27/2/2006

Gone!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:10 am

OK, the book was e-mailed off to the publisher at about 3 am this morning. Nice to make it to that stage. My last book took almost 2 years from this first-submission stage to actually be on the shelves of bookstores, but I’m working with a different publisher now. My editor got back to me within a few minutes after I sent off the mansucript, asking for a cover photo and a back cover blurb, and telling me that he’d have a proof copy back to me in two weeks!

I’m not completely sure how I feel about that. Of course it’s great to get the book out there so much faster, but the main thing that caused the delay last time was that the book went to three reviewers to be read and commented on, then revised and re-checked. It all takes time, but it definitely led to a better book last time, just getting some other people to cast their eyes over it. I guess with this one that has happened already, though, because it’s a collection of already published papers from various places. So all the individual papers have been reviewed, and I know in some cases gone through quite rigorous processes of improvement.

The other thing I’m a little ambivalent about is that if it comes out too quickly I’ll still be in Canada. I won’t get any credit from my current university for it, because I’m leaving, but if it comes out while I’m here I may not get credit for it from the new university either, because I’m not there yet. Probably not a huge issue anyway… it’s still a publication. Plus the real value of getting the book out there is just having it out there and available.

It’s definitely more motivating to get on with the next book, knowing that I can probably have it on the streets 2 months after I finish it! The next one is likely to be about what high school students want from their teachers, based on some interviews I did as part of another study.

Anyway, here’s the back cover blurb I wrote this morning:

Theory is dead… long live theory! In this collection of linked essays, David Geelan explores the contentious relationship between theory and research in education. The first chapter proclaims the ‘death of theory’ in educational research, but the remainder of the book explores a number of the ways in which theory survives and thrives. A commitment to conducting educational research that directly serves students and teachers, and that changes the life in classrooms through negotiation and collaboration, not through prescription, requires new tools and new ways of using them. Such tools include narrative modes of conducting and representing research as well as a ‘disciplined eclecticism’ that emphasises choosing and using competing theories in intentional ways. Metaphorical descriptions from the philosophy of science – particularly Kuhn and Popper – have been influential in science education. David explores the value of such perspectives, and argues that although they have offered important insights for science education, their use has also ‘forced other perspectives into blindness’. In the contexts of research methodology, educational philosophy, science education and educational technology, David talks about new ‘places to stand and ways to look’ but, more importantly, gives specific examples of the ways in which these methodological tools and philosophical perspectives have been used in his own teaching and research practices.

25/2/2006

Drink Tap Water, for Earth’s Sake!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:04 pm

Bottled Water the new eco-disaster

23/2/2006

Undead Theories

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:00 pm

(A brief free preview of my forthcoming book, which I’ve been working on solidly all week, (it was already 80% done) and which I hope to send off to the publisher tomorrow, or Sunday at the latest.)

I’m not talking about vampires here, all cool and stylish in their evening dress and Transylvanian castles. No, the undead I have in mind are zombies, lurching forth from the grave, bits falling off them here and there, in a single-minded search for BRAAINNSSS to consume.
The chapter that leads off this collection is my first real foray into writing about how the new complexity sciences might serve as metaphors for research in education. In that chapter I argue that theory is dead: that the quest for theory has done more harm than good in terms of serving the profession of teaching and learning. And yet…
The remaining eleven chapters demonstrate that, despite my protestations, theory has been an abiding concern in my work over the past ten years or so: perhaps it could even be called an obsession. I’ve always problematised it, never seen it as a simple goal in research, and perhaps that’s my over-arching theme here: the attempt to understand (and perhaps to redefine) the role of theory in educational research.
This book is essentially a retrospective of the first ten years of my academic career. The earliest paper I ever published was in 1995. That one doesn’t appear here, but one from 1996 does. It might seem a little early in my career to be creating a ‘collected works’, but I think this collection is valuable for a couple of reasons. First, some of the pieces here were published in rather obscure journals or ones without a wide international circulation, so that the papers are difficult to obtain. One of the journals, FID Review, has even essentially disappeared, Second, I think there are themes and threads, ideas and theories and perspectives, that run through these papers, even though they are in a variety of quite disparate fields of study. Work collected here explores science education, philosophy, educational research methodology and educational technology – fields that often don’t overlap very much. But there are commonalities to my work in each of these fields that can best be explored by bringing the work together and comparing and contrasting it.

