All entries for January 2018

January 21, 2018

Conceptions of the Relationship between Society and Education: Problem Solved (Apparently!)

To Recap


In the previous blog post I talked about the way I was approaching the discussion of society, culture and the relationship between society and culture in the first chapter of the literature review. I began to talk about certain definitions of society that caught my attention and I was beginning to offer initial evaluations and critiques of them. I then offered initial discussions of the characteristics of society, of the definitions and characteristics of culture, and of the relationship between society and culture.


This was progressing fine until I started to discuss the relationship between Society and Education. Two aspects observed in the literature began to puzzle me. Firstly, I was finding that authors would talk about the relationship between a specific type of Education and a specific type of society (e.g., Higher Education in the context of a ‘Learning Society’ and other papers would focus on Higher Education in the context of a ‘Post Modernist Society’). Going into the idea of a ‘Learning Society’ further, I half expected conversations to be based on the promoting of particular learning processes and learning contexts and pedagogies. What I found was different: a ‘Learning Society,’ at least from the papers I was reading, revolves around a complete change in social structures and social institutions and their interactions in order to bring into existence the principles of LifeLong learning. But whilst this perspective has some role in my research, it’s not a complete whole. Why was the Learning Society being viewed as some huge transformation of social structures and social institutions, and not based on the activities within a particular classroom? There appeared to have been little talk of this and I was beginning to wonder if I was viewing Society from an incorrect perspective, or simply reading the wrong papers.


It turned out I was doing both………


Shaping the Views of Society


A particular paper that I have unfortunately misplaced (if I find it I again somewhere on my computer or favourites folder I shall amend this as necessary) clearly defined and made clear to me that the relationship between Society and Education can be viewed from two different perspectives: the Macro and the Micro. This is where, along with other literature I read through as follow ups, I realised that I was actually viewing the relationship from an incorrect perspective: the Macro perspective. The Macro perspective or Macro analysis deals with society at the level of the institution and high level social events, such as social change. The Macro perspective deals with the role of and relationships between institutions, analyses the impact of institutions on each other, analyses the way that changes to an institution affects others, and investigates the way in which institutions have power over and change individuals. Institutions, therefore, have power value and those who carry out Macro based analysis believe that institutions have real power over individuals and that individuals have no agency and therefore have no influence over the construct and function of institutions.


In the example of Education, a Macro perspective would deny that learners have any power-enacting agencies and therefore have no ability to change their institution because they are powered and controlled by institutions. A Macro perspective would also look at the impact that other institutions have on Education and the role and function of Educational institutions (e.g., employment institutions impacting policy and curricular at schools, colleges etc., and University based research) and, therefore, the way that changes to an institution impacts Education.


A Macro perspective for my first literature review chapter is fine insofar as it is useful for describing changes to society, the economy etc. over the decades that gave rise to the need for a change to occur in classrooms, tutor-learner relationship etc. and for the need of and to explore a particular learning phenomenon. However, the Macro does not deal with what happens within classrooms, online learning groups, tutor-student relationship, student-student interaction and other social interactions and processes. For that, a Micro perspective is required.


The Micro perspective, as you have probably guessed, focusses on an individual, interaction between a couple of people, or interactions within a group of people within an institution. The Micro perspective does not necessarily deny that institutions and other large social structures have an impact on individuals, but argues that individuals are power-enacting agents and therefore do have a force and power to change institutions and society. But on the whole, the Micro perspective is interested in the smaller units of society instead of large, giant social structures.


The relationship between society and Education through the Micro perspective is quite diverse, from what I can currently understand, and can be taken in various directions. You can focus on the interactions between the teacher or tutor and the learner, interactions between a teaching assistant or specialised SEN tutor and the learner, the interactions between a specialised SEN tutor and the teacher, or the interactions between students carrying out groupwork in a classroom. Interaction itself is a complex process which can involve sociological and / or psychological processes and can take place within a range of classroom environments, pedagogies, different types of social technologies, different task designs, and different learning goals and purposes. The key characteristic of micro analysis, from what I can currently understand, is that it focusses on interactions, and that it views individuals as power-enacting agents who can bring change to their institutions and social structures.


