Becoming Educational W15: The heart of the maze: critical analysis – for research?

So – we’re half way through the course! Hope you are all enjoying it, are finding it interesting and engaging and thought-provoking… and if you’re not… What are *you* going to do about it? This is *our* course – all of us – make it great!


We started the lecture moment with a brief recap of the analysis of the Maze artefact from last week. Our focus was the analysis of qualitative data: how would we analyse the maze if it had been part of our research project? The Maze itself was produced in answer to the question, ‘What is the secret of your university success?’ So it is an excellent fit with the work we are all doing at this exact moment.

Critical tools or frameworks

If exploring or analyzing the Maze we could engage in: object analysis; analysis of visual aspects; and textual analysis.

Object analysis: That is, we might first ask, what sort of object is it? What does that ‘say’ about that student’s view of education? Why would I analyse it that way? What does that tell me about university or about education? How can I know that? What implications for teaching or learning practice does that interpretation suggest? Remember how long we spent of analysing the Big Mac box! And what that told us about our world. We explored that with fifty questions (see John Shuh) – well – what fifty questions would we ask of the maze – how far would that take our thinking?

Visual analysis: We could then analyse the specific look – the visual elements that make up this maze (no maze is the same as any other maze)… and follow the same argumentative structure or process. We offered links to our paper on ‘The Shipwrecked Shore’ – where we analyse visual representations of education and of the avatars that students used in our virtual learning space:

(you have to join to access the document). In our paper we offer an analysis of the shore itself, considering it as a very different sort of learning space to the traditional classroom. You might wonder, ‘What learning space is that?’ If you do – answer that question by thinking: what sort of learning is enabled or suggested by a seashore with deckchairs and log fires? How does that compare to a typical classroom? How does that compare to our actual classroom? What sort of learning is enabled or disabled by the taken-for-granted spaces that we ‘learn’ in? What does that tell me about how society has constructed formal education? What do I want to do about that? What evidence can I find to back up my own ideas for better learning environments?

You might then go on to ask all those questions of the avatars that the students built to represent themselves in the virtual learning landscape – and again wonder and think and read a bit – on all that tells you about how education works on our bodies and on our minds and on who we are – and what we and you might want to do about that…

Textual analysis: And – back to the maze – we could analyse all the text that was included in the maze… The extracts from coursework cover sheets and from actual essays that that student had written: why did she do that? Why those cover sheets and those assignments? Why those extracts – and those specific words?

To illustrate close textual analysis we analysed William Blake’s poem London:

As the language in this poem is archaic or arcane – Tom modelled critical analysis – interrogating all the words in the poem. We were challenged to think about every word and phrase: what do they mean? What are they saying about London – and its power and its people? Who has the power? Who has the pain? And what does that say about society and justice? What does it say about abundance and wealth – and how it is shared – or not?

Also, implicitly, we are asked to think about how the very reading and thinking about that poem – and those specific words – put together in that very specific order – has made us think… and why – and what we might do about that in our real lives or further thinking…

And then we were asked to link that to analysing data gathered in research – for that is the joy of research: the opportunity to be with and analyse stuff in exactly this detailed, slow, thoughtful and engaged way.

And that is the point of research – to gather data – to produce analysis – that changes things.

Steal this approach

We were given a link to a blog that discusses poetry in this very close textual way:

And then we discussed ‘Steal this poem’ in class – looking at that as a thing in and of and for itself – also as a commentary on education. For ‘Steal this poem’ was produced on #rhizo14: the community is the curriculum, in response to the challenge to use the concept of  ‘cheating’ as a tool  to analyse education – its forms – its power. So it is another artefact that is critiquing education as it is – and thus implicitly saying how it could be different.

‘Steal this poem’ is beautiful – and the only suggestion here is that you go there – hear it – read it – be with it – and produce your own analysis. Perhaps analyse by stealing and re-post to the blog.

A short history of time

We spent at least 75 minutes with that poem in our group. If you think about two tutors and 24 students – just imagine how many consecutive hours of thought on this one thing?

And that is another something to learn about learning itself – sometimes it can be fast and furious and scales drop from the eyes – and you get it… Other times it is slow and considered and requires us to spend real time thinking…

And finally

So we had an intense session on what is blithely called ‘analytical and critical thinking’ – with a special reference on how we might use these analytical strategies on the objects or pictures or words that are produced in our own research projects.

A final thought – we used the tools of critical analysis to interrogate a government policy document on E-learning – have a look and see what you think:


Wednesday, January 15th 2014 9:00am-1:00pm (Week 14)

Becoming W14: Analysing qualitative research data

This week we explored a MAZE – an artefact created by a student in response to the question: What is the secret of your University success?

