Exploring Tensions and Possibilities for Research in Practice: Notes towards a presentation!
I want to raise a series of very basic questions... to prompt our discussion
I will illustrate them (not answer them!) from some of my experience in research
I hope to invite others to engage with the questions from their own experience
My experience includes:
Many years in the Toronto based, Participatory Research Group
Involvement in the beginning couple of years of the Ontario Field Research Group
Involvement in some fashion - advisory committee etc. with a variety of types of research projects....
Right now I'm doing research under the umbrella of CCLOW (Canadian Congress for Learning Opportunities for Women)....
I often think of myself as "living" in the divide between university
and practice, not quite in either camp:
I did university-based research as a student and teach occasional university courses
I also ran a program in West Africa, have done stints in programs in Canada, do a variety of "practice" based contracts
I have a bias towards bridging and narrowing the gap between the two areas!
2. Controlling research?
Who controls the money
Who controls the knowledge
who gets it/gets to use it
What or whose knowledge counts?
Important questions about control...
I see practitioner research as part of a tradition of critique of academic research, (or some forms of academic research).
I notice we have quite a range of names for this research or "inquiry" we are talking about and wonder how important that is - eg. Is there a difference between programbased research and practitioner research?
I have a concern that research by practitioners - could be just research on the cheap or are we talking about "control" based in programs, of all research, and seeing the program as a place of "knowing" from which to critique university research as well as carry out research?
In the early days the Ontario group talked about "program-based" research and were definitely interested in issues of control:
Toronto practitioner position paper (from 1989),
not just about doing research but definitely about control - claiming knowledge about questions, and appropriate processes, and wanting control over the money!
Therefore, a substantial part of any funding for research should be allocated to programs. Rather than contracting professional researchers to come into programs to do their research, programs themselves should direct the research from the beginning. This would mean relevant research questions, and answers in the form of usable materials. It would also mean the involvement of learners as active participants in the research rather than as passive objects of study. (Alkenbrack et al. 1989)
Tension of value of insider knowledge versus outsider knowledge
In "Exploring Community-Based Research" collection (I put it together with help from the rest of the group) - we explicitly positioned program-based research as part of alternative paradigms for research, approaches "own" research, and critiques of who gets access, whose knowledge counts:
- focussed on participatory research,
- and action research
- and we took the definition: "systematic collection and analysis of information on a particular topic for the purpose of informing political action and social change" (Barnsley and Ellis, 1987)
-stress choice of research approach, not just question of methodology, but also of political choice - "pr is not a method but a political approach of involving the exploited and the poor in the analysis of their own reality" research process "involve the community in the entire research project" (Hall, Gillette & Tandon, 1982) - pr - an educational process which leads to action...
- Research method will reflect "whose side on" no research neutral... (Maguire, 1987)
My experience of participatory Research and participatory evaluation - not that simple, complicated all the different people might share control, their different agendas etc.
Tension potential for practitioner to be radical, explore knowledge from insider location (although which insiders), but also tendency to be fears about how to "do it right" lead to traditional methods of research.
In England, also tensions about what research counts and the value of practitioner research:
Questions about whether practitioner research is a different creature from other research, tension want to recognize ways it is "different" (though different from what - the academic research is also not monolithic) but if it is different, then does it become not the "real thing" or lesser than the real thing and there is always that problem of who gets the money...?
One answer to this may be: "Yes, it is valuable and interesting, but it is not real research. Perhaps we need another name for this sort of thing." There is a real problem with that answer and it has to do with money. For the most part funding is available for literacy provision and research into literacy provision. The funding for provision and for research tends to come from different sources and as funds get scarcer it becomes more difficult to get funding for any research at all. The small well of funds available for research implementing slightly unconventional methodology is likely to dry us altogether if it is no longer recognised as research at all. Yet as adult literacy work goes on there is an increasing need to reflect on that work, to look at how it is done and how it is experienced by the students. Ideally, some of that reflecting ought to be done by and with people involved in adult literacy as students and tutors.... (Lawrence, 1986)
- lack of communication - practitioners don't know what research is
- tension, suspicion about university - research not relevant, "wrong" sort of research
Practitioner and teacher research as a challenge to what counts as knowledge,
- U.S. (from the university) Inquiry-based research:
Teachers - Questions from day-to-day experience... University based researchers - Questions from theoretical and empirical literature..
"Research by teachers is a significant way of knowing about teaching" (Lytle and Cochran-Smith, 1992)
Way of generating local and public knowledge about teaching "teacher inquiry is a way for teachers to know their own knowledge" "Teacher research is powerful way for teachers to understand how they and their students construct and reconstruct the curriculum. By conducting inquiry on their own practices, teachers identify discrepancies between their theories of practice and their practices, between their own practices and those of others in their schools, and between their ongoing assumptions about what is going on in their classrooms and their more distanced and retrospective interpretations." (Lytle & Cochran-Smith '92)
Value as staff development, but also clear political stance about who
In the U.S. Literacy South making claims for research as "staff development" and participatory education...
