Category Archives: Doctorate writing

That’s praxis – Russian Dolls, strange fish and a mobile learning study for FE

My la-de-daa article on Mobile Learning has been published!! This is a wonderful achievement. A groundbreaking tome. A pot-boiling, kettle-watching, mixed metaphor of an essay, worthy of a Nobel prize.

Actually, since I also edited the journal for the last twelve months, it’s not that fanciful – though I still went through a rigorous examination and re-editing process (thanks to the publisher and co-editor).

Academic writing¬† (“academese”) is a strange fish, indeed. This was my first article, but I’ve been honed in the tone after three years work on my doctorate. In my first year I was advised, “you have to write at doctorate level”. Good advice. Hmm, How?

“Well, it’s like Masters level writing, but you add another layer on.” (Imagine dishing out such wisdom to A-Level students).

Supervision over three years has been a process of hammering certain, perfectly-everyday-understood words into definition, pruning “gnomic statements” and tautology off the page, removing any sense of identity, personal voice, charm or humour from each phoneme, exorcising Oxford commas, and generally dulling-down the language ’til it sounds, as one of my GCSE students said to me, as if I’d “swallowed a dictionary” (‘Professor Words’ was how his mates referred to him during the course, apparently).

This is challenging and a bit compromising when you try to do doctorate research that addresses a common problem (namely the re-sit English GCSE problem) with a solution, because you try to keep everything grounded in reality and operational to your professional peers. Simultaneously, you have to address the conceptual in an attempt to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary and back to ordinary again (perceptibly, at least).That tends to happen anyway when we study, investigate or meditate on something for a prolonged period: it changes its definition and properties, subtly, perhaps, but something happens. It’s what researchers sometimes call the Russian Dolls approach of unpacking something, finding what’s inside, taking that apart, finding what’s inside, etc…eventually, data saturation happens, and you may stop. Or go nuts. You then put it back together, adding bits of theory like sticking plaster. Finally, it looks less like a Russian doll and more like a Barbie Doll, clothed in weird words and strange ciphers.

An apology, then.

My article is representative of that, since I am outlining a micro-case study of a pedagogical design informed by theory. I have to write like I’m sending myself up, but I also want it to be clear, pragmatic and understood. With complex learning theory (which is actually often not complex, but communicated as complex), the more you aim for practice, the more you translate it to the everyday. That’s praxis.

What’s increasingly difficult – and I might argue ‘pointless’ – is the case for measurement of learning’ . We measure when we want to transfer, but all contexts are different. And education, I would argue, is a social science that is highly contextual. Unlike the natural sciences, human beings are not so predictable. But that’s another post.

The article I’ve written, then, is not prescriptive of use, but does reflect that we are, in FE, at a point in a wave turning back in on itself. Something new needs to emerge from the surf: a new culture, because I think that the old models of practice are becoming less and less relevant. Self-directed action¬†by students at this halfway house in worlds between school and work needs to become a default setting as expectation. The case study is not the best example, because its population is with the GCSE re-sit demographic, whose abilities may not be attuned to this sense of self-responsibility, but it’s meant to demonstrate how we can activate and support those processes, with informed, conducive theory.

Article and editorial:

My First Mobile Learning Journal

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