I've been playing with language to describe my research. One of my old notebook pages describes it this way:

  1. Making surprises visible (about what, and to whom?)
  2. Helping others make sense of the surprises.

The first implies a sensitization process and an emphasis on emergence (without excluding a priori possibilities; we're not blank slates). My approach tends to leave room for serendipity; I am curious about the unknown-unknowns, the things we don't (yet) know we don't know. The emphasis is on the self as sensor, the team as sensor network; we are viewing the world reflected in each other, and we don't need to be able to understand or articulate something to mark it as possibly important to pursue. I think of research as embodied, situated, personal, communal, full of tensions and contradictions we don't need to resolve right away. This part is more about the "us" -- experiences with and within what we are already close to.

The second is more about enlarging that "us" -- looking at that which is currently "other," and linking it to ourselves. It's where the development of a shared vocabulary comes in. It's not that language doesn't factor into the first part; these aren't hard boundaries. The shared vocabulary may be glances, words, scholarly references, names, stories. It's mutable. It's not centrally controlled, and it's not a perfect capture of the territory that it maps.

These thoughts aren't terribly worked out yet, but I'm trying to practice ways of writing down the fluid. It feels exactly like that -- drawing a pen through water, trying to cup something inside my hands that keeps on flowing out. I'm trying to immerse myself in the writing of people who do this well, who signpost tracks behind them with a wry reminder not to take their trail too seriously. I'm working on it. I'm trying. I'm doing what I know: vigorous sprints of exercise to clarify my thought, Ritalin, drawing... it's hard, thinking. Thinking in new ways is just hard.

One snippet I found recently and liked: Noffke describes action research as a place where "understandings and actions emerge in a constant cycle, one that highlights the ways in which educators are partially correct, yet in continual need of revision, in their thoughts and actions. The process does not end, as with traditional notions of research, with richer understandings of education for others to implement; rather, it aids in an ongoing process of identifying contradictions, which in turn, help to locate spaces for ethically defensible, politically strategic actions." (p. 4 of Action research and democratic schooling: Problematics and potentials.)

Another snippet, where I respond to the questions of what impact I want to have on students here, on Olin itself, and on the world -- my answers, in a thin scribble:

Students: Teach attention and awareness of habits of perception, and ways to both create tentative categories and question them. Training on improvisation and communicating in the moment as a team.

Olin: Sharing our stories with each other and playing with language for describing them. Looking at parallels between student growth environments and faculty/staff growth environments and experiences.

World: Radically transparent qualitative research, postmodernism in engineering education, and (to my surprise -- did I actually write this down?) deaf gain in engineering education. (The last one I wrote down in all lower-case, and I don't remember if the un-capitalization was significant to my past self.)

There we go. Braindumps.

I'm glad this little notebook on the web is mine; I'm glad I decided long ago that it was for my future self, and that not everything I put out here has got to be coherent. I'm glad I keep upholding that decision at a stage in my career where classmates feel their presence needs to be polished, their publications need to be thought through -- I'll get there too, I also have edited publications -- but I like putting some of the earlier stages out there, because something about it feels liberating to my mind; once others can potentially see something I've made, once someone else can take it on, then I can much more easily let it go.