Intimacies of being in learning design

Author: Nicola Parkin

Parkin, Nicola, 2021 Intimacies of being in learning design, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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In the university, broadly speaking, there are two worlds of learning design: the institutional and the personal. The institutional kind is utilitarian and instruments the agenda of the university; this kind is self-assured and self-proclaiming - and the only kind disposed to tell us what it is. The personal kind, in contrast, is quiet and more hidden, invisibly integrated in the ordinary teaching practices of university educators like you and I. This kind may go unnoticed altogether, were it not for the schisms in our work that show us that there is more going on for us than is institutionally inscribed on the surface of our work - more than at first appears, and more than we can say, too. What we feel are the hidden, deeper currents of our educative commitments, where one’s being and doing are not separate, where one’s work is for the sake of the self – oneself and others. These are the ontological and existential undercurrents of our learning design work.

Also tangled in this undergrowth is the neglected suchness of the ‘design’ part of learning design. The question of its phenomenal significance is explored through locating learning design within a philosophical literature of design, yielding insight into the way in which design gives to teaching its distinctive character as the figure of freedom.

In this professional doctorate, I enter into this more intimate world of learning design by asking a question about learning design that has not been asked before: how does learning design as such show itself to be? This question is a phenomenological question, asked from inside the experience itself. Hermeneutic phenomenology is apposite to this kind of enquiry for, in this methodology, theorised pre-conceptions are eschewed, giving room for the phenomenon to speak itself.

With ethics approved, six university teachers were interviewed, yielding a rich data set of sixty unguarded stories of being in learning design, each story in its own way a window into the phenomenon. A hermeneutic analysis of the phenomenon occurred through my own sustained and ‘lived’ immersion in the stories, interpretive writing, and the reading of existential philosophers, chiefly Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger.

By this philosophical method, four essential characteristics of the phenomenon of being in learning design are disclosed: 1) the inner workings of the question; 2) a conscience of learning; 3) the forces of learning; and 4) the rule of breaking. At bottom, it seems that our being in learning design is an onto-existential affair with what is ‘learning’, in which we try to save learning from disappearing into being by staying involved with its appearance and disappearance - in and with our own being.

A further interpretive turn brings these philosophical findings back into the concrete professional arena of university teaching practice. No great claims are made, no models constructed, and no system reforms demanded. What this thesis offers instead is a way to see, say and save the intimacies in our learning design work, so that we might more deliberately nurture and vouchsafe its life-giving depths and meaningfulness as a vital part of our teaching.

Keywords: Learning design, hermenueutic phenomenology, university teaching

Subject: Education thesis

Thesis type: Professional Doctorate
Completed: 2021
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Dr Michael Bell