The traditional remedial approach to staff development tends to conceptualize the "knowledge base" as known and content-based; the expert is responsible for communicating it to teachers. In an inquiry-based model the knowledge base is problematic rather than known, seeing teachers as generators of knowledge rather than simply as receivers or users. (Fingeret & Pates, 1994, p. 4)
Attempts to "collaborate" - can become fraught by power imbalances -
resource imbalances... universities, v. community programs...
But also important not to exaggerate divide - there are cross fertilizations, practitioners become university students, people who cross divide university and practice..
research itself a literacy practice - like other literacy practices need to be examined in context..
Or will centre of what research counts remain same, while the alternatives remain in the margins....?
3. Learning how to do research?
What is research?
What counts as research?
Questions about whose knowledge counts when think about learning how
to do research.
Questions about who is the expert, and who needs to learn what from whom. Research as what practitioners already do or something new and different.
For example: ProgramBased Research Special Interest Group manual (Seek, Gather and Process),
Learn from experts, but which experts, what approaches to research... practical AND political question...?
"A great deal of reflective and evaluative work already goes on in adult basic education, often informally under the name of outreach or report-writing. This work needs to be made visible and these activities developed into procedures that can be generalized, compared and used by others....
It is also important to remember that research method is not fixed. Adult basic education needs to explore new methods, to be involved in developing these methods, and to press for their increased acceptability. In particular, we need to explore ways of participative research that break down the roles of "researcher" and "researched." (Bulletin, 1986)
I read many theories and attempted to see how my observations were fitting in. There were excellent theories about group stages, but to my disappointment, I didn't feel that my groups' experiences fit most theories. I began to feel despondent. I felt that I must have really been off base in my observations and perhaps I was just seeing what I wanted to see. I did try to squeeze my observations into some of these theories, but I realized that I would be compromising what I thought I knew.(Segsworth, 1993, p.41)
in reassessment of '94 project- recognizes practitioner uncertainty with the "grammar of research" provide more reference tools, share experiences...
gain from process, not just product value of working as a team, challenge to have enough time...
4. Making it possible to do research?
What is needed - time/money/ongoing support and/or communication?
Looking at ways to creating "spaces" for practitionerresearch
Early stages of Ontario network:
"Play a role in coordinating research in Ontario
develop "policy guidelines" about community-based research
support the development of collaborative research work.."
"Capturing the Moments" (another Ontario document from the research group) talked about the problem of lack of "skills and confidence" - "confidence - product of encouragement, and support as well as interest and personality"
I think that confidence may be less important than the material needs - money/time/energy... Capturing the Moments also says: practitioners "stressed to their limit" and lack of "time or incentive to pursue research" I think those factors are crucial.
Few people will be able to research, or even read about university or practitioner research, if no conditions to make it possible...
But I think a wide variety of models could make that "space":
CCLOW projects, (Canadian Congress for Learning Opportunities for Women)
coordinating research two interviews each contact women women write in a journal
Some tension lack of knowledge how to do research - but no lack of women wanting to participate...
At the moment the projects are not necessarily research - but this model with introduction to doing research, and then individual research projects could easily work... Curious if MTML (or other similar org.) offered "research seminar" in a similar format to the course (like Lytle's seminar... ) would people be interested... (problem in Ontario doing more for less, and now pressure to pay for own courses) - doesn't have the plus of CCLOW project where participants are paid for "half a day a week" and also paid for time to go to national workshops
This process allowed him to systematize knowledge from the field, bring it together with theoretical knowledge. He was burning out this re-energized him... Possible for him as he was able to get a local network to sponsor project application, had academic background...
To make possible for more people, need:
Place for critical reflection on practice - chance for discourse between practitioners and academics, projects, courses, sabbaticals, courses part of academic study and not... (more like teacher in-service courses)....
Possibilities for "spaces" to communicate processes and results of research, but also need ÒspaceÓ for people to read, think, make changes and engage in further research....
Engage in discourse where chance to communicate back and forwards between practitioners and academics...
Some examples that have been interesting:
Woman's Studies special issue on literacy, committee practitioners and academics, solicited strong articles both sides of divide...
but in Ontario at any rate hard to imagine many practitioners with time, energy to write, or even read or change practice as a result of research....
Final thoughts about: communication, collaboration, respect for different knowledges, bridging gulf between research and practice, strengthening research, strengthening practice....
Material conditions to make it possible are crucial
Need to develop discourses which allow us to communicate across the divides
Also need material structures which can reach across the divide between academy and practice
Always need vigilance to notice the way inequalities and hierarchies distort the discourses, exclude and silence and give only some, access to the structures....
Jean-Paul Hautecouer has talked about the shift to more technical literacy, less interest in ÒempoweringÓ literacy and feared that research will shift in the same direction.
I hope he is wrong, and that there will be the creation of many "spaces" for wide variety of types of research and dialogue between those different versions.
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