Naomi Barnes

Doing my research work is like walking a city. How would you walk this city?

How do you feel about walking around a city? If you were in Sydney would you head down to the harbour? Join the throng of tourists and day-trippers taking in the sights? Or do you prefer to find the hidden gems? Perhaps you would insert yourself into a comfortable space that might have excellent coffee, interesting views, warmth: your place.

The well-known French scholar, Michel deDe Certeau, writes about walking in cities in his book The Practice of Everyday Life. Where we walk and how we walk determines the shape of the city. The places most people go receive the most planning attention. Some places are overcrowded so urban planners think about maximising the flow of humans and vehicles in those areas. Tourist attractions, like Sydney Harbour, are well attended to. The available infrastructure both shapes the nature of those who visit and those who visit shape the infrastructure. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

Other places in the city are shaped by the waves of movement. Once grand old buildings become dilapidated and then gentrified. Inner city public housing areas and places of ill repute become trendy boutiques, markets and air bnbs.

De Certeau says “The long poem of walking manipulates spatial organizations, no matter how panoptic they may be: it is neither foreign to them (it can take place only within them) nor in conformity with them (it does not receive its identity from them). It creates shadows and ambiguities within them.”

When you are a local you know what you like, the places that make you feel at home. Tourist destinations are not your regular haunts. You know exactly where to park at the shopping centre and your favourite café is where the proprietor knows your order. You practise your everyday life. It might not make as great an impression on the footpath, but the route is well worn by you.

For researchers our research work is like our local space. We know it well. We have found, or are in search of, the secret nooks and crannies of our field. We wander the streets of our research life every day. We are the local. We are shaping the space and that space is shaping us.

But what happens when something unexpected happens? Or the expected turns out to be different?

My research journey

For me it was having children during my candidacy. I had planned my study, forged out a little nook, but then the design became untenable, so I had to move. Moving from a space you find comfortable is painful but often necessary. We can try to force our circumstances into the original cranny, but it’s now stressful and unproductive.

Both the French philosopher, Michel Foucault and American feminist scholar, Donna Haraway write about irruptions ( a ‘sudden, violent or forcible entry: a rushing or bursting in’). They talk about how circumstances come together in such a way that there is a shift. Foucault might encourage us to have a look at the irruption and try and work out why the irruption occurred at that point. Haraway might encourage us to test the conditions that allowed the irruption, to find the chemical makeup. The irruptions in my research life have been ones I cannot ignore: a young baby, bills to pay, and difficulty in recruiting participants into my research project. It meant my research went in directions I could not anticipate.

I had a choice to work hard to bring it back on track, subjecting my research to delays, or to take a more scenic route and find a new place to settle. These are the Foucauldian irruptions.

I have no regrets about the products of my research. In fact, I am proud of my motley crew of weird and wonderful creations ( including my research into blogging and a longitudinal study of first year university students as they record their social integration on Facebook.)

People telling me my work is not good enough have populated my whole research career. Those people no longer get my time. My outputs are the way they are because they were forged in adversity, chance, brutal failure, consideration of what I believed was important, and privilege I didn’t know I had. These creatures, brewed in the irruptions of Haraway, are part of the history that got me to where I now stand.

There is no right way to finish a research project

Everyone has different irruptions in their research journey and everyone works with them or bulldozes over them for different reasons or in different ways. There is no right way to finish a research project. To researchers out there: anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

It can be difficult to keep up with the rapid changes in our contemporary research landscape, for example cuts to research funding, the changing dimensions of altmetrics and measurement of ‘impact’, precarity, proposals for a national interest test, and increased pressures related to the balance between teaching, research and leadership. Researchers need to remember that the advice we are given was often developed in a different time under different circumstances. The key is to work out what you value and what your values are. Then the decisions you make will align with the path you find yourself walking.

It might take longer than you anticipate, but where you end up will feel satisfying. Research is about finding places no one has been. You become the expert in that space. Everyone else is a neighbour or tourist. But taking the time to get there also means you meet wonderful people along the way who support you and know you. That is much more valuable than the advice of people who do not take the time to find out who you are.

Returning to the metaphor of walking in the city. If you were to walk to the top of the tallest tower and look down on the network of roads and people, it might look planned, straight, considered. Plenty of people have taken that path and many know where to go. You can tell by the structures. But when you get down to ground level, the steps people are taking are not all in unison. They wander, stop, turn around, bump into things.

This is the practice of everyday life. As you choose where to walk, you shift the way things are done. Sure, there are certain structures in research work that cannot be ignored, but how you live within them or away from them is up to you. Endeavour to be considered and considerate and don’t let the tourists at your local tell you how to practice your research life.