skipped a bit here for brevity: the next section discusses the themes of the book

First, last and always, there is the notion of ‘serving the field’. I began with it, and have attempted to be true to it in all the work I’ve done, but working with Mark Hirschkorn as a graduate student over the past couple of years has brought it home to me once again. If the work that educational researchers do does not significantly and positively effect what happens in classrooms, then it is essentially unproductive – I’m trying to resist the metaphor, but ‘masturbatory’ about covers the notion. And our efforts have to go beyond deploring the ‘theory-practice gap’ and wondering why teachers refuse to implement our finely presented research findings in their work. I’ve talked with colleagues about the range of possible responses to the ‘theory-practice gap’, and it seems to me to boil down to four possibilities:

  1. Fix the teachers – teach them to read and implement research. This happens to some extent in graduate studies, but does not reach all teachers, would be prohibitively expensive and may not even be well adapted to their needs anyway.
  2. Fix the researchers – teach them to write their research reports in ‘teacher language’ and work more closely with practitioners, and to choose questions that have useful answers. This is happening to some extent, but is constrained by ‘what counts’ for academics in terms of tenure and promotion.
  3. Provide translators – people who have a specific role in reading research and translating it into ‘teacher language’ and working alongside practitioners. Seems like a great idea, but (a) who funds these people and (b) some of the research may not be useful to practitioners even after translation.
  4. Fix the research – transform the kinds of research that are done in education so that (a) the results are of use to teachers in classrooms and (b) the reports are written in language that teachers can understand and that addresses their needs.

