A practitioner researcher perspective on facilitating an open, infinite, chaordic simulation : learning to engage in theory while putting myself into practice

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This thesis investigates two intertwined themes. The first concerns the development of a framework for understanding, and making appropriate use of, simulations and games as tools for learning. The second concerns the utilisation of the term PractitionerResearcher to reflect the unity of practice and research activity in creating 'working knowledge' (Symes 2000). These themes are intertwined in the sense that the route I take to understanding simulations and games is through the stance of a PractitionerResearcher. Conversely the thesis aims to draw out what it means to be a PractitionerResearcher through my engagement as a facilitator of simulations and games. I argue that the knowledge I generate as a PractitionerResearcher is utilitarian and pragmatic. Grounded in my practice as an adult educator it utilises theoretical perspectives chosen for immediate relevance rather than because of any claims to 'truth' or permanence. Understanding how this shapes and influences my practice was a complex, difficult process. Using an auto-ethnographic approach, Chapter 1 outlines the development of my 'working knowledge' as a PractitionerResearcher. It draws on selected personal experiences in my work as an adult educator using simulations and games for teaching and learning. While curiosity about historical facts initiated the research reported in Chapter 2, the chapter focuses on uses of historical precedent for generating greater understanding, and acceptance by participants, of simulations and games as teaching/learning strategies. It identifies a range of contributions - from war games, religious games, and children's play - to the structuring of modern educational simulations and games. Chapter 3 explores approaches to classifying simulations and games. Its development brought a gradual realisation of the futility of trying to establish a single definitive categorisation system for all simulations and games. Understanding how they can be arranged in a variety of different relationships provides a better insight into their general features and helps in making decisions about when and how to use specific activities. One outcome of the work for this chapter was the realisation of some simulations as 'open and infinite' in nature, and that XB - simulation of importance in my practice - is such a simulation. Chapter 4 uses concepts developed in the field of chaos theory to illustrate how certain simulations create messy but 'chaordic' (Hock 2002) rather than dis-orderly learning contexts. 'Chaos/chaotic' once meant only dis-order, 'messiness' and unpredictability. Twentieth century scientific discoveries illustrate that order is concealed within 'chaos' producing richly complex patterns when viewed from the right perspective. I argue that 'chaos' concepts can be usefully applied to open and infinite simulations to demonstrate how they are similarly 'chaordic'. XB (for eXperience Based learning) is an open, infinite chaordic simulation, and has been a driving force in my practice for six years. The case study in Chapter 5 introduces the 'world according to XB' and takes the reader 'inside' participants' experiences as the unfolding nature of their learning is revealed in the way they apply theories of organisational behaviour to immediate behaviours. Chapter 6 reflects on my experiences of facilitating XB, via a review of interactions with some past XB participants. The influence of such a learning process on my practice is analysed. The emotional impact of these interactions has brought a better understanding of my own practice, and the chapter considers the concept of 'dispassionate reflexivity' as an aid for the facilitator in such contexts. Chapter 7 examines the evolution and distinctive features of the PractitionerResearcher in more detail. As an educator, a consistent focus of my work has been simultaneously 'to know more' and 'to be able to do better' - and it is the interdependence of these that lies at the heart of what it means to be a PractitionerResearcher. It is my hope that this thesis offers a solution for practitioners wanting to combine 'research' and 'practice' into a practical and scientifically rigorous 'whole'. For such professionals the PractitionerResearcher model offers an integrated approach, combining and validating 'learning in action' and 'learning for action'.
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