Archive for July, 2009

The future of education in a net-centric world

July 27, 2009 2 comments 

Surveys of CEOs and futurists alike all agree that the future is calling to us with a need for open systems, open thinking, collaborative organizations, workplaces and attitudes.  Net-centric  democratic education,  public and private movements for social justice, moral and honorable business enterprises,  and cross cultural communications all place a premium on skills, tools, and attitudes that encourage and multiply the network effect.

Doctoral research should reflect this same willingness to push boundaries, and encourage the use of collaborative teams of researchers and practitioners to explore collaborative theory and practice. If collaboration works in practice, there needs to be a theory of collaborative action, and the research in support of that practice should reflect the same principles as the work itself.

Like all new movements, there is a bootstrap problem when you try to go beyond conception into first action.  How do you create the initial conditions to generate the spark of collaboration which can ignite the passion and energy of research teams? The words sound good, but we need a place to try it on for size; We need supportive yet challenging places to discover, invent , develop and propagate the  best practices and techniques of collaborative knowledge creation.  We need places to test our theories, tell our stories and plan for the next cycle.

Dr Alana James’ growing community of practice at, centered on the principles and techniques of Participatory Action Research, is just such a node. It serves as an incubator for researchers and doctoral students seeking to develop the net-centric research effect. It goes beyond dry academic reports of practice, by being a live and vibrant laboratory for discovering, applying and reporting on the “theory-in-use” of open education.

It is a combination of challenging questions, a tool repository for new applications of digital learning and research, and is creating a circle of multiple competencies that will support  spin-off collaborations in a variety of settings that will propagate waves of change throughout the network like waves in a pond.

Dr James’ leadership in this area is paving a way for new approaches to research and practice and is exactly the kind of practice which needs support and recognition. She has the vision to imagine revolutionary positive changes in the world around her, the moral courage to invest in encouraging the Voices of students and co-researchers as we work to define and realize that future, and the skills to lead and encourage that change.


when post-positivism meets uncertainty

July 26, 2009 1 comment

I am thinking about trying to figure out how to conduct research “properly” in the regions beyond the boundary of post-positivism.

Think of a farm that now borders the deep dark woods.

In the beginning we have a farm, surrounded by other farms, and over time, we haved figured out through trial and error, what works, even considering how variable the weather may be. The trial and error has been so successful that we have codified it into formal science and our success grew by leaps and bounds.

our farm now has expanded and on the border we encounter a deep, dark forest, whose boundaries we cannot see, only glimpse, and in whose depths we can see only shadows.

The farmland is the land where positivism and post-positivism excel. We are able to reduce and analyze problems and rely on the rules of cause and effect and the power of math to find answers and produce reliable solutions. It’s a land wherein all things are knowable.

In the forest, however, things change so much that our old rules don’t seem to apply. Things change faster there, unpredicatably, sometimes as if by chance, and at other times by rules that only sometimes seem to make sense, and the ruules seem to change as soon as we write them down. There are plenty of things we don’t yet understand. There seem to be things that are essentially unknowable. This is the land of complexity and chaos, where new rules sets are tentative and unproven. William Poundstone has written powerfully about these kinds of paradoxes in his book Labyrinths of Reason. The Sante Fe Institute in New Mexico researches this area in a scholarly manner.

It turns out that the epistemology of the farmland breaks down in the land of the forest. At the same time, the emerging rulesets of the forest don’t perform as well when you bring them into the farmland, because they are too tentative and uncertain, and in the farmland efficiency and certainty can be achieved and are rewarded.

People who would explore the forest know a lot less about that region than the people who explore the farmland know about the farms, and sometimes they talk past each other because they are coming from 2 different epistemologies, which in turn can create a disconnect at the ontological level itself (ie the nature of the world).

My sense is that in the “forest” of complexity, chaos and uncertainty, that mixed methods are going to be absolutely essential when it comes to developing an understanding of how to stay alive and thrive out there.

As we grow in knowledge we are able to push the boundaries of the farm out into the forest. everything that is coming out of the study of the science of complexity and uncertainty and chaos, however, suggests that there is some vast amount of forest that must remain out there beyond our ability to “domesticate” with the power of post-positivism.