One way of understanding the values and commitments I bring to my research is to think of it as focused on implementing the second and fourth of these approaches – exploring ways in which research can be modified, and I as a researcher can modify what I do, in order to do work that is generative, productive, fecund.
A second theme is the importance of metaphor as a tool for exploring theory. It seems to me that many of our theoretical perspectives are essentially metaphorical in nature. ‘Constructivism’ for example, takes its name from building metaphors, and is largely understood in terms of metaphors of ‘foundations’ on which knowledge is built and of the articulation of the pieces. We also use ‘lens’ metaphors to talk about the theory-ladenness of observation and metaphors of hierarchy and ladders to think about the arrangement of knowledge and about students’ development through the lifespan. I have employed a ‘spiderweb’ metaphor to think about relationships in classrooms, and explored the notion of ‘the centre’ that is implicit in the metaphors of ‘student-centred learning’. Peter Taylor and I explicitly used the exploration of teachers’ metaphors of teaching and learning as part of the web-based course we taught.
Talking about metaphor leads fairly naturally into consideration of the role of narrative in both conducting and representing our research in education. Story is a major theme that runs through my work. This goes beyond the fictional and ‘fictionalised’ narratives that make up some of the reporting of the research to include small fictional pieces used to introduce and connect theoretical discussions. It includes the awareness that even the most propositional-logical research paper has a ‘storyline’, and thinking about how every story is a selection. In Paul Feyerabend’s (1999b) terms, we are overwhelmed by the abundance of the world, and need to slice out manageable pieces of it in order to simply be able to function. Being more explicitly aware of our own selection processes can help to make the stories we create more powerful and valuable.
Stories – particularly the ‘fictionalised’ kind I used in some of the research reported in Section Three – are not a regular part of the canon of academic research in the social sciences. Even within the qualitative research community such stories risk being seen as ‘coffee house tales’ (as one reviewer called some of mine) rather than as serious research texts that make a contribution. So another theme that runs through much of this work is an attempt to stretch the canons of academic writing in interesting ways. I’ve avoided moving entirely toward writing in stories, and sought an on-going dialectical tension between narrative and more propositional-logical forms of writing. Both forms in juxtaposition seem to me to be both more interesting and more powerful for my purposes than either alone.
Of course, a simple dichotomy doesn’t really capture the variety of stylistic attempts to find new and interesting ways to talk about the research. There are also pieces that speak directly to the reader, and dialogues between authors, and a variety of other experiments. Not all experiments are entirely successful, of course – I’ll leave it to you to judge which of the things I’ve tried here have potential (maybe in the hands of a better writer) and which should perhaps be avoided in future!
Another pervasive theme is my strong preference for ‘both-and’ answers rather than ‘either-or’ ones. That is, if someone asks ‘should we use either social constructionism or radical constructivism as a theoretical frame’, I’m very likely to say ‘both’. (For that matter, the same principle applies to steak and prawns.) My pleas for a ‘disciplined eclecticism’ in educational research, and for researchers to get beyond turf wars (qualitative/quantitative, constructivist/transmissivist/enactivist or even between the different ‘brands’ of constructivism) are driven by the conviction that energy spent in controversy and defence could be better spent in actually choosing and using a given perspective or blend of perspectives to do good research work.
Of course, different perspectives are not simply able to be synthesised – they’re different for a reason, and they may even be incommensurable. The notion of holding different theoretical perspectives in a ‘dialectical tension’, where each illuminates some facets of the problem of interest and throws others into darkness, seems to offer a potential way forward. Using such an image it becomes clear that two perspectives are better than one, and maybe three than two, but four or five might be unwieldy. I used to use the metaphor of a ‘toolbox’ to talk about the repertoires of both teachers and researchers, and I still think that image of a well stocked toolbox, and the skill to choose the right tools for the job, is a useful one. I’ve recently started thinking and talking of it more as a ‘toybox’ though, and of theories as things to play with, and things that enable us to play old games in new exciting ways and to invent new ones.
These are the themes that I see in looking back over the research – there will, if I’ve done my job well and written richly, also be other themes and ideas and resonances that will strike you, given your own experiences and interests. Those may well be more important and significant than the ones I’ve been able to name – and that’s how it should be.
That may in fact be a final theme: Umberto Eco’s (1989) notion of ‘The Open Work’. A closed work is one in which all the interpretations have already been made, and the text tends to support only those pre-specified interpretations. An open work is one that is rich enough that there remains interpretive work to be done by the reader, and materials with which to do it. In much the same way, John Van Maanen (1995) speaks of reading the written reports as the Third Moment of Ethnography. You have an active role to play in making meaning as you read this book.
So, in defiance of ‘the death of theory’, these particular theories get to lurch forth one more time. They move slowly but inexorably. Sure, some bits are falling off, and they’re a bit the worse for wear. They weren’t all that pretty to start with, and their adventures have left marks. But I hope they still have a sort of primal power. At least enough to give them access to your BRAAIINNN.

After-life?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:43 am

I wrote this in a forum yesterday:

As you probably know, I tend to check the ‘Christian’ box on the polls (at least, when there’s no ‘I’m Bravus‘ option), but honestly, if all there is of an ‘afterlife’ is my body fertilising the ground, and my kids and those I’ve taught trying to make the world a better place, I’ll be satisfied.

(The discussion started off with the probability and timing of a US invasion of Iran, but suffered from thread-drift/thread-jacking to come around to religion somehow.)

Probably sounds like heresy, but I’ve said all along that if Christianity (or any religion that promises an afterlife) makes your life here on earth worse with the promise of an afterlife, something’s not right. It should make your life here better (and prompt you to leave both the natural and the human worlds better than you found them), and then if there happens to be an afterlife that’s a bonus.

22/2/2006

Who Would Jesus Smite?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:47 am

Interesting that in all his life, Jesus mostly worked for and preached for peace. Even when they came to take him away for trial and crucifixion, and Peter lopped off someone’s ear, Jesus healed it. He had no army and fought no battles.

The only people he ever got angry at, yelled at, chased away and possibly even used a whip on (lots of people rationalise that he only used the whip on the animals, but the text doesn’t actually say that) were the moneychangers in the temple.

