Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Ethics, Principles, Application and Dimensions

It has been very interesting to read through the various posts from the BAPP Arts module 2 student group exploring to subject of Ethics. One of my main observations is that there are a range of ways students are treating ethics. This range seems to represents what I think is a dimension from the theoretical to the practical

Theoretical Ethics
Ethics is a branch of philosophy that seek to explain possible or proper responses to a situation where there are choices of action. Philosophers have sought to propose reasons for why certain ways of looking at a situation can affect that choice. So the focus is on ways of thinking … mental picture-making that helps to rationalise and make sense of a situation, and the factors effecting choice. We could think of this as ‘Ethical Principles’. That is, particular ways of thinking ethically.

Practical Ethics
On the other end of the scale are the practical implementation of these principles ‘in practice’. While we might be informed by principles, we carry the responsibility to other people and have to apply specific principles. For example, using ethical guidance or health and safety regukations at work. So at the extreme of this, we could see the translation of principles into specific procedures (e.g. Health and Safety) where these can be applied without any knowledge of the underlying principles.

Ethical Dimensions
From the posts I can see different positions being adopted. While some people are dealing with the principles, many are thinking in a more applied way. Of course, what we value in BAPP Arts and encourage is an exploration of ethical principles, and how these are applied in practice … an integration of both.

Understanding Dilemmas
In terms of how to do this, I think we must first accept that Ethics matters precisely when no obvious and easy action is implied. Ethics is about choice. When only one action is possible, even when that action is not comfortable, the action is clear. Ethics really comes into play when there are choices to be made, and each option has its virtues.

How do we come to make a choice when faced with say two, seemingly bad choices? We have then to apply the principles and assess the correct choice based on the application of the principle. Nothing in this process implies the choice is easy. Hence we often think in terms of ethical ‘dilemmas’.

As you work on the ethical preparations for your professional inquiry, try to accept that the ethical aspect of your inquiry is not about making the right and obvious choices. It is not simply about applying a given set of regulations. Rather, it is about reconciling the benefits of the study with potential harm and working to reduce that potential harm.

You might be interested in the best book I have ever read that sets out very clearly the linking of ethical thinking to ethical actions: Practical Ethics

Monday, 24 February 2014

Lines of Inquiry and Question-Making

This post should interest BAPP Arts students on Part 4 of BAPP. You may also be interested in previous posts relevant to this topic:

This is a long post – apologies but I go into some detail here!
I have looked across the Blogs and drawn out a set of questions / lines of inquiry that I would like to comment on. Please note that I am not picking out individuals for praise or admonishment, rather I am trying to identify different qualities that I have observed, and sought to direct my comments to understanding these questions better. All of these questions can be found at:

So onto some thoughts about Lines of Inquiry ...
Effective lines of enquiry and questions often look at ‘extents’ (levels of) something, rather than does ‘something work or not’ type questions. Here is a sophisticated question that explores ‘extent’ between characteristics (e.g. cause and effect):
‘Do peers affect the level of engagement on students within a lesson? and would a philosophy of teamwork integrated into lessons provide them with security and promote positive and effective learning?’
This question enables us to explore in more depth in terms of where or with whom does the insight lay? Know where you might go to answer the question might help to nuance it for greater precision. See this in this revised question:
‘What do students report as being the benefits of a teamwork approach to learning dance?’
A similar question from another dance teacher was:
 As a teacher how do you encourage the students who are less willing to join in?
Here the location of the insight is identified (dance students), and therefore can lead us to imagine types of inquiry processes that can draw out insights. For example, a focus group or discussion with students.
Moving on, another question was:
Are there generic weakness in dancers?  If so, are the patterns that emerge general, age based, physique based, continentally genetic, or something else.  Are these weakness related to the dancers strength/flexibility ratios and could they contribute towards common faults.
Here we can see that the inquirer is trying to get at whether we can find a broadly agreeable notion of whether particular aspects of training and/or practice lead to particular effects in terms of weakness. The question itself acknowledges that there may be no absolute truth, but that there may be ‘typical’ consequences.
While the above example is answerable and carries all sorts of helpful framing, conversely this one is far harder to answer:
 What are the benefits of the different schools of training used across the world and what are the results?  Is one producing a more rounded dancer than the others?
This is far harder to answer because the question sets out a some difficult preconceptions: that there is such a thing as a ‘more rounded dancer’ ... that a ‘more rounded dancer’ is better than some other type of dancer, that schools of training are the only thing to effect this … etc. This question implies strongly that there is a correlation between cause (schooling) and effect (result = rounded or non-rounded dancer). This is a difficult question to answer because it is laden with preconceptions that get in the way.
This type of question could be better tackled by thinking in terms of where the insights lay, e.g.:
What qualities do established professional contemporary dance practitioners attribute specifically to their training, experiential and other factors?
This type of question does not imply that ‘specific type of training = rounded dancers (as something of value) rather seeks to understand how different qualities of their experiences and how the dancers feel this links to their capabilities.

