Friday, January 27, 2006

Writing for UNESCO

Toward the end of last year, I received an invitation to write a chapter for a UNESCO publication concerned with learning and teaching in the 21st Century, that is to be published in honour of an Australian professional educator. I’m not sure if the request came as a result of my previous involvement with UNESCO, my former role at ACE or my current honorary position with the ACE Foundation.

However, back in November, with a well-orchestrated three-week holiday in Vietnam and Cambodia rapidly approaching, I thought I could write something relatively quickly on my return. Could I possibly have forgotten that in my case, papers are written neither quickly nor easily? Needless to say, I have spent nearly all of January writing this article, the focus of which is the power of narrative.

I’m notorious for endeavouring to kill two (or more) birds with one stone—even though I’m a lousy shot—so I wanted to write something that would have relevance to my doctoral research and writing. Given that my interest in narrative has heightened during the course of my candidature—primarily because I see this as a means of conveying the complexity of doctoral practice in a way that cannot be achieved by conventional approaches to research—I wanted to develop a rationale for the use of narrative.

To cut a long story short, I did some more reading (and re-reading) about the theory of narrative—finding resonance in the work of Van Maanen (1988), Richardson (1997), Lee (1998), Rhodes (2001) and more recently Thornborrow and Coates (2005). My draft begins with an overview of narrative, then goes on to explore its use in relation to the issue of quality teaching. Drawing on previous research and development at ACE on professional teaching standards, I demonstrate the extent to which teaching is often described in ways that are cold, clinical and detached. Through examples of narrative, I endeavour to illustrate the capacity of narrative to provide a human face to research on teaching.

As part of the writing process, today I have emailed a draft of the chapter to a few chosen colleagues whose opinion I respect. One has expertise in standards, one in narrative and a couple in doctoral education—including my principal supervisor. It will be interesting to see the nature of their feedback from different perspectives. Meanwhile, back to the core business of doctoral practice in 2006!