Living educational theory (LET) is a research method in educational research.
The idea of action research as a living practice entered the mainstream of action research from the book, "Action Research as a Living Practice" by Terrance Carson and Dennis Sumara in 1997. Carson and Sumara transformed the concept of traditional action research with the idea that, ..." participation in action research practices are particular ways of living and understanding that require more of the researcher than the "application" of research methods. Rather, action research is a lived practice that requires that the researcher not only investigate the subject at hand but, as well, provide some account of the way in which the investigation both shapes and is shaped by the investigator (Carson & Sumara 1997, p. xii). This requires what Martin Buber called an "I-Thou" approach toward other and this approach applied to action research as well. To make Buber's language more modern and accessible, LET translated Buber's "I-Thou" approach toward another human being to an "I/you/we" approach to action research. This differs greatly from an approach to living theory action research imagined by Jack Whitehead (2002)[full ] where he imagines living theory action research as forming an "I-theory" of knowledge. Director of the Philosophy for Children Project at Notre Dame de Namur University William Barry proposes LET focuses on the connections between the researcher and the other person or subject where the lives of action researchers are inextricable linked in a profound manner with the individuals and communities involved in the subject of study. LET from a Barryian perspective is a critical theory and emancipatory action research approach which seeks the dialectic, not debate and battles of [discourse].
A major difference of William Barry's version of living educational theory, which was the focus of his successful completion of a Ph.D. thesis at Nottingham Trent University, UK, is the essential question behind the living educational theory approach to action research (2012b). The question is not "How can I generate a living legacy for myself through an I-It theory approach toward knowledge and other forms of life?" Rather the essential question is, "How does one conduct a life that includes the practice of educational action research?"(Carson & Sumara 1997, p. xvii) The theory/practice problem disappears when honesty about one's biases regarding spiritual, existential, and emotional intelligence are made clear in the action research process.
The phraseology "educational theory" originated with the work of Jack Whitehead, a former lecturer at the University of Bath, and it was further developed and greatly improved methodologically by Jean McNiff in 2009 because of her willingness to be transparent about her values and intentions. Whitehead's main emphasis for conducting research is to promote the individual under the guise of collaboration and research outcomes must be captured on video for authentic validation. Whitehead's view of action research promotes that living educational theory (he uses living theory and living educational theory interchangeably so it is difficult for a reader to know what he is writing about) should be aimed at the bringing of energy-flowing values as explanatory principles and standards of judgments into the Academy for the legitimation of living educational theories (Whitehead 2008)[full ]. In the eyes of Whitehead radical constructivism is at the core of living educational theory research. In 2013, Whitehead and McNiff separated as collaborators as McNiff saw spiritual, emotional intelligence as key to action research while Whitehead disagreed and believed that media accounts (primarily video tapping people) of action research could provide clues to virtues which held the future of humanity though energy flowing examples of collaboration. McNiff stated in a May 2013 conference she San Francisco, California (ARNA Conference)[full ] that she would never appear or work with Whitehead again. She repeated this message again months later at a UK conference in York. American William Barry believed the concept of LET was too important and found a dialectic between McNiff and Whitehead and he created a new understanding of LET which was presented at a three-day international conference in 2013 at Liverpool Hope University titled, "Researching Our Own Practice" (Barry 2013).
Living educational theory was first clearly defined and developed by California Professor of Philosophy William Barry (2012b) in Liz Atkins and Susan Wallace's book (Atkins & Wallace 2012), Qualitative Research in Education, co-published by Sage and the British Educational Research Association (BERA). This book was one of four in a series sponsored by the BERA regarding best practice progressive research methods in educational research. The originality and uniqueness of Barry's development of living educational theory (LET) action research is the importance of gaining ontological weight through the action research process. Ontological weight empowers the researcher's ability, and the ability of other people involved in the action research project, to have the research experience and focus of the research be transformational and add, or at least reinforce, a sense of meaning in learning and life. Barry was influenced to use the concept "ontological weight" by the existentialist Catholic philosopher Gabriel Marcel (1963).[full ]
The idea of action research as a living practice entered the mainstream of action research from the book, "Action Research as a Living Practice" by Terrance Carson and Dennis Sumara in 1997. The term "educational theory" originated with the work of Jack Whitehead, a former lecturer at the University of Bath, and it was further developed and greatly improved methodologically by Jean McNiff in 2009.[full ] Whitehead's main emphasis for conducting research is to promote the individual under the guise of collaboration and research outcomes must be captured on video for authentic validation. Whitehead's view of action research promotes that living educational theory (he uses living theory and living educational theory interchangeably so it is difficult for a reader to know what he is writing about) should be aimed at the bringing of energy-flowing values as explanatory principles and standards of judgments into the Academy for the legitimation of living educational theories (Whitehead 2008)[full ]. In the eyes of Whitehead, radical constructivism is at the core of living educational theory research.