A friend has described these as ‘makers of nothing’ and ‘sellers of promises’: they don’t produce anything real in the world, they make their money by shuffling money and paper from place to place, and selling promises.

Seems a little odd, then, that those who claim to be his followers (those in the ‘Religious Right’, not all of them) are so cosy with the moneychangers – and for that matter so comfortable having armies and waging wars – these days.

20/2/2006

An Eye For An Eye

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:15 am

I know I tend to link out to Salon quite a bit, and I know it means you have to watch an ad, but in this particular case I think it’s very worthwhile. It’s a really interesting interviwe with a guy who has just written a book about justice and vengeance, and it includes as a starting point an idea that I’ve been talking about for maybe 10 years… that ‘an eye for an eye’ was a way of limiting and controlling vengeance, and actually led to a less bloody society.

In terms of what he says on the second page about God’s vengeance, I’d be inclined to make the distinction between ‘God as He really is’ and ‘God as He is portrayed’… but certainly the idea of disproportionate vengeance fits the Old Testament view.

I think this article really helps us to get at that outrage we tend to feel when someone gets a very light sentence for a heinous crime. I’ve argued withfriends about that issue in the past, but there’s a very real point there: if the sentence is too light, it places a lower value on the victim than on the offender.

I’m not a lock-em-up and throw away the key kind of guy, but this article really gave me some great food for thought.

19/2/2006

Cutthroat?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:52 pm

A post about the etymology of ‘perversion’ that ends up travelling via ‘bravus’.

School Shadow

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:41 am

Kids sometimes get to go to their parents’ places of work and ‘shadow’ them for a day, just to see what their working day is like. I’ve never heard of the reverse – parents shadowing their kids throughout the school day. I think it’d give parents a whole different idea about what their kids’ school days are like, and some basis for comparison with their own. It’d also give them a sense of what the teachers do and don’t do. Might be kinda embarrassing for the kids, and kinda daunting for the teachers, bu tI for one would be delighted to have my students’ parents visit.

16/2/2006

The ‘finished marking’ dance

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:48 pm

…is what I’m dancing this evening. All the marking for my course I just finished teaching is done and ready to send in tomorrow morning, so I’m finished teaching until July. Don’t get me wrong, I love to teach, but this course is incredibly intensive, and due to a research project I had to mark the final assignments very fast. But it’s done, so I’ll be playing games tonight… once I finish helping Cassie and then Sue with their homework!

I’m trying not to make this blog too much about the minutia of my life, and instead make it about the big ideas, but the marking has left little time for cogitation – plus most of the big ideas I’m getting at the moment are about politics and they’re all kinda depressing…

14/2/2006

Do you really want to…?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:39 pm

(Yes, I know it’s Valentine’s Day, but the title of this post is not part of that theme… ;))

I’m playing Deus Ex – Invisible War (aka Deus Ex 2) at the moment. Deus Ex (1) is one of the bestest computer games ever. The sequel was received very poorly when it came out, for a number of reasons, some of them pretty valid. I actually quite enjoy the game, although it’s not a patch on its predecessor.

One of the things that really bugs me about it is that when you move from one area of the game (map) to another, the view disappears and is replaced by a dialogue box that asks you to confirm (yes/no) that you want to do that. It completely breaks the immersiveness of the game: in Deus Ex, you felt as though you were in that game world, but this stupid confirm dialogue reminds you every couple of minutes that you’re playing a game on a computer. So far I haven’t managed to find any way to disable it in the game either, although you’d think it’d be a fairly simple hack.

It got me thinking about whether perhaps ‘Are you really sure you want to do that? Yes/No’ dialogues might be useful in Real Life(TM). Maybe that late night feast of icecream, maybe that angry e-mail you’re about to send, maybe something you’re about to say to your partner. A popup that asks you to stop and think about it for a minute mightn’t be such a bad thing…

But I suspect it’d just end up being an annoyance that we clicked past really fast, because 95% of the time we do want to (whether we should or not). Then, in the 5% of times when we needed to rethink, we’ve clicked past it already by the time we say to ourselves “Arrghh, no, I really, really didn’t want to!!”