This doesn’t disrespect post-positivism and all the good that it can do, it only says that the world is stranger than we CAN imagine so far, and that in the forest a different world view is useful.

The Sante Fe folks have a combination of pragmatism and constructionism threaded throughout their work, while at the same time having a deep and abiding respect for science and scientific method, as evidenced by the Nobel laureates they have on staff

what's your judgement on the state of the farm vs forest discussion? i pick #2

what's your judgement on the state of the farm vs forest discussion? i pick #2

reflecting on the forest past the boundary of post-positivism

July 26, 2009 Leave a comment

Creswell talks about the 4 worldviews that shape the  research goals, objectives, methods, interpretive measures, and sense making of researchers.  I inherited a post-positivist outlook from my formative years working in a machine shop with designers, engineers, craftsmen,  and other shop rats. My years of experience as a planner in the Army helped me appreciate the pragmatic worldview, which drives you to focus on results by any means necessary and without an overly strict compulsion to stay committed to a particular method, at the cost perhaps of sacrificing deep understanding or the pursuit of Truth.

I have rejected advocacy as a legitimate worldview for most of my life, with the exception of the values of freedom and democracy, as I am unwilling to committ on faith to untested beliefs, and have witnessed how advocacy can lead people to distort findings and spin results.

Constructivism seems more and more useful to me as I investigate social situations and complex human problems and opportunities.

The doctoral program is really helping me examine my beliefs and knowledge claims, and I have seen the positive results in my teaching that have emerged fron the cycles of reflective learning.

I have hit a tipping point where I must begin the convergent writing and thinking that will result in the dissertation, and it is with some sadness that I recognize that I have to put some of the divergent thinking aside in order to focus on task accomplishment.  This part of the journey wont be as much fun. I wish I could just push a button and get thru it and get back to scouting new knowledge areas which is how i prefer to spend every waking moment, in order to feed my dreams.

an exercise in “sense-making”: grappling with “design” and “planning”

July 24, 2009 Leave a comment

a number of faculty and officers gathered around a whiteboard to try to create their own practical sense of the distinction and relationship between design and planning.  The series of diagrams reflected in the image unfolded over a discussion of several hours as we tried to connect the doctrinal and scholarly terms to our own words and experiences, to forge a link of meaning between doctrine and practice.


New feature: indexed links to Youtube videos

July 24, 2009 Leave a comment

I should have done this a long time ago. I created 2 new pages on the blog to collect an indexed list of the videos of mini-lectures for my doctoral research and my Army classroom professional stories. These will be a more organized way to layout a menu of choices for students and interested parties to view my stuff in the areas of force management and force sustainment.

I have probably a hundred refined little speeches I tend to give in various classes that reflect my best practices from my active duty service, but also some things that have emerged as refinements in the schoolhouse through engagement with the great officers who share their perspectives of the war and discuss theory and practice.

I find myself in class hurrying at times to squeeze these in, out of a sense of duty. It’s not always good pedagogy and it would be nice maybe to let the students know about them ahead of time so that we can engage in dialogues of their choosing based on their needs instead of always doing what I want to do.

Time to relinquish the mike a little more? here is a way to offer my humble “greatest hits” and let them follow their interest.

There maybe some value add for my fellow instructors too on my areas of competence, since our faculty are responsible for a wide range of areas; so wide in fact that they don’t have direct personal experience in all of the fields.

Example:our faculty teach sustainment lessons at strategic, operational and tactical levels of war; they cover maintenance, transportation, supply, medical, personal, explosive ordnance disposal, band, finance, personnel, contracting, and all elements of force management; design, plans and operations; Joint and army support operations; plus whatever their elective course specialties are. faculty development programs are an important area of concern for us.

that’s a pretty full plate, so perhaps these videos can be of some help to them as well.

Reflecting on world views and mixed methods designs of research

July 24, 2009 2 comments

Controlling IT Costs; Enterprise Architecture ...
Image by Wonderlane via Flickr

Comparison of Creswell’s continuum of research and Edmondson’s methodological fit chart.

