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Phenomenology and Enquiry-Based Learning

A Phenomenology of Enquiry-Based Learning, paper to be presented at the Higher Education Academy Social Sciences Conference, ‘Ways of Knowing, Ways of Learning,’ 28th and 29th May 2012

David Aldridge

on 19 April 2015

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Transcript of Phenomenology and Enquiry-Based Learning

Reflecting on your own experience:

1. Were you educated in the UK state sector?

2. Did you have compulsory Religious Education? In which school years? How much time was devoted to it compared to other subjects? How was it perceived? Do you think it was valuable/ useful? How was your learning similar to or different from other subjects?

3. Do you think RE can be justified as a compulsory subject?

4. Do you recall having “assemblies” which included a worship component? What did you have to do? Do you think this was a valuable experience?

5. Do you think your schools or your teachers took responsibility for your ‘spiritual development’? What might this mean?
A Phenomenology of Enquiry-BasedLearning
David Aldridge, Oxford Brookes University
What is enquiry?
One university's site devoted to 'EBL' offers this account
The phenomenological approach
The logical priority of the question
The instructional triangle
An attempt to grasp the ontology of the event of learning
Drawing on the hermeneutic phenomenology of Heidegger and Gadamer
Aldridge, D. (2013), The Logical Priority of the Question: R. G. Collingwood, Philosophical Hermeneutics and Enquiry-Based Learning. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 47: 71–85. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9752.2012.00873.x
Gadamer (speaking of understanding): "the question is not what we do or what we should do, but what happens beyond our willing and doing"
Descriptive rather than prescriptive
In philosophical hermeneutics, we ask what happens when we understand, rather than prescribe procedures for 'correct' understanding. We understand, and we can understand further.
Here we will seek to understand what happens when we learn, or learn more.
Not an instrumental approach, concerned with procedures or methods for 'effective' or 'successful' learning
If students learn, what is added by saying that they learned 'successfully', other than that they learned
what we intended
(that is not to say that this approach does not have
implications for practice
enjoyable, a good change
interactive, co-operative,
use other people's knowledge,
Independent, self-motivated,
What is enquiry?
not structured,
work when you want
hands on,
have a go,
two-way process,
like a conversation
with lectures, part of a balanced diet, all kinds of other types of learning
better than listening or getting bored in a lecture theatre
"in order to learn in a deep way, the students need to be engaged cognitively
not about soaking up and regurgitating knowledge
not new in universities,
now much more aware, explicit
not the experience that students have in schools, they are unprepared, challenged
develop skills of enquiry, make a transition, prepare for later
not prescriptive
questions and experiences designed to enable them to come to their own conclusions
I delivered a lecture course without giving a single lecture
interpreting a brief
not talking at them
the stuff you're interested in
research skills
different ways in different disciplines
taking a couple of minutes during a lecture to work with your partner
Pause for thought
Has the wide and general use of 'enquiry' as a kind of
to learning emptied the concept of all educational value?
What would it mean to take seriously the claim that
all learning has the character of enquiry
Collingwood, R G (1978) An Autobiography, OUP, p. 24-25

Describing the development of his archaeological approach:

"Experience soon taught me that under these laboratory conditions one found out nothing at all except in answer to a question; and not a vague question either, but a definite one. That when one dug saying merely, 'Let us see what there is here', one learnt nothing, except casually in so far as casual questions arose in one's mind while digging: 'Is that black stuff peat or occupation soil? Is that a potsherd under your foot? Are those loose stones a ruined wall?' That what one learnt depended not merely on what turned up in one's trenches but also on what questions one was asking:
so that a man who was asking questions of one kind learnt one kind of thing from a piece of digging which to another man revealed something different, to a third something illusory, and to a fourth nothing at all"
On interpreting historical or philosophical texts:

There are no eternal or transcendent problems or questions.
Hobbes' absolutist, C17th state and Plato's
, for example, do not describe a shared entity
A contemporary interpreter, bringing their own conception of the problems, will find these texts inadequate to describing the nature or proper organisation of the state
Collingwood illustrates this with reference to his nightmare about the man who insists on translating "trireme" as "steamer" whenever he encounters it in a Greek text. If it was pointed out to him that triremes were not described very much like steamers, he would reply, "That is just what I say. These Greek philosophers...were terribly muddle headed, and their theory of steamers is all wrong." (p. 64)
Analysing the success of a text in answering a particular question is thus for Collingwood inseparable from attempting to reconstruct the question to which a text is an answer.
Gadamer's departure from Collingwood
Collingwood's 're-enactment' thesis -
to understand a text is to reconstruct the writer's meaning
Gadamer -
to understand a text is not to know the mind of an author, since we can never escape our own horizon of understanding and come to fully inhabit theirs
rather, we 'transpose' ourselves into their situation
we understand the text's question rather than the author's question
a new meaning arises in the event of interpretation
a question arises from the horizon of understanding of the questioner and also the horizon of the text
to understand a text means to understand this question - a question that is put to the interpreter
who is actually asking
us the questions here?
Subject Matter
Student's horizon of understanding
Teacher's horizon of understanding
The horizon of the text
So what?
Is our planning often informed by a version of the re-enactment thesis?
where our aim is for students to reconstruct our intentions, our questions
Note the re-framing here: 'text', stimulus, or object of study, but
subject matter
because subject matter 'emerges' in the event of learning
and is conditioned
by the shared questions
of teacher, student and text
In the learning event, we find three connected hermeneutic relations or 'circles'
and three connected 'horizons'
If mutual understanding has occurred across the three contexts
the horizons of teacher, student and text must 'fuse'
this can only occur if the text's question is 'transformed' in each of the three encounters
Thus it is impossible for the teacher to foresee the result of an educational encounter, or to predict what learning will occur
These questions, given that they can be determinately known in advance by the teacher, can be arranged into a sequence of learning
thus a hermeneutic account of learning requires the possibility that any curriculum or scheme of work 'breaks down'
....and finally
this account of learning has
ontological implications
the student's relation to the subject matter is transformed
in understanding she is
oriented to it in a new way
the student's being is put into question
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