So my last post to this site was a long time ago, back in September. Since that time I have managed to make some headway in narrowing the focus in this PhD journey, but it is still multi-lane freeway rather than a nice narrow single-lane one-way. I was told early on in the process that the PhD journey would involve periods of elation followed by periods of deep despair. I am on that journey and I am no different than the others. The biggest challenge has been narrowing the focus to a reasonable realm of knowledge. It is a delicate balance between providing something useful (in other words, having high expectations) and finishing the PhD. As someone more knowledgeable than me said “First you finish the PhD, then you start your research”. In other words, the PhD is a learning process on how to perform good research. I tell myself that when I look in the mirror in the morning. Sometimes it works.
So this is the initial post in which to start making more public my thinking about how all of the pieces fit together. “The narrowing of the focus”, so to speak. In my mind, there is no doubt that the majority of learning materials delivered to remote indigenous communities are not serving those communities in any relevant way. How can learning materials developed by an oppressor using oppressive language (simple example: “Columbus discovered America in 1492”) be considered relevant to a society that was already here? That is not their story. That is not authentic learning. It seems to me in fact to be quite insulting.
So then, how to change this thinking?? Well, an instructional designer can create learning materials that reflect the realities of today’s world, and that also allow for the POSSIBILITY of a different world view. That would be a great start, but man, that is deep as it requires stepping right up to the highest level of abstraction, and asks many of us (me included), as western-paradigm thinkers to question our linear, timeline way of thinking. That’s heavy stuff. So what is this alternative world-view malarkey? What is this holistic model mumbo-jombo? I’m not a philosopher (can you tell?), and before this journey, I could say that my knowledge on formal language around theories of epistemology or ontology was pretty minimal. Who in normal society does think deeply about other ways of thinking? Not very many; fortunately though, most of the ones that do are really, really smart. One of my favorites, Paulo Friere put my head in the right place early on, stating:
“Pedagogy must be created with, not for the oppressed” – Friere (1993)
And when I was asking the question of “what IS indigenous thought?” I came across another really smart person, Celia Haig-Brown, who states:
“Indigenous thought is founded in a deep understanding that we all live in relation to land. Whether we are city dwellers in profound denial or Aboriginal people drawing on old ways to regenerate new knowledge, we live in relation to the land – we bundle up when the snow comes, we fuss when spring is late, we breath deeply and restore our souls when the sun warms us into a new season.”
And finally, to give further weight to this paradigm, Haig-Brown draws on the knowledge of Maori scholar Makere Stewart-Harawira, summarizing that with indigenous thought;
“a refusal to divide and compartmentalize in any reductionist way is accompanied by adherence to recognizing all things existing in relation to one another”
So wow, there really are two different approaches at play here, a fundamentally different way of approaching the world. Holistic thinking vs. reductionist thinking. The whole vs the sum of its parts. Hoo boy, well that certainly has narrowed things down. Am I being sarcastic here? I don’t think so. In a round-about way it has hit the nail on the head, as it has been the path of others, on parallel (albeit deeper) trains of thought that has guided me to a stronger rooting, to a place perhaps a little closer to providing a narrower focus. Closer, I said, and that’s something.
What’s next? Defining a framework in which to integrate this way of thinking, in a reusable way, into the instructional design process. One step at a time…
Haig-Brown, C. (2008). Taking Indigenous thought seriously: A rant on globalization with some cautionary notes. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 6(2).
Friere, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin.
I have arrived here in Finland and am now ready to fully dedicate my time to this PhD pursuit. I definitely enjoyed some relaxing time this summer visiting with both my family, and with my partner Allison’s family. Joensuu is a beautiful little town (pop. 57,000) on Lake Saimaa in the central-east area of Finland, near the border to Russia.
Upon arriving here, I have at times felt completely overwhelmed by the tasks ahead of me. Tomorrow is my first day of class in the Research Methodologies for Computer Science course and I am very much looking forward to spending some time on better defining my path for the next 3 years of my life. I have defined the desperate feeling to whoever will listen as the process of starting out with my hands and arms spread wide as they will go, and then moving them forward and gradually closer together, as defining a path forward that is at first chasmic, then narrowing to a fine point when the research is specifically defined. Right now I feel that my arms are still wide stretched, but not completely.
I have sifted and read through the abstracts of probably 1000 articles, have fully read a few hundred, and I know have 25-30 pages of Literature review (rough) and 150 entries in EndNote (which is a life-saver). What I feel that I am lacking at this point is much for original thought. My research questions are still there, but right now I look at them with a bit of a blank stare. The stare is a little less blank than before but still pretty vapid. No twinkle, that is for sure. I hope tomorrow for a little less vapidity (is that a word? it should be).
An improperly designed literature review can derail a dissertation. With this in mind (under the guidance of Dr. Kinshuk), I have created a document that outlines a formal process for completing my PhD Literature review.
Please refer to the following page: IMPDET PhD Literature Review Guide