action research rojak

A summary of a book I have just finished reading on Action Research. The summary is a rojak of different passages in the book that are interesting to me and the research I intend to do.

Action research – a methodology for change and development
By: Bridget Somekh [Open University Press – McGraw-Hill Education, 2006]

I picked up this book in the NIE library when I was looking for some books on Action Research and Design Research. I’m still not quite sure what exactly the difference is between the two, or perhaps there is an overlap of some sort, whereby Design Research focuses on the instructional design more than its implementation, whereby Action Research more focuses on the implementation? Still a question to be further explored.

Back to the book, it’s very insightful, as Somekh uses her personal experiences in doing action research, which she started doing in the 1980s and explores different fields and uses of action research. It’s interesting to read how a practitioner does research as most of the articles or book chapters I have read so far explaining about action research approach it more theoretically.

Some common threads keep reappearing, throughout the book. I will just randomly summarise some of the points she made that I found interesting and think I can use in my own research.

1. action research in ‘developing countries’ (pp. 32-40)

When doing action research in Brazil and South-Africa, during times of political she found that the fear and the hope of the political change reflected in her research findings. As she didn’t fully understand this impact, being a European researcher, she needed help from her local colleagues there to get a better view on the situation.

This made her feel inadequate at times and a feeling of guilt being “white” in a place where “white” people were seen as the oppressor. She quotes Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1972)” on this, who believes that:

“Genuine education can only be experienced through ‘praxis’, that is combined reflection and action through which the consequences of action ‘become the object of critical reflection’”.

The following statement she quoted of Freire made me think:

“Oppression is a ‘cultural invasion’ which is a complex process whereby even those whose intention it is to liberate will perpetuate oppression unless they engage consciously in praxis, in partnership with the oppressed, rather than as their intended benefactors.”

So, am I actually an oppressor? Am I engaging my students in praxis? I am trying to do so, but sometimes the means and time are not there to do it the way we would like to do it.

2. action research from the inside: a teacher’s perspective (pp. 62-73)

In this section of the book she gives a vivid account of her action research project she did in the late 1980s when she just started as a school teacher. At the time she had to prepare her students for the national ‘O’ levels exams in poetry and at the same time she wanted to encourage the students to enjoy poetry.

She started of teaching poetry using one particular poet and asking opinions from the entire class on the poems that she recited. She discovered that the students could not relate to the poet that she had chosen and also that it was already difficult for most students to try and understand the poem, let alone speak in front of the entire class to voice out how they interpreted it.

True recording and active dialogue with the students she revised her lesson plan and gave the students one book with famous poems and the freedom to select poems from other books of their choice. The students were then to discuss poems of their own choice within smaller groups. Lastly they had to write their interpretation of the poems and optionally to write their own poem, of any form they chose. All of this very much in line with situated cognition and socio-constructivism, though she doesn’t mention that.

What is interesting is not so much on how she changed her lesson structure during her research, but how the students responded to it. She mentions for instance that initially in the group work the students did not really take the assignment seriously, until they discovered that they were being recorded and that what they said was listened to. Somekh sees this as the students feeling involved in the research, being listened to, but I wonder whether it is not just a case of fearing that they will get a bad mark, or a bad representation in the research report.

Another interesting finding is that she let each of the students whom she had quoted and transcribed in her research report read their own story and comment and approve that it can be used. One of the students read the story about himself and then asked why she had changed his name. After that she decided to use the pupils real names instead and they had a proud feeling of it.

At the same time I’m wondering how I would collect data and interact with my students on my research if I were to do an action research. Probably I will need to use some form of ICT to do so.

3. Action research and innovative pedagogies with ICT (pp. 178-195)

She uses the notion of “exploratory praxis”, whereby she is using Susan Noffke’s definition of praxis as:

the continuous interplay between doing something and revising our thought about what ought to be done

This is something I can very much relate to. I think when teaching a topic, we have an idea of what we need to do, afterwards we reflect on it, or sometimes even while teaching and then get new ideas of what needs to be done. Even though we plan, we also need to be flexible and respond and interact with the learners.

In the research project PELRS she describes that the teachers in the study are co-researchers, doing the action research. In the past research had been focused on how ICT could be used more effictively to support traditional pedagogy rather than looking at how it could be used to support the introduction of new pedagogic practies. Somekh’s research was focused on the latter.

