Thursday, June 23, 2011

Research pedagogy

Provoked by some discussions on the return journey from Belgium, I've been reflecting on the hidden pedagogy of research. In disciplines like education that are driven by professional activity, the application or impact of research is often a topic of conversation. But at the same time a lot of research (mine included) addresses itself to the ongoing construction of knowledge and theory, and pays less attention to direct application. In fact, in the research community, something as simple as an effective solution to an everyday problem can seem to be too trivial. Nonetheless it seems that even the more abstract or theoretically-orientated research has a hidden pedagogy in that it privileges particular ways of finding out, particular ways of seeing social actors and social institutions and in doing so holds up particular actions or activity as worthy of interest. This suggests that it may be fruitful to look for the implicit assumptions about what is worthwhile in the design of applied research.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Wordle: participation

OK, well here I was just trying to uncover my own preoccupations by feeding one of my own academic papers into the Wordle machine - it's something I've criticized students for doing, but it was helpful for me, particularly in noticing how frequently I've been using the participation word. Working with a colleague on the theme of participation has made me realise how I need to spend more time unpacking this concept. What does it mean when we talk about 'participating in civic life'? What do we mean by 'learning through particpation'? Anne Edwards (2005) warns us that the meaning of the concept of participation may becaome opaque through over-use. Now there's a thought.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Reading campaigns

On the surface of things it would seem like a very good idea to mobilise public support and interest in helping young children's literacy development, and in fact the Volunteer Reading Help scheme has a good track record in doing just that. But somehow the Evening Standard's campaign GetLondonReading pushes all the wrong buttons. Politically it plays on the Big Society agenda and regularly features donators who are models, celebrities or former politicians - in other words public or media figures who want to do something worthy. But celebrity support is no substitute for public education and the high expectations placed on the volunteers themselves may not be the best way forward. You might predict that if the campaign makes a massive impact, there will be political capital to be made. If it doesn't it will sink from view. No surprises there, because that's just the same story that we associate with governmental interference in matters of curriculum. What worries me more is when the transport networks of London are flooded with travellers waving the banner headlines 'One in five parents cannot read aloud'. Although that's based on evidence produced by the National Literacy Trust (another reputable body) it's a scare story. Firstly, literacy is more than reading and certainly can't be reduced to 'reading aloud', but secondly, and more importantly it neatly ducks some key characteristics of the fluid multilingual demographic of our cosmopolitan capital. On the 9th June Free Standard the grinning picture of blonde (?) white model Laura Bailey - who donated £1000 - appears to be the solution to a hyped-up problem. And in the text, reading is clearly connected with empowerment, which is ironic when the most evident power lies elsewhere.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The future of the past

In our discussions on Monday for the It's the learning future project some of our teachers talked about children living in the technological present and then stepping into the past when they come to school. According to this view school becomes a sort of working museum in which children are in role as learners of the past - enacting how we used to live. At the same time we can only imagine the future on the basis of the present, or at least in our experience of recency (which is in effect the past). Although it may sound like word-play there is a very real sense in which these timescales reveal complexity and seem, in fact, to overlap. I thank Chris Thomson, someone who is also trying to imagine the future with pupos[ed], for introducing me to the design concept of the Skeuomorph which is another example of how the past is useful. So, not all history is bunk!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Mapping the mind

I'm in Belgium at the moment, but I'm reading Robert MacFarlane's evocative and excellently written book 'The Wild Places' which is a first-rate exploration of wild-ness and one which is tied to the British landscape. In a section on mapping, he tells us that over a million road atlases are sold in England and Ireland each year and that there are thought to be about 20 million in circulation at any one time. That's a lot of geographical literacy that's going on - and that's before you start thinking about AA maps, Google maps and various sat nav systems. Wow! But, as he observes, "The fells, the caves, the tors, the woods, the moors, the river valleys and the marshes have all but disappeared. If they are shown at all, it is as background shading or generic symbols. More usually, they have faded out altogether like old ink, become the suppressed memories of a more ancient archipelago....The priorities of the modern road atlas are clear. Drawn by computers from satellite photos, it is a map that speaks of transit and displacement. It encourages us to imagine the land itself as a context for motorised travel." In other words (my words) maps help to produce a kind of social identity - a mobile identity - in which we are constantly on the move between urban spaces, and the rest is something that is blank or something we go through.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Post-modern literacies

I'm reading a pre-publication version of Colin and Michele's New Literacies (3E) at the moment. The opening sections provide a really useful map to 'where we are' and 'how we got there' in literacy studies. They've just about got it right with a definition of literacies as 'socially recognized ways in which people generate, communicate and negotiate meanings, as members of Discourses through the medium of encoded texts'. I know it doesn't exactly trip off the tongue and I suppose that nearly every phrase needs translating (which is, as you'd expect, what haoppens in the book). I still have a problem with the social spread of new literacies and wonder to what extent the exciting practices which appear to be the popular everyday practices of children and young people are actually niche interests. On a more abstract level I enjoyed reading about Andreas Reckwitz's work on practice theories and made a note to follow this up. The football analogy reminded me of Bourdieu which sent me scurrying back to The Logic of Practice. Bourdieu, at least in the translations that I read, can be hard going, but one of his clearest pieces (Chapter 4 ibid) actually uses the football metaphor to good effect. But here he is on 'practice', the principle of which is found 'in the relationship between external constraints which leave a very variable margin for choice, and dispositions which are the product of economic and social processes that are more or less completely reducible to these constraints, as defined at a particular moment.' (p.50). That makes me think twice about agency in cultural (re)production and is something to pit against remix and participatory culture.