1. Creswell describes a single continuum that connects qualitative and quantitative research at the endpoints with mixed methods in the middle. This model implies that there is a single dimension along which methodology can be arrayed. I don’t think this holds up to scrutiny for very long.

2. He repeats the simple assertion that qualitative measures are in captured in words while quantitative measures are captured in numbers but glosses over the distinction that these two different research methods may be assessing entirely different dimensions altogether. For example quantitative measures are generally of physical objects that exist in the world or the qualities that exist independent of human sense making, whereas qualitative measures are describing aspects of meanings that people create an attribute to situations as well as physical objects. I submit that the objects of inquiry are quite different and don’t exist along a single continuum as his model would array.

3. Furthermore I don’t necessarily agree that mixed methods simply split the difference between qualitative and quantitative methods although it’s true that there are elements of both inside mixed methods. The reasons to choose one or the other have everything to do with a combination of the purpose of your inquiry and the nature of the research subject and the state of its theory as outlined in Edmondson. These are multidimensional considerations not easily arrayed along a linear continuum. For example qualitative and quantitative methods might be chosen because their subject could be contained sufficiently inside a single methodology where is a mixed methods approach might be chosen because of the complexity of the topic area which could not be properly described and analyzed inside a single discipline. In that case the very nature of the research subject cannot be expressed along a single continuum that is qualitatively different.

4. Moving on to the four point world view model I sense that the top two quadrants consisting of post-positivism and constructivism align very closely with quantitative and qualitative methods respectively. These two approaches seem to be value neutral and outcome neutral and relate to an ontological orientation about the nature of the world and the topics that are of interest.

5. The bottom two members of the quadrant: advocacy and pragmatism, are different in nature in that they focus on outcomes and problem solving first and only secondarily on methods. Their focus on methods matters only in so far as they facilitate the achievement of their outcome and not necessarily related to the nature of the research question itself. For example, both a pragmatist and an advocate might use a sub optimal research strategy simply because it might increase the odds of approval by the chief decision-maker because of their cognitive biases. In this case the search for truth and expansion of knowledge and contribution to theory is subordinate to the achievement of specific outcomes. The clear distinction between the advocate and a pragmatist is that a pragmatist takes his cue from the environment and participants and derives measures of success that are related to the situation whereas the advocate brings his values and predispositions to bear before diving deep into the situation.

6. It’s clear that the worldview quad chart is not simply a two-dimensional array but really represents four distinct perspectives that have different assumptions, different relationship to the truth as an end or a mean.

7. Compared to Edmondson’s methodological fit model, the differences could not be more dramatic. Edmondson’s approach is driven strictly by the nature of knowledge at a given moment compared to the method chosen. This is a strictly functional or utilitarian model that establishes metrics for common interpretation by a uniformed group of members of a profession who want to make functional judgments. This is a much more narrow application of a model. It explicitly is limited to feel research, where is Creswell treats the entire range of human experience in his model. Creswell goes much deeper and includes an assessment of the researcher and his motivations and purposes as well as the knowledge domain itself.

Reading notes for the Edmondson article: (I need these for later anyway 😀 )

1. a powerful article that is the single best argument for assigning this class early in the program. Would’ve saved me a year of spinning around in circles.

2. article purpose: provide a contingency framework to classify and recommend type of research based on proposed research question and status of previous work in the field.

3. Real-world complexity comes from trade-offs, constraints, timing and funding issues among others and can steer the research logic and the research connection to theory.

4. Authors intend to promote methodological fit as a criterion and have operationalized the end for elements consisting of research question, prior work, research design and contribution to literature.

5. The elements are mutually reinforcing and getting a good fit is seen as an iterative process consisting of feedback loops read thinking and revising. This reminds me that good writing is good rewriting.

6. this method is to be applied to feel research which is defined as systematic collection of original data in real organizations.

7. Methodological fit has deep roots back in the 60s when field study was recognized as being useful for explorations while mine field studies were used to advance..

8. Borchaud observed that good research consisted of asking the right question and then picking the most powerful method to answer.

9. Authors cautioned against the hammer and analogy in which proficiency with the hammer makes everything look like a nail.