 

I have the pleasure of delivering a pre-conference keynote for 2018 AARE Conference. The above is an abridged version of my presentation. The opportunity to share my own research journey (so far) is very exciting. I have blogged a lot about my experiences with learning the research trade. Trying to bring it all together for my presentation was trickier than I realised.

 

Naomi Barnes is a lecturer in Literacy in the Faculty of Education in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership at the Queensland University of Technology. She teaches in Curriculum and Pedagogy and Specialist Studies in Education. Naomi’s research is in digital rhetoric. She focuses on qualitative critical network analysis and how multiple modes of communication are at play in online human networking. She is interested in the relationships humans have with each other online, particularly in social media, and the socio-cultural theories and philosophical traditions which help us better understand how technology has changed the way we communicate. Naomi is also interested in the policy and pedagogical implications of these changes in communication.

 

Naomi is presenting her paper ‘Taking a road less travelled: Navigating irruptions in a research journey’ at the 2018 AARE Conference on Sunday 2nd December at 9:30 am

Understanding educational theory: vital or a waste of time for student teachers?

My student teachers often question the value of educational theory in their initial teacher education. Also often early career teachers tell me that the theory they were taught at university holds no value in their day-to-day practical lives.

I understand this point of view. The first years of teaching are largely about finding our feet and working out the system. The first years are also caught up in personal priorities such as finding permanent positions and railing against the casualisation of the workforce.

But this does not mean that theory does not underpin every decision a teacher makes. Theory even underpins the curriculum we are asked to teach. As I see it, understanding educational theory is a part of knowing why we teach what we teach and how. The theories that are taught in initial teacher education are aimed at helping beginning teachers understand who they are and why they want to teach. One of my motivations for wanting to teach History is so that I could work at helping students to be empathetic in their everyday lives. History is an excellent example of how this relationship works.

The Australian Curriculum Humanities and Social Sciences ( HASS) History strand is underpinned by what the curriculum writers have termed concepts (another word for theory). In the following, I am going to tease out some of these concepts to show how they are examples of theory in practice.

Sources

The location and interpretation of sources is the primary skill of an historian. There are many different types of sources, some more useful than others. Despite what you may think, there never is really a “bad” source. The decision to use a certain source or not is contextual. It may not be FACT but it can reveal a lot about a historical context depending on how the historian interprets the source within their study. So most sources are included or discarded according to the idea of usefulness, rather than whether they are good or bad. This is a subjective practice. The selection of a source is determined through the historian’s point of view of the world – theory. Furthermore, only a minuscule amount of human history has ever made it to the page or the gallery or the archive. Much has been destroyed. Much was never even recorded. So the job of an historian is to make connections between the sources available. This is a process of logical and rigorous imagination. The conclusions drawn are based on corroboration through continuity, change, cause and effect, but it is imagination none the less and subject to the historian’s theoretical point of view.

Cause and effect, and Continuity and Change

When historians use their imagination, they are using ideas of cause and effect, and continuity and change. For example, the reason we have the society we have at the moment is the result of cause and effect. It is very easy to trace the cause and effect through a lens of war and economy, but it is also through the concept of cause and effect that we can begin to show students that the deliberate forgetting of marginalized groups is in decision making and it is a reason that governments continue along the same homogenous pathways they have for centuries.

While society seems to be moving through a time of rapid change, the continuity of certain ways of knowing and understanding history have remained the same. The world seems to be speeding up but the way it has been governed has changed very little. White wealthy males, for example, are still the most powerful leaders, industrialisation and technological advancement are still seen by governments as the most important industries, and fear of other unknown people has been used as a method of mass control for centuries. Historians realise these theories of continuity and make their imaginative decisions about what happened in the past by through them.

Significance

There are too many events in the past to include them all and many history wars have been fought over which ones to include in the History strands of the HASS Curriculum. These history wars are most often about the inclusion and placement of histories of Aboriginal peoples, Torres Strait Islander peoples, and non-European peoples, and the theoretical lens through which those histories are taught. The choosing of significant histories can influence the civic attitudes of generations of people so is often hard fought.

Perspective

The choice of those histories is influenced by theories often called perspectives. One of the more famous media and political wars fought over which perspectives are allowed within the Australian Curriculum was a stoush between prime minister at the time, Paul Keating, and John Howard in the early 1990s when Keating was pushing for the inclusion of Australian History which showed how the nation had been built on the blood of the Indigenous and non-white immigrant/indentured labour population. This view was pitched against Howard’s view that wanted children to know and celebrate the achievements of the Australian nation. What both these perspectives denied was the voice of the people who lived the histories they were talking about including or excluding.

