Friday, February 27, 2009

LPoD - Whitehead on living educational theory

I found this paper by Jack Whitehead some time ago and tagged it half-heartedly in Diigo. I was in the Slough of Despond at the time and only just had the presence of mind to realise that this was an important paper.

Today, I've been reading it through again and am so pleased that I tagged it to come back to. Whitehead argues:

that a living educational theory of professional practice can be constructed from practitioner's enquiries of the kind, 'How do I improve my practice?'
And that question comes up time and again throughout the paper: how do I improve my practice here? As responsible learning professionals, this is a question we should be asking ourselves time and again. And it is in the ongoing, iterative search for the answer to that question that, as Whitehead puts it "a living educational theory will be produced"

Let's consider that this paper was written in 1988. Is it fair to say that his prediction has been realised in Connectivism?

One of the issues which is hamstringing me in my research paper is that of validity. In several spaces (including this one) I have asked for pointers to rigorous research being conducted into the theory of Connectivism. Thus far I have heard not a squeak. Does this mean that no-one is researching the theory? If this is the case, how do I address it in the conext of an Academic paper?

I think Whitehead might again have come to my rescue in his response to questions 4-6 in his paper, although I confess I am still trying to get my head around what he's saying (bear of little brain, you understand), but this section gives me hope that this paper will serve as counsel for the defence of my first person narrative inquiry methodology:
Questions of validity are fundamentally important in all research which is concerned with the generation and testing of theory. Researchers need to know what to use as the unit of appraisal and the standards of judgement in order to test a claim to educational knowledge. I suggest that the unit of appraisal is the individual's claim to know his or her educational development. Within this unit of appraisal I use methodological, logical, ethical and aesthetic standards to judge the validity of the claim to knowledge (Whitehead and Foster 1984).

Whilst most researchers may find it strange to take a unit of appraisal as their claim to know their educational development I think the unit is clearly comprehensible. My commitment to this unit owes a great deal to the work of Michael Polanyi. As I read Personal Knowledge (Polanyi 1958), and reflected on my positivist approach to research (Whitehead 1972), Polanyi's work fulfilled its purpose of, "stripping away the crippling mutilations which centuries of objectivist thought have imposed on the minds of men".
Because what I delight to call my research tends to be a bit airy fairy, and boasts all the depth and profundity of a pondskater, I think the only crippling mutilations I suffer at the hands of objectivist thought are the external hindrances of what will pass for academic rigour. Trying to put together a paper about the web 2.0 social media and their influence on my professional practice is a bit tricky when the whole concept is embodied in an aggregated cloud of communal thought and experience - singularly difficult to reference using the Harvard method.

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