This section of my Portfolio includes Artefacts to demonstrate broad familiarity with prominent social, scientific and educational theoretical traditions and trends related to educational studies.
1. Books Collected
The artefact for this section is a mind map of books I've collected related to my PhD studies recently. Some I've read, and some related to my Masters in Adult Education done in 2008 to 2013. Others are related to courses I've done for the PhD program in Educational Studies over the past couple of years.
Some of those I have read, and many more I'm looking forward to reading. Because I live in a rural area and don't have easy access to an academic library, I tend to collect books that interest me. I also enjoy 'marking them up' to help me process and remember things I find particularly interesting or relevant. I also have been collecting articles, subscribing to various e-newletters, magazines and YouTube channels related to the topics represented on this map.
This wide range of access to material in various formats definitely increased my understanding of the various concepts we were studying during our PhD courses in a way I did not expect.
As horrible as the pandemic was, the fact we were doing all of our work remotely during this time was fine for me since I live in a rural area and online learning is much easier then for me. It was also a time of great opportunity as well because it also meant many professors brought in authors of the work we were reading so we could ask questions directly of them. This opportunity to hear directly from the ‘horses (or author's) mouth,' and ask them questions was a unique blessing during a very dark time.
This mind map of the books I've collected so far has also shown me I need to do more to dig deeper into my actual area of education practice, community development and related area social movement learning, if I want to focus on this as a topic for my PhD research. I've also found doing the mind map an interesting way to reflect on how different topics of interest are connected, or overlap.
2. What is Truth?
The second artefact I’m including in my portfolio is the result of an assignment that happened later in the first year of the PhD program; in the last course actually. It was part of the first assignment of a course that Dr. Corbett was teaching called ‘Advanced Seminar: Research Methods.’ I found the assignment very powerful because it asked us to address a question I have often thought about since I began studying journalism as a young person.
I got into journalism primarily ‘to teach.’ I actually did not know much, and did not learn much during my time at King’s about ‘storytelling.’ I do remember though there was a lot of discussion about ‘What is truth?’ This was also a question Dr. Corbett assigned as part of prep for his course; before we had even started the course.
I found having an opportunity to reflect on this question at this point in the program, after I had already done several courses and been exposed to a lot of different theoretical schools of thought, very powerful. I have always thought the question of truth is a complicated question. During journalism school we were taught to constantly question what seemed like ‘truth’ and where different proposed ‘facts’ were coming from; even in relation to science.
For many, ‘science’ seems in particular like the home of ‘truth’ and for many years the ‘scientific method’ has been held up as the primary method of determining what is ‘fact’ or ‘truth’ in the world. At the same time, when I was in journalism school, Noam Chomsky became a very well known philosopher and critic of ‘what is truth’ with the writing of a book called Manufacturing Consent. The book was very critical of ‘the media’ including journalism in 1988. This is when I started journalism school, and Chomsky’s book was something we talked a lot about in our classes.
Then in 1992, the year I graduated, a documentary film related to the book called ‘Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media.' was released. I have carried the ideas of this book with me forever, so when I was asked by Dr. Corbett to reflect on ‘What is Truth?’ I was well-primed to do so. Philosophy had also been an even more interesting field to me then even than journalism. I had always loved big ideas, and thinking about where different ideas came from. I had also been trained in journalism school to always question ‘facts,' what people might propose as ‘truth,’ and to look for where people were coming from in whatever they said was ‘true.’
This scepticism was enhanced when I discovered the work of several adult education theorists, especially Stephen Brookfield, during the work I did for my Masters in Adult Education. I have always believed there can be several ‘versions’ of the truth in our world, and I carried those ideas with me as well as I went through various courses and assignments during the first year of the PhD program.
This question, ‘What is Truth?’ also influenced what theoretical homes felt most comfortable to me, which were most intriguing and how I began to value transparency, especially in one’s approach as an educator, researcher and scholar in the work I was reading, in what I was writing and in the actual work in community that I was still doing. This culminated in particular in how I approached writing a report on community-based research I did more recently for Austim Nova Scotia. More on this in the section on Research Knowledge Competencies.
I also posted this assignment on my blog on my website. Going forward, I think I'd to post more of my school papers as part of a series called 'The PhD Chronicles.' Sharing how to do academic work has actually become very common in blogs and on YouTube, and I've certainly learned from many others who have been brave enough to share their experiences publicly.