Secondly she introduces the Structuration theory of Giddens as an influence on the design of the research. This theory is interesting as it addresses the resistance against change (by ICT) in an agency (e.g. a school) based on the power and hierarchical structure. Something for me to perhaps research further on. Having seen introduction of ICT in corporate environments and the behaviour of people in those organisations towards the changes that it brought with it, I would like to explore more on this.

Somekh uses the theory to define four outcomes for the learning process (p.182):

  • learn creatively (e.g. contributing, experimenting, solving problems) 
  • learn as active citizens (e.g. acting autonomously, taking responsibility)
  • engage intellectualy with powerful ideas (e.g. using thinking skills, grappling with ideas/concepts)
  • reflect on their own learning (e.g. evaluating it through meta-cognition)

The third aspect influencing the design of her research is a pedagogical underpinning. She states (p.183) that in the learning process of the curriculum with help of ICT, a three-way interaction is created: teacher – learner – ICT. Earlier there were interactions between teacher – learner, learner – learner, but not the learner – ICT interaction is added. ICT intervenes in the teacher – learner interaction by drawing away attention from the teacher to the screen and at the same time also offers a different form of interaction and opportunities from which the teacher will be partly or wholly excluded.

The fourth area of influence is the concept of Vygotsky that all human activity is mediated by the use of tools. A selection of technically expert students were also made co-researchers with the goal to learn from them how they enculturated the use of computers, at school and at home. An interesting finding from this was that although the students found certain software for learning maths boring, but did not voice this out to the teacher during the lesson, as they were afraid by doing so they would not get to use the computers at all anymore.

The last area of theory used in the design of the research is the Activity Theory. This also encorporates Vygotsky’s notion of tools mediating human action within larger organizational strutures. Human activity is never individual and isolated, but is always integrally part of an activity system. She also mentions situated cognition and cites Brown (1989):

“the notion of situated cognition, with its insight that learning is shaped by the context and is most often a joint and distributed process between different minds is a key to understanding activity theory”

The activity framework was used by including not only the school and teachers, but also the home environment, other adults, peers, the community at large as influencing the learning of the students. ICT became a set of mediating tools over which the students could exercise choice and through which they could learn through play and experience flow. Roles of teachers and students were negotiated and learning focus was framed by both teachers and students. The transformative learning outcomes are the four points as mentioned earlier.

Somekh’s generic pedagogic framework (GPF) is highly influenced by:

  • Claxton’s learning styles (2000)
  • Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of intensive engagement in activity or flow (1996)
  • Lave and Wenger’s vision of learning in a community of practice (1991)

I have not heard of Claxton’s learning styles, but very much like the concept of flow and Wenger’s CoP.

Some lessons learnt as Somekh shares on her research:

  • teachers initially enthousiastically adopted the new methods, but the sense of ownership was lacking. They were co-researchers (and assumed to have ownership by having this title) but adopted the methods because the main researchers had established them, not because they directly saw the need to change themselves. Some teachers went back into their old styles of teaching unintentionally and e.g. wrapped up lessons at the end of class timing, instead of at the end of the learning event (project).
  • the GPF diagram contains two levels of outcomes, one on the transformative level and one on the level of the national education program.
  • the student-researchers did not immediately dare to take on their roles, as they were still fixed in the old concept that children are not taken seriously or that their could be consequences for what they would say. Once the relationship with the researcher had been established only, they started to critisize what was going on in the classroom.
  • the introduction of PELRS did not fully succeed as a transformative learning platform, but it did help to introduce ICT and new pedagogies into the education system. There were several constraints, like limited time frame to teach.
  • the introduction of using the internet to get information, provided a liberation on one hand, introducing the students to new info that even the teachers may have limited knowledge about, but on the other hand gave them the need to learn about ‘information literacy’ skills. How to distinguish and filter the trustworthy information from the not trustworthy. Normally teachers / schools would filter out this information, but now the students had to make this distinction themselves.

An interesting read with some interesting pointers for me to further explore on. Changing teaching habits is not easy and introducing new tools will definitely automatically introduce a change, but how to change the pedagogy along with it? Another question is whether the learners (in my case adults) are able to work more or less indepently and collaborate. This is only possible if the goals are negotiated and very clear from the beginning and some form of scaffolding is in place to help them get started.

An insightful and interesting book.

a split blogging personality

Tonight I read this post from Jeremiah Owyang on the other 5 stages of blogging. His take on how blogs evolve and can become successful, go from step 1: Excitement, step 2: Expectation to step 3: Focus, continuing with step 4: Passion and step 5: Achievement. It was his step 3 that set me thinking: Focus. Does my blog have a clear focus?

Funny enough for this blog, my step 1 was the focus, I started this blog with a clear goal as a place to keep track of my research on educational technology. As I was busy with work and some happenings in my private life at the time, the blog became dormant for a while. Only recently I revived it again and at the same time broadened my focus. Including some business related posts, some more on technology not directly related to education and some more on education not directly related to technology.

Some people combine all their writings into a single blog, comprising of personal and professional posts. In my case I have decided to split my writings into several blogs:

whitecat.moblog.com.sg – my personal blog

moblog

The focus of this blog is purely to write about events that are happening in my life and that I want to reflect on. I also do photo blogs, whereby my events are illustrated in the form of photographs. I write in this blog under a pseudonym, to hide my real identity, and protect family and friends that I might write about. Not that I’m writing anything bad, but it’s my personal view on things.

I feel moblog is very good for personal blogging, as it allows the sending of MMS and SMS blogs, so when I’m out and about and see something funny, interesting or worth noting, I snap a picture with my mobile and send it directly to my blog. No need to wait till I’m home, upload to PC first, etc. There are also group blogs, with the option to close the group, so that only invited members can enter and share information, photos, etc on certain topics. The interface can be customised relatively easy to your personal taste.

It would also be a great tool for educational blogging, whereby of course the focus for blogging would be a certain school project. Content Craft, the organisation behind moblog in Singapore, is also setting up blog engines for schools and universities.

whitecatsg.multiply.com – my photo blog

multiply

My multiply blog is my latest online personality. After having had webshots albums online and then my personal website, all were running out of space and I wanted to have one single point where I’m keeping my photos online for sharing with family and friends. I evaluated flickr, photobucket, but found them very similar to webshots and the free amount of photos to share was limited. Multiply it was! I immediately fell in love with the ease and speed of uploading photos, and there is no limit. The only restriction is that the high resolution version of the photo will be automatically deleted from the server when you didn’t order any prints from them within six months. There is even an option to share certain albums or other content only with certain contacts. And creating your own look is fairly easy to do if you know how to use css, and if you don’t you can look at other people’s creations and copy one of them.

Multiply also allows you to create a blog, share music and video content and keep a calendar of events. I’m using the blog option to keep my scuba dive logs, using the reviews section to post my recipe book online, and the calendar to let my friends and family know what I’m doing, if there are any important dates they should know about.

Back to this blog, I am still wondering whether the 5 stages could apply here. I believe that achievement is more pertaining to corporate blogs or people blogging for money or a greater good. In my case, this is just a place where I’m gathering my thoughts and observations. If there are others interested in this, that’s great of course, but not the goal of my blogging. Yet a blog should have a focus, and I think that I have achieved that by splitting up my blogs based on different scopes and target audiences. Should I blog about this in my moblog blog, I’m very sure most of my audience will not be interested in this. Vice versa, if I would add all my personal rantings here in wordpress, I would also draw a different kind of audience. It’s a trade-off, but for the time being, I’ll continue the way I started… a split personality…

my history of the internet and computers

Last week I answered a question on Yahoo! Answers of someone who asked about the history of the internet and when pictures first appeared online. I thought it was quite an interesting question, and triggered me to reminisce about my first experiences with the online world and computing.

I must have been about 13 or 14 years old, in the early 1980’s when we got the first computer at home. That in itself was quite unique to have in those days and my dad had bought it second hand somewhere, because he was interested in this new technology. It came with a B/W monitor of around 10 inches. Its operating system was on a disk (I don’t think it even was  a 5.5 inch floppy, but something before that) and after loading the OS to memory, you could put in another disk to run software. It came with BASIC to create your own software applications. I remember that I tried making some simple BASIC modules, with the classic “GO TO xx”. A few years later the technology already became obsolete and the first PC’s made it to the consumer market. They came with a DOS operating system and large floppy disks. Besides DOS, some applications also became popular in those days, like Word Perfect and Lotus 123. We also got the first computer games: Leisure Suit Larry, which had really amazing graphics, considering that the monitors were ASCII based and had only 16 colours! It was fun going through the adventure and picking up objects that he needed in a later scene. There was also a “Boss key”, by pressing a Function key, it would pop up a complex graph on your screen to pretend to your boss that you are doing something serious and not playing a game.

When I was around 17, I had a summer job at my dad’s office, and got to use a Unix workstation as they used it for some data communication. I learned the Unix commands and how to use the vi-editor. I can’t remember whether I also used email in that time.

