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Ontological, epistemological and methodological commitments in practitioner-research

Jack Whitehead
University of Bath

Jean McNiff
University of Limerick

Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Manchester, 16-18 September 2004

(In the symposium on: "Have We Created A New Epistemology For The New Scholarship Of Educational Enquiry Through Practitioner Research? Developing Sustainable Global Educational Networks Of Communication" with Jean McNiff; Caitriona McDonagh, Bernie Sullivan, Mairin Glenn, University of Limerick Joan Whitehead, Bernie Fitzgerald University of the West of England ; Marian Naidoo, National Institute for Mental Health England; Jack Whitehead, University of Bath.)

Abstract

We are both undertaking enquiries as we support educators in higher degree study in different countries. Our enquiries focus on explaining what we do as professional educators that will influence the quality of learning of others.

We encourage practitioner-researchers to ask questions of the kind, ‘How do I improve what I am doing for personal and social benefit?’ Accepting that practitioner-research is a form of educational research that has significant potentials for the education of social formations, we therefore aim to transform discourses of regulatory principles into transformatory discourses of political practices (Mouffe, 2000). Our transformatory discourses include the transformation of our embodied values into living and communicable standards of judgement.

In our efforts to create a systematic knowledge base, in response to Snow (2001) and Hiebert, Gallimore and Stigler (2002), we explain how we are transforming the social, political, and historical contexts within which our research is located into new forms of global influence (Herman, E. S. and McChesney, 1997). Our methodologies are first to exercise self-critique in relation to the judgements we make; second to invite critique through our networked communications with peers; third to present that critical process to an expanded critical forum in the shape of this presentation. We hope in this way to strengthen our interconnecting networks of communicative action in which individuals, groups, communities and networks can share accounts of learning in order to live more fully their educational values in their varied contexts.

This Abstract is placed within the shared commitments of the presenters at the Symposium to the original proposal accepted by the BERA conference organisers:

We are a group of practitioner-researchers working across the levels of education systems. Each of us asks, ‘How do I improve what I am doing for personal and social good?’ Each of us aims to generate our personal educational theories to show how we are doing so through our contributions to the education of social formations in our own settings. We believe that the validity of our efforts lies in the generation of educational theories of professional practice. A criterion for the legitimation of such validity claims is the capacity of educators to show how they are holding themselves accountable for their work as they seek to exercise their educative influence at local and global levels. We explain how we are fulfilling our understanding that acceptance of individual responsibility for ourselves and to each other through collaborative self-study is at the heart of global influence.

We will produce evidence to support our claims that we are contributing to sustainable forms of global understanding through education. We will do this by offering descriptions and explanations of our educational practices in different settings, as we extend our educative influence for social good. We aim to show how our public accounts of theory-generation contribute to a systematic knowledge base. From the ground of clarifying the meanings of our embodied values and using them as educational standards of judgment we show how contributing to this knowledge base constitutes a form of theory-generation that has profound implications for educational practices world-wide.

Each of the presenters will explain their learning processes as they research the realisation of their educational values within their social situations.

The significance of our presentation for educational research lies in showing how, in response to Snow's call to systematize our professional knowledge-base, the collaborative production of evidence-based accounts can contribute to this knowledge base. We show how this knowledge base, in response to Coulter and Wiens, Feldman and Noffke, can influence the trajectories of social change. We show how what begins as the personal accountability of self-study has the potential to impact on processes of organisational and social change at local levels, and how this can transform into the education of social formations at global levels. We explain how the knowledge base, which contains multi-media presentations of personal enquiries undertaken collaboratively, can be disseminated through global networks, in live and electronic forms.

Our Ontological, Epistemological And Methodological Commitments In Practitioner-Research.

