Epistemic Virtues

How we know the world affects what we know about the world and vice versa. The relationship between ourselves as knowers and the content of our knowledge is an intimate one. Yet, I do not wish to imply that Continue reading

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How Universities Aid the Fall of Democracy

University education aims to transform people’s thinking. Thompson (2014) argues that institutions rarely openly declare this goal, but it is there nevertheless. But in this endeavour, there is a fundamental danger that threatens to destroy democracy. The bald fact is that most students graduate with epistemic thinking skills that are not equal to the task of evaluating democratically. Let’s look into this claim a bit. Continue reading

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Moving to the thesis

I completed the EdD courses successfully, and I have just finalised my doctoral proposal submission. The next stage is to navigate the Ethics board before I can begin any data collection. So, with these movements, I’m going to change the focus of this site. The posts were primarily a database for my coursework. This function is now defunct, and most of the posts have little relevance to my future work and to what I wish to do with my research. Accordingly, this site is going to become a vehicle for the public dissemination of my research. It will also be a place for more general thoughts as I see fit.

Wish me luck.

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Mod 8 Week 2 Initial Post

The action research project that UoL EdD students are expected to complete (or at least instigate) is likely to contain information that is sensitive to the institution. And as my employment can be traced quite easily, I need to exercise extreme care about what I can and should not post here. However, as the main purpose of this site is to record my doctoral output and to allow easier searching of my work, I will endeavour to keep these next few months as complete as possible.

Here’s a brief summary of the problem that I seek to investigate over these next few weeks. There’s still much, much more to be elucidated, and that task should unfold over the next week. I’d like to mention here two things that are of importance. The first is that this project is not ‘merely’ an academic one. [ … ] The second is that the actual timing is quite unfortunate. This is our final test week of the academic year. Before the new academic year starts in April, very few students will be available, and any project cannot be predicated on accessing the student voice. This is a pity. Also, many of the teaching staff will be away during this time. It remains to be seen how these absences will affect the project.

The Situation

The [ … ] requires fourth-year students to produce a twenty-five page graduation thesis in English. The quality of these theses is variable, and the task of supporting students through the writing process continually present serious challenges to both the faculty staff and the students themselves. In summary, the English language abilities, the control of the thesis topic and the level of critical thinking displayed by many students as they enter the writing process, a period that spans about a year, is low.

Present Measures

The structured curriculum offers a preparatory course in general academic writing which second-, third- and fourth-year students are able to attend. Beyond this, a tutorial system in in place in which the supervising faculty member deals with writing and content issues on an ad hoc basis. In addition to these targeted measures, all four years must take a minimum number of general English conversation and grammar courses.

The Dilemma as I Perceive It

Fundamentally, the productive English abilities of graduating students tends to be low. Furthermore, the transmission model of tuition that is the norm severely inhibits the development of productive academic skills. Two structural problems serve to maintain this situation. The first is that there is no achievement-based system for continuing English classes. All cohorts take the next class together, irrespective of their scores in previous classes. The second is that whereas native speaker teachers of English typically utilise communicative teaching methods, the grammar classes are taught by Japanese teachers, creating a serious disconnect between the function and the form of language. Personally, I dislike the existence of the grammar classes because they reproduce the notion that English must be understood through Japanese, a dominant feature of Japanese English teaching that does little for productive skill development. The communicative approach, also, contains a flaw. The graduation thesis needs a high level of English abilities [ … ].

The discrepancy in the preparation of language skills is only half the battle, though. Students’ academic abilities, in the sense of critical engagement with knowledge, is also very low. Recently, critical thinking has been seen as a way forward to develop these skills. While this is a solid step in the right direction, critical thinking fails to address aspects of epistemic cognition, and so, if it is introduced as a set of skills, it is likely to fail in developing critical engagement beyond the use of techniques of critical thinking.

How  to (Action) Research this Dilemma

This problem is one that involves teaching and managerial staff and cohorts in a single institution; it affects the lived daily experiences of all stakeholders; and it can only be addressed by those with an intimate knowledge of and ability to alter the structures and processes of the institution. As such, confronting this problem is only achievable through an insider research paradigm (McNiff & Whitehead, 2006). There are multiple AR modes to investigate this problem. Kline’s (2012) edited volume of approaches to organisational AR outlines a number, yet the choice of which—from an interview or a programme evaluatory approach—depends on how the AR project is best likely to work within the organisation. Moustakim (2007) begins his attempt to deepen his students’ critical engagement by investigating his own living educational theory. This first-person self-conscious stance (Coghlan & Brannick, 2014) allows him to locate and place his subjectivity at the centre of the investigation. Although Moustakim does not make this point, highlighting his subjectivity serves to heighten the construct, internal and external validities of his investigation. His educational belief system is best served on a subjective plate; readers can judge how the beliefs interact with the observable actions, and they can decide for themselves the degree to which the actions have meaning. Should I, then, follow Moustakim and adopt a first-person approach? The argument for doing so is strong. I have beliefs regarding the failure of the current system and am ideally positioned to promulgate those beliefs.