Barry was asked by the BERA sponsored authors to reflect on the nature of living educational theory (LET) because there existed no clear definition of LET in the literature. Barry was asked because he had successfully used LET in an innovative fashion, and was the first to clearly define LET as based in critical theory (Wink 2011) which embraced transpersonal psychology through his earned 2012 PhD thesis at Nottingham Trent University Nottingham, UK. He proposed LET as a way of challenging the oppressive use of power using critical theory (Gorlewski, Gorlewski & Portfilio 2012) in a need fulfilling way (Glasser 1998)[full ]. Barry proposed the following definition and approach to action research he calls living educational theory and his approach has been used as an action research method in undergraduate and graduate courses and research at Notre Dame de Namur University in Silicon Valley, California as well as by other researchers around the world.
Barry explained that living educational theory "[is] a critical and transformational approach to action research. It confronts the researcher to challenge the status quo of their educational practice and to answer the question, 'How can I improve that I'm doing?' Researchers who use this approach must be willing to recognize and assume responsibility for being a 'living contradictions' in their professional practice - thinking one way and acting in another. The mission of the LET action researcher is to overcome workplace norms and self - behavior which contradict the researcher's values and beliefs. The vision of the LET researcher is to make an original contribution to knowledge through generating an educational theory proven to improve the learning of people within a social learning space. The standard of judgment for theory validity is evidence of workplace reform, transformational growth of the researcher, and improved learning by the people researcher claimed to have influenced..." (Atkins & Wallace 2012, p. 131).
Barry's LET approach to action research was heavily influenced by action researchers focused on emancipatory social change, collaboration, and liberation theology (2012a). Prominent developers of LET, without whose work LET would most likely never had been developed by Barry, are notable action researchers, educators, and philosophers such as Martin Buber's (1970) conception of 'I and Thou' and Krishnamurti's (1953)[full ] liberation pedagogy emphasizing education as significant to leading a quality filled life; Paulo Freire (1998[full ] and 1970) and his concept of participatory action research and the need to be politically aware; the work of Carr and Kremmis (1986)[full ] and Habermas (1992) and their concept and building critical educational knowledge; Professor Manheimer of UNC (1999)[full ] and his challenge to his readers to enfold the past into the living present in order to become historical to oneself and then strive to linking life times with each other; Apple (1982)[full ] and Michel Foucault (1990)[full ] and the role of power and politics in education and Joe Kincheloe (2008)[full ], Henry Giroux (1997)[full ], and Peter McLaren (1989)[full ] and their promotion of critical pedagogy.
Prof. Barry was the first Ph.D. researcher to successfully use living educational theory in conjunction with neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), spiral dynamics and autoethnography (based on a multiple intelligences model which includes spiritual and emotional intelligence and embraces transpersonal knowing) as valid methods of research working under the methodological umbrella of phenomenology and hermeneutics. His LET approach to Ph.D.level action research led to the unique use of fictional storytelling as a vehicle by which to replace the traditional literature review chapter in Ph.D. research but in a more rigorous and creative fashion. The process of storytelling allows the researcher to exercise their emotional intelligence in a superior manner than the traditional research literature review allows.
Living educational theory as defined and created by Barry is part of the curriculum of multiple courses at Notre Dame de Namur University located in Silicon Valley, California in their credentialing program for teacher education. Barry's Living Educational Theory Action Research Method is based on a six step process based on research questions that normally start from the format, " How can I influence the transformation of....?" or "How can I contribute to the improvement of...?" The research is dialectical in nature:
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