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:



4 thoughts on “Becoming Educational W15: The heart of the maze: critical analysis – for research?

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