Socially Constructed World

How do I view the world? How has it shaped me? How have I shaped it?

(This post forms part of an assessment submission for a Master of Education subject)

Sometimes there is nothing that makes me happier than having a quiet place to think, read and ask the big questions of life. Occasionally I share this with others as well – although some people have assumed I’m in pain when I’m just wearing my ‘thinking face’. This is an interest I discovered towards the end of high school (probably when most people start to question their existence) when I found philosophy and a friend, who was a boy, with which to debate.

I was once perplexed that ‘I’, that is my sense of who I was and am, would change from context to context and I’d wonder whether I had a true ‘self’ or whether I was fickle, shallow and prone to manipulation by others instead. I truly wanted to be a non-conformist but also wanted to to fit in… and stand out… and change the world… you know, teenage stuff!

At a time when my quest as a teenager was to find out who I was/am, postmodernists were debating the nature of self and identity (of course they do this all the time really). A postmodernist view of identity recognises that it is:

“not a fixed entity, but one that is dynamic and continuously constructed … people develop themselves through time and position themselves differently in various situations and differently towards other persons”

Akkerman, 2011, p. 10

As a young teacher, in a role that was quite unique, I lacked some confidence but also had many questions about what I could do to better support teachers and enact change in the school to move teachers from traditional to more contemporary pedagogical approaches. I craved professional dialogue about learning and teaching and did not find too many avenues for this at the school so I looked towards further study. I wanted to explore ways to engage teachers in meaningful and transformative professional learning that resulted in more powerful use of ICTs.

It wasn’t until 2005, when I began a journey (a failed one or possibly to be continued at a later date) towards a Doctorate of Education, that I found the words to explain who I was/am, how I think and how I view the world. I learnt big words like ontology and epistemology and my brain began to dance with delight. This academic adventure filled a neglected space in my life as I was not being intellectually and perhaps philosophically challenged enough at my work in a school.

I aligned well with an interpretivist view of research with a relativist ontology where “there exist multiple, socially constructed realities” (Guba and Lincoln, 1989, p.86). This paradigm has an interactive epistemology that views knowledge as a fluid construct and the subjective nature of inquiry means that it can not be without influence by the researcher. The objective of this type of researcher is a deepened understanding of what is being inquired rather than observing an objective fact or truth as is a positivist view of the world. In a broader context of where educational research was being politically pushed towards evidence-based, intervention style of research, adopting a conceptual framework that was more ‘me’ was important.

I also became immersed in constructivist views of learning, especially in relation to the use of technology in the classroom. Through their review of literature, Newhouse, Trinidad and Clarckson (2002) promote the use of constructivist learning theory to support the use of technology in classrooms. They define constructivism as “the belief that knowledge is constructed out of personal sets of meanings or conceptual frameworks based on experiences encountered in relevant environments. People interact with their environment and as a result develop conceptual frameworks to explain these interactions and assist in negotiating future interactions” (p.7).

After changing paths a little to a new job that did challenge me and becoming overwhelmed by the pressures of doctoral studies (aka, they weren’t ready for my brilliance just yet and I was trying to aim far too high anyway – see Fear and Self Loathing), I discontinued my doctorate and later changed to a Masters degree. My need to engage in academic conversation had been superseded by a need to be, do, create and learn within the context of the schools I worked with and the professional communities that I practiced in – to engage in professional conversation. My abilities to participate in this type of conversation were, however, enhanced by my extended vocabulary of research and academic terms and ideas.

Haigh (2005) argues that conversations create shared knowledge that can be considered a valuable form of professional learning for teachers. They are informal, without a hierarchy and as a ‘dialogue for learning’ involves deep reflection from its participants (Haigh, 2005). Often my everyday conversations with others have led to a strengthening sense of my agency and rethinking and refining of my beliefs. I have found this to be the best type of professional learning for me and these have resulted in the generation of shared knowledges (which I’m epistemologically all for!).

The value of unplanned conversations as a source of professional learning and growth became evident during my time as an Education Officer on the Curriculum Team at Brisbane Catholic Education. A lot of these conversations were focused around school change and took place within the broader context of responding to the proposed structures of the Australian Curriculum and initiatives such as the Digital Education Revolution. Notable aspects of these everyday conversations are outlined below.

  • impromptu questions or remarks could lead to long conversations, research and in some cases a strategic project or initiative
  • the diverse team allowed a rich combination of ideas and opinions
  • time to reflect and a context were you were allowed to discuss pedagogy (and could even use that word) without people thinking you were pretentious
  • conversations from morning tea would lead into lunch and change all plans that were made for that day – others assumed we were just talking but many a great idea was actioned and taken to schools from these conversations
  • they were not always rosy and often robust and would draw in other members of the team as well
  • enriched the conversations/reflections that were already occurring in my own mind

My professional learning network/ communities of practice expanded more as I began to develop my online identity (again this is fluid and not fixed; moulded by my interactions  with others). My view of the world as socially constructed collided beautifully with my perspectives on education and the experiences of my own professional learning though the theory of connectivism (see Finding Myself… Being Connected).

References in this post:

Akkerman, S. F. (2011). A dialogical approach to conceptualizing teacher identity. Teaching and teacher education, 27 (2), p. 308-319.

Haigh, N. (2005). Everyday conversation as a context for professional learning and development, International Journal for Academic Development, 10(1), 3-16.

Guba, E. & Lincoln, Y. (1989). Fourth Generation Evaluation. Newbury Park, Calif : Sage Publications.

Newhouse, P., Trinidad, S., & Clarkson, B. (2002). Quality Teaching and Learning Practice with Information and Communication Technologies (ICT): a review of the literature. Perth: Western Australian Department of Education.

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