Writing out loud for clarity of thought. Here's what I think I know about my EFAL project (engineering faculty as learners).

My current writeup of EFAL is a postmodern work. This is causing massive problems. While I'm instinctively good at being postmodern, I've internalized it so much that I'm struggling to write about postmodernism in a way that lets others join me in the space. Postmodernism is about things like constant flux and change and tension, and my attempts to write that way so far have come out as disorganized, hand-wavy blathering. And while I can write like Lewis Carroll or Douglas Hofstadter, that's not the way I'll make an academic argument that others will recognize.

Patti suggested a possible solution last night: write it 2-3 different ways. Write the postmodern way, focused on deconstruction. But also write it the critical theory way, focused on emancipation (which I'm almost doing already in my discussion-like sections). And write it in some interpretivist way, focused on understanding (a familiar mode within my discipline, within which phenomenology, narrative analysis, grounded theory, and stuff like that lie). Or whatever ways are recognizable. Show the "same" thing through different lens; triangulate aggressively.

Immediately I went: that is an excellent suggestion; I am technically already doing this, but I'm not being delibrerate about pointing them out as different lens, and if I specifically addressed three --

And then my next thought was: well, crap. My results have got to get smaller. Again. I thought I'd cut them down -- multiple times -- but what could I distill out even more, more, more so that I could see it through three lens... and finish writing soon, and not die?

I'm looking at ontology -- understanding and challenging ontological conceptions of engineering faculty as learners (in their narratives of curricular design). Ontological means "related to the nature of being," so that's basically: what kinds of things are there in the world? What roles are they allowed to play in relation to each other? How do we chunk and connect reality -- to borrow a CS term, what's our object model?

And what I'm doing is pulling out ontologies from underneath those stories, and I'm... really, I'm playing wit hthem. I'm not proposing a "better" ontology. I'm not creating a categorization of ontologies. I'm not saying our current ontologies (really, ontologies) are AWFUL HORRIBLE BAD WRONG. I sort of do parts of all of these things, but to narrow it down to only one of them is... inaccurate. I feel like I'm a puppy gamboling around going well let's just play with all of this! all of the things!!! -- because I'm playing with the notion that we need to have an ontology, tugging at the way we see reality and going "see, see, it's all melty... it's all melty... it'll always be all melty... come and play!"

Clearly I need some better words for this, but I know what I'm going to read to work on that. Whee, I'm going to revise again. Again again. Why.

This afternoon, Julia suggested that I look at engineering faculty ontologies implicit in the Big Official Reports on the State of Engineering Education And So Forth. Which is a great idea, and might solve the problem of the EFAL lit review being in shambles when it comes to contextualizing EFAL's work in the domain of engineering education. So. That, too. Yes.

I'm glad Robin is willing to let me stay in that space trying to say things, instead of hauling me back to places where I can currently speak in ways she can understand -- it's not every advisor that does that. I know it's painful for us both right now, and every conversation makes me want to pull my hair out -- but I'm glad we're having them. And I'm glad I finally called Patti last night and admitted I needed postmodern eyeballs on my (attempting-to-be) postmodern work. And glad for all my friends: Ben sitting me down in his office for writing accountability, Alexandra and Stephanie reminding me of all that lies ahead, Sebastian mailing chocolate, Todd letting me rant tantrums at him, Julia... gosh. I can't list them all. They can't carry my dissertation, but they can carry me. And so they are.