BERA and AERA are the two annual educational research conferences to which we regularly submit accounts of our research for public testing. In these contributions we analyse the growth of our educational knowledge. This Symposium is focused on our learning since giving presentations to AERA in April 2004 from Jean on:

Every Which Way (McNiff, 2004a),

and from Jack on:

Jack Whitehead's ontological commitments in self-study (Whitehead, 2004a)

These were contributions to the AERA Symposium of the Self-Study in Teacher Education Practices, Special Interest Group on, The transformative potential of individuals' collaborative self-studies for sustainable global educational networks of communication (Whitehead & McNiff, 2004)

We will analyse our learning in terms of the following points from the Abstract that are related to the growth of educational knowledge:

Explaining how we are transforming the social, political, and historical contexts within which our research is located, into new forms of global influence;

The global influence we have in mind is an educational influence. Our contributions to transforming the social, political and historical contexts within which our action research is located are focused on educating ourselves, influencing the education of others and influencing the education of the social formations in which we are living and working. In particular we are seeking to contribute to an extension in what counts as an educational standard of judgement in the Academy. In making this contribution we have demonstrated in previously published work into our generative and transformational approach to action research (McNiff, 1988, McNiff and Whitehead, 2004), the possibility that embodied ontological values, in the self-studies of the educational enquiries of practitioner researchers, can be transformed, through their clarification as they emerge in practice, into living epistemological standards of judgement that can be used to legitimate a contribution to educational knowledge in the Academy. We are seeing our contribution to the education of the social formations of the Universities, in terms of the public recognition of the validity of the processes and the living epistemological standards of judgement through that we have helped to bring the embodied knowledge of practitioners into the Academy as part of a scholarly discourse. The legitimation of such living epistemological standards of judgement has included a sustained engagement with the power relations associated with the truth of power and the power of truth. These political engagements (Whitehead, 1993) have appeared inescapable in the contexts of examining boards that need to resolve differences in examiners’ judgements in making recommendations to a University Senate on the acceptance or rejection of particular contributions to educational knowledge.

In terms of transforming the historical context in our educational influence we recognise shifts in our beliefs as we integrate into our learning some insights from postcolonial theory (Murray, 2004), peace education (McNiff 2004b) and inclusionality (Rayner, 2004). Through such integrations we are continuously reinterpreting our historical context through our practitioner-research as we seek to live more fully the values that carry hope for the future of humanity including the value of living with a passion for compassion (Naidoo 2004). We recognise that for these values to characterise the education of social formations then there will need to be a transition to a post-traditional morality. These values, which we use as critical standards of judgement in our living theories, are open to question in relation to both the truth of our assertions and the rightness of our values and like Habermas we ask the question:

But how can the transition to a post-traditional morality as such be justified? Traditionally established obligations rooted in communicative action do not of themselves reach beyond the limits of the family, the tribe, the city, or the nation. However, the reflexive form of communicative action behaves differently: argumentation of its very nature points beyond all particular forms of life….. the practice of deliberation is extended to an inclusive community that does not in principle exclude any subject capable of speech and action who can make relevant contributions. ……The bottom line is that the participants have all already entered into the cooperative enterprise of rational discourse. (Habermas 2002, pp 40-41)

The focus on learning in our research is also consistent with Habermas’ point about learning processes towards the end of his monumental text on The Theory of Communicative Action:

"….. I have attempted to free historical materialism from its philosophical ballast. Two abstractions are required for this: I) abstracting the development of the cognitive structures from the historical dynamic of events, and ii) abstracting the evolution of society from the historical concretion of forms of life. Both help in getting beyond the confusion of basic categories to which the philosophy of history owes its existence.

A theory developed in this way can no longer start by examining concrete ideals immanent in traditional forms of life. It must orient itself to the range of learning processes that is opened up at a given time by a historically attained level of learning. It must refrain from critically evaluating and normatively ordering totalities, forms of life and cultures, and life-contexts and epochs as a whole. And yet it can take up some of the intentions for which the interdisciplinary research program of earlier critical theory remains instructive.

Coming at the end of a complicated study of the main features of a theory of communicative action, this suggestion cannot count even as a "promissory note." It is less a promise than a conjecture." (Habermas, 1987, p. 383)

We also draw insights from socio-cultural theory in the creation of our own living educational theories and are grateful for the clarity of Skidmore’s (2003) communication of his own socio-cultural perspective.

