Read pp. 3–8 of Hammersley’s paper, up to the heading ‘Context as virtual’. Identify the ways in which Hammersley talks about context and, in particular, what he identifies as ethnographic understandings of context.
In Week 8 context was identified as an issue in research methods generally. How do you think Hammersley addresses the issues concerning context raised in Week 8?
The point made introducing Activity 8.3 is that ‘ Crook and Dymott (2005) adopt a different theoretical approach to learning and context. Hence their research adopts different methodologies compared to the studies discussed by Tolmie.
From Tolmie (2001). Surroundings mean different things to different people. It is naive and deterministic to think that people are so easily governed by their context. The individual over the surroundings. Unless we think students are like a uniform tribal grouping.
‘They are necessarily employed within pre-existing contexts of educational and social activity’. Tolmie (2001) But such ‘contexts’ are or have been radically overhauled, take ESSA in Manchester by way of example. Both how and where the students and teachers interact matters. Rather like product design - form and function. The two are complimentary.
Crook and Dymott (2005) seem focused on the interaction between the various media of life, in particular written texts, lectures and social interactions affect the manner in which we think and express that thinking. Writing to me is a function of the communicating clusters in our brain and will produce the similar ‘comprehension’ results whether cunieform on clay, hieroglyphys on stone, handwriting on papyrus, printing on paper, text on a screen or an annotated animation in a video. The way the brain interlinks with other parts of the brain, and does so in different ways every time a fact is remembered will differ. An item listed on clay will be associated with the act of tapping a hammer into the clay, or an idea expressed via a QWERTY keyboards and printed off might recall the smell of the printer ink .. but does the kernel of the thought differ? To what degree is context the wrapping and associations rather than the information itself?
Learning is both an artefact and a process - the artefact exists as a potential in the brain and when stimulated can in part, through the complexity, be seen in a fMRI scan. The process of learning takes place as an interaction with the world around us, more people, but also the context and ours.
From the recorded memoirs of my late grandfather Jack Wilson, (Vernon, 2008) I wonder how, as an office boy age 14-18 he responded or changed to going from a ‘copy writer’ using 'copying ink' and using carbon paper to using the Blickenfurentstater typewriter that was brought round to the office one morning … and handed to him to master. It intrigues me that even a hundred years ago one generation might hand ‘new technology’ to the youngest member of the team or group … as if we expect the youthful mind and attitude to be more plastic? He lived through a period of extraordinary change - first motorcars, typewriters, telephones, aeroplanes … ‘total war’ … part and parcel (his expression) of these technological innovations were changes in society, not least caused by the First World War. Yet in all of this I can’t see how the context can be isolated from the far more significant influence of the person as an individual or in their community … that historically calamitous events and physical change to the environment fail to have a profound effect, collectively, on who or what we are as humans. Was it Prof. Robert Winston who said that Homo Sapiens doing Cave Paintings has more, not less, in common with a concert pianist in the 20th century? I do rather think that the capacity and scope of the human brain rather outweighs context.
Is context a red herring? Would it not be more interesting to understand what is going on in the brain of the person? That internal ‘context’ is surely where the ‘action’ i.e. the learning and memory formation, is taking place?
Crook, C. and Dymott, R. (2005) ‘ICT and the literacy practices of student writing’ in Monteith, M. (ed.) Teaching Secondary School Literacies with ICT, Maidenhead, Open University Press.
Tolmie, A. (2001), Examining learning in relation to the contexts of use of ICT. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 17: 235–241. doi: 10.1046/j.0266-4909.2001.00178.
Vernon, J.F (2008) That’s Nothing Compared to Passchendaele (accaessed 9th May 2013. http://machineguncorps.com/)
Fig 1. Count the bodies (and body parts) on the Passchandaele mud.
However horrible and however pointless war appears to be, the very fact that some conflict is always in the news makes one wonder if it isn't in our nature to be forever at eachother's throats; perhaps a warmongering gene will be found to define us, just as we have a gene that makes us think in metaphors and so devise new ways of doing things (such as killing each other or defending ourselves in increasingly devious or clever ways).
Here's a thought for a story, what if instead of the centenary of the First War in 2014 it was instead the 100th year of a conflict that is yet to end, the entire world bleeding itself dry and perfecting the means to slaughter, defend and produce ranks of fresh combatants in perfect self-destructive balance?
What if the ability and speed of amputating and replacing limbs allowed the 'modern'soldier to be recycled constantly from spare parts?
Or the story of a young soldier, wounded and slipping into a deep, water-filled shellhole who apparently goes on to live a fulfilling life but with the nagging feeling that he will drown only to discover that he'd had no life at all and was still in that shell-hole?
We live in East Sussex 11 miles from the coast. The school go every year. My Grandfather, a Corporal in the Machine Gun Corps, served between April 1915 and Christmas Day 1917 surviving Arras, the Battle of the Sommes and the 3rd Battle of Ypres or 'Paschendaele'.
I interviewed John Arthur Wilson (1896-1992) at length, recording it all onto Broadcast audio tape, though very regretfully not onto video as had I done so I have little doubt his content would have been repeatedly used, from joining up to training, first casaulties, billets, rations, the Vicker's Machine Gun, desertion, and mud, the guns, every kind of projectile identifable by the noise it made and of course every fatality along the way, but not him, not a scratch, despite repeatedly being put into the most dangerous spots. Or even trwnsfering to the Royal Flying Corps where things wouldn't exactly be much safer.
All this with some of his photographs at www.getjackback.wordpress.com.
Meanwhile I have dug out a set of my 32 copies of 'World War' published in 1934, edited by H G Wells and full of gruesome photographs of bodies in various stages of decomposition.
'Will the War change Britain?' asks H.G.Wells in an article he wrote in 1914 and republished here. He correctly suggested that there would be a rapid advancement in the machinery of war.
Come August 2014 there'll be some fuss made about the centenary of the First World War. Buy before then in Lewes some fuss will be made about the 750th Anniversary of the Battle of Lewes after which the Monarch had am elected parliament foisted on them.
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