3. Relaxation Articles
Another assignment during the first year of the PhD program I did was related to relaxation. Dr. Ashwani Kumar assigned it early on in the course we did with him on Contemporary Educational Theory. A key focus of Dr. Kumar’s work is around the concept of meditative inquiry. He assigned the relaxation exercise as a way for us as doctoral students to explore this concept in parallel with other articles, materials and scholars he introduced us to. The goal of the assignment was ‘to understand how a holistic way of being can support your intellectual work.’
In the syllabus for his course (page 4, 2021), Dr. Kumar describes his pedagogical approach and what meditative inquiry is all about (quoting from Kumar & Downey, 2018):
I have developed this approach to teaching and learning based on my theoretical research and reflective
practices as a teacher educator. Teaching as meditative inquiry is an existential and holistic approach to
teaching and learning. The core purpose of this approach is to develop a deeper sense of awareness through
attentive listening, asking fundamental questions, and engaging in authentic and open dialogue regarding
education and life as a whole. This pedagogy invokes a deeper sense of ourselves, not only as teachers but
also as human beings. Learning to observe one’s body, mind and emotions, and to experiment with meditation
and relaxation exercises are the experiential aspects of this pedagogy. Teaching as meditative inquiry rejects
‘banking education’ and all other forms of instrumental, transmissive and mechanical approaches to teaching.
Instead, it centralizes and celebrates freedom, dialogue and creativity as the processes and goals of the
I found this exercise very powerful. Because of my experience living with mental illness, I have done a lot of work related to mindfulness which felt very similar to what Dr. Kumar was asking us to do. I usually find practicing ‘mindfulness’ very difficult though because the nature of the mental illness I live with, bipolar disorder, often includes racing thoughts or a lot of ‘ruminating’ where thoughts, often related to worry and anxiety, go round and round in one’s head. Bipolar disorder is also characterized by 'mania' which I think very few people understand (compared to broader understand of the depressive side of the illness). Both of these factors have always made 'meditation' of any kind very difficult for me. However, Dr. Kumar gave us permission, highly suggested even, that we focus on 'relaxation' (not so much 'meditation') in whatever way felt good to us. For me, getting outside and moving was one thing I worked on making a regular practice. Another goal was to make Saturdays ‘sacred.’
About this time, I had also just finished reading a book about Deep Work by Cal Newport (2016). This book talks about ‘shallow work’ as tasks (like administration, meetings, dealing with email, etc) and ‘deep work’ as the practice of putting aside 3-4 hours or more to completely immerse oneself in a particular task requiring more ‘deep’ thought such as reading, writing, making art, etc. Newport also talks about ‘attention residue’ as one of the reasons for separating ‘shallow’ work from ‘deep work,’ and why making space between them is very important. ‘Attention residue,’ he says, is related to how our brains work and to really be able to engage in deep work it is important to allow for some time and space to ‘empty’ our brains to make space for deep work.
For me, I was still working part-time while I was doing my PhD courses. I needed to establish a routine that would enable me to do readings for classes and do assignments. One of the ways I was able to do that, and a habit I still use, was to have at least Saturday as a complete day off to spend time outside, and with family or friends. The idea was that I would treat Saturday as a ‘sacred’ day of rest for my brain, and no ‘brain work’ was allowed. This meant Sunday I was able to wake up refreshed and raring to go. This was one of the key days that I did work for school and I continue to use this practice to ensure I have at least one day a week of rest and relaxation to clear my mind of any ‘clutter’ from the previous week of work, and then to be able to do the deeper work required of being a student and scholar with a 'fresh, recharged' brain on Sunday. I would then 'immerse myself' and do most of my readings and any assignments on this one day. It was intense, but it worked because I actually did the best academic work I have ever done in my life, and I directly credit both Dr. Kumar's assignment around relaxation and Newport's idea around 'Deep Work' for this.
The combination of Newport’s ideas and Dr. Kumar’s assignment enabled me to learn how to value relaxation and ‘time off’ as a way to help me work smarter, not just harder, not only during the first year of the PhD program but also in how I've carried on with my practice as a 'community developer,' researcher and scholar. Later on, Dr. Kumar invited myself and two other students to collaborate with him on a paper related to this exercise called ‘Holistic Ways of Leading Academic Life’ that has been accepted for publication in the Holistic Education Review journal (likely Spring 2023).