Around the same time we also started having computer lessons in school, when I was in sec5 (= comparable with JC1), as an extra lesson carried out by our Maths teacher who was quite interested in this. We did some simple programming as well, calculating with dates and incorporating leap years and summertime / wintertime.

When I was 18, in 1990, I started my university studies and enrolled in a Computer Science degree programme. The first year of my studies we were using Sun workstations with monochrome ascii based screens and my earlier knowledge of Unix came in handy. This was also my first encounter with the internet. We all had an email address and could send each other and our lecturers emails. Practical assignments had to be handed in by email to our practicum teacher-assistant. There were also online newsgroups, which could be accessed by typing the “rn” (read news) command. This was not so much used in our first year in college, but in later years when the practical assignments got more complex, we found ourselves posting questions on the world-wide bulletin boards and searching through earlier posted posts to learn more about certain programming languages. In 1991, my second year in Uni, we got access to Sun X-windows workstations, which used multiple windows and graphic representations with a mouse. Though inside the windows it was still text based commands. It was a huge revolution though, to be able to have 1 window open with your source code and 1 window with your compilation errors. And we had Corel Draw to make graphics to dress up the documents and make diagrams. Initially troff was used as a typesetter to create documents and only at the end of my studies, around 1995 LaTeX (pronounce: lah-tech) was launched, which made typesetting so much easier, using curly brackets with e.g. {heading1}heading text {\heading1}. In troff this would have been several lines of code, I can only remember “.B” for bold face, .I for italic, etc. but there were commands to be added for newline, font type, font size, etc.

But I’m going off topic now, let’s get back to the internet, in the early nineties the first browser came out, which was called Gopher and used hyper text. In those days only a few of the sites were available in Gopher, but we were happy because the Uni library had a search engine for us to search for book and conference proceedings.

Soon after Gopher came Mosaic, which became a more popular browser and allowed showing pictures in between the text. Newsgroup and email were still our main ways of using the internet in those days however and they were still text based. Besides tech-newsgroups, there were also hobby groups starting out and I joined one newsgroup on food recipes in Dutch – nl-culinair. Funny enough I recently found that the guy who had started the group, that was highly popular in those days where only few could use the internet either at work or in university, had put the old threads online and organised them into a modern way. Newsgroups were the predecessor of later day online forums.

In 1996 I graduated from my MSc course and started working. Initially in a government organisation, the Bureau of Statistics in Holland. I was given a PC to work on in the office and was told proudly by my supervisor that it was installed with Windows 95. And since I had studied Computer Science, I should know how to work with it and maybe even help my colleagues to use it. Cold sweat breaking out, I had no idea how to get started, having used Unix for the 6 years before that and done some summer jobs using DOS-based machines with Lotus123 and the latest WP version. Learned fast that Windows was about using the mouse, and not about typing commands. Absolutely hated it in the beginning and Word as well, I had to use the mouse to select and select stuff like font type and size from drop down menus. I did learn fast and was soon able to help out my colleagues with their Windows problems. Was even asked to conduct a training together with a colleague to the entire staff on how to use the Windows version of SPSS, as most were having problems in using it after being familiar with the DOS-based version of this statistics programs for many years.

So, how about the internet in the late nineties? In my office at the time, internet was only available on a standalone PC, that was shared with the entire department of about 80 persons. I had to do some research, so I frequently went over there and used it, printing out the information I found useful. Other than that my PC only had access to the Intra-net. Email could be sent to the outside world, but without attachments. This was a major challenge, as I was still working at the time to publish a paper together with one of my ex-classmates and my two supervisors in Uni. Also I had to get data to work on for a statistical research from the Ministry of Economics. A lot of paper work involved, to get permissions to receive a floppy disk, bring it in, let it be processed by a special security department who put it on the server for me to retrieve.

In 1998 I changed jobs and was stationed in KL, Malaysia. The company provided me with a laptop and a Compuserve email address that served as login to the internet as well, wherever in the world. Internet service providers started booming in those days and one of my first projects was end of 1998 in Shanghai to implement a helpdesk software and business processes according ITIL for Shanghai Online, one of the first ISP’s in China (government organisation). I also had a yahoo account and the first instant messengers came about. It was a way for me to keep in touch easily with my friends back home.

Since then internet has evolved rapidly, and more communication tools became available and in this short time span we are now ready for more interaction, higher end graphics, etc.