Another example of a difficult question or starting point is:
Which is more important a degree in dance or a CV full of performing?
This question is a dichotomous question (that a degree in dance is in opposition to a CV full of performing). What if someone has both? Many do. Many don’t. Generally, asking a question ‘is X or Y better is thought of as dichotomous. The problem is it invites superficial yes/no answers. Any worthwhile line of inquiry is trying to get at a deeper insight of what is going on in a particular context. Also, what does ‘important’ mean? To whom? Where? When? It seems that the inquirer wants to know what is more important but the question lacks context. A good line of inquiry also carries the DNA of the inquirers purpose. Why does the inquirer want to know? What value does it have for them? So this line of inquiry would make more sense as (for example):
What considerations do dance students take into account when making the choice between professional training or higher education routes to a dance career?
You can see that the general starting point (Which is more important a degree in dance or a CV full of performing?) can open up into all sorts of more specific, and workable inquiries, that might, for example, talk to established dancers about their experiences, or to choreographers and casing directors about the choices they make etc.
Another example of this type of difficulty is:
Do children have more rights than teachers?
This again is very difficult to answer. It simply prompts more questions. What is the underlying purpose of what this question seeks to get at? Why would anyone want to know that? What would you do with the answer even if you could get at one?

Moving on, a more helpful question looks at:
How would you teach a class of students/children at different levels with different capabilities and skills? Without holding the more capable students back but also not making the class too difficult and advanced for the less capable students?
This question identifies the ‘value’ in terms of the social purpose of helping all students in the class. The inquirer is concerned for all her dance students, not just a particular group. The context is identified  - how to plan and teach a class that addresses learning whatever the starting point of the learner. Importantly, it identifies the ‘agent (where the insights might lay) as ‘you’. If we substituted ‘you’ with a slightly clearer ‘agent’, you can see the question is pretty well structured and answerable:
How do dance teachers (the agents) teach a class of students/children at different levels with different capabilities and skills? Without holding the more capable students back but also not making the class too difficult and advanced for the less capable students?

Some of the most difficult questions are framed broadly as:
How do I become a success dancer (or teacher, or whatever)?

What key skills must I have to become a successful dance teacher?

What do I need know to be a dance teacher?

I think these are not actually properly questions, rather expression of motivations and concerns. They are broad directions of thinking. As a question, we might see these a ‘precursor’ positions. A starting point. The challenge is that these types of questions are broadly speaking, unanswerable in terms of an inquiry. This is because practice operates in so many contexts, and we all bring different mixes of qualities and attributes so it would be really hard to say ‘x’ is what is required to be successful.
So this type of question needs further crafting into something that could be answered, e.g.
To what do established dancers attribute their success?’
Now this sort of questions is answerable because it seeks to find out a range of possible responses and identifies where the insight might lie. It could bear further crafting obviously, and you could experiment with how to do that (thinking about where the insights might lay, and the context or range of contexts to which the question relates).

Onto another question:
Does singing and movement help with early years development e.g. fine/gross motor skills, imagination, phonics, social skills etc?
A simple improvement to this question should be:
Does In what ways does singing and movement help with early years development e.g. fine/gross motor skills, imagination, phonics, social skills etc?
The former question we already know the answer to. Is singing and dancing likely to be good in an early years setting? Yes of course. But in what ways? That is the question.
If we asked:
What do Early Years Teachers report as being the effectiveness of singing and movement to help with early years development e.g. fine/gross motor skills, imagination, phonics, social skills etc?
This would then give a clear focus on where we thought the insights lay (teachers as the agent), is conditionality (reporting on effectiveness without setting up right-wrong / good-bad dichotomies) and specifies some areas of particular interest (e.g. motor skills).
We don’t need to ask questions we know the answer to, but questions that, by their nature, help to direct us towards particular insights. In this case, this question looks very worthwhile in finding out what teachers think singing and movement contribute from their expert perspective and experiences.
A similar question:
Do we have a Role Models as adults?
Again, this needs to identify where the insights lay, and the context in which it operates, so better as:
Who do establishing Dance Teachers report as being important professional role models and why?
Again, another question of context:
How do you think dancers cope with the pressures of the industry?
What is needed here is the ‘who’? Who is best placed to answer this? Dancers probably? Then better reframed as:
What do dancers (the agents) say about how they cope with the pressures of the industry?

