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.

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