Yet, a purely first-person approach ignores the latent politicality in any insider research (Klein, 2012). Greenwood and Levin caution AR researchers to “be proficient in participatory evaluation” (2007, p. 139), recognising that any programme evaluation is necessarily conducted with others. Agostinone-Wilson (2012) explains how interviewing methods may be compatible in AR. This form of second-person inquiry(McNiff, 2014) allows for phenomenological data collection as well as tapping into institutional knowledge sources. I am new in HSS, and there is quite possibly some important historical reasons for the present situation that impede or preclude the possibility of effective change. An interview approach may elicit such key institutional knowledge. However, the rigidity of the interview (even a semi-structured one) fails to acknowledge Coghlan and Brannick’s (2014) characterisation of identifying institutional dilemmas as “fluid, dynamic and emergent” (p. 69). Furthermore, the sense of them-and-me is intensified in a formal interview, and the inclusiveness of an ‘us’ approach is lost (McNiff, 2014).

AR is more flexible than this characterisation, though. Many writers describe AR as a cycle, a spiral process during which earlier questions are revisited and revised, or re-understood in new lights (Coghlan & Brannick, 2014; Kemmis, 2009; Klein, 2012; McNiff, 2014). Alternating and spiralling between a first-person “living educational theory” (Moustakim, 2007, p. 211) and various modes of second-person approaches may offer a more dynamic, secure and, most importantly, inclusive mode of AR. The more that stakeholders, i.e. “those who have authority … have a defined accountability … receive a benefit … who may be disadvantaged” in and by a programme (Thomas, 2012) are invited into the AR paradigm, the more the likelihood of some success.


Agostinone-Wilson, F. (2012). Interviews. In S. R. Klein (Ed.), Action research methods: plain and simple2 (pp. 21–48). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Coghlan, D., & Brannick, T. (2014). Doing action research in your own organization (4th ed.). London: Sage Publications.

Greenwood, D. J., & Levin, M. (2007). Introduction to action research: Social research for social change (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Kemmis, S. (2009). Action research as a practice-based practice. Educational Action Research, 17(3), 463–474. http://doi.org/10.1080/09650790903093284

Klein, S. R. (2012). Action research methods: plain and simple. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

McNiff, J. (2014). Writing and doing action research. London: Sage Publications.

McNiff, J., & Whitehead, J. (2006). All you need to know about action research: An introduction. London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Moustakim, M. (2007). From transmission to dialogue: promoting critical engagement in higher education teaching and learning.Educational Action Research, 15(2), 209–220. http://doi.org/10.1080/09650790701314734

Thomas, J. J. (2012). Program evaluation research. In S. R. Klein (Ed.), Action research methods: plain and simple (pp. 175–196). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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EDEV_508 Week 1_6

I’d like to comment here on the placing of an AR module in this EdD course, while noting that I have no intention of using AR as a research paradigm for my own thesis. The EdD is a wide enough platform that includes many other types of research.

I get the logic of this AR module. As an EdD course, the focus is on practitioner research, and AR provides a seriously good set of methods for working within the institutional environment. A working knowledge of politics, leadership, systems and so on is foundational to practitioner research, and many of these aspects are addressed—perhaps most directly—in the AR literature. So, studying AR in an EdD course makes sense.

My concern is that forcing an AR research plan may not be so well thought through. I’ll offer two reasons for this. Obtaining ethics approval is a sine non qua for the UoL, but the associated participant consent requirement is a practical impossibility in my situation. There is another cultural drawback that was made known to me during an informal chat with a colleague yesterday. The staff evaluation form that we need to complete every two years has no entry for in-faculty improvement. There is a points system in place, and research output is regarded the highest. There are points for service to the public and for committee work, but AR that results in curricular change does not garner any points: hence another reason my colleagues are unwilling to commit their names to paper—in a foreign language for a foreign country. It’s all well and good for me to pursue my education, but that is a private matter in their minds.