10. Lee observed that qualitative research is good for theory generation, elaboration and testing.

11. The central debate in field research includes dialogue on whether or not mixed methods are really appropriate to combine and if qualitative and quantitative can be reasonably integrated. The issue concerns whether or not the same object can be compared using to radically different methods. There is consensus emerging that mixed methods can increase the living through triangulation or permit a deeper dive into understanding from an alternative point of view. Care must be exercised to not overstate the conclusions from two different methodologies.

12. Insight: revealing an unfinished manuscript resembles Karl Weick’s theorizing article which treats the rising as cooking and progressive theory making.

13. Reviewing makes it easier to see the lack of methodological fit in other people’s works, probably because we are outside of the fishbowl.

14. Insight: mature theory fills the room taking away space for things that have not yet been done. For new researcher it’s like going to a **tail party or you don’t know anybody or what they’re talking about and are trying to fit in.

15. Insight: have to read Baker’s article from 1993. The story of his inquiry resembles mine in many respects although he was looking at self-directed work teams and private companies were as I’m looking at military education and a period of transformation. Everything else is pretty close.

16. Authors assert that mixed methods offer a way to gain both deeper insight from qualitative and deeper he or from quantitative. The insight comes from answering the question what’s occurring behind the numbers. Depending on how you organize the research and what’s appropriate one of the methods can support the other in the following way:
a. qualitative can support quantitative by helping to make meaning out of numbers
b. quantitative can support qualitative by testing associations and insights that seem to emerge from a situation

17. the iterative nature of field research with mixed methods is like sailing back and forth between theory creation and theory testing.

18. For mature theory, triangulation of known measures is not necessary and will be seen as wasting time.

19. Premature quantitative research runs the risk of locking you into a theoretical construct too soon before the concrete is set. The final diagram is a nice job of demonstrating the iterative and focusing function of multiple research cycles.

A friend observed:
While your comments [on… ]Edmondson and McManus in general [are] accurate, I am nonplussed about the assertion that you make in connection with that of Creswell. I read and read the chapters on the research methodology by Creswell. And yet, I could draw the inference that mixed method is a simply split the difference between qualitative and quantitatively. In fact, he suggests that we should use both to bolster our claim.

I replied:
What I am saying is that to represent the choice of a research as a single straightline continuum, in a single dimension between Pure Quant and Pure Qual, with mixed method simply at a trade off point, rests on the assumption that there actually is a single dimension to consider when choosing a method.I believe this is too simplistic a notion for mixed methods.

There are times when a single approach may be appropriate.

But I think we know enough about complexity to say that there are problems and situations that are too large to be contained in either pure methodology by itself, and that mixed methods are a co-equal approach to the research design question.

For example Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) of sufficient size cannot be “computed” (too many variables for pure quantitative research to fully appreciate), and at the same time cannot simply be understood or appreciated by one particular style of qualitative inquiry (too many points of view to select just one). The situation cannot be reduced beyond a certain degree of complexity, and may only be known and appreciated indirectly or approximately. The circumstances require a multiplicity of approached (ie mixed methods) and not simply as an “average” of 2 styles.

I suggest that Complex Adaptive Systems require “sense making” that is informed by multiple points of view, but which will not make us “certain” of the results. The insights from the mixed methods are not averaged, but allow us to define a space between the methods where truth may lay. A mixed methods “results” in this case would not be the same as the degree of objective certainty we get from quant, and the metaphorically “true” story we get from qual, but resides in a 3d place off the qual-quant single dimension continuum.

So I suggest mixed methods are not just what you do when you don’t know what to do, but are indicated as a preferred method for specific environmental reasons. I argue for a co-equal “theory of when to use mixed methods” that stands on its own. There surely can be some times when it is simply a blend, but other times when its more than that.

another friend observed:

I like your example of CAS, but I’m lost on your conclusion. I thought that Creswell (2009) indicates that you use the mixed method process not to get some 3rd answer but to narrow the banding on your question (pg. 18), and thus the answer to the question. In addition, Creswell seems to agrue that mix methods should be the perferred methodlogy for reasearch for this very reason, which I think is your thougth as well. So I guess I don’t understand your conjecture that mixed methods would not give us the same degree of accuracy using Quant alone, or truth as using qual alone. As an auditor, I’ll use either quant or qual analysis to determine a problem. But sometimes I have to use qual analysis to better define the data points for quant type research. Or, vise versa.

I replied:

i am coming at this from the perspective of chaos and complexity theory, which concerns situations which cannot be reduced by analysis/research to increase our certainty/knowledge.

Normally we think of research as a way to increase our knowledge so that we can predict & control; this comes from the positivist school and quant methods.

Constructivists and the qual methods may still be motivated by understanding and knowledge and increasing certainty and may want to achieve control & predictability (with less confidence in causality because of free will and the complexity of the human condition).

I sense there are some  challenging problems of a certain degree of complexity which the mixed methods may serve to increase our knowledge and move us towards certainty, where we can actually expect to know things with more certainty afterwards as a result of the inquiry.  Example:  trying to increase manufacturing production in a new multinational venture in a way that values and incorporates the culture, welfare and autonomy of the workers. As a result of “normal” mixed methods in a small, semi-controlled problem space  we might expect to come out really knowing something and have confidence in our ability to shaoe and control our situation. These are the situations I see Creswell as describing.

What I am talking about are problems on a much larger scale, where the complexity is essentially intractable, non-computable (for the quant methods) and where qual methods alone are unsatisfying in giving us deep enough insights to even hint at cause and effect or probable relationships.  i am thinking of things like nation building, and nuclear non-proliferation, and normalizing global financial  systems, where the situation is reinvented so frequently that its always a new start.

It strikes me that simply mixing a little qual and quant in an effort to traingulate an answer is materially different than saying these “wicked problems”  require a mixed methods approach that goes beyond simply taking an “average of the qual and quant”.

Complexity theory suggests that there are categories of situations we want to try to manage, improve, endure, survive that dont fit the simple formula of “pick a research method to learn something so we can act with some confidence to get more predictable results as a consequence of our study”

wicked problems are always morphing so that each cycle of research and insight is unique, and there is no historical theory or case study or “research that has gone before” that can guide.  These are the kinds of situations where I believe a theory of mixed methods is needed that goes beyond a simple blend of qual/quant, because the very premise of the purpose of the research and findings is so different

he said, further:

Next, I guess the logical leap of your discussions about a research topic with enough complexity, without any hope of really getting a real answer, means that no matter the outcome, if you can write with enough zeal and engagement you can give the appearance providing real data and support. At which point even the most complex issue, i.e. world hunger, can be answered by your research. Then if you get political support, the perception of your report is truth – right?

Not that any of us would do that, but just food for thought.

i replied:

i think what’s called for is a new understanding oif what real answers are for complex situations. I dont accept that all we can do is dance around a fire, and elect shamans and offload responsibility for results on to them, ritualistically, and feel like we have understood our world

I believe that a theory of mixed methods that accounts for the nature of complexity and wicked problems, that moves beyond the basic Creswell model is needed in order to explore what it is we can say and do and understand about complexity.

I appreciate the power of rhetoric, but I am wary of rhetoricians and cults of personality.

I wont trade my liberty for that false comfort. And so that’s why I am engaged in mixed methods research at our college where we propose to educate leaders in managing and appreciating complexity

Here is an essay I also posted in our college’s blog to challenge our leadership model which emphasizes leadership traits and our notion of the responisbility of the heroic leader, leader as savior.

I believe a very different sensibility is needed for complex times. Which has implications for how we think, how we define success, how we work in groups, and yes, how we conduct research to determine what we can/might learn about CAS, which is quite different than the epistemological models we use for smaller scoped studies.

I know all about unscrupulous honey tongued serpents, and I believe the answer includes scholarship and integrity and peer review 😀

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Lifting our voices: a reflection on Voice in curriculum, in doctoral research, in life

July 23, 2009 1 comment

“Lifting our voices” by Ken Long     (PAR journal entry J20090724.doc)

In this essay I will describe a construct we are calling “Voice”, my background, my research, and some implications for the doctoral research process in general and how it is affecting Dr Alana and me in our mentor-mentee relationship.

I am a retired Army officer, in my 7th year teaching at the US Army Command & General Staff College at Ft Leavenworth KS. In a series of  Participatory Action Research (PAR) cycles, we determined that our most interesting question was; “What happens when we increase “Voice” in the college?”

