Biesta, G.J. & Burbules, N.C. (2003). Pragmatism and educational research. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning meaning, and identity. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Provocative Question #7:

What does the literature suggest we should do to make our conversations about research meaningful to use as change agents/action researchers? (Include Wenger and one other author.)

Step 1: Prepare for a conversation

Quote/ideas from Biesta & BurbulesPage number
“We should therefore understand inquiry as a serial or sequential process. The serial or sequential nature of inquiry is rooted in the conditions of life itself. Inquiry does not solve problems by returning to a previous, stable situation, but by means of a transformation of the current situation into a new situation. There is, therefore, no absolute end to inquiry” (p. 57).
57
“Educational practice is ‘the beginning and the close’ of all educational inquiry” (p. 79).
79
“Dewey emphasized again and again that the one and only purpose of educational inquiry is to make the actions of the educator more intelligent” (p. 79).
79
“Dewey emphasized that the conclusions of educational inquiry cannot be converted into immediate rules of educational action (1929b, 9). This is, obviously, not to suggest that educational inquiry is meaningless for the practice of education; Dewey believed quite the contrary. It is rather to highlight that the outcomes of previous inquiries do not specify successful lines of action for the future; they do not provide simple prescriptions of what should be done in the future” (p. 80).
80
“Educational inquiry will never come to an end. In education we will constantly be faced with new, unique situations and new, unique problems. While on the one hand the outcomes of educational inquiry feed back into the educational process itself in order to render educational practice more intelligent, we will constantly find more problems to be further studied, ‘which then react into the educative process to change it still further, and thus demand more thought, more science, and so on, in everlasting sequence.’ This means not only that we shouldn’t expect firm solutions from educational inquiry, but that we can only hope for ‘instruments’ that can help us in the never-ending process of dealing with educational problems. In a sense it also means that the idea of ‘improving’ educational practice in any direct way through educational research should be abandoned—at least, that is, so long as we think of improvement as a process in which education becomes increasingly more perfect. Educational problems are always unique and for that reason always require unique responses, tailored as best as possible to the idiosyncrasies of the actual, unique situation. This, and nothing else, is what we should expect from educational inquiry” (p. 81).
81
Quote/ideas from WengerPage number
“The term practice is sometimes used as an antonym for theory, ideas, ideals, or talk. However, my use of the term does not reflect a dichotomy between the practical and the theoretical, ideals and reality, or talking and doing. Communities of practice include all of these, even if there are sometimes discrepancies between what we say and what we do, what we aspire to and what we settle for, what we know and what we can manifest” (p. 48).
48
“Practice resides in a community of people and the relations of mutual engagement by which they can do whatever they do. Membership in a community of practice is therefore a matter of mutual engagement. That is what defines the community. A community of practice is not just an aggregate of people defined by some characteristic” (p. 73-74).
73-74
“For learning in practice to be possible, an experience of meaning must be in interaction with a regime of competence. Although experience and competence are both constituents of learning – and thus of knowing – they do not determine each other. They may be out of alignment in either direction” (p. 138).
138

Question response

My reading of some theoretical literature, including Wenger, suggests that practice is perhaps the critical and/or defining requirement for making conversations relevant for us as change agents. For this, I take Biesta and Burbubles’s (2003) exploration of Deweyan pragmatism and its implications for educational research as a foundational text and body of knowledge. In the quotes above, it becomes clear that Dewey doesn’t see educational inquiry as something that will definitively answer or “fix” education, as educational inquiry fits within his broader transactional, fallibilist epistemology. What’s more, educational inquiry, because it is a tool for educators to use to make their practices more intelligent, is always ongoing and influenced by problematic or uncertain situations.

As it applies to Wenger, then, I think practice plays a central role for how we might operate as change agents. For Wenger (and Dewey, too), as seen above, practice means that theory and activity are not dichotomous, but are constituent parts of the same process. As change agents, we do this work in and with others, and so the community becomes importance. And, what’s more, having competence as a change agent is critical importance.