Although I can understand the UoL’s focus on AR, the placing of an AR module after Module 7 seems unthoughtful. During Module 7, I honed my interest in and knowledge of epistemic cognition. Also, I had to consider how I should research epistemic cognition within my institution. It makes more sense to me to have Module 8 be a continuation of this preparation. Epistemic cognition does not lend itself easily to AR projects, although I will shoehorn it in to mine in this module. I’ll do this because I don’t want to lose the momentum built up over Module 7 and afterwards during the five-week break before Module 8.

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EDEV_508 Week 1_5

I fully agree with you that in the short time scale of ten weeks, fully implementing a radical action research project is unlikely. However, it is exactly that that I will be attempting. I expect to fail, but the manner of the failure is my evaluation measurement. Please let me explain.

The situation in Japanese higher education regarding the quality of graduating students is not positive. Many have criticised Japan for letting the four-year university experience be a time of relaxation between the cut-throat high-school period, that is, the preparation for university entrance, and the individual’s employment (Cutts, 1997; McVeigh, 2002). Put in a nutshell, the university is not widely seen as a venue for much academic or advanced development (Yamada, 2015). Part of the explanation for this state of affairs is that all major companies have their own internal training programmes, often lasting for years, that begin when a 22-year-old cohort of fresh university graduates enters the company. I would dearly love to see a study on how these training programmes mitigate the university’s societal role as the prime tertiary education provider, but that needs to be written. Looking at this situation from the industry perspective, they seem to expect this four-year hiatus and only judge potential recruits on the basis of which university they gained entry to at eighteen (McVeigh, 2002).

However, as Japan loses economic ground in the worldwide arena, the major companies are requesting more training from the universities as Japan adopts a triple-helix model of university-government-industry alliance in tertiary education (Leydesdorff & Meyer, 2003). Furthermore, the decreasing population brings challenges to Japan if it is to retain its position as a world leader (Aspinall, 2016). With fewer graduates entering the workforce, the quality of those that do needs to be raised as proportionally more responsibility will be placed on younger shoulders. Yet, the faculty is not designed to promote quality.

That is the background in brief. In terms of English education and of cognitive skill development, my institution has some serious structural drawbacks. They knew this when they hired me ten months ago. I was brought it to give fresh eyes to a stagnant organisation. However, change in Japan is not rapid. My question is how to effect radical change—I will define this in a second—in a traditionally very conservative institution.

So, by ‘radical’, I mean I wish to encourage the development of a curriculum that empowers the student. O’Brien (1998) defines radical action research as a “strive for social transformation” by “overcoming of power imbalances”. The current curriculum structure is highly weighted in the faculty’s favour, where, for example, student evaluation is done by the same professor who teaches the student. This allows for the continuity of transmission models of education (easy for the professor), and passive learning with no quality accountability. It is unlikely that I can change this quickly or uniformly throughout my faculty. However, I have garnered the interests of a few influential professors in the language section who are both able and willing to entertain the notion of researching the curriculum with a view to introducing structures that empower students more. What these may be at this stage, I don’t know. As they say in the press, watch this space.


Aspinall, R. (2016). Is “dynamism without risk” possible in the Japanese university sector?: A critique of the 2009 OECD report on higher education in Japan. In J. Mock, H. Kawamura, & N. Naganuma (Eds.),The Impact of Internationalization on Japanese Higher Education: Is Japanese Education Really Changing? (pp. 106–119). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Cutts, R. L. (1997). An empire of schools: Japan’s universities and the moulding of a national power elite. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe.

Leydesdorff, L., & Meyer, M. (2003). The Triple Helix of university – industry – government relations.Scientometrics, 58(2), 191–203. http://doi.org/10.1023/A:1026276308287

O’Brien, R. (1998). An overview of the methodological approach of action research. Retrieved on January 24 2017 from  http://web.net/~robrien/papers/xx%20ar%20final.htm

McVeigh, B. J. (2002). Japanese Higher Education as Myth. Armonk: East Gate. http://doi.org/10.1353/jjs.2004.0010

Yamada, R. (2014). Measuring quality of undergraduate education in Japan: Comparative perspective in a knowledge based society. Singapore: Springer.

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EDEV_508 Week 1_4

You’re right; my involvement in this week’s discussion on action research may have been side railed by this foray into knowledge. However, as my thesis subject is related to epistemology, it is useful for me to investigate how others (mis)conceive knowledge. In that vein, please allow me to finish with just one final post based on a couple of points from yours.