Empathy

A key reason for teaching History is the theory that it teaches children to have empathy which means that they will be able to more than understand other peoples’ points of view, they will know what it might be like to be another person. The theory is that students will only begin to understand historical empathy (and in turn social empathy) if they have enough exposure to differing perspectives, can interpret their own partiality, understand that their ideas may be based in modern thought, understand that there are gaps and silences in the historical record.

There are many interpretations of what it means to teach empathy in the classroom and some believe that it cannot be taught at all. But the personal theories that a teacher takes into the classroom will also influence their ability to teach students to be empathetic. For example, if a teacher’s personal viewpoint is that students do not need differentiation, it will be harder to teach students empathy because inclusiveness is based on empathetic thinking.

I hope this post opens up some clarifying statements and discussion about the usefulness of theory in Initial Teacher Education, but also educational training, qualifications, and professional development. I believe theory is a vital component but probably needs more clarity as to why and how (as I have demonstrated in this blog post). What do you think?

 

 

Naomi Barnes is an adjunct postdoctoral fellow at the Griffith Institute of Educational Research. Her key areas of research are transitions and social media in educational research.

 

How I blog for personal professional development: you can do it too

Why write blog posts? I write about whatever it is I want to yell to the rooftops at the time. I might think differently about it in five years, but that’s fine. It’s what I want to say to the world right now. I write about me, and what I am thinking and feeling right now. My blog writing is raw, semi-immediate, and passionate.

I enjoy writing. I see myself as a writer. I am a writer, was a writer and I want to be a writer.

My writing self is always changing. When I was a child I wrote little plays and I forced my siblings to act them out. Then I was a student and I wrote assignments. As a teacher I wrote lesson plans and resources. I was a curriculum leader and wrote unit plans and policies. I wrote a thesis and a blog as a PhD candidate. Now I am an early career researcher and I write academic papers, project briefs, and again I write a blog.

Blogging isn’t essential to writers, of course. It doesn’t put food on my table (yet) but I’ve come to appreciate it as an important part of my scholarship and professional development as an educator. By blogging I mean both the longhand and shorthand kind. Twitter is considered a micro-blog so when I refer to “blogging” I mean both micro-blogging and the type you are currently reading. Longer blogs can also be a mix of personal and professional (like EduResearch Matters) and media based (like The Conversation).

Twitter fits neatly into blogging

A growing group of educators are using social media, particularly Twitter, for “grassroots” professional learning.

Communities of learning, anchored by Twitter chats, are sharing professional practice in primary, secondary, tertiary and adult education (#edchat, #aussieEd, #highered, #phdchat #ozchat), engaging with the disciplines (#histedchat, #scichat, #engchat etc), promoting the use of technology in the classroom (#edtechchat) and more.

Inger Mewburn has made a career out of engaging with #phdchat, blogging about higher degree research. Some educators have even suggested that Twitter chats are superior professional learning to formalised workshops provided by institutions.

I write blogs to inquire

At its core blogging is a process of publication that inevitably includes self-promotion. But my favourite (and most motivating reason) to blog is for my own personal professional development. Blogging helps me work out what I think in the first place.

Writing as inquiry is not a new notion. People sit down in front of their computer or with their notebook and just begin to write their thoughts. The idea is that through the process of writing, concepts and beliefs crystalize.

By blogging I take this notion a step further. I do not use social media to quickly get my publications “out there”, but to help them develop slowly and publicly. I tweet, I use personal, institutional and curated weblogs, open access journals, and conference paper planning to develop my papers for journals and books.

How blogging fits into my writing process

Whenever an idea begins to emerge I write about it. I tweet about it and I write extended blogs. I write for special days. I use metaphors to see if I can make an idea more concrete. I riff (or openly and playfully plagiarise) a writer I respect with my own terms strategically dropped in. I write stories. I write to already published outlines and graphic organisers. I basically experiment with the idea in as many ways as I can until it begins to take shape.

What blogging can do that private writing as inquiry cannot is provide an audience for the development of an idea. When I publish a blog, it is automatically promoted on Twitter and I work to promote it further. By actively asking others to engage with my ideas I can begin to feel more confident in my thinking and I can see where the logic is still needed.

If an idea in my personal blog resonates enough with my readers, I submit versions of it to professional and media blogging outlets, increasing my audience and therefore my feedback. The idea is to eventually firm up those ideas enough to formulate academic publications like journal articles and book chapters.

The more I write (and blog) the more I know what I think

The point is, the more I write, the more I know what I really think. My brain is so full of ideas that the process of writing sorts it all out for me. A bit like Dumbledore’s Pensieve I draw them out and place them in front of me so I can think about my thoughts in a more concrete and observational way.

