Source: Professional Development in Education, Vol. 36, Nos. 1–2, March 2010, pp. 289–306.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This paper discusses a critical challenge to current paradigms of continuing professional development within higher education institutions. A small group of higher-education-based teacher educators for the English post-compulsory sector describes and exposes the values and processes operating within a particular kind of professional development ‘space’ of their own creation. Within this space for thinking, talking, reading and writing as academics, a different way of characterising professional development emerged that challenged existing power relations in higher education, and that can best be named ‘critical educative practice’.
It was clear that constructing the new knowledge would require a qualitative, reflexive, auto-ethnographic approach. The authors used the following stages of evidence gathering, during 2007/08, about their own collaborative writing lives:
- Four investigative group discussions about their understanding of collaborative writing and including all authors. These were spaces to think, and write.
- An extended email conversation between three members, conversation that was unpredictable, exploratory and contentious about what they hoped to explore.
- Individual written testimonies from five members, started within a group setting and completed via subsequent email correspondence. These included reflections on past collaborative writing as well as our experience within this group.
- Continued gathering of evidence during small and whole group planning and drafting meetings (face to face and at distance).
- Continued gathering of individual evidence during the final writing process of constructing, collating and polishing the final draft.
Each face-to-face meeting and electronic meeting involved rethinking arguments and interpretation, with new layers, differences and angles opening up.
This model of ‘critical collaborative writing’ (CCW) challenged the more formulaic templates of professional development that still prevail in particular higher education contexts. CCW was first a reaction to such and then became a cohesive and unifying task around which the group organized its activities and thinking. This cohesive purpose was important not just within the group but also in the relationship of the group to the wider institution within which it operated. These relationships worked against the cultural norms established within a marketised environment—the frequently encountered erosion of trust.
CCW was the intellectual activity that nourished and was nourished by relationships of trust.
The size of the group was significant in this. Too large and the group identity might have fragmented, too small and consensus might have been a prerequisite. The size of the group enabled the production of a coherent piece of collaborative writing and a balancing of tensions between intellectual articulation and challenge. This last feature is salient and sets this type of collaborative writing apart from others.
Towards a conclusion, the authors offer this piece of academic writing as a reification of their critical educative practice and hope to have illustrated how the learning of teacher educators might be newly conceived and distinguished in difference to the more hegemonising understandings of ‘CPD’ that dominate current educational policy for the post-compulsory sector in the United Kingdom.