We agree with Skidmore on the following:

Researchers working in the tradition of socio-cultural learning theory proposed the metaphor of ‘scaffolding’ to describe the role of the tutor in enabling the construction of knowledge by less experienced learners (Wood et al. 1976), and outlined a number of specific and inalienable responsibilities which fall to the tutor in facilitating successful learning experiences. For example, it is the tutor who recruits the interest of the learner in the task to be attempted; they may have recourse to simplifying the task, or demonstrating what is to be done in an idealized form; and they may assist the learner by reminding them of what they already know which can help them to make headway in a problem-solving situation, for example by appealing to analogy with the known and familiar as a means of apprehending the new and the strange. The tutor here acts as a ‘vicarious consciousness’ (Bruner 1985), sharing the burden of learning with the student and reducing the complexity of the task to be mastered in order to allow the learner to concentrate on the critical features. This ability to use speech to negotiate a shared understanding of the task at hand is one of the distinctive characteristics of human learning, as Vygotsky pointed out; it is the culturally-mediated nature of human practical activity, especially its imbrication in language, that makes intentional tutoring possible.

It is equally important, however, to recognize that the relationship between tutor and learning which is envisaged in socio-cultural theory is a dynamic and interactive one, not one of fixed dependency. Pedagogy, from this point of view, aspires to the quality of ‘contingent responsiveness’ which also characterises spontaneous conversation (Wells 1987), the tutor’s interventions being governed by the actions and utterances of the learner, treated as evidence of their current state of understanding and of the type and amount of help they (p.125) need to enable them to progress. One would also expect to see a definite direction of development in the evolution of the tutor-learner relationship over time, and in particular, a progressive ‘fading’ of the support provided by the tutor and an increasing transfer of responsibility to the learner for decision making as she/he gains proficiency in a given sphere of activity (Wood and Wood 1996). (Skidmore, 2003, pp. 125-126)

We also find that our inclusional values resonate with the powerful conclusion to his text on inclusion as he analyses the dynamics of school improvement:

Marx’s dictum that, in a truly democratic society, ‘the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all’ (Marx and Engels 1848/1965: 105) could serve as a useful guiding principle for the struggle to create a unified system of comprehensive education, reminding us that the end of education is not to reduce human difference but to allow individuality to flower. However, the socio-cultural theory of mind suggests that a dialectical inversion of Marx’s formation is also necessary. The work of Vygotsky and his followers suggests that the growth of the individual personality depends on our experience of meaningful social interaction with others as participants in a common culture. From this point of view, institutionalized patterns of selection between schools, and of differentiation within them, impoverish and distort the individual development of every student, for they diminish our understanding of human difference. Participation in a diverse learning community is a prerequisite for the growth of each individual’s subjectivity in all its richness; the combined development of all is the condition for the full development of each. (Skidmore, 2003, p. 127)

Where our living educational theory perspectives have developed a different ontological, epistemological and methodology base, can be appreciated by reference to the preface to Skidmore’s text which he opens with a description of his brother, Dominic, being labelled by a local education authority as ‘suffering from such a disability of mind as to make him unsuitable for education at school’. Dominic died at the age of 25 in 1989 from a sudden chest infection and Skidmore has been clearly influenced by his brother’s life and experience in developing and expressing his passion to contribute to improvements in the dynamics of school improvement through inclusion. We have different life-experiences which motivate our passions for education and ground ourselves as living contradictions. As we study ourselves as living contradictions, through a generative and transformational approach to action research (McNiff 1989), we offer for public criticism our claims that our accounts of our own learning and educational influence, in terms of our values, are contributing to the growth of educational knowledge. We also tend place a different emphasis than Skidmore on the importance of dialectical and dialogical relationships between researching our lives as living contradictions and moving towards participatory or inclusional forms of diverse learning communities.

One of our concerns with the socio-cultural theoretical perspective used by Skidmore to characterise his educational research is that his language and logic, while valuable in enhancing our understanding about inclusive practices within schools, may be limiting his understanding of how the values of inclusion could influence the dynamics of school improvement. We understand that we are making this point from our own living theory perspective and that this focuses on practitioner-researchers enquiring into the educational influence of their own values of inclusion as they ask, research and answer questions of the kind, ‘how do I improve my practice?’ and ‘how do we improve our practice?’

Exercising self-critique in relation to the judgements we make;

Because we identify much of our productive lives in education with making contributions to educational knowledge we tend to critique ourselves in terms of our ‘not-understanding’ as well as celebrating the hope in our achievements. Before we embark on original work of our own to enhance this understanding we make some effort to see if others have already undertaken such work in a way that we can draw on for our own learning. The present focus of our self-critique is on what to do about our lack of understanding of the processes of pedagogising living educational theories in a way that contributes a global influence to the education of social formations.

