Collaborative Inquiry in a Socially Shared Contextual Frame, Striving Toward Sensible Knowledge Creation on Dance Education
by Teija Löytönen — 2016
Background/Context: The tradition of dance art in Finland is characterized by values such as individuality and uniqueness, and the professional practice is structured by competition and different kinds of hierarchies, which may also add color to the culture of dance teaching. One of the most noticeable elements within the dance education community is isolation, the feeling of loneliness in one’s own work. The 3-year research project that this article is based on tackled the communal element of isolation by introducing collaborative inquiry to a group of dance educators as a way of identifying and transforming the culture of dance teaching.
Purpose of the Study: To better understand how to support and facilitate collaborative inquiry in diverse contextual frames, this study focuses on the social construction of knowledge among dance professionals. This research project examines the critical incidents that occurred during the collaborative knowledge generation process and, by doing so, sheds light on a more general phenomenon of facilitating the creation of new knowledge in professional contexts characterized by epistemic diversity or specificity.
Research Design: The participants in the research project included 15 dance teachers and 3 dance school principals from three different dance schools in southern Finland. They formed five working peer groups to explore their professional practice in dance education. An ethnographic case study design was used to examine the knowledge creation process from its inception in March 2008 through April 2010, two years of the overall 3-year research project. The author served as a facilitator for the participants and the working peer groups as well as a researcher in the collaborative inquiry process.
Data Collection and Analysis: During the collaborative process, the author attended several meetings of the working peer groups, observed dance classes and student performances, interviewed the participants individually and in groups, corresponded with them through e-mails, and discussed different themes in the joint seminars. This article draws on the field-based ethnographic data assembled during the collaboration, especially diary notes, photographs, and video and audio recordings.
Conclusions: Based on the ethnographic data, the author draws several conclusions with implications for facilitating collaborative inquiry. First, it is argued that experiential bodily knowledge is the foundation for a profound and accurate understanding of the specific activity of dance education: Creating a precise focal knowledge in dance education requires not only lived participation in these activities but also an embodied mode of reflection. Second, and from a more general viewpoint, it is argued that there are diverse (other) ways that practitioners know within their respective professional fields and contextual frames, and that such knowing is revealed through specific modes of performance, action, and reflection. And thus, third, cultural sensitivity and responsiveness could be seen as fundamental to the democratic knowledge generation process in terms of both encouraging sensible participation and striving to avoid a hierarchical and elitist approach to the research enterprise.
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