Sunday, 17 January 2016

Third Spaces

Strengthen evaluation and research, including independent knowledge creation”

The above recommendations from the OECD report (2015) has had me thinking about partnership working, collaborations which has led me to the theory of the ‘third space'.
There can be tensions between academic researchers and the teaching profession as practitioner researchers when working in partnership or collaboration, for example, Who’s agenda take precedent? Who owns the new knowledge? This has led me to think about the creation of ‘third spaces’ (or hybrid spaces’) which will allow academic researchers and practitioner researchers to work together in a more sustainable way.

In order to overcome the tensions in the relationship between academic researchers and practitioner researchers, Hulme et al. (2009) have discussed the use of ‘third spaces’. ‘Third spaces’ redefine the professional stances of the academic researcher and practitioner researcher, and challenge the ‘established hegemonies’ and ‘competing cultural traditions’. Partnerships that currently exist between academic researchers and practitioner researchers can be successful, however, if we are to truly become research informed, we have to move beyond partnerships to create collaborative working spaces.

This notion of a ‘third space’ has been explored by many researchers. Soja (1996:57) developed the theory of ‘third space’ which was then used by Moje et al (2004:42) to conclude that through ‘third space’ activities ‘new knowledges’ can be generated.  Hulme et al. (2009) talk about the ‘third space’ as providing a “platform on which professionals from a variety of backgrounds can relate to each other at different levels of conversational complexity” (p538). Thus it can be considered as a ’neutral space’ and moving into this ‘neutral space’ allows academic researchers and practitioner researchers to challenge their own assumptions and to enquire into the unfamiliar. However, this can only be achieved as Hulme et al state (2009:541) “after social and individual identities have been partially surrendered or altered”. Hulme et al go on to discuss how identities of self are challenged as the partner researchers adopt a language of co-operation and collaboration, and the “co-construction of knowledge” (p539). This gives rise to an opportunity for the researchers to move “beyond ‘using reflective dialogue’ to ‘using generative dialogue’” Scharmer (2001). Hulme et al (2009:541) continue to say that ‘third spaces’ offers researchers a “safe, secure and supportive” place that “stands between the formal areas of practice”, offering places for collaboration and joint working to achieve the aims of the enquiry. Thus the ‘third space’ allows the researchers to reassess their usual ways of working and interacting and creates a joint working space to develop an ‘expanded professionalism’ moving beyond ‘silo thinking’ into a more collaborative co-creation. Zeichner (2010:92) describes this moving beyond their usual sphere as a “transformational setting” and so leads to closer collaboration with a common purpose, which then leads to a shared discourse.

So how do we create ‘third spaces’ for academic and practitioner researchers to co-create knowledge to support a more research enriched profession? Is there a case for a mediator who straddles the academic and professional worlds to support the creation and maintenance of the ‘third space’? Could this be a role for national bodies, professional associations or other independent bodies?
Once the third space is created how do we proceed? What ‘new knowledge’ do we need to create? The shared purpose of the ‘third space’ will help researches to build understanding and champion expansive learning.

What are the rules and norms of ‘third space’? How do we leave our histories at the door so we can co-create ‘new knowledge’? These will have to be negotiated in each unique ‘third space’ with each researcher compromising to support the shared purpose but without losing themselves and their experiences.

How do we share this ‘new knowledge’? Technologies already exist that would allow sharing of ‘new knowledge’ but we must never forget that teachers are ‘time poor’ and thus new knowledge needs to be expressed in ways that promotes the benefits of engaging with research in manageable packages.

‘Third space’ working can build on partnership working and move it to the next level. Although this appears straightforward, this co-creation of new knowledge in ‘third spaces’ is ambitious and requires commitment from all sectors of education, if we are to move forward to become a research enriched profession and improve the life chances of children in Scotland.

Hulme, R, Cracknell, D. & Owens, A. (2009) Learning in third spaces: developing trans-professional understanding through practitioner enquiry. Educational Action Research; Dec2009, Vol. 17 Issue 4, p537-550, 14p
 Improving Schools in Scotland: An OECD Perspective (2015)
 Moje, E.B., Ceichanowski, K., Kramer, K. Ellis, L. Carrillo, R. & Collazo, T. (2004) Working toward third space in content area literacy: An examination of everyday funds of knowledge and discourse. Reading research Quarterly, 39(1), 38-71
 Scharmer, O. (2001) Self-transcending knowledge: Sensing and organizing around emerging opportunities. Journal of Knowledge Management 5, no. 2: 137–51.
 Soja, E.  (1996) Third space: Journeys to Los Angles and other real and imagined places (Malden, MA, Blackwell)
 Zeichner, K.  (2010) ‘Rethinking the connections between campus courses and field experiences in college and university based teacher education’, Journal of teacher education, 61 (1-2), 88-99

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