In relation to the four questions below asked by Whitehead (2004b) about the evidence base from self-study research we are focusing on the second question:

We are focusing on this second question because of our belief that the evidence base is stronger in relation to the other questions and we wish to contribute to enhancing the educational influence of living standards of judgement from the ground of the ontological values of practitioner-researchers and professional educators. In focusing on the transformation of embodied ontological values into living epistemological standards of judgement we are agreeing with Bullough and Pinnegar that:

"The consideration of ontology, of one’s being in and toward the world, should be a central feature of any discussion of the value of self-study research" (Bullough & Pinnegar, 2004 p. 319)

Having demonstrated the possibility of legitimating living educational theories in the Academy, of creating distinctively educational research methodologies (McNiff, 2004 a & b) and of developing living logics of educational enquiry (Whitehead, 1999) we are now focusing on the issues of communicating the nature of the processes through which embodied ontological values can be transformed into living epistemological standards of judgement, in the process of clarifying their meanings as they emerge in practice. In our experience these clarifications and transformations involve the expression of critical judgement in a process of democratic evaluation (Macdonald, 1976). They also involve the recognition of a process of creative compliance (MacDonald, 1987) in engagements with the tensions between the power of truth and the truth of power in legitimating these living standards within the Academy:

Perhaps, in the present circumstances, defeated for the time being by force majeure, we need to construct a theory of educational resistance, perhaps a black economy of inadmissable enterprise and undeclared outcomes. We need to culture the arts of creative compliance, as subject peoples have learned to do. Certainly we need to repair the damage done by divide and rule strategies, to rebuild old alliances and forge new ones, to reconstruct the checks and balances of a severely disabled infrastructure. And just as certainly we must not concede to simplified definitions of the teaching/learning task or to forms of control that cannot take its complexity into account. (MacDonald, 1987, p.5)

MacDonald’s ideas on democratic evaluation were influential in Whitehead’s early research into improving learning and the creation and sustaining of networks of teacher-researchers (Whitehead, 1976)

Inviting critique through our networked communications with peers;

We share an understanding of the significance for the growth of our educational knowledge of the critiques we receive through our networked communications with peers. For example, consider Murray’s questioning of Whitehead’s values and educational influence:

Where is the evidence of the critical engagement with the ideas of critical race theorists, critical non-racial theorists and post-colonial theorists in the formation of the identities and practices of individuals you are working with? Where is the evidence of your influence in respect of alerting them to enhancing the quality of their work by making themselves familiar with these epistemologies? (Why should you/they when they can get their PhDs/do their AR writing without making reference to their critical knowledge?) (Murray, 2003) (Whitehead, 2004, p. 897 )

and Whitehead’s response in his contribution on ‘Do the values and living logics I express in my educational relationships carry the hope of Ubuntu for the future of humanity?’

in support of the BERA 04 Symposium on How are we contributing to a new scholarship of educational enquiry through our pedagogisation of postcolonial living educational theories in the Academy?

In responding to Murray’s original criticism Whitehead began an enquiry into the values of the African cosmology of Ubuntu to see if he could understand and embrace these values ontologically and bring them into his critical standards of judgement on his learning and educational influence. He accepted the following ideas in his readings and conversations on the values of Ubuntu:

Each individual's humanity is ideally expressed through his or her relationship with others and theirs in turn through a recognition of the individual's humanity. Ubuntu means that people are people through other people…(Government Gazette, 02/02/1996, No.16943, p.18, paragraph 18—quoted by Broodryk, 1997a:1). (Louw, 1998)

Murithi (2001) added to Whitehead’s understandings of the values of Ubuntu in his analysis of practical peacemaking in Africa and his reflections on Ubuntu:

The wisdom of this process lies in the recognition that it is not be possible to build a healthy community at peace with itself unless past wrongs are acknowledged and brought out into the open so that the truth of what happened can be determined and social trust renewed through a process of forgiveness and reconciliation. A community in which there is no trust is ultimately not viable and gradually begins to tear itself apart. With reference to the notion of I am because we are and that of a person being a person through other people, the above process emphasises drawing upon these ubuntu values when faced with the difficult challenge of acknowledging responsibility and showing remorse, or of granting forgiveness (Murithi, 2001)

