A pig's flight through jargon;Comment;Opinion

29th March 1996 at 00:00
"Developmental processes in my personal life led me to a point where I needed a more existentially relevant psychology which could at least recognise the importance of the subjective world of the individual rather than objectifying people in the interest of prevailing methodology."

If this were to be printed in the Agony Aunt column of some non-existent pulp magazine for the profession, it might strike a chord. "Dear Worried Professor, Congratulations on your discovery that people are real living beings, each one in some degree different from all the others."

It does not of course. It is part of the apologia for a paper entitled with rapier-like subtlety:"Is there Metatheoretical Ambiguity in the Practice of Phenomenological Research Methodology in Contemporary Psychology?" For those wishing to know the author's conclusion to this burning question of the day, try Ceefax, or the department of educational psychology, University of Alberta. Don't ask me.

Let's hear it instead for Phil Race of the educational development service, University of Northumbria at Newcastle, author of a brief introductory pamphlet to open learning. Professor Race breaks the rules for this kind of exercise. He clarifies where others obfuscate. "If there is something wrong with one's motivation, it is unlikely that successful learning will happen. However, 'motivation' is a rather 'cold' word - a psychologists' word rather than everyone's word. 'Wanting' is a much more human word. Everyone knows what 'want' means. Also, 'wanting' implies more than motivation. 'Wanting' goes right to the heart of human urges and feelings."

Similar treatment awaits terms like "reflection" for which the professor substitutes "digestion". But he reserves his real scorn for learning cycles, particularly the best known which involves "active experimentation", "reflective observation", "concrete experience" and "abstract conceptualisation". You can almost hear the rationale behind this terminology - let's find phrases to disguise the essential simplicity. As is pointed out:"Asking people to define 'concrete experience' for you will produce more than one reference to sand, cement and paths!"

Professor Race now virtually reinvents the wheel. There are difficulties in establishing entrance and exit points in a cycle. Further he demonstrates that there is an apparent need to be in two places at once in certain processes. How is this overcome?

"Although I am keen to acknowledge the usefulness of thinking of learning as a combination of processes, I think that imposing a 'cyclic' order on learning is, to say the least, gross oversimplification."

Imagine, all that high-flying research and technical jargon resulting in "gross oversimplification". Irony of ironies, because it's true. "The human brain is not a computer that works in a linear or pre-programmed way all the time. Our brains often work at various overlapping levels when, for example, solving problems or making sense of ideas." Accordingly, in place of the cycle, Professor Race produces a concentric circular diagram with overlap effect to take account of the way in which the human brain really works.

This is akin to heresy. Straightforward words, diagrams that take account of human behaviour, a paper that the reader can understand. Whatever next? A move away from the tortuous jargon of so much modern educational research? Pigs might win Oscars, but they still don't fly.

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