Writing, Transparency and Confessional Tales

In 1988 I was enthralled by the publication of John Van Maanen’s book Tales of the Field. An introduction to the book noted that:

Once upon a time ethnographers returning from the field simply sat down, shuffled their note cards, and wrote up their descriptions of the exotic and quaint customs they had observed. Today scholars in all disciplines are realizing how their research is presented is at least as important as what is presented. Questions of voice, style, and audience—the classic issues of rhetoric—have come to the forefront in academic circles.

My interest in John Van Maanen’s work was amplified by reading about Wolfgang Iser and his conceptualisation of the implied reader:

The concept of the implied reader offers a means of describing the process whereby textual structures are transmuted through ideational activities into personal experiences.

My PhD (1989) was framed with their work at the forefront of my thinking. (It was a time of action research and qualitative evaluation.) It was a decade influenced by ideas characteristic of those found in new paradigm research.

Almost exactly twenty years later I came across the discussion of radical transparency by Clive Thompson. I was alerted to his discussion through the WordPress home page (20 September) by this article. I think it links very closely with the publisher’s observation on John Van Maanen:

His goal is not to establish one true way to write ethnography, but rather to make ethnographers of all varieties examine their assumptions about what constitutes a truthful cultural portrait and select consciously and carefully the voice most appropriate for their tales.

I am at the end of my second week of my participation in CCK08 and feel particularly open to an approach to connectivism that acknowledges authorial voice and the potential for transparency. I am delighted that thoughts stimulated by a cultural climate in the 1980s are finding space and voice in 2008.

CCK08: Week 2 Grounded

This has been a fascinating week at CCK08. The second Elluminate session on Wednesday brought George, Stephen and Dave together. I read Dave’s paper before the session.

I am fortunate that this session takes place at 10 a.m. in Australia on Thursday morning. I have the whole day to reflect on the discussion. I am a keen gardener and the idea of a rhizome is of great interest! I discovered the Wikipedia stub on rhizome (philosophy) and the existence of a creative arts project.

I followed up the CCK08 tag on Technorati and noted the 5708 references to Connectivism and 1143 references to Networked Learning at del.icio.us (as of 20 September 2008).

Technorati graphic (accessed 20 September 2008)

It may be pushing the language of the first two weeks too far but I am intrigued by the links between the two elements air and earth. We are a digitally connected network that has a presence through our local rootedness. I have started to explore the contestability of connectivism in some of the blog posts but have spent a great deal of time thinking. I am very relaxed about the epistemological debate going on and realise that each of us will have a perspective grounded in our biography.

What a remarkable group of people on this course. It is Spring time here in Mongarlowe. I think the course is like my garden … blossoming through difference and sameness.

CCK08: Week 2 Early Doors and Better Fit

I missed the Ustream discussions on Friday so I ended my first week of the course with a need to catch up (today I am the 784th viewer of the broadcast)! Over the weekend I reflected on Week 1 in CCK08.

My first day at primary school was in September 1956. Week 1 of CCK08 ignited my memories of that first day fifty-two years and a few weeks ago (there were twenty fellow pupils that day). These memories helped me ground my reading for Week 2 and to think about the personal dimensions of learning.  It was fascinating to read Stephen’s post and George’s post about Week 1 (2000+ pupils).

I have read all three readings for Week 2 today. The last sentence I read was in the paper by Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia (1996) on rethinking learning. My take out message for this week is part of that final sentence:

… so it’s not necessarily that I have everything, that I have all the information. but that I’m able to piece things in that make sense …

In my sense making, Stephen’s 2006 paper on Learning Networks and Connective Knowledge and George’s (2006) Shifting have helped me piece some things together. In my rethinking of epistemology I have been contemplating emergence and better fit theories.

My thinking has been clarified by using an analogy. I was fortunate to be in Barcelona in July this year and whilst dining out in a first floor restaurant I watched someone try to park a car in a space that appeared too small for the car. The driver thought otherwise and this is what he achieved:

The manoeuvre required the driver to nudge the car in front forward and the car behind backward. In this way, the driver created a space but to get out of the situation he created each of the other two cars had a direct relationship with the car that arrived in the small space. The original manoeuvre was not consensual and involved an invasion of space.

I wonder if some theories do have a better fit than others and occupy an expansive epistemological space? The arrogance of theorising occurs for me when an a priori assumption is made that a theory is the answer to all sense making.

I am attracted to connectivism because of its resonance with earlier parts of my learning journey. I have been interested in Max Weber’s verstehen and George Kelly’s personal construct psychology. Both Weber and Kelly argued for the on-going development of a theory open to challenge and replacement. I think both saw theory as an heuristic approach to knowing.

In my car parking analogy, I believe connectivism has chosen to park in a much bigger space in a clear part of the street. Even when you park in a very open space some people think you have taken their parking spot and demand that you move. Sometimes they even put notes under your windscreen wiper to let you know just how angry they are!

Week 2’s readings and the Barcelona episode have encouraged me to think much more about epistemology’s better fit and the openness connectivism offers in this regard. I do believe that theory is fallible in social contexts and that a potential theory of everything can have modesty and humility. My reading of connectivism is that it is invitational rather than prescriptive.

I am excited by connectivism’s emergence and incandescence. I am delighted that connectivism is contestable and a reflexive part of its own transformation.