So after being left with a series of questions and problems at the end of research paper two (handed in, in May) I was trying to solve the methodological issues of exactly how to capture informal learning in action between individuals.
At the time I was writing up research paper 1, I had reactivated my Twitter account and begun to follow teachers and others who were tweeting about teaching and learning. Here, I discovered a group of individuals interacting and sharing knowledge and ideas informally. What made it really special was I could see it happen on the screen in front of me.
When my supervisor – the wonderful Prof Alan Dyson, was presenting a workshop to us he stated ‘this paper is where if you want to try something different, you can, even if it all goes wrong’… never say that to me… I love doing something different…
Research paper 2 has focused on using a problem structuring method to illuminate the complexity of the interactions between individuals in the virtual community. Soft Systems Methodology conceptualises a situation where people are undertaking purposeful action as a system. As a group we are undertaking purposeful action – trying to improve our practice, to solve that problem of teaching better and better. Soft Systems structures this process in that we get involved in this action, but we are unable to predict the outcome from undertaking this activity. We cannot say predict what will happen to each individual in the system, merely that there will be an output – whatever that may be for the individual.
Without overloading you with the whole method and its underlying assumptions and ideas, there are two main stages that I undertook. Firstly, the building of a rich picture about the situation and then building ideal ‘systems models’ or ‘human activity systems’ that show the steps to achieve the transformation (in this case, the teacher’s practice).
So with this in mind, I had to spend rather a lot of time on Twitter watching the interactions and discussions that flowed through my timeline. What I was looking for were people sharing their ideas, knowledge, skills, or advice with others and then other picking up and using the ideas in their own schools. Sometimes the final stage was that the second person then fed back into the community how successful an idea was, how they modified it and what they saw as the benefit. I also looked at the types of things that were retweeted and the general discussions that happened. When I chose to tweet it was as a teacher, not as a researcher and I often forgot that I was researching this community as well as being a member of it.
What interesting tweets did I see? Well @oldandrewuk always provided an alternative viewpoint and caused at least one debate over teaching pedagogy. There were the stream of ‘fish jokes’ that also appeared and yes – I got them in the research paper. There was a lot of sharing little tips of knowledge but more importantly people then took those tips, used them, modified them and tweeted feedback into the community. This was brilliant for letting me see the impact of a particular idea on someone. Often it was modified, sometimes it set people off to produce new resources using a template, but was important was the feedback that showed that this had impacted on your practice.
What appears as a stream of tweets actually has more patterns than I ever expected. I used those patterns to construct a ‘rich picture’ of some of the things that were happening in the community. This can be downloaded here…and notice that it is version 7 – it was modified with more and more data. This rich picture helped me see what key processes and actions were being undertaken by people in their ‘purposeful action’ to improve their teaching. That is not to say we all agreed about how to go about it and that we all viewed everything the same way.
The main idea is that we are all acting purposefully in trying to improve our practice. The next stage of SSM is to construct model of human activity systems – ideal models of how to carry out this activity.
For our network to be successful we have to share what we know, have tried or understand and for someone to pick up and use an idea that someone has shared, they have to evaluate it and implement it in their classroom against the criteria they set for success. If we did not share our knowledge then it wouldn’t be passed to another individual, equally not all pieces of knowledge are collected by others and used – there is a selection and evaluation process at that end.
However, from all of this there are more questions…
Kenny Pieper and I had a discussion at Pedagoo Christmas Party about some of these models and he commented about ‘do I trust the source?’ – this was something that I had never considered. How do we build trust in our network? How do we decide who to follow and who we don’t?
Further on in this, more questions emerged.. how do we know that we know something and then decide to share it? Why do we choose to share in this community? How do we choose what ideas to use and reject? How do we evaluate the tweet responses to our tweets?
So just as I finished research paper 1 with a stream of unanswered questions – I’m left at the end of research paper 2 with another bunch. But this is the great thing about EdD research – it takes you wherever you want to go with your interests.
This was perhaps the hardest piece of academic work I have EVER done. I had to read up on a new methodology, apply it in a setting that had not been done before, with a new data set (tweets) and make some sense of it… in the words of my supervisor – ‘you made it difficult for yourself’.
Yet the feedback from my supervisor and second marker has boosted my confidence – original and exciting – the two things you want to hear about your doctoral research. That said… I’ve still got lots of work to do.
If you want to read it… try here.. http://purpleelf.edublogs.org/2013/04/07/teacher-learning-via-twitter-part-2/