Do you really believe that two learning environments can contain the same “equal constituents”? Even given the same teacher, the same institution, the same methodology and the same materials, many differences—that often turn out to be crucial—can be distinguished. The time of the day, the levels of motivation, the prior levels of students and so on can affect the learning process. Another one that I find in my own classes is that I change from class to class. Each Friday afternoon, I teach the same content back-to-back with two different groups: same year group, same textbook, same methodology, same objectives … yet I find that the second class is always different from the first. Maybe the first lets me hone my delivery for the second, or maybe the energy I get from realising a point in the first class becomes blasé by the second. In short, the transient truths, that is, the real lived experiences, from the first class may not match those in the second. The knowledge generated in both is different. As yet, there is no theory to my knowledge that is able to describe, explain or predict the differences between superficially similar learning environments. The works of Polanyi (1962) and Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) do try to explicate tacit knowledge into the explicit domain and Schön’s (1983) theorising of various forms of reflection are useful tools that help practitioners recognise some of those transient truths as well as provide techniques for reflection on the nonconscious (by way of focusing on the action). These theories need to be combined with environmental theories.

I find the distinction between “the issues of transient/intransient knowledge and … creating climates for learning” a false one. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t learning is predicated on having a knowledge base? If that base is predicated on something other than knowledge, then our positioning as social scientists is only posturing. And this leads me to my next point: who controls (what is erroneously labelled) knowledge?

I fully take on board the reality you state that certain educational research is de-prioritised (do you mean ‘unpublished’ when you say “into the garbage bin”?) depending on political will. However, politics cannot invalidate knowledge; it can only marginalise it, or worse, socially stigmatise it. And this is the point I’ve been trying to make this week. The word ‘knowledge’ is used indiscriminately. Such a loose usage of a key term in a knowledge industry serves to a) denigrate the status of those fields that tend to do so (so education is viewed as being of lower status than physics), and b) allow what are clearly inconsistent ontological worldviews being given too much column space than what value they bring. What is much needed—especially in doctoral level learning environments—is a clinical attitude to definitional precision.

Although you may not agree, but this kind of discussion is critical in AR. AR practitioners collaborate with other professionals who may or may not share similar backgrounds. Whenever truth claims are made, those without definitional precision risk much. If, on the contrary, a listener is able to distinguish between, say, suppositions, experiences, hypotheses, information, and so on while being able to judge those claims in relation to the values, assumptions, degrees of probability and so on, and do this cognitive work sensitively, that listener will be more able to collaborate or co-operate within their environment. The building of this capacity is one of my target skills during this module. But I can’t do that when theory (in the colloquial sense) passes as knowledge.


Nonaka, I., & Takeuchi, H. (1995). The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Polanyi, M. (1962). Personal knowledge: Towards a post-critical philosophy. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Schön, D. A. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. Basic Books. http://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

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EDEV_508 Week 1_3

Like Goldman (1999) and other epistemology philosophers, I feel that postmodernism is one step forward and two backwards. That school’s greatest triumph was to forcibly remind positivists of the value of erstwhile non-standard perspectives. In particular, continental philosophy (predominantly French) of the 20th century (following the Germanic lead from the hermeneutics of Dilthey and Heidegger (Berger & Luckmann, 1967; Moses & Knutsen, 2007) established the legitimacy of phenomenalism. Their negative legacy, however, was on the insistence that no single ‘fact’ could ever be established as truth. Instead, truth was subjugated to perspective and contingency.

Bhaskar (2008) offers an answer to postmodernism, an answer that not only re-establishes the possibility of truth but also allows empirical and social science to work more in tandem with technical (and dare I say, more accurate) Anglo-American modern epistemology. Bhaskar would argue that rather than there be multiple truths, his distinction between the forms of evidence in the three domains; of the real, the actual and the empirical, accepts that different empirical traditions lead to different slices of the truth. These slices are not incompatible, just incomplete.

To claim that knowledge is fleeting may be a categorical error. Knowledge is defined in traditional epistemology as justified true belief (Dew & Foreman, 2014). This speaks to a stability, not to a sense of temporality. Within bounds (and Kuhnian paradigm shifts), scientific activity questions, updates, refines, refutes earlier knowledge, so a sense of fleeting-ness may be apparent in the long term. However, as Goldman notes (1999), even this does not happen as much as we may believe. Newtonian physics has not been superseded by quantum physics, and much of modern engineering continues to work fine using Newtonian principles. The transient fact (Bhaskar, 2008) that there are multiple perspectives does not invalidate, i.e. diminish the truth claim, of any individual perspective. What was needed (prior to Bhaskar) was a philosophy that could entertain the known complexity of what postmodernism brought to the proverbial table while retaining the value that positivism had already given to the scientific world. In other words, the more we know about democratic, inclusive, phenomenological and erstwhile non-standard perspectives, the more there is a need for an encompassing philosophy. Critical realism seems to offer this.

