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Posts Tagged ‘shiftingthinking community’

Help us take shiftingthinking forward (or sideways, or…)

May 5th, 2010

I’d like to welcome new visitors to this site, particularly those who’ve met me or Jennifer during the 2010 AERA conference in Denver. If you met us there or you’ve been following the “shifting research” blogstream you’ll know that Jennifer and I presented a paper about shiftingthinking. If you’re interested in reading the completed paper, please email me and I’ll send you a copy! And read on, because I’m about to explain the request in the title of this posting.

Briefly, our AERA paper aims to do three things:

  1. To give the “backstory” to the development of shiftingthinking (where did it come from? what ideas were behind it? what happened?)
  2. To reflect on what’s happened, and most importantly, what we have learned so far
  3. To open up some new questions for ourselves, and (we desperately hope!) for others to engage with us in exploring. For us one of the most exciting and interesting of these new questions can be summed up quite simply as: What next? (and why?)

I’m quite serious about this. One of my tasks for the coming year is to take a serious look at shiftingthinking and think about how it fits with, adds to, or could potentially change the shape of, all the various different aspects of our work here at the New Zealand Council for Educational Research: Where can we take this thing next? That’s kind of an “in-house” job for me – but the very nature of shiftingthinking as a publicly accessible online community/blogspace that these questions of “what next? (and why?)” simply demands a much wider range of views, perspectives, and inputs from the wider shiftingthinking community.

In other words, I need YOU!

A number of questions, ponderings, and thoughtlets have been circling around in my head (particularly after conversations I’ve had or sessions I attended at AERA), and I would seriously appreciate some input and feedback on these. I’ve numbered them below in case you want to reference them in your comments.

1. Who are you, and why are you here?

This question isn’t quite as existential as it sounds! For a long time we’ve been exploring different ways of knowing who’s visiting this site, why they came here, and how they engage. One way is to track our visitor stats, which tells us how many times we’re clicked on, and where those clicks are coming from. We also invite people to make themselves known by joining the shiftingthinking community where you can write a brief bio  about yourself (however, see Q. 3 below). And of course you can give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, or comment on our blogs. Over time we’ve developed a sense of who’s interested in the ideas this site, and we have a few additional ideas about who else we think might be interested. Lumped together, these two categories seem to include

  • Teachers and school leaders interested in rethinking their own or their school’s ways of doing things, including ideas about knowledge, curriculum, and teaching;
  • Other researchers working across the areas we are interested in;
  • University graduate students who are learning about, or interested in the educational ideas and theories pertinent to this site;
  • People who work alongside schools and teachers to support professional learning, educational transformation, etc;
  • Occasionally, other people such as parents, or other people with a general interest in these ideas even if they aren’t working in an education-related field

What we’re wondering is, what’s the “payoff” for each of these different kinds of people in being part of the shiftingthinking community? What are YOU getting out of being here (or if you’re not getting anything useful, why?). What else would be interesting/useful/engaging for you? And how did you find your way here – do you follow us on Twitter? Did you come here through a google search? Do you know our work at NZCER?

2. What do or don’t you like about what you’ve found here?

Given the somewhat “emergent” pathway that this site’s development has taken, it’s sometimes hard for us to step back and evaluate this site as a whole, and to imagine what fresh eyes make of it. In the past, people have told me they find the site a little confusing to navigate, and they’re not sure where to begin. That’s hardly surprising, as we are very much a web 2.0 space. I’ve tried to address this with the “where should I begin” comments on the home page that try to give you ideas about where to start.

We’ve also tried to develop a range of different kinds of content for the site . We’ve got blogs, theory pages, and various other resources, both text-based and multimedia-based. What I want to know is – what “things” on the site are interesting or useful to you? Do you come here to browse? To get information?  To engage in discussions about ideas? To find resources/videos/things that you can use with other people (such as teachers you work with, or students you teach, or anyone else you are interested in “shiftingthinking” with? What other “stuff” would be useful for you in relation to our wider goal of shifting towards 21st century ways of thinking about learning and education? And if you’re here because you’re interested in shifting other peoples’ thinking as well, who are these other people we ought to be connecting with, and what do you think would be interesting/useful/engaging for them?

Plus, does all the “stuff” on this site feel like it’s interconnected into the wider narrative of “shifting towards 21st century ways of thinking about learning and education”? Or does it feel like lots of disconnected “stuff”? If it’s the latter, how can you and we start to weave all these pieces together in a more coherent way?

3.  Whose space is this? Yours, ours, or everyone’s?

This site is built on a blogging platform called wordpress. It’s a free and relatively easy and flexible platform, which is great because we’ve built this site more or less on a shoestring. We describe our reasons for this in our AERA paper (email me). Way back when we started shiftingthinking we had a lot of competing ideas about who ought to “control” this space, who would be in charge of managing the quality of what went up here, and so on. We could have chosen to build the site using very web 2.0 platform such as a Ning or other “web community” platform  - which more or less enables all members of the community to create and post content (blogs, pages, video, etc). However, we were still grappling with our own competing ideas about what the site ought to be like, what content it ought to have, and how it ought to “work” in terms of engaging people in thinking about the ideas/theories/shifts that we think are important for exploring together. We also weren’t sure who might be interested in joining our community. And let me tell you, there is nothing sadder than building a web-based community that nobody joins – and hence nobody except you ever creates content.