12/2/2006

Adventist Forum

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:07 pm

I’ve just added a link to a discussion forum for and about the Seventh-day Adventist church, run by my mate Stan Jensen. I’ve been a fairly regular poster there for a year or so now, and there’s lots of interesting discussion. The debate occassionally gets heated, but hey, this is the Intarweb…

Check it out, you might like it.

Edit: I forgot to mention that the site is free to read, and to post in some areas, but that it requires a $3.50 a month subscription to be a full member. That basically just covers hosting charges – it’s not for profit, and I certainly don’t see any money from it. I think it’s interesting, but what you do with the suggestion is entirely up to you.

Gaming for Gold

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:32 am

Some people in China have little money but lots of time. Some people in the West have way too much money but little spare time. Combine that with an online game like World of Warcraft or Everquest, where it takes a lot of time to level up and gain particular (virtual) items… and a market on eBay for the sale of such items… and you have the foundations of a new industry.

I’m not sure whether it’s amazing or appalling – probably a little of both.

11/2/2006

Kids getting hurt is hilarious, apparently

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:22 am

At the food court last night, before we went to see Aeon Flux, they were showing ‘funnies’ on the big video screen. (Big video screens in food courts is another rant for another day.) You know the kind of stuff – flatulence is apparently the height of wit, and people falling over the epitome of humor.

One of the clips just flabbergasted me – lots of little toddlers falling off beds or running into doors or whatever, in ways that obviously really hurt. Freakin’ hilarious.

I know one of the sources of humour is transgression, or things that make us uncomfortable, but putting this stuff in a public place as comedy just seemed screwed up to me.

10/2/2006

Possible Integrated Topics

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:07 am

As well as the Physics and Chemistry that my students will mostly be teaching, there are some integrated science courses at Grade 10, 11 and 12 levels that they’re likely to teach, as well as Science 7, 8 and 9. One thing I noticed was that out of the four ‘units’ (subsections of the course) in each of these courses there tends to be a physics, a chemistry, a biology and some sort of earth/climate science unit. Hmmm, that doesn’t seem all that ‘integrated’ to me…

So, as a way of helping my students get familiar with some of these curricula, I asked them to ‘remix’ them around particular themes or ‘storylines’, and to better integrate the various branches of science. That is, in a year’s science course, instead of having Unit 1 – physics, Unit 2 – chemistry, Unit 3 – biology, Unit 4 – climate change, you’d still have 4 units but they’d be arranged in terms of certain real world situations or problems, and would draw in all the science (and even some stuff from other school subjects) that’s relevant to dealing with that issue.

I hate giving examples, because students tend to just follow them. But one way of getting past that is to give a large number of examples to start their thinking, and then they’ll tend to think of even more possibilities. So I tossed a dozen or so possible themes up on the whiteboard to help start their thinking:

I also suggested having their students explore what the world would be like with the consequences of a few ‘alternative histories’:

  • no mass dinosaur death
  • North American Aboriginal people immune to smallpox
  • Aristotle died at birth
  • Charles Babbage’s computer worked

Some of these are obviously inappropriate or politically incorrect, some were done for humorous effect, but quite a few could be used to develop pretty awesome science units. The ones they came up with in class were amazing, interesting and incorporated all the relevant science knowledge in really creative ways.

9/2/2006

One Measure Of Success

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:40 pm

I try in my teaching to create a community among the students. So when I give my class a morning coffee break and go down to grab a coffee myself, and most of the class is standing in a big circle still chatting with each other, that feels like success to me.

Some Christians Understand Climate Change

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:00 am

I found this article from Salon1 very heartening: there are Christians who are getting active and standing beside those who will be harmed by climate change.

Sad that the Republichristians are standing in the way, though. I used to actually respect some of the things James Dobson said (while being very worried by others), but since he fully whored out to the Bush Administration for power he’s just dangerous and (in my opinion at least) taking God’s name in vain.

