Thursday, February 16, 2012

“We know what we know from where we stand.” – Margaret Kovach

ll graduate students in the College of Education at the University of Saskatchewan are required to take a research methodology course (ERES 800) as part of their program plan. The intent of the class is to introduce students to the “basic principles of research” and to develop the “skills necessary for the production of research proposals.”  (College of Educational Technology and Design)
Although, admittedly, I was overwhelmed when I first began my first class as a graduate student, I soon began to relish in the “brain pops” that occurred every time I sat down to read and engage in the online conversations with my classmates.
You know those brain pops?

                      pop!             pop!                     pop!
The ones that happen when you stop and think, “Wow! I didn’t know this!”
I was having those experiences frequently in the first few months as a graduate student and it was exciting to be actively aware of the process of learning. (more about that in my reflections on 802)
In this post, I want to share some of the “brain pops” (aka big ideas) that resonated with me in ERES 800, some of which were to arise time and time again throughout my graduate studies.

1.    Ways of Knowing (Examining Our Personal “Lens”)
While reading Margaret Kovach’s book, Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations, and Contexts, I was re-introduced to an exploration of epistemology, of different “ways of knowing”. According to Margaret, “epistemology means a system of knowledge that references within it the social relations of knowledge of production.” (p. 21) Or, more simply – “self-in-relation”.
This course challenged me to explore my personal bias as a way to better understand how my experiences have been instrumental in developing the “lens” through which I view the world. For me, that is often a “technology” lens. The role of technology in improving learning has been an interest of mine for many years. I began my love affair with technology when I received my first computer, a Commodore Vic 20, as a gift from my aunt and uncle. I spent hours in the basement reading computer magazines and trying to teach myself code (note to reader: feel free to insert image of computer geek here if desired). An undergrad communications class in 1992 (with Rick Schwier) introduced me to the endless and exciting possibilities of technology in education. And as the child of two educators, conversations about learning were part of my daily life.
But I understand that my experiences are not universal, and that both my access to and relative success with technology have shaped my beliefs. Through the online forum in this course, there was much reflective discussion about personal bias and its effect on our personal and professional decision-making. We all have equally valid experiences, equally valid “lenses”, if you will. It is what makes us unique human beings; but, it is in honouring others’ ways of knowing that we begin to understand each other. 
2.    The Authentic Narrative
One way to begin to understand others’ perspectives is through the narrative, through conversation. I am a story-teller. This originates from my father’s side where telling a good story is an oft-practiced skill at family gatherings. Stories are a powerful way to make connections, and as Kovach points out, “stories remind us of who we are and of our belonging”(p.94).
I made strong personal connections with Kovach’s emphasis on capturing the voices of Indigenous people . While she simultaneously acknowledges the challenges of providing an accurate, authentic representation of others’ perspectives, the narrative offers a chance to listen with intention, and to hopefully understand more fully. This course was my first opportunity to "hear" others' stories through online "conversations",to begin to get to know people by the narratives that they shared. It was a strange experience, meeting someone's mind, but often, never seeing their face. But it was through such shared conversations, through the stories, that we began to forge new relationships. 
I was able to delve further into the power of the narrative during the Learn to Lead Conference hosted by the University of Saskatchewan in May 2011. As a member of the Theme Weaving team, I was invited to become fully immersed in meaningful conversation, honest, soul-searching reflection and a renewed commitment to the narrative. The conference theme was Continuing the Conversation, and throughout the two days, I extended my learning about the role of conversation in leadership, in building relationships, and in bringing about change. As part of my experience, I had the honour of having a conversation with Chief Elijah Harper. We talked about the importance of sharing the Aboriginal voice, in telling the stories, as a way to bring about social change. His story was both moving and inspirational. It was a life-changing experience.
3.    Relationships
I am, by nature, a very social being, and often refer to myself as a Walmart Greeter.  Whether in face-to-face or online settings, I like to get to know people. This course allowed me the opportunity to investigate different ways of building stronger relationships in our work environments. Perhaps that sounds a bit unusual for a Research Methodology class (where an entire chapter is devoted to math – aka statistics), but relationships are fundamental in my role as an educational coach, and as such, I tend to see things through that particular “lens.” I am continually exploring opportunities for teachers to work collaboratively using online technologies. As a result, the importance of building meaningful relationships with others has been an area of study for me throughout my graduate studies, beginning with my initial foray in ERES 800.
Additionally, this course kick-started my thinking about these, and other big ideas around education. And as my brain kept “popping”, I frequently found myself stopping in mid-reading to make connections to my professional life. The ideas here were not new, but they were renewed in my own mind and I was excited to put these ideas into action.
By the end of my final assignment, I was eager to learn more, to engage in deeper conversations with classmates, with instructors. I embraced those who challenged me to stretch my thinking in new ways. I was excited to get the ball rolling …

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