Where am I going with all this?


That is a wonderful question………


Ok, the research questions, the research context, the fact that the focus is on a social learning phenomenon, and the nature of the problem all necessitates a micro perspective. This, therefore, impacts the research design and the methodology that is used because I am using the methodology from a micro analysis perspective (something that my supervisor briefly mentioned in an email ages ago, which I happened to have just remembered!).
The Macro perspective, however, is useful for the first literature review chapter because it is here I building a platform upon which I can discuss, evaluate, analyse and critique literature related to the learning phenomenon of interest in subsequent literature review chapters. In the first literature review chapter I shall be talking about the relationship between society and Education from that macro level, before progressing towards the changes to society that invoked changes to the Education system, and the way that society is still changing now that, in my belief, invokes the need for, the investigation of, and new thinking of the learning phenomenon. This chapter is yet to be fully restructured and quite frankly the structure might change anyway as I rewrite the chapter, as is the nature of research!


In summary: the Macro and Micro perspective offer completely different views of society, and I was getting myself into a muddle because I was trying to understand the relationship between society and Education from a Macro perspective instead of also thinking about the Micro perspective. Both perspectives now make much more sense to me, and I can now associate each perspective with different parts of the thesis. As I explore the relationship between society and Education further, I might be able to think about more Macro level discussions in further chapters e.g., possibly showing the way that the particular learning phenomenon can provide power-enacting abilities within learners, who can challenge authorities and perhaps bring changes to their environment.


Onwards!


January 19, 2018

Update on the First Literature Review Chapter: The Function of Education in Society

Society and Culture


Returned to the writing of the thesis, concentrating at the moment on the first literature review chapter with the tentative title of “Function of Education within Society.” The chapter is providing an example of the importance of conceptual definitions, detailed clarity of concepts, and the importance of building a contextual basis early so that people will be able to grasp early on what it is you are specifically talking about.


Currently, I have discussed and gave initial critiques and evaluations of some of the broader definitions and characteristics of society and culture stemming from the disciplines of anthropology and sociology. I have also discussed briefly the relationship between society and culture. All discussions shall be expanded upon in the future with further definitions, arguments, explanations and critiques as necessary therefore all current discussions and critiques are tentative and changeable. All discussions shall assist with contextualising my discussions and critiques of Education later in the same chapter and in subsequent literature review chapters.


I am finding, however, that I am being drawn to a certain category of definitions, and I believe this attraction could be explained by my own philosophies of the social. My own developing philosophical framework from which I view and understand the world is therefore shaping the way I value different definitions and classifications of definitions of society and culture. This is an interesting observation, because it shows again the importance and value of our philosophical beliefs and the role they play in our research beyond the methodologies and methods used. Your own philosophical beliefs could provide the valuable platform upon which your entire construction of the thesis sits upon. Therefore, I might have to explain in the thesis not just the way that my Philosophical beliefs influence the research design, but also the way that they draw me to certain classifications of society and culture. The research context and phenomena of interest in themselves also might necessitate the drawing towards of certain classifications of definition, but even then the context and the way that we view the phenomena of interest might be influenced also by our philosophical beliefs.


Society, Culture and Education


My current task in the literature review is to discuss Education and its relationship with society and culture although, as I have just been finding out, this is where I am finding various forks in the road leading me into possible directions that I had not previously thought fully about


Generally, sociological literature define society from a broad perspective. However, as I explore educational literature that investigates the relationship between society and Education I find that both society and Education are defined in very specific ways, which differ across the literature. Such conceptualisations of society include: “Post-Industrialised Society”, “Post-Modernist Society,” “Open Society,” “Democratic Society,” “Digital Society,” “Information Society,” “Learning Society” and so on and so on. Specific types of Education include: “Distance Education, “Primary Education,” “Secondary Education,” “Higher Education,” “LifeLong Learning,” and so on.


Obviously, I have encountered these Educational conceptions before, but conceptualisations of society are relatively newer encounters. I know the Education sector I am working on, but the challenge now and the forks in the road refer to questions about whether I should subscribe to a specific type of pre-defined society, or critically evaluate, analyse, and synthesis current definitions of society to develop a new social conception or reconceptualise an existing social conception.