Finally, sometimes a key piece of literature can help to identify a focus for a line of inquiry and I thought this extract led the student to look at a range of issues that could form the basis for a great inquiry. I though this was worth sharing and worth following the rationale given by the individual on their blog:
I have found while researching my inquiry a piece of literature which struck my attention [that] made me interested to look into it more. It is titled "Psychology of Dealing with the Injured Dancer" www.citraining.com/pdfs/Psychology-of-Injured-Dancer.pdf

OK, that is my trawl through some excellent Blog posts on Part 4. Well done to all and I hope the feedback helps!

Monday, 10 February 2014

Data Gathering Tools

I thought it was worth posting this up again. If you are just starting to gather data on module 3, this might provide some useful perspectives on data gathering. Likewise, if you are on module 2 you might like to consider where your emerging questions might be directed. Of course, for module 2 students, this will be the focus of part 5.

Many thanks to the BAPP Arts students who helped to create this presentation.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A Sample Structure for an Inquiry / Research Proposal

I thought this might be of interest to my students currently planning a piece of research or inquiry in terms of a possible structure:

Title of Inquiry

·      This is the working title of your inquiry. It may change over time, but defining the title will help you decide your focus and methods, and suggest possible literature.

Topic Outline

·      Aim of the inquiry (overall, if your inquiry was successful, what do you think it might achieve for you? This is aspirational, it is what you are trying to achieve);
·      Identify the Context of the Inquiry (what it will apply to, its currency in relation to contemporary practices or theories);
·      Rationale (why it is important? will anyone will benefit from what you find out? How is it relevant to your interests or career?);
·      Inquiry Question(s) (these are the specific and answerable questions that the inquiry is designed to address. Answering these questions successfully should enable you to succeed in your aim)
·      Theoretical Framework (What existing theories do you think apply to your inquiry, and how might these help you to gain an insight into your topic area?);
·      Methodological Framework (what methods of gathering and analysing data do you think you will use and for what reasons?);
·      Resources (briefly assess what resources you need in terms of time, access to individual’s who you might interview etc.);
·      Objectives (explain what you are actually going to do in the inquiry, e.g. what you will read, who you might speak to, and the timeline you think will keep you on track);
·      Ethical Implications (are there any likely ethical issues or problems that might arise in your inquiry process, especially relevant if you are gathering data from people, e.g. through interviews?);



·      What are the main current ideas in circulation that are current to your topic?
·       Where are these located (academic texts; journalistic work; within a practice setting)?
·      Who else has tackled your topic area, how did they do it, and what did they find out?

Constructing an Argument

I thought it might be helpful to set out some thoughts on how you set out your arguments. I think one good way is to write 1 paragraph per argument, cycling through the process above. I am very happy to receive comments and have posted this to Google Docs for your convenience:

Link to:  'Argument Diagram'.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Mapping Professional Domains

Following on from the campus session, I have put up on 'My Learning' a template of the 'Mapping Professional Domains' diagram. You can use this to explore your ideas on any of the modules of the programme. I have included below a simple example of questions that emerge as we think about developing a plan for the inquiry using the template.

I hope this is of interest.

You can click on the image below to enlarge.

Thoughts on the ‘Reflection’ Blogs … generic feedback on Part 2

I thought it would be helpful to discuss some observations and thoughts about some of the posts on ‘Reflection’. Some of the best posts seem to focus in on one or more of three aspects. Here are some examples of how different people have tackled these three different aspects I have observed from Blog posts on Reflection. There are plenty of other good examples so please do not see these as necessarily the only good examples:

Firstly, In this example we can se how Beth conceptualises reflection as an internalised process of learning. We can see reflection as a process of revisiting the memories we make of our experiences, trawling them to extract out new or more worthwhile conclusions.
Ruth discusses reflection as relational to the external world of practice. We can see reflection as locating our responses in the wider world of practice. The ‘experiences’ matter because they are located in the external world, and are mostly focused on making sense of that external world.
Amy discusses reflection in terms of the methods of engagement, i.e. using different technologies and tools to engage the process of reflection. If we create internal memories based on reflection upon experiences (or memories of experiences) then the different methods we use ‘to’ reflect may assist in the formation of particular types of usable, worthwhile memories.

So Reflection can be seen as a ‘method’ of learning or adaption to ‘the external world’ of practice and life that has ‘internal, personal resonance’. To make Reflection effective, this way of thinking about it (internal; external; methodological) seems to have value and utility. My overall thought on current posts is that the most useful conceptualisation uses these, or similar models and I hope this is helpful generic feedback.