As Whitehead communicated his desire to support the enhancement of the flow of the values of Ubuntu in his own practice and through the interconnecting and branching networks of communication offered by the internet (Whitehead, 2004c), Murray questioned Whitehead’s belief that he could live the postcolonial spiritual values of Ubuntu in his educational relationships on the grounds that Whitehead’s ‘I’ felt very Western and European while to get closer to the values of Ubuntu Murray believes that Whitehead will need to understand a sense of self that is closer to African and Arab cultural expressions of ‘i in we:

"I live within an extended Arab/Omani/British family where 'we' is used only when 'I' see's the other in Ubuntu, in extended family connection, in a solidary space where we feel at one in terms of identity and integrity. This feels so very different to your formulary above. For this 'we' to happen there has to be an eastern/southern "solidary logic" at work which is fundamentally communicative, rather than a Western/northern "atomistic logic" at work that is fundamentally ex-communicative." (Murray, 23/08/04, e-mail).

For Murray the practical spirit of Ubuntu flows from a sense of ethno-community where 'we' comes into existence when my 'I' alongside lots of other 'I''s is subordinated to 'we-i'. The moment 'we' happens is when my 'i' fully understands (and values, appreciates and accepts) the responsibilities for how my identity and integrity is embraced within the 'we' of the extended family, and this is the first step in an ethno-community held in Ubuntu or similar cosmology. Murray believes that the 'i' set up in eastern and southern cultures is an 'i' that is 'we-i' and says that the Western and European 'I' has to learn how to let go of 'I' as a procedure to be satisfied before making the move to 'we', which usually entails agonising over one's space, one's autonomy, one's sense of identity. In eastern/southern indigenous cultures the movement in 'we-i' space is seamless.

In our thoughtful engagement with the issues of identity, integrity and divisiveness we seek to understand the forms of logic that sustain divisiveness, we then use that understanding and exercise our own transformative logics to enquire into the transformations of our personal and social situations into non-divisive relationships that celebrate our common humanity. Our concern is that we do not succumb to pressure to stay locked within a mentality in which divisiveness is the norm but show how we are trying to establish new norms of inclusionality (Whitehead & Fitzgerald, 2004; Rayner, 2004; Naidoo, 2004). While assisting Whitehead to develop his understanding of inclusionality, McNiff (2002) has exemplified how we live our commitment to inclusional practices, through her own, in the preface to the third edition of Action Research For Professional Development :

"….. this year marks the twenty-first anniversary of my learning partnership with Jack Whitehead.

This text is as much Jack’s as mine. For the last 21 years, Jack has been a major influence in my life of education. During that time our ideas have developed through our own caring, creatively critical conversations. While some specific ideas that appear in this text belong to one or other of us (for example, Jack’s action plans, his ideas about the living ‘I’, about experiencing oneself as a living contradiction, and about the nature of living educational theories; and Jean’s ideas about the generative transformational nature of the evolutionary processes of human enquiry), many of the ideas have been developed collaboratively. It is a remarkable partnership, especially in light of the fact that we don’t see each other that often, given that Jack lives and works in Bath, and Jean commutes from her home in Dorset to work in Ireland. When we do see each other, therefore, it is an all the more intensely rich experience, for we have much to catch up on and new ideas to talk through.

Both Jack and I are passionately interested in issues concerning knowledge, especially the forms of knowledge and knowledge creation that action research embodies. I have learnt from Jack the power of sharing ideas to generate new ones, and how we need to use our technologies to make those ideas freely accessible to all. Because of this commitment to sharing ideas, this text is no longer available as a commercial publication, but is here, free, to use as you wish.

We invite you to become part of our educative conversations. You can do this by accessing www.actionresearch.net, or www.jeanmcniff.com ." (McNiff, 2002)

For the evidence in the living theory section of actionresearch.net to show that such inclusional values have been legitimated in the knowledge-base of the Academy, in the form of living epistemological standards of judgement, Whitehead believes that he will have to address the problem that the values in a Western ‘I’ do not migrate easily across cultural borders, east and south, and that the value of Ubuntu or similar cosmologies that hold the values of ‘i in we’ do not migrate easily across cultural borders, north and west. His belief in the educational possibility of the generative and transformative approach of action research (McNiff 1989) of bringing these values alongside (Pound, 2003) each other in speaking inclusionally and 'cross-culturally' is grounded in the evidence provided in the doctoral thesis of Ram Punia that the western influence of ‘I-You’ relationships can work creatively alongside ‘we-i’ relationships. Punia’s self-study is focused on his life-long learning into the making of an international educator with spiritual values:

This autobiographical self-study presents my living educational theory of lifelong learning as an international educator with spiritual values including belief in cosmic unity and the continuous professional development for personal and social development of life in general. The landscape of knowledge includes India, UK, Singapore, Hong Kong, Fiji, Samoa and Mauritius in several roles including a lecturer, teacher trainer, a change agent in curriculum, staff and school development, a training technologist in corporate learning and a student in the University of Bath. (Punia, 2004, Thesis Abstract)

Naidoo (2004) has been exploring the potential of visual narratives in multi-media accounts for clarifying and communicating the meanings of inclusional values in the course of their emergence in the practice of educational enquiry. Her work is particularly significant for this Symposium as she demonstrates, through a visual narrative how the process of clarifying and communicating the meaning of inclusional values, such as a passion for compassion, transforms them into living and communicable, epistemological standards of judgement.

Presenting that critical process to expanded critical forums.

We have extended our presentation of the above critical process to other critical forums such as AERA and global e-forums to show how we transform our ontological values into living epistemological standards of judgement through clarifying their meaning in the course of their emergence in practice. We use these living standards as explanatory principles in accounts of our educational influence. Here is some evidence that demonstrates how others have exercised their own originality of mind and critical judgement in their productive lives as they make their own contributions to educational knowledge. This evidence includes their appreciative and engaged responses (D’Arcy, 1998) to what we have done in our educational relationships and what we have produced in our accounts of our own learning.

Whitehead (Joan) and Fitzgerald (2004) have supported this action research methodology, explicitly from the writings of McNiff (1998), in their work with Brislington Training School. Delong (2004) has integrated the approach within the development of a culture of educational inquiry within the Grand Erie District School Board in Canada. Williams (2004) has integrated and extended the ideas in Australia in his own research and supervision of practitioner researchers in their workplaces. Adler-Collins (2004) has integrated the approach in his pedagogisation of his living educational theory and embodied knowledge of being a healing nurse in the nursing curriculum of Fukuoka University in Japan. Laidlaw (2004) has integrated the approach in the development of action research with Chinese characteristics in China’s Experimental Centre for Educational Action Research in Foreign Languages Teaching. McNiff (2004) has extended presentations of this process in Ireland (McNiff, McNamara & Leonard 2000), Israel (McNiff 2003a) and South Africa (McNiff 2003b).

One of the most impressive contributions to developing and presenting this critical process to expanded critical forums can be seen in the work of Peggy Leong, the Manager of the Academy of Best Learning in Education (ABLE) at the Singapore Institute of Technical Education (ITE). Leong’s (1991) Masters Dissertation on ‘The Art of an Educational Inquirer’, continues to inspire me through its powerful aesthetic form and rigorous attention to scholarship. In this educational enquiry Leong shows how tensions to retain her personal and cultural integrity and identity are held together with a desire to learn from the ideas and values encountered in a different culture. In her most recent presentation to an international conference in Thailand Leong (2004) outlines an approach to improving education developed through the creativity of staff at ITE. This approach is named PEPP & ER because it involves a process of Planning, Exploring, Practising and Performing and habits of Enquiry and Reflection. It draws insights explicitly from the action research approaches to professional development developed by McNiff and Whitehead:

"More than 10 years after my dissertation was written, the acceptance of Action Research has spread its wings and evidence of its influence on the professional development of educators reside in the world wide web in various forms. The adoption of an Action Research process by the MOE of Singapore for the professional development of teachers in 1998 signals that the achievements of Action Research in that it is valued for what it sets out to do: to improve educational practices with the teacher or practitioner at the heart of the research inquiry. Action Research has evolved and established itself as a professional development approach that has universal appeal to teachers and cuts across diverse cultures having been recently introduced to Guyuan Teachers' College, Ningxia Province, China (Laidlaw, 2004). Action Research is about change - in the people who value and believe that change brings progress and personal, professional and social development. In 2002, Jean McNiff’s definition of Action Research in the second edition of her book "Action Research: Principles and Practice" also shows her professional development when compared with the earlier 1988 definition:

"Action research is a name given to a particular way of researching your own learning. It is a practical way of looking at your practice in order to check whether it is as you feel it should be. If you feel that your practice is satisfactory you will be able to explain how and why you believe this is the case; you will be able to produce evidence to support your claims. If you feel that your practice needs attention in some way you will be able to take action to improve it, and then produce evidence to show in what way the practice has improved."