How do we analyse – discuss – draw ‘reliable’ conclusions – if presented with data like this? How do we justify our arguments? How would we justify any ‘recommendations for practice’ that emerged if this was our research – and that was part of our data?

See SAMEERA’S blog!!! (Click second link.)

Wednesday, January 15th 2014 9:00am-1:00pm (Week 14).

via Wednesday, January 15th 2014 9:00am-1:00pm (Week 14).

W13: Becoming Educational: Our Research Interests

Lecture: Our research interests

Workshops: Looking at Object Based- and Inquiry Based Learning

Peer Mentors: And after Peer Mentors, what?


Social Justice

All of the lecturers on Becoming an Educationalist are also researchers – and we all have our own particular focus – the issue, theory, topic or approach that we are exploring at this time.

Quaco is currently researching how the theorist Sen contributes to a Social Justice agenda for education. I don’t have the link to his Prezi on the topic ATM – but a quick alternative right now might be to explore the RSAAnimate on the Crisis in Capitalism This offers its own argument as to factors that might be preventing education from enacting or enabling any form of social justice in society.

Transforming educational landscapes

Recently Tom and Sandra have been researching emancipatory practice with a focus on Notemaking – on Government Policy on E-learning – on transforming educational landscapes (with SecondLife) – and the avatars that students use when inhabiting virtual learning spaces (links to papers below). Currently we are looking at Deleuzian theory and its application to us all as educationalists – hence Becoming an Educationalist!Once we all know what our research interests are we can begin to understand even more where we are ‘coming from’ – and also perhaps which lecturer to go to for what advice and guidance.

An object lesson

The workshops were quite poorly attended this week – which was a shame for we had planned an interesting exercise – using a big Mac Box to develop our analytical and critical thinking. A lesson in unintended consequences – our sessions were poorly attended because the submission date for assessments for the Tuesday class was Wednesday. Hmmmm – as one of the Wednesday tutors, colour me unimpressed! Some groups did proceed with the exercise – see Sameera’s great blog:

We continued discussions seeded by the lecture. We focussed on the nature of society especially factors that shape how people think. Connections were made with how Hitler manipulated public opinion through the press with the portrayal and cartoons of Jews; to the stories about the undeserving poor, the workshy and the ‘not really disabled’ that followed the ConDem government into office in 2010. With the former, normal ordinary people were manipulated in to accepting the ‘final solution’, the concentration camps and the gas ovens – with us  we have a Government punishing the poorest and least powerful members of society for the failures of the bankers (and, yes, I guess this does show where we are ‘coming from’!).

So what to research?

We also looked more at research. We lconsidered the Notemaking Literature Review (below) as a model – and also as a source of information for our own literature reviews. It has some excellent discussion on Burr and social constructionism and Bourdieu on Habitus – so it is worth reading to support the writing that we are also undertaking on different modules. It all connects. We also discussed the Academic Reading Literature Review (below) for not only is it another model, it was also written as a reflective blog where the student writer reflected on the process of doing a lit review…

It is still difficult to think of do-able research – we tend to spiral off into grand projects – like how gender effects engagement and achievement in HE… which just may be something to leave till we are tackling our PhDs! Still we tried out a few ideas – for example we could ask a random selection of students where they study – or we could ask whether they make notes/why/what sort of notes – we could think about how students learn in a digital age – and Premsky and the concept of the Digital Native was discussed.

Proposals have to be submitted W19 and we are engaged in productive thinking nice and early.

After the Peer Mentors

Only a few PM arrived this week – possibly also because they too were handing in assignments. However it is making us think about what to do with our ‘fourth hour’ once the mentors leave us. Currently the most popular option seems to be that all the students convene in one room and we can have a variety of activities going on: ‘Shut up and write’ time; Peer review of writing; Tutorials with the teaching team; Preparation for Get Ahead 2014 – which is set for Tuesday 4th March!

Related material

Academic Reading – a Literature Review on the topic of academic reading – written as a wiki blog – with reflections on the process:

Burns and Sinfield et al (2010) Paper on Notemaking:

Burns, Sinfield and Holley (2012) – consideration of the freedoms available when creating learning spaces in SecondLife – with a focus on the avatars that students use

NOTE-MAKING LITERATURE REVIEW Kate Hoskins and Sandra…/Notemaking/…/Note-takingliteraturereview

By K Hoskins – ‎Related articles

attempt to understand the usefulness of different note-making strategies to non-  Thisliterature review however, explores the practice of notemaking as a socio- 

Sinfield, Burns and Holley (2009) – analysis of government e-learning policy:  ‘A journey into silence’: