” (p. 186). Meaning is then grown out of the experience of talking together. “Language is not understood as an instrument or tool, but an activity that, like play, reflects an intentionality and allows for both the constitution of meaning and the instability of meaning”(p. 227).
Interactive Technology – a shifted lens
For my research I am thinking I will ask only a few teachers to participate. For me it isn’t about the many or finding a universal truth. I would like to open by interviewing each teacher face to face and capture the conversation digitally perhaps with video but more likely audio. I would like to be reflexive by sharing what each teacher thinks on the topic. In order to capture their expanded thoughts I would ask them to participate in a blog type conversation over a time period. Web 2.0 tools of technology provide opportunity for people to interact across space and time. My participants would not have the same degree of worry about ethics and anonymity because my participants would know each other. Yet it would still have the characteristics of openness, freedom and collective intelligence that is the highlight of the web 2.0 culture. If I am to explore democratic technology use with teachers it is important for me to do it with a democratic use of technology. I believe placing the conversation is this type of community would give it a transformational potential. At this point my method is purposely vague and ambiguous because I wish for my method to support my research as a lived experience. I do not want my research to rigidly support my method.
Concluding Thoughts of the day
The world is indeed rich and I do want to know more. The more I uncovered the more my imagination is fired and the more questions I have. There is however a few ideas I really want to underline as I move on the next stage of my doctoral work. The first is that I understand the importance of dialogue and the wee small place between the listener and the speaker. I wonder what it is like for teachers in this crossroads? What do they think? What stories might they tell? I had better be able to listen reflectively if I want to really understand. It is important for me that the work that I do be for teachers not about teachers. “Thus, the dialogues are the diamonds in the hermeneutic rough. They sparkle with interpretations and reflect the light of meaning. It is in their potential of ‘revealing’ that they are of interpretive value” (Price, 2008, p. 35).
The next is that knowledge is not something I gather or sow from just passively listening to teachers. It is something that will grow. It is a truth that is found in the happenings of my experience with them. There is a connection between knowledge and how I choose to participate. Finally there is no right or wrong here. I am not required to judge any cause or effect. I just need to describe for teachers living in a world of ambiguity.
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