Postmodernism (which I’m using as a blanket term for all post-Humean and hermeneutic models) is, arguably, anti-science in its insistence on difference. If there really is no stable truth, or knowledge, and some even claim that interpretation is entirely in the hands of the reader (Barthes, 1967) then there is hardly any point in writing at all. Goldman (1999) makes the point that if postmodernists (or radical constructivists) actually believed this, no one could/should write at all, arguing that, clearly, this is nonsense. I take an alternative view. Bring on the differences: the more the merrier: for each contradiction brings with it its own knowledge—a stable, justifiable knowledge, which makes the search for truth more probable, rather than less, because of the increased knowledge base from which to create that search. It is more complex, for sure, but in this inclusive 21st century, this is what we need to do.

All human action is value-laden. Let this point be a given. It’s not so interesting to make. The intellectual game of working out either one’s own values or those of another has merit, but only when the values themselves need to take centre stage (as in Foucault’s prison study) do they need to be prioritised. Otherwise, let values be a factor in the dialectic. And let’s try to explicate and illuminate as many other factors in any situation as possible. All of those that can be justified may incorporated into any design as knowledge. Those that can’t need to be understood as such, perhaps as provisional opinion, guesses, hypotheses and so on.

I’ve gone on too long without even commenting on epistemic cognition. I’ll leave that for now.


Barthes, R. (1967). The death of the author. UbuWeb Papers. Retrieved from http://www.tbook.constantvzw.org/wp-content/death_authorbarthes.pdf

Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1967). The social construction of reality. New York: Doubleday.

Bhaskar, R. (2008). A realist theory of science. London and New York: Routledge. http://doi.org/10.2307/2184170

Dew, J. K., & Foreman, M. W. (2014). How do we know? An introduction to epistemology. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press.

Goldman, A. I. (1999). Knowledge in a social world. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Moses, J., & Knutsen, T. (2007). Philosophy of naturalist science. In Ways of knowing: Competing methodologies in social and political research (pp. 19–52). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

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EDEV_508 Week 1_2

(Please forgive this long post. I had written the lower part before I re-read your post and realised that I had misread you! However, the point I make is good, I believe, and can add to the discussion. So I’ve added that to the end.)

I see in Qatar it will be in the low 20s today, while as I write this and look out of my north Japan window, I see children struggling to get to school through a snowstorm. I know where I’d rather be! Our experiences of this module are likely to be very different, at least at the nonconscious level. Like you, I’m a beginner at AR, and also I share your misgivings about how the structure of the modules may impede a better form of learning. However and on balance, these past 21 months have been worthwhile more than frustrating.

I suspect that we are using the term ‘knowledge’ in different ways. As you know, my chosen topic for my thesis is epistemic cognition. This field, although primarily a branch of cognitive psychology (Jeffrey Alan Greene, Sandoval, & Bråten, 2016), has researched the connection between the philosophical branch of epistemology and epistemic cognition (e.g. Jeffrey A Greene, Azevedo, & Torney-Purta, 2008; Kitchener, 2011). Perhaps I’m being too picky about definitions of knowledge, but it is critical for students of epistemic cognition to make clear distinctions about statements of opinion, guessing, belief, thinking, thesis, speculation and so on. Moreover, knowledge can be further categorised into other domains; for example as tacit/ explicit (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995; Polanyi, 1962). However, in none of these systems is knowledge seen as a provisional.

We either know something or we don’t. That is, we have knowledge of something or we don’t. If we don’t know something but find utility in maintaining it as a belief, opinion, thesis and so on, we still don’t know it. Rather, we rely on the lack of counterfactuals to preserve the status of the idea. Roy Bhaskar (2008) distinguishes between two kind of fact, transient and intransient. A transient fact is produced by men (sic) and is “a social product much like any other, which is no more independent of its production and the men who produce it” (p. 21). Such facts are malleable, just as we may redefine the specifications of a ‘car’, ‘cat’, or ‘can’ depending on our particular environmental situation. Intransient facts are “knowledge of things” (p.21) and are independent of any human involvement. Evolution is an intransient fact, evidenced by the (intransient) fact that it occurred for roughly 3 billion years before humans came along and gave it a name (a transient fact). If I drop my pen, or if a business competitor raises their prices, this transient fact is experientially and actually real: in the sense that a human can experience it and within the physical and psychological boundaries that define humanity, it is actual to us (Bhaskar, 2008). All such facts are candidates for knowledge. Opinions, guesses, pragmatically useful practices and so on are not.