1. yep, it’s a link to Salon, which means you’ll have to view an ad to read it if you’re not a subscriber

7/2/2006

Read it carefully

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:43 am

I’m offended. Those people, by their actions, have demonstrated the essentially corrupt nature of their society and culture. Their behaviour, which all right-minded people should be offended by, should be universally condemned. If anything shows that we are right and they are wrong, this is it. And I call upon all of those who agree with me to take action, while there is still time. To those who say that our side has also erred, I agree: there have been errors of judgement. But if anything our mistake has been to do too little and too late. We now need to wake up and respond to the danger that confronts us. In any case, to suggest that what we have done bears comparison with what they have done is itself deeply offensive and such sentiments betray the inner corruption of those who utter them. Some principles are absolute and this is one of them. Some have suggested that it is hypocritical of me to take offence at what those people have done whilst ignoring or excusing what some other people have done. Such critics thereby reveal their own inability to distinguish between those people and the other people (who have surely suffered enough and deserve a break). Others have intimated that I spend my time trawling the internet looking for obscure TV clips and articles in foreign languages to be offended by. Frankly, I find such comment offensive: the price of what we hold sacred is eternal vigilance and someone has to take on the responsibility of telling our people about the grave danger they face from those people.
– chris bertram

6/2/2006

People are People, Stuff is just Stuff

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:08 pm

You hear the story again and again: “I’m not talking to them – I lent them my [thing] and they brought it back empty/filthy/broken”. Or you hear a parent scream at a kid who accidentally breaks something or spills something.

I don’t for a moment think this is profound, but a lot of people seem not to get it, so I thought I’d at least share it here. If someone offered you a plate to scream at your kid, would you take it? Probably not – so why scream at him if he breaks a plate? It’s a lot easier to replace a plate than a kid’s trust. If someone offered you a lawnmower (or whatever), would you agree to ruin a friendship, or cut off a relative for life? Probably not, so why get into the big grudge match if someone makes a mistake with a belonging of yours.

Sure, you may not loan them the mower again, or might clarify your expectations for the condition you want it left in, but breaking a relationship for things? I just don’t get it.

5/2/2006

Men’s Stuff

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:03 am

Part of a discussion from another forum about how the Christian church in general seems to be losing its men (most congregations have many more women than men), and whether that’s due to the church failing to support men – and, in fact, to allow them to be men. The guy who started it is doing a lot of whining and making a lot of anti-feminist and anti-woman attacks, so I’m slapping him around a bit for that, but it’s also an interesting issue to me (heh, I wrote the book ;)). Here’s something I posted recently:

We tried to have a ‘men’s ministry’ at our church, but it basically consisted of a reading group reading ‘Wild At Heart‘ and watching a video and meeting to discuss it. I didn’t attend, and the attendance was not strong.

Seems to me that was because the content might have been right – Eldredge in that book makes similar calls to men to reclaim their masculinity – but the whole approach was wrong. Blokes in general don’t attend book clubs and reading circles for fiction either (of course there are always exceptions), or sit around and discuss masculinity, for that matter.

Some other ‘guys social’ events we ran earlier – going out to Boston Pizza for a meal and a chat, then to an arcade to play video games with and against each other – seemed much more ‘natural’. There was conversation, but it was incidental to the activity – like conversations around the barbeque – and that seemed to work a lot better.

Waddaya reckon?

2/2/2006

The Zero Sum Pizza Rule

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:16 pm

New idea (or maybe an old one that’s just new to me): Pizzas should have the same number of meats as vegetables. If each vege is a + point and each meat a -, the total should add to zero (the cheese, tomato sauce and crust all have a value of zero).

So Hawaiian – ham and pineapple – is a zero sum pizza. So is a Little Ceasar’s Supreme: +mushrooms (honorary vegetables), green peppers (capsicum) and onions, -pepperoni, sausage and beef = 0.

Of course, pineapple on a pizza is counted as heresy by some… and I’m not sure where anchovy fits in this scheme.