study sites & participants

 

After framing my initial research questions, I began fieldwork during the first spring of my doctoral program, gathering stories, photographs and fieldnotes as I went into classrooms and on field excursions with teachers and students in the two different integrated high school outdoor education programs described below. As noted in the study context section, my focus shifted significantly from these beginnings. While insights gained from sites 1 and 2 were profoundly significant in initiating this dissertation and its final hypertextual form, contributions from those early days of fieldwork now appear most explicitly in previously published papers (Barrett, 2005, 2006, 2007) which provide context for the hypertextual portion of the dissertation. They also appear in excerpts of conversation, snippits of insight juxtaposed side-by-side with my later explorations of the process of meaning-making itself, and may just perhaps, provoke further thought.

 

Site One:

This program offers five-credits to high school students in an inter-disciplinary fashion. During the first year of the study, I accompanied the program's two teachers and their students on hiking and canoe trips, and spent six days as an observer during their classroom studies. During the second year, I went on another hiking trip, and accompanied this group on several other in-and-out of school events. These included opportunities to watch the students and teachers in action within the classroom walls, to participate in a local field trip to learn canoeing technique, and to engage in further conversation with Jeff, who became the main research participant for this part of the study. His thoughts appear throughout the study in the form of audio clips (see below).

 

In addition to the time spent with teachers and students together, Jeff and I spent approximately twenty hours engaged in one-on-one tape-recorded conversations at a local coffee shop during the first four of the five years of the study. My research also included attention to Jeff's participation in a local Youth Forum on Sustainability which I was researching for another project (see Barrett, 2006; Barrett, Hart, Nolan & Sammel, 2005). During the last year of the study, several of our conversations involved his responding to my ongoing analysis, which allowed me to check, time and again, some of the 'accuracy' of my analysis. At this site, only Jeff was interested in being part of the study. Tape recordings of the many conversations with Jeff during this time were selectively transcribed, although only excerpts from our 'final' conversation (March, 2006), which provided a kind of 'synthesis' of our respective thoughts, are included throughout this hypertext as a form of 'reflecting back' on my own insights.

 

 

Site Two:

This five-credit high school programme is taught by two full-time teachers. Students spend most of their

time out of the school, attending classes at various sites in both city and rural areas, and on extended hiking, canoe, or winter camping trips. I spent two intensive weeks with the teachers and students in this program during the first year of the study.

 

During that time, we met in the classroom for two half-days, and spent the rest of the time on a four-day hiking trip and engaged in various learning experiences throughout the larger community. Tape recordings of the many informal conversations with the two teachers during this time were selectively transcribed, although only one excerpt appears in the dissertation. While this site has not been included explicitly in the written analysis, my time with these two teachers (as exemplified in the one excerpt included) was particularly valuable in highlighting ways in which the culture of a particular community infiltrates into the educational programming within that community, making it possible to say some things, and not others. Images which appear throughout this hypertext provide constant reminders of the program's influence on my analysis.

 

 

 

After an initial analysis of some of the data which identified a significant and puzzling gap between teachers' expressed desires and actions (developed further in the Study Context and Barrett, 2006), together with insights gained through attending to my own researcher dilemmas (see Barrett, 2007), this study became an exploration of what might unfold if I made the commitment to using a dialogic method(ology) and shifting discourses energetically in order to clear many of the discursive blocks to researching in collaboration with the more-than-human world. The study then became, and has remained, an investigation of ways in which one might engage in research and representation that traverses the socially constructed, hierarchical, human/nature, and in some instances, human/nature/spirit, divide (see Method(ology)).

 

Site Three:

This dissertation, my journey to its production, and the many participants encountered along the way, (only some of which are human)

have become the third site for, and final focus of, this study. This shift was prompted by the observations noted above, as well as:

  1. a cacophony of calls for a different way of thinking to respond to ongoing environmental degradation (e.g. Bai, 2009; Berry & Tucker, 2006; Capra, 1982; Stirling, 2007);
  2. an increasing call for a diversity of voices (e.g. Haraway, 1991b; Tuhiwai Smith, 1999; Dillard, 2003b), including those who are not human, to be represented in research texts (e.g. Harvey, 2006b; Russell, 2005), and;
  3. recognition of the importance of the research process itself as worthy of study (e.g. Lather, 2000; Nolan, 2001, 2007s).

This study takes to heart the idea that all knowledge is situated (Haraway, 1991b), and that only certain things are thinkable (Britzman, 1995), sayable (Foucault, 1976/1998), seeable, and understandable in particular contexts. I engage in issues of epistemological and ontological difference (Guba & Lincoln, 2005; Hart, 2000) and wonder how to effectively conduct and represent research that honours the more-than-human world.