So while you are thinking of your own social media usage and whether you want to write and publish blogs about your education practice, consider blogging as inquiry as a strategy worth trying.

 

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Naomi Barnes is a postdoctoral fellow at the Griffith Institute of Educational Research. Her key areas of research are transitions and social media in educational research.

 

It is not easy being a teacher: my story

I did not become a teacher the day I walked out of university. I was trained as a teacher but it took many years for me to feel like a teacher. I’m still not sure I’m there yet.

Often transition takes years. There is a lot written about how to act in the first year of a new education environment. There is a lot written about what we should know and what we should do. There are myriad competing ideas about what a good induction or orientation looks like.

What drops through the gaps is often the very challenging identity work that happens as you move from being a university student to becoming a teacher.

How do we shift into our new identities in our new environments? It takes a long time to feel like a teacher even though we might call ourselves teachers.

Negotiating the first year of teaching

A lot of the first year of teaching is learning what not to say and how not to act. Negotiating new personalities and politics within a school community can be difficult.

Soon you begin to tell yourself that permanent work comes with a certain type of behaviour or performance, and you begin to pick and choose what you talk about with colleagues and what you keep silent about.

You may hide that you don’t really know how to do something. You might be less than honest about how your Year 9 class is to teach. You might talk about the student centred activities you have facilitated and play down the amount of direct instruction you use. You might be buying things for your classes because it is easier than ordering them through the school budget.

You tell your official mentor that things are going well, but cry into your pillow at night.

We need to talk about the difficulties we continually encounter as teachers

Teaching has a massive attrition rate. The availability of secondary teaching staff is reaching a critical point. It is not that we don’t have enough teachers in Australia. We have plenty. But they are no longer in teaching. Being a teacher is not easy and it is not smooth sailing. It takes years of personal and professional struggle to decide on it as a vocation. We need to talk about it; break some silences.

I am not saying that early career teachers should break their silence. I am saying experienced teachers should. When dynamic and respected teachers say that they had a terrible second prac, it demonstrates something that cannot be taught in a pedagogy or curriculum class. It fills in some gaps.

Breaking the silence demonstrates that we learn by jumping hurdles; not by pretending they don’t exist. In fact, the more hurdles we jump the better we get at it. We need a conversation that balances how difficult teaching is as a profession and why people stay in it. Honest conversations about why we come to this profession and what decisions we make that keep us there.

For those reasons I have decided to share my story.

My story

I was brought up in a conservative family and alternative school where girls rarely became something other than teachers, nurses or stay at home mothers. I realise now that this mentality was archaic for the early 1990s. I think my mother did as well, because I was half-heartedly encouraged to look at engineering, but always told it was good for a girl to have a trade. Something she can fall back on for when she had her babies.

Teaching was a trade to my family. Teaching was considered to provide flexibility of hours that ensured I could still be the primary care giver and have a career.

I resisted teaching and instead worked towards international studies because it was a good profession that incorporated my love of the social sciences, especially history. My guidance counsellor told me that no one from my school ever got their first preference. I thought I was being clever and put History teaching first, international studies second.

I got my first preference. My first preference was in Brisbane and I had a reason to escape the small town.

So I trained as a secondary teacher.

Why I stayed in teaching

I’m not sure I ever really committed to teaching because I felt uncomfortable with the teaching bit all the way through my degree and for the first five years on the job (I loved the History and Social Science bit). But I was brought up to honour my commitments. It was embedded. “You always finish what you start, Naomi.” I can still hear my father’s Protestant Work Ethic in my ear. I also couldn’t think of anything else I could do that would allow me to be paid for working with History.

One day I remember having a Year 10 class brutally destroy my love for History. I walked away from work that day at a crossroad. I stick out the profession or find a new one. If I was to stay I needed another reason to be there.

The situation in the classroom was pretty bleak but as the weeks went on, evidence came to light that the key perpetrators of my disillusionment were in a pretty bad place. In fact, one of the most difficult students was being online bullied by the other culprits. It was pretty sophisticated bullying as well. Both the police and Microsoft got involved.

Suddenly, I realised that teaching could not be about the subject I was teaching but it had to be about the students. I gave myself an ultimatum. I needed to be there for the students or leave.

I stayed for eight more years.

I am at another crossroad for teaching

Now I am on maternity leave. I will be on leave until 2018 when I will again have to make a decision. I have to weigh up teaching but this time against new variables.

Will I go back to the classroom or will I pursue education research? Who knows, but I’m sure I’ll work it out. I just don’t want to be silent on it.

What’s your story?

 

 

 

Naomi Barnes is a postdoctoral fellow at the Griffith Institute of Educational Research. Her key areas of research are transitions and social media in educational research.