In action research, or in any human intellectual activity, it is quite useful to distinguish between knowledge and non-knowledge.


[Here is the extra bit, the part before I realised you wrote ‘provisional’ rather than ‘process’.]

… However, in none of these systems is knowledge seen as a process.

To see why, let’s take the example you gave from Poulis and Poulis (2016). The law of requisite variety is a belief that an organisation’s internal structure should be at least as complex as the structures it competes with for survival (Poulis & Poulis, 2016). A given organisation operates in an environment with complexity n; Organisation A needs to respond with an equal n level of structural complexity. However, for each n, Poulis^2 argue, there is the possibility of a mismatch. The need to be adaptive to external environments forces organisations to continually monitor and update their structure. In this brief scenario, there are multiple opportunities to observe knowledge-building processes in action: the monitoring of the external environment; the observing of change externally; the testing of internal structures with the external; the generation of candidate internal change possibilities; and the testing of candidates. (I’ve probably missed a few.)

Which of these processes constitutes knowledge and which don’t? The external monitoring cannot be said to be knowledge in the same way as my physical sensation of being in pain does not mean anything until the sensation passes through my awareness and into my perception. This may happen swiftly for extreme pain but never when experiencing mild discomfort while being absorbed in a game. A process does not necessarily entail knowledge. The organisational monitoring system may result in an observation of external structural differentiation occurring. At the point of recognition, there is knowledge of this difference: again, no process, just instantaneous knowledge. I won’t continue this example, but you will see that there is no real thing as a process of knowledge. However, we can speak loosely about a knowledge building process. In these cases, it is useful to be aware of exactly what we are referring to—the sum of a collection of disparate parts, some of which are specifically knowledge-related and others which are not.

Bhaskar, R. (2008). A realist theory of science. London and New York: Routledge. http://doi.org/10.2307/2184170

Greene, J. A., Azevedo, R., & Torney-Purta, J. (2008). Modeling Epistemic and Ontological Cognition: Philosophical Perspectives and Methodological Directions. Educational Psychologist, 43(3), 142–160. http://doi.org/10.1080/00461520802178458

Greene, J. A., Sandoval, W. A., & Bråten, I. (2016). Handbook of Epistemic Cognition. New York: Routledge.

Kitchener, R. F. (2011). Personal epistemology and philosophical epistemology: the view of a philosopher. In J. Elen, E. Stahl, R. Bromme, & G. Clarebout (Eds.), Links between beliefs and cognitive flexibility (pp. 79–103). Netherlands: Springer.

Nonaka, I., & Takeuchi, H. (1995). The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Polanyi, M. (1962). Personal knowledge: Towards a post-critical philosophy. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Poulis, K., & Poulis, E. (2016). Problemizing fit and survival: transforming the law of requisite variety through complexity misalignment. Academy of Management Review, 41(3), 503-527. doi:10.5465/amr.2014.0073

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EDEV_508 Week 1_1

Clearly, the argument that AR theorists have built up a strawman characterisation of a fictional empirical method in order to legitimise the uniqueness of the AR approach must be quickly acknowledged and set aside if a more productive discussion is to emerge. For example, you write, “Researchers’ values are downplayed, ignored and should not matter” (Aman, 2017), yet the theme of our Module 5 was on how social scientists attempt to locate, address and clarify in relation to their research, recognising that value neutrality is “dubious” (Balch, 2006). And then, we just spent ten weeks in Module 7 discussing research design, a period in which we understood that “Research is the art of the feasible” (Blaxter, Hughes, & Tight, 2006, p. 157), a sentiment that captures the lack of orderliness inherent in research protocol. And so on.

Rather, I’d like to know your thoughts on the notion of knowledge being provisional, and how any sense of unstableness in knowledge can impact on personal positionality, i.e. first-person practice (McNiff, 2014), and potential second-person dialogue within your organisation. My own sense is that knowledge, per se, cannot be provisional nor can it be a process. Coghlan and Brannick (2014) accurately use the example of checking if it is raining to demonstrate the need for verification, as justification is the step that distinguishes a potential (or opinion, or idea) from knowledge. In other words, knowledge is instantaneous but predicated on the processes leading up to the conversion from ‘maybe’ to ‘true’. For a ‘fact’ to gain the label of ‘knowledge’ requires placing many candidates into a limbo of potentiality. Now, and here’s the rub, many people do not seem able to distinguish their opinions from actual verifiable knowledge. (Post-truth and Trumpism aside), Holland (2008), arguing from neuroscience, claims that “comprehending something automatically includes belief” (p. 313). The next step in the process is to “partially disbelieve” (p. 312), that is, to relegate the status of the utterance to a potential fact. Yet, cognitive biases such as confirmation bias and motivated reasoning (Kahan, 2013) operate formatively at the adaptive unconscious level (Wilson, 2002), influencing and restricting our abilities to “partially disbelieve”.