I am asking these questions because I doubt the legitimacy and validity of using an existing, pre-defined type of society to hold my conceptions and discussions of Education. Using a pre-defined concept of society could negate the value, importance, worth and usefulness of the learning phenomenon of research interest. I do not actually know this to be true as I have not tested the ideas yet, but it is possible due to my experiences of trying to fit my philosophical beliefs within an existing philosophical classification: it just doesn’t work. Plus, there are characteristics from, say, a democratic society and a digital society that aligns with my thinking about what society is or should be in order to accommodate the phenomenon of interest.


My key question here is, what are the characteristics of society that give rise (in part) to the existence of the phenomenon of interest that is being explored?


Update:


I have been thinking about the concept of society more since writing the previous discussion yesterday. Have I really been thinking about all of this correctly? I have been thinking more about the concept of society during the day and all I have been reading about it, and it does involve every aspect of human interaction and collaboration: law, business, Government, industry, commerce, health care, Educational institutions, and more besides. But I’m only exploring Education institutions, and even then, a specific type institution; a specific level of Education. However, the development and application of Education systems are influenced by the social and cultural constructs and values of the time, which can be plainly observed when learning about the Industrialised Education system. Here, the relationship between student and teacher mimicked that of employer and employee: students were not necessarily allowed to challenge anyone or asked questions, and collaborative learning was an unheard of concept that would have strongly contested the authoritarian philosophies that existed at the time, and would have been strongly opposed. Strong Conservative social order and authoritative hierarchies were preferred in Victorian society over conceptualising learning as a natural, progressive concept that should not be controlled and regimented. I cannot remove the fact that characteristics of a society along with its culture enables the existence of certain Educational systems, and certain learning patterns and activities within that Educational system. In some respects, therefore, society as a concept simply has to be considered and defined, but to what extent?


I have just been reading a paper by Paul Armstrong that evaluates and critiques the term “Learning Society.” In this paper a part of the critique is that the term “Learning Society” has been politicised by Governments in order to push their own political agendas. Whilst this blog remains apolitical, what the author suggested with the way in which “Learning Society” has been used as a means to promote marketisation, choice, and competition restates the fact that society is a social construction that can be reused in different contexts to mean different things. It could be argued here therefore that perhaps it’s not a case that looking at society itself is incorrect, but I’m perhaps trying to understand society from an incorrect perspective. E.g., instead of looking at society from the political lens, I need to look at society purely from the basis of Education and forget about perceiving society from the lens of politics, economics, etc. unless I find any reason to view society further from those lenses.


What can society do for Education, and what can Education do for society? And, what are the conditions and characteristics of society that give rise to Education systems that accommodate the learning phenomenon of interest?


This is an ongoing issue, and I will update on my progress with another blog post during the next week or so.


The journey continues…………


Reference:

Armstrong, P. (n.d): Rhetoric and Reification: Disconnecting Research, Teaching and Learning in the 'learning society.' Available At: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/000000706.htm


January 07, 2018

Some Thoughts and Reflections on the ideas of Time and Planning

After a period of festivities (including eating far too much) it’s time to get back to the Ph.D. beginning with a short period of initial planning of what I would like to achieve this coming year. During the planning and strategy development, I have been rethinking questions about what time is, and the importance and value of time when it comes to planning. What is time? In what way can time hinder or assist? It’s important to remember from the beginning not to view your planning and strategizing as something that has to be set in stone and followed in an absolute, unchanging way. Give yourself room to be flexible and manoeuvrable and try not to set it into your head that you must complete a particular task by a particular time, but obviously do your best to achieve as much as you can within any given time frame. Time is a man made creation. Time itself has little control over us, but we can use time as a psychological guide or frame of referencing that assists with our task identification, task ordering, and task structuring, with the order based on the way in which we perceive the need to complete the tasks. The act of structuring and ordering the tasks therefore is time independent, although time itself can be a useful framework if approached in a flexible way.


Several times during the previous year I found that a certain task took longer than I had originally planned, but the task led me to ideas and directions I never considered before. This resulted in the strengthening of my ideas, of my directions, and substantial understanding. I completed some tasks way outside of their original time frame, but I find this as perfectly acceptable because of the way in which the task contributed towards the further development of my ideas and research directions. If you do not complete a task outside of whatever time frame you categorised it, don't panic! If you complete a few tasks then that is fine, but don't beat yourself up if you do not complete every task. Simply replan, and always, always, try to monitor your progress so that you can adjust accordingly.

When you are writing your plans, you cannot at all predict this sort of event or occurrence, and if you are absolute and regimented in your approach then these potentially useful events might not occur at all. Why? Because you would be so focussed on completing a particular task within a particular time that you would not be able to view the task beyond what you have conditioned yourself to observe. Do not allow yourself to be trapped like this. The best you can do is allow these events and occurrences to happen, deal with them accordingly, and readjust your plans as necessary. Do not fight these potentially enlightening, creative, inspiring, developmental yet challenging moments. Let them happen; let them develop you and let them develop your ideas. Dynamism and flexibility are keys here.


The possible time and task independence does not negate the importance of good, appropriate planning at least so you have some sort of guide to direct you to the next important task in the ordering or structure of your plans. Do not rush, and do not be so regimented and strict with the planning process that you enable the process itself to suppress your creativity and originality.


A Brief Look At My Planning As An Example:


My two, long term, main goals of this year are:
· Continue to draft the thesis
· Continue to develop the theoretical framework


I am telling myself here that focus of the year needs to be placed on drafting the thesis, and to continue development of the theoretical framework. Would I be able to complete, for example, the construction of the theoretical framework? It is possible, but I am not going to commit myself to that because I do not want to view the definition of time as more important than the creative, innovative process that come with developing a theoretical framework. If I were to commit myself to completing the theoretical framework, I would be in danger of missing out on moments of creativity and innovation. I really cannot predict if I will complete the theoretical framework this year, but at the same time I am not saying this is impossible.


In my planning, I have broken the rather abstractly stated main goals down into a series of medium term goals and tasks, and short term goals and tasks. I have used a time frame (blocks of time: now and Easter; Easter to summer holidays; summer holidays to Christmas holidays) to categorise and order the goals and tasks, but I am not using time in a regimented and dogmatic way: I am using time as a rough guide to assist with ordering the completion of the identified tasks.


What is most important to me is not to use time in a regimented way; a way that forces me to complete a task at a particular time, but to use time as a rough guide with more focus and emphasis on the importance and value of ordering and structuring task completion, irrespective of time. But, that does not mean I would not be able to complete a task within a specific time period; however, I do not want to restrict whatever creativity the methodology affords me, and whatever unexpected insights within the data that come about that inspire me to return to literature exploration, or to collect more data to further develop conceptual or practical insights. I do not want to get into a position where I am so focussed on completing a task within a particular time frame, that the quality, insights, observations and careful thinking reduces. Be flexible! This is important for Grounded Theory projects. Don’t let your use of time restrict your creativity and your ability to innovate. Plan and think very carefully and use time as a resource, and not the be all of everything.


Summary


Do not use time in a way that enables time to restrict your creativity, your ability to view new insights, to develop existing insights, and to observe and critique new events and ideas that you develop and identify. Breaking down your abstract long term goals into more observable, measurable medium and shorter term goals, and understanding the importance, value and order of the tasks you want to carry out is more important than the time you give yourself to complete them. Obviously, do the best that you can and strive to achieve, but don’t ever rush yourself and don’t ever restrict and suppress your creativity in the name of completing within a time you set yourself. I think this is more relevant to grounded theory projects, simply because with grounded theory you simply cannot predict what you are going to find within the data. I might be able to develop some sort of anticipation of what to find as I reread and code more data, but ultimately those anticipations could also act as restrictions.


Be open minded, be flexible, be dynamic, and don’t restrict yourself. Remember that time is a man made construct that should not be used to control and suppress you, but to be used as a guide.


‘till next time! And that was a timely pun!


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