So now we have a blogging platform which also includes a modest, slightly clunky community feature . At the moment only we (the NZCER team) can blog, although we have invited other people to be guest bloggers from time to time. Everyone else can participate through the “comments” function. Is this enough? Do we need to open up shiftingthinking more widely, to enable all members of our community to create and contribute content? What might happen to the site if we do this? What are the pros and cons of the current setup, in which our team sort of controls the “metanarrative” of the site, as opposed to a much more open, community-driven site like a wiki where the “metanarrative” is generated through the collective inputs of all its members?

OK, as you can see I tend towards long and rambly trains of thinking dotted with questions and half-thought-out ideas – so that’s basically your invitation to do the same. Let’s talk! (PS. remember, you can leave audio comments and webcam comments as well as written comments!!)


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Listening for the silences and absences

March 31st, 2010
Yesterday Jennifer and I met (in person, wow!) to talk about our AERA paper. We’ve yet to start actually writing “the paper”, although we already have many pieces of writing that represent stepping stones towards it. As we said we’d do in our original research announcement, we’ve been blogging little micro-chunks of our data analysis and emerging thinking/questions along the way, hoping that some of our readers and shiftingthinking community members would respond with their own thoughts, responses, questions, challenges, reflections, arguments, anecdotes. We’ve already received a number of very insightful responses and Jennifer and I have really appreciated the additional ideas/perspectives you’ve offered. Soon we’ll decide how we’re going to weave all of these threads, ideas, and conversations together into a paper that bears a decent semblance to the paper plan we originally submitted to AERA last year.

Desert Oasis (c) Rachel Bolstad, 2007

(I actually think we’re pretty close, but it reminds me of something someone once told me about writing a thesis: It’s like a mirage of a desert oasis – the closer you get, the further away it seems….)!! 

Yesterday when we were talking about the exchanges and dialogues between yourselves and us through the blogs and comments, we returned to that old question about who’s not commenting, who’s not participating in these conversations. To illustrate, in her last posting, dark and disruptive methodologies, Jennifer talked about some areas/questions that various of us (within our team of educational researchers) have found the most uneasy and unsettling when it comes to the purposes and implications of this shiftingthinking space (or as she phrased it, “the ways that blog spaces like this one could be a disruptive and potentially frightening innovation in the world of educational research”). 

Jennifer reflected yesterday that when these kinds of issues are raised in the blog, the people who tend to comment are often those who (perhaps like me) tend to take a fairly optimistic/confident stance, which goes something like this: “even if we don’t know for sure exactly what this new thinking and collaboration space will lead to, nor do we yet fully understand it’s implications (either positive, negative, or simply different) for the ways we think about education, learning, research, and so on, well, there are plenty of good theories and research to support the notion that we ought to be at least trying to work in this way, and as long as we keep thinking and talking about what we are doing, we’ll work the tricky things out together along the way, and this is all good learning, and unexpected things may emerge, and that’s all just part of it and it’s nothing to be too afraid of, and that’s just the way a learning community ought to operate”. 

Maurice and Mary’s recent comments also helped to pull us back from becoming overly stuck in a solipsistic “researcher” perspective. Commenting from their own positionings, their comments suggested pulling our focus back to the interactions within a community of learners/educators/researchers – as Maurice suggested “We probably could all learn from sharing narratives as explorations, not positioning ourselves as teachers, learners or researchers, but as all of these.” 

So - back to the conversation that Jennifer and I were having yesterday: We wondered, once again, what do the people who aren’t participating in this online conversation think? What arguments/critiques/theories/evidence is not being presented within our ongoing learning conversation? As researchers we’re used to the idea that the voices we don’t hear are usually the ones that have something different to say. I’ve long been very interested in the silences and absences in this blog/community (longtime readers might remember some of my earlier postings about lurkers). It seems there all kinds of reasons why people don’t comment/participate. Some of the most common ones, I think, include: 

  • I don’t visit shiftingthinking, or don’t check it regularly.
  • I’m not interested in the discussions/ideas here.
  • Blogging is a waste of time. Doing things on the Internet is not real work.
  • I’m too busy/I don’t have enough time (either to read the blog, or to respond to the blog)
  • I can’t see the purpose, I need a more relevant purpose for participating in this site.
  • I like reading the blog but I’m not interested in responding to it.
  • I would like to say something, but don’t quite know how to say it (i.e. composing a response is too hard or time-consuming).
  • I would like to say something, but don’t feel it is worthy of posting (i.e. I don’t think my ideas are well-enough expressed, or I am uncertain about my ideas, or I’m afraid that I might be criticized or held to account for the things I post, or I’d rather not share my ideas publicly at this stage because I haven’t thought them through fully enough).

There are probably other resaons, and for most of our silent/absent friends and colleagues, a combination of these reasons are probably at play. I’m also not saying that everyone has to participate, and I’m certainly not having a go at the lurkers (honest, I still love you, lurkers!). I’m completely aware that it does take time and thought to put together something in writing – much more than, say, participating in a discussion with us at a conference – and that just seems to be part of the territory of this particular medium.  And I can also [grudgingly] accept the fact that perhaps the topics and threads on this blog might not be of interest to that many people in the world! 

Still, we’ve had many occasions where people have chosen to email us, or talk to us at conferences or in the kitchen or tearoom about something from the ShiftingThinking site, rather than posting their thoughts on the site. I can imagine lots of perfectly good reasons why people would opt to take their conversations with us into these more “private” spaces rather than the truly public space of shiftingthinking.org. 

However, it is useful (and important) for us to notice the silences and absences here, and we can’t help but speculate as to what those silent and absent voices and perspectives might say in reference to some of the challenging questions and tensions we’ve been discussing?

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