At the organisational level in second-person dialogue (McNiff, 2014), how will you (or will you) contend with various senses of knowledge, that some colleagues may invoke the process aspect of knowledge (perhaps subconsciously) while others may only accept knowledge presented after justification?


Amann, W. (2017, January 21). RE: Week 1 Forum [Online discussion post]. Retrieved from https://my.ohecampus.com/lens/home?locale=en_us#

Balch, S. H. (2006). The dubious value of value neutrality. Academic Questions, 19(4), 44–48. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12129-006-1035-3

Blaxter, L., Hughes, C., & Tight, M. (2006). How to Research (3rd ed.). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Coghlan, D., & Brannick, T. (2014). Doing action research in your own organization (4th ed.). London: Sage Publications.

Holland, N. N. (2008). Spider-Man? Sure! The neuroscience of suspending disbelief. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 33(4), 312–320. http://doi.org/10.1179/174327908X392870

Kahan, D. M. (2013). Ideology, motivated reasoning, and cognitive reflection. Judgment and Decision Making, 8(4), 407–424. http://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2182588

McNiff, J. (2014). Writing and doing action research. London: Sage Publications.

Wilson, T. D. (2002). Strangers to ourselves: discovering the adaptive unconscious. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

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Mod 8 Week 1 Initial Post

This module asks students to develop an action research (AR) project to address a leadership issue within their own institution. AR presents a set of powerful tools for in-house research, and this module is key in helping students become deeply aware of the critical issues when investigating one’s own organisation. It should be a fun ten weeks.

However, there is a problem for any Japan-based researcher: humanities in Japan does not (typically) require the same degree of ethics approval as the University of Liverpool. Getting participant consent forms for all of those involved in the AR project may be difficult, or downright impossible, for me. I’ll have to see how this pans out.

In Week 1, I tried to get the theoretical bugbears out of the way prior to really starting my project. Many AR theorists present straw man arguments in order to argue for the uniqueness of the AR approach. Ultimately, however, they do not work. AR is good, but it’s not a methodology. I figured that clearing the ground on that one would be a concrete way forward.

I find some basic premises of action research (AR) to be implausible, at least in the characterisation presented by Coghlan and Brannick, Kemmis (2009) and McNiff and her colleagues (2014; 2006). In discussing these implausibilities, I will outline some of these in the hope that once they are laid aside, a more positive vision of AR may emerge.

Kemmis (2009) locates AR within an “endless dance” (p. 463) of practices, understandings and conditions. Each of these aspects is dimensional yet interrelated, affecting each other while being able to be affected internally. This division of the worldview is not limited to AR however, as it is a reframing of Bandura’s (1999) tripartite reciprocal causation. Figures 1 and 2 demonstrate the degree of overlap between Kemmis and Bandura. What is ‘practice’ to Kemmis is ‘behavioural’ to Bandura; ‘understanding’ is ‘cognitive’; and ‘conditions’, ‘environmental’.


Figure 1. Kemmis’ (2009) Endless dance


Figure 2. Bandura (1999) Tripartite reciprocal causation

Bandura’s social cognitive theory argues that human agency allows individuals to interact proactively with the forces encompassing them. Kemmis does not recognise Bandura but seems to adopt a very similar worldview. However, while Bandura’s theory is internally consistent, questions must be asked of Kemmis. For example, Kemmis separates ‘saying’ from ‘doing’, a separation that is suspect when, in the political arena, ‘saying’ is a direct form of ‘doing’, as Fairclough points out clearly in his description of how power is embedded in political language (1989). Furthermore, this separation is directly challenged by both Vygostky (1978) and Kegan (1982) who champion the argument that language influences our bodily actions and vice versa. In other words, not only do we become what we act, our actions influence what we say. Moreover, I find it difficult to understand why Kemmis’ praxis places “avoiding harm” in ‘physics’ but not in ‘ethics’ (p. 465). In summary, it is unclear to me how Kemmis’ argument separates AR from any other human activity, and the inconsistencies in the presentation fail to convince me.