It is this on this basis of Action Research that PEPP&ER Framework has been developed." (Leong, 2004)

In offering this evidence of our educational influence to extended critical forums we want to stress that the only individuals we are claiming responsibility for in terms of a direct influence in their education is ourselves. When we claim to have influenced the education of others what we are meaning is that something we have done, said, written or shown has been mediated by another’s originality of mind and critical judgement within their own learning. This is an important point for our work as educational researchers. We are both more than twice the age of BERA and have spent BERA’s lifetime in living a productive life in education. We find hope in looking back at our achievements, especially when what we have produced has been found useful by others. Hence our only disagreement with the ideas below from the early unpublished writings of Marx on producing things as human beings is the point about directly creating another’s life. In our view of education our influence is not direct, it is mediated through the others originality and critical judgement.

Suppose we had produced things as human beings: in his production each of us would have twice affirmed himself and the other.

In my production I would have objectified my individuality and its particularity, and in the course of the activity I would have enjoyed an individual life, in viewing the object I would have experienced the individual joy of knowing my personality as an objective, sensuously perceptible, and indubitable power.

In your satisfaction and your use of my product I would have had the direct and conscious satisfaction that my work satisfied a human need, that it objectified human nature, and that it created an object appropriate to the need of another human being.

I would have been the mediator between you and the species and you would have experienced me as a redintegration of your own nature and a necessary part of yourself; I would have been affirmed in your thought as well as your love.

In my individual life I would have directly created your life, in my individual activity I would have immediately confirmed and realized my true human nature. (Bernstein, 1971, p. 48)

Catriona McDonagh and Mairin Glenn have demonstrated their originalities of mind and critical judgement in such mediations in their contributions to this Symposium. McDonagh (2004) provides the evidence that shows how she is exercising her educational influence with individuals and groups. In this demonstration of her own learning and her acknowledge of the influence of our ideas, McDonagh has also provided us with the evidence of how we have influenced her actions with the individuals and the groupings she works with. Glenn (2004) provides similar evidence as she shares her understandings on how technology can help to sustain global educational networks of communication:

I am seeking to understand my values as I give them life in my everyday work practices and living. I am examining this understanding at two levels: the practical and the theoretical. I am gradually coming to know in a way that is different to my previous way of knowing, I can see how my values are being re-generated repeatedly in a series of generative transformational patterns (McNiff, 2002, 2003) which are inherent not only in my claim to knowledge but also in how I have undertaken my research and how I live my life. (Glenn, 2004)

Our commitment to research the development of our communicative action in our relationships with those we work with has led to our present question; How do we show how those we work with also come to commit to developing communicative action in relation to their networks? We are hopeful that at BERA 05 we will be able to show that these networks are characterised by non-coercive relationships that encourage independence and interdependence in all participants to exercise their capacity to make their original contributions to their own knowledge, to influence the education of others and the education of social formations (Hartog, 2004). We intend to draw on insights on the evaluation of international networks that have emerged from the doctoral work of Madeline Church and her collaborators (Church, et.al.2002). We also intend to extend the effectiveness of our action research as we evaluate the use of insights on collaborative inquiry (Reason, 2002 & 2004) and living systemic thinking (Marshall 2004).

We believe that at the heart of our educational action research is a responsiveness to others as we seek to understand and respond to the learning needs of our students. We also accept a responsibility as educational researchers to submit our accounts of learning for public criticism in order to test and to strengthen their validity as contributions to educational knowledge. So, we are hoping to receive your responses as we seek to enhance our own learning and our educational influence in the social formations in which we live and work.

References

Adler-Collins, J. (2004) What am I learning as I research my life in Higher Education as a healing nurse, researcher and Shingon Buddhist priest and as I pedagogise a curriculum for healing nurses? A presentation to the BERA 04 Symposium: How are we contributing to a new scholarship of educational enquiry through our pedagogisation of postcolonial living educational theories in the Academy?, in Manchester.

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This document was added to the Education-line database on 08 December 2004