We defined “Voice” as a construct that encompassed all manners and methods of formal and informal dialogue with respect to the curriculum, the environment, the policies, procedures and classrooms of our college by any member of educational community. It includes what is said and implied, the reactions, the dialogue, the consequences, and the effects on infrastructure and policy.

We are interested in this question because it affects more than just students and faculty, but many people in our society and in our Army; it touchs what we teach, how we teach, and how we decide. It evokes powerful archetypes and icons of our culture like freedom of speech, speaking truth to power, “speaking out”, raising our voices, “testifying”, story-telling; it tests our assumptions about our strong traditional military hierarchy and the nature and process of educating leaders for work in the modern complex, uncertain world. In short, it is an intersection of many interesting cross sections of our layers of society and speaks to who we are as people in various roles. It puts the question to us: How do you respond to the Truth of others?.

The seed crystal for this concept emerged from the  earliest mentor- mentee discussions between Dr Alana and me, beginning with the idea of Personal Learning Environment movement and the uniquely suitable PAR method of helping students and faculty define these PLEs in each situation. As a new concept in open education,  I started looking at the ripple effect of this concept unfolding from  the center of PAR discussions into the widest reaches of the college, and eventually the construct of Voice came into being as a result of ongoing PAR discussion and inquiry.

One of the PAR outcomes for me was to document the change in my own 1st person teaching practice, which has a tradition in the AR community  as outlined in this post at my blog, which includes extensive footnotes and references:…s-of-knowing-p/

The more I explored my own Voice, the mor ways I looked to make myself accountable and accessible to the wider community through writing, speaking, recording and “performing in public. My sense of communities of interest widened to include groups of students, peer faculty, senior Army leadership, Colorado Tech faculty and peer students, students in Dr Alana’s mentoring group, broad communities of interest accessible through the web through social networks, twitter, Youtube, my blog, etc.

My own practice is becoming a daily reminder of DR Alana’s promise of the revolutionary power of PAR.  That by shipping out your ideas to other nodes in the network of interest, the ideas will seek and find a place where they may be implemented. So its necessary to keep pushing the frontier even in ideas that may not be feasible in your present circumstances.  You give back to the world by sharing all your ideas, nit just the ones that are practical for you today.

This leads me to the video of my research process and current status Dr Alana has uploaded. That is me being open and accountable for my actions with an invitation to the world to discuss and dialogue, where I can inform and in turn be informed.

An outcome of that video, seen by several hundred people in the 10 days since I published it is that I have new contracts interested in my work within the college, and I used it as a “listen-ahead” before my meeting with the college Dean to get permission to conduct my research within my college. It establishes a an opening statement in a dialogue that will shape and refine my research and my practice, and also the college itself as it has ideas that are of interest to the Dean and senior Army leaders.  Voice changes us through the actr of speaking, and listening and engaging.

As an artifact between Dr Alana and I in our mentor and mentee relationship, we have a touchstone here, an artifact that marks the story in this time and place. I see it as part of the ongoing defense of my dissertation, which I interpret to mean the “discourse of my dissertation” because I frame this as an opportunity for growth and knowledge creation which will unfold in cycles, in the same way that PAR evolves and unfolds in cycles to find the most important things to work on.

In practical terms, it is a way for Dr Alana to shape this lump of clay in the doctoral way and to shape the final dissertation defense  through this phase of preparation. It’s a great rehearsal for me to unpack and express my complex thoughts. It is said that writing is thinking, and I would extend the idea to that of “presenting” to incorporate more than just the written word. I highly recommend you try the technique as it has a tremendous clarifying and focusing effect on you as you hear the ideas come forth. I knew more about my research proposal at the end of making the video than I did when I first began to sketch out the slide. As an artifact it will continue to pay me back for the investment in creating it.

Additional references:

My background, outlined at

My blog with plenty of doctoral writings and narratives :

Our departmental blog at Command & General Staff College:

My Youtube Video channel, which includes doctoral narratives, and mini-lectures that are used within classes that I author and teach:

A great guitar instrumental with 3 legends of the guitar:

Supporting graphics: