Thursday, June 2, 2011

Questing Disposition

I have completed my field work and believe I have completed my first cycle of coding with one of the two schools that I have collected field data from. I have spoken several times with the notes, images, and audio that I recorded during my classroom visits. I have also returned to both of my classrooms in order to catch up with the projects I saw unfolding during my first visits and to interview each teacher one last time to check the clarity of my interpretations. These interviews have been recorded and have in some sense become as Ezzy (2002) describes as a place, “where meanings, interpretations and narrative are co-constructed” (p. 100).

My original motivation for doing this research is that Alberta teachers are being asked to become “Architects of Innovative Learning Environments” (Government of Alberta, 2010) and to teach in ways that they were not taught. This means that as teachers they must become learners. For some this is a move to another planet and others just a walk across the street. Regardless it is not what many teachers signed up for.

Innovation by its simplest definition is the introduction of something new. I however believe it is much more than introducing a new device in school. Innovation as how the newness is captured adopted and shared. Denning & Dunham, (2010) describe innovation as the taking and using of newness (invention) together for a common goal (community). We should never separate ourselves from the tools we create. The most amazing inventions are nothing without people to use them. Innovation is a place of possibility. For adoption to take place the user must adopt a playful curious attitude towards the device. Thomas & Seely Brown, (2011) refer to this a questing disposition. I set out to see if I could understand how teachers might make sense of this experience with innovation and I have set out to describe this lived experience using narrative in a case study.

In my candidacy paper I wrote metaphorically about ‘Education-land’ as if it were an island. Tradition has placed teachers on one side of the island and innovation is on the other side of it. How do we get them there? Who should build the pathways? In my research I have constructed three main themes to analyze my data. The first theme is the demand for teachers to teach in ways that they were not taught. The second theme is what I call confounding variables or the red lights that slow the travel across the island. The third theme is the notion of pathways to travel across the island.

In each of these themes there are sub-themes and each with a code. I created a spreadsheet in an attempt to untangle the confusion of all of these codes. I counted the frequency of each theme and subtheme and used these numbers to create a graph. At first nothing seemed to reveal itself. I can see that the two most common demands that are being met for students are Personalized Learning [1.1] and Collaborative Shared Leadership [1.7]. The two most commonly observed confounding variables are the Tyranny of Time [2.2] and the Traditional Concept of School (Old School way of working) [2.5]. The two major pathways that I have observed are the use of Available Innovative Technology [3.8] and Flexibility [3.3]. This flexibility is either the teacher responding to unplanned events, planning for the diversity of her student’s needs or the administration’s intentional use of flexible scheduling. Yet what does this mean? Unsatisfied I returned to the literature on Qualitative data analysis.

While reading, The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers and Qualitative Analysis: Practice and Innovation a thought occurred to me. I am struggling with my inexperience and with my childish desire to get it right. Time invested in the pursuit of rightness is like throwing seeds into the wind. They might grow somewhere but I am unlikely to benefit from the action. I forgot about my ‘questing disposition’ that my doctoral experience has cultivated. In this quest I have many choices, many paths to walk and many ways to be right. The question of being right or of ‘truth’ becomes a question of truths. I was born on the traditional side of the island yet my questing feet have taken me towards innovation. In my search for an effective way to code my data I do not wish to outright reject traditional object truth but I do need to find a way to put it respectfully off to the side. My questing disposition desires to find ways of describing complexity, not go looking for an answer to reveal itself in a graph. I remind myself this is an interpretive process. It is an ongoing cycle of confusion and sense making. I need a coding method that will help me untangle the confusion and help me honour the voice of teachers in order to tell a story. What is before me in my graph is simply picture of complexity and only part of the description.
The literature reminds me that understanding complexity it is slippery. Because I want to honour the teachers voice and capture the whole of my experience in the field, I need to engage in a conversation with my data like a good friend, a good friend that I know well. I believe I now need to look for connections, and relationships between my experience, my themes and the stories I have heard in the field. So back I go again to talk with my data.
Denning, P. J., & Dunham, R. (2010). The innovator’s way: Essential practices for successful innovation. Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England: The MIT Press.
Ezzy, D. (2002). Qualitative analysis: Practice and innovation. Social Research Today. London: Routledge.
Government of Alberta. (2010). Inspiring Education: A dialogue with Albertans. Edmonton, Alberta. Retrieved from
Thomas, D., & Seely Brown, J. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. United States: Createspace.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Innovation, creativity and traditional school?

I am about to conduct fieldwork to explore teacher experience with innovation in the classroom. Many, including myself are wanting teachers to shift their practice away from an authority of knowledge to what the Alberta government calls in Inspiring Education an, “Architect of Knowledge”. We want students to use technology as a tool to support innovation and discovery. Good heavens have we stopped for a moment to really look at what we are asking here? Do teachers know themselves how to use technology as a tool to support their own innovation and discovery?

I sat today and played a little with a thesaurus and the three words, innovation, creativity and tradition. This is what I came up with:

Creativity is:












Innovation is:



cutting edge




latest thing

leading edge



state of the art


The thesaurus came up with what seemed to me a pretty positive list for creativity and innovation while a rather mixed list for tradition. Regardless of the list it appears, at the moment this 'shift' we want teachers to maneuver is an easy one step for some, and a great leap into the darkness for others. I look around and wonder what gives? I never lost my kindergarten curiosity, so I played around further with the collection of words from the tradition list a little and this is what I came up with:

We are asking teachers regardless of their age and experience to leave behind stable firm ground, a secure place of wisdom, heritage and a culture of established practice. Tradition is an accepted, familiar comfortable place founded on a confirmed, tried and true verified method to get the ‘job of school’ done. It has been endorsed by the popular, everyday way of thinking about school by society in general. It is a system instituted and entrenched by time-honoured tradition. While at the same time acknowledge as a universal over the entire planet. Tradition is old, it is old school, old hat and without thinking it produces same old, same old teaching. I think the problem for some that travel in the teaching landscape is that they may have been pulled into a rut, fixed there firm on custom. Perhaps becoming too familiar leads some teach more out of habit, playing it safe with the conventional and happy with the ordinary. Based on the collection of words I came up with. Tradition can be both a wonderful and constrained place if the rules become fixed and the stories of experienced are hushed. I think at the heart of this is perhaps the question of what school is for has shifted as we leave the industrial age. School in the industrial age was meant to be efficient. Teachers were just ‘cogs in the wheel’. School became a place of ‘teacher musts’ sent from a place that did think deeply about what school was for. Traditionally teachers were never really invited to participate intellectually in curriculum as John Dewey suggested about 100 years ago. I am more interested in the question of how do we shift a the system that once discouraged participation to now encourage teachers to engage in mindful, thoughtful interaction with why we have school? The rug that teachers stand on has just been pulled. The question should not be what is wrong with teachers? We need to ask how do we support teachers to find their own feet? As a teacher do I really own my own learning? How do we give teachers a voice to their own questions in their own learning and to treat them like participatory citizens that Dewey suggested?

The questions that continue to concern me as a teacher/researcher are:

1. What opportunities do teachers have to make sense of their experiences with innovation and change?

2. We do not make it easy for students to be innovative by making it difficult for teachers to be innovative. Can we describe clearly what is standing in the way of teachers becoming both creative and innovative?

3. Technology changes quickly, teachers regularly come into contact with technology they have no experience with. How do we help them gain this experience and reduce their frustration?

4. To become an architect of learning requires teachers to teach differently than they were taught (we can not give what we do not have). How can we support teachers to build their own profession learning networks during working hours?

5. Given that People not technology will be the solutions to problems, how do we adjust the structure of the working environment to allow for the free flowing exchange of ideas to support their personalized learning?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

'Crisping' up the research pitch

Architects of Innovative Learning Environments: A Descriptive Case Study

Doctoral Research Question:

How do teachers make sense of their experiences with new and emerging technologies (innovation and change) such as the iPad?

1. Background

(Perhaps because I am a teacher I believe your experience is important)

· I wish to clarify the complexity of your teaching experience as you engage with innovation and change.