A more serious problem, though, is found in Coghlan and Brannick (2014) and McNiff (2014), although Kemmis (2009) also mentions it. The term ‘knowledge’ is used in a postmodernist sense throughout. McNiff (2014) explicitly locates AR within a postmodernist framework, while interestingly, Coghlan and Brannick’s 2014 edition replaces their overt discussion on postmodernism from their 2005 edition (Coghlan & Brannick, 2005) with a more generalised discussion on the philosophy that underpins postmodernism. However, not all social scientists, if indeed more than a small minority (Goldman, 1999), operate within a postmodernist framework. The notion of ‘knowledge’ itself, therefore, becomes a point of consideration. Within traditional epistemology, ‘knowledge’ is generally defined as ‘justified true belief’ (Dew & Foreman, 2014)(with apologies to Gettier). The justification for knowledge within AR, Kemmis claims, comes from consensus (Kemmis, 2009). Goldman (1999) explains that the pragmatist reliance on consensus as their main method of justification is contradictory and rests of a view of ‘knowledge’ that can often be shown to be untrue. For example, if those around us reject global warming, our protestations to the contrary will be in vain. Science cannot be predicated on such a frivolously deviant epistemology (Goldman, 1999). Science, itself, is not so unreflective as not to be aware of divergent ‘opinions’ that compete for the worthy label of ‘justified’ true belief. Yet AR appears to legitimise all lived experiences as a form of knowledge (McNiff, 2014) rather than as a source of potential opinion that may inform a rigorous search for knowledge. Elliot (2005) understands a critical weakness in Kemmis’ (2009) earlier reliance on Habermas to underpin the theory of praxis, yet he also ultimately relies on pragmatism. An alternative approach, one that may offer more sustainable methods, is that from Bhaskar’s critical realism (Bhaskar, 2008). Perhaps we can discuss this over the week as space is limited in this introductory exposition.

Briefely, a final implausibity in the descriptions of AR is the false distinction between AR and empirical science. Somehow, empirical science is abstracted, unconcerned with problem solving and does not result in actions that the researcher can use directly in their sponsoring organisation (Coghlan & Brannick, 2014). While this may be true for mathematics and philosophy (although it is probably not), these claims: fail to acknowledge the intense efforts social scientists have exercised in understanding the influence of the first-person on their work; ignore the immensely practical realities that empirical science have brought to both local and worldwide knowledge (Moses, J. & Knutsen, 2007); and do not recognise that most university-based researchers (for example) will use their findings in their daily contact with their students in their lectures and seminars, and that so-called abstract knowledge is one of the key elements of the university curriculum. In other words, very little is done by social scientists that has no immediate value outside the research paradigm.

I have some very positive things to say about AR, but I feel that it is important to recognise some of the difficulties inherent in this module should the university expect that students simply accept AR as a legitimate methodology. AR contains many serious axiomatic, epistemological and methodological inconsistencies. As McNiff said, however, AR is value-laden (McNiff, 2014, p. 23), and in that sentiment, the values that undergird AR need to be explicated before any worthwhile discussion can proceed. I hope that we can discuss some of these aspects this week, and also, I would like the opportunity to describe an (appropriately theoretically positioned) AR project that I am instigating in my faculty soon.


Bandura, A. (1999). Social cognitive theory : An agentic Albert Bandura. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 2(1), 21–41. http://doi.org/10.1111/1467-839X.00024

Bhaskar, R. (2008). A realist theory of science. London and New York: Routledge. http://doi.org/10.2307/2184170

Coghlan, D., & Brannick, T. (2005). Doing action research in your own organization (2nd ed.). London: Sage Publications.

Coghlan, D., & Brannick, T. (2014). Doing action research in your own organization (4th ed.). London: Sage Publications.

Dew, J. K., & Foreman, M. W. (2014). How do we know? An introduction to epistemology. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press.

Elliott, J. (2005). Becoming critical: the failure to connect. Educational Action Research, 13(3), 359–374. http://doi.org/10.1080/09650790500200317

Fairclough, N. (1989). Language and power. Harlow: Longman.

Goldman, A. I. (1999). Knowledge in a social world. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kegan, R. (1982). The evolving self: Problem and process in human development. Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard University Press.

Kemmis, S. (2009). Action research as a practice-based practice. Educational Action Research, 17(3), 463–474. http://doi.org/10.1080/09650790903093284

McNiff, J. (2014). Writing and doing action research. London: Sage Publications.

McNiff, J., & Whitehead, J. (2006). All you need to know about action research: An introduction. London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Moses, J. & Knutsen, T. (2007). A constructivist philosophy of science. In Ways of knowing: Competing methodologies in social and political research (pp. 165–196).

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard University Press. http://doi.org/10.1016/S0006-3495(96)79572-3

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