· I also wish to promote understanding and empathy of your experience and your perceptions, within the iPad project

(Because a teacher’s experience is both unique and common, your story has the potential to “teach”)

· Your story will be the foundation for my doctoral dissertation

· Your story may inform future strategies to support fellow teachers

· The lessons learned may inform future school reform and professional development opportunities for teachers

2. What you will be asked to do

(Because understanding is social, takes place over time and best done within it natural setting)

· Participate in ongoing dialogue within your school day 6-8 weeks

· Share your choice of apps and how the iPad is used in teacher administration such as lesson plans, day plans, calendars

· Allow me to take photos to describe the classroom and iPad use (no students) I will ask for your permission before any photos of you are used in future presentations

3. My Role

Because I believe I will not learn your story by becoming a burden or making you uncomfortable

· I am only interested in your experience with the iPad, however I am willing to participate in any classroom activities (an extra set of supportive hands in a busy classroom)

· My presence will provide an opportunity for dialogue and perhaps personal reflection

· I will be keeping field texts to describe setting, make observations, capture conversations and reflect on my own experience

· I will try to capture and honour your voice and provide opportunities for you to clarify your story

4. My Beliefs

· We are connected through story, we make sense of experience by telling stories

· We do not make it easy for students to be innovative by making it difficult for teachers to be innovative

· Technology changes quickly, teachers will regularly come into contact with technology they have no experience with

· Innovation (Architects of learning) requires teachers to teach differently than they were taught

· People not technology will be the solutions to problems

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Capacity of Story

John Dewey has left behind a story that I believe I might be able to re-introduce. In his story he told us that a participatory citizen requires a competence to tell and understand stories; also that we do not make it easy for students to learn, by making it difficult for teachers to learn. Participatory citizens in culture means it is possible for us to learn from the stories we tell each other. In culture there is no solo voice. “All human experience is social: it involves contact and communication” (Dewey, 1938, p. 38). Dewey would teach us that experience is a moving force, like a vine growing on top of itself.

Good teachers try to organize the conditions of experience for their students, they then allow their students to personalize their experience by re-tell their story in their own words. I would add that stories that teach, are re-created and co-constructed with each telling, in this way good teachers let the ‘experience’ be the teacher. Good teachers do not expect the future telling of a story with educative power to be the same as it was in the past telling. Teachers thus become the architects, designers or gardeners of learning rather than transmitters of a static finished product. Some call it lived experience.

Experience that educates (the story told in lived experience) is valued and judged by not only those remembering the event as the storyteller but also those who imagine themselves in the story as listeners. Stories that educate need to live. Dewey taught us that experience potentially is a teacher, but there will be no learning without the story of experience. How we access educative stories is dependent on our connection to each other, and our ability to listen is effected by our attentiveness to this connection. With our tools of technology we have built a structure around the earth. We live within it. As Marshal McLuhan (1968) expresses, the environment has become a technological thing. Nature is not separate or at war with technology, both are included in this environment. Our tools not only extend our humanity but also have become a place we live and connect. Good or bad we are now connected in a more powerful way. “We're just increasing our humanness and our ability to connect to each other regardless of geography" Case 2010. This technological environment is just helping us behave more ‘human-like’ in our storytelling ways. As humans, whether in an artist, scientist, or storyteller mode, it is unwise to disconnect from the tools we make, the value choices we make in their use and the experience we have with them.

We are a creative, curious, storytelling people. Should we think of stories as disconnected tools in teaching and learning or is it better to think of them as partners in learning? Can we really put down our creations once we have made them or do they come with us as we move in experiential learning? With this 'capacity' of story, what might happen if we make teachers storytellers? Could their story then become a teacher? What might happen if we bring together two voices that do not normally have common dialogue with each other, such as teachers and school reformers? What might I learn if I place myself between them?

This thinking was imagined while reading, “Letting Stories Breathe” by Arthur W. Frank and revisiting the following:

Case, A. (2011). We are all cyborgs now | Video on TED Talk, . Retrieved from

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York, NY, USA: Kappa Delta Pi.

McLuhan, M., and Mailer, N. (1968). Debate on CBC Television, . Retrieved from

Diana Laufenberg: How to learn? From mistakes | Video on

The kind of experiential learning that this talk beautifully describes requires teachers to teach in a way that they have not experienced themselves either as students or in becoming a teachers.
So... I ask how do we (School) then make is easier for teachers to think of themselves as learners? How do we make is safe for them to fail?

Diana Laufenberg: How to learn? From mistakes | Video on