What do doctoral supervisors, pre-school teachers and Indigenous cultures share?

If learning in doctoral work comes from self-teaching, then how ought the doctoral supervisor to teach?  To complete an original contribution to knowledge, heutagogy, or self-teaching becomes both the central teaching and learning process of the research trainee.

In another post, Plight of the Accidental Scholar, an intense curiosity leads to intensive self-teaching (aka learning) via the mechanisms of scholarship to paint Tim’s Vermeer.  Scholarship is not the goal but the by-product and tool to explore answers to a question.  An incidental scholar, Tim Jenison learns everything he needs to know on a need-to-know basis.  Jenison follows his curiosity taking time to read deeply in order to fully understand.  After some trial and error, he tests his hypothesis via a reconstruction of the exact setting of a Vermeer painting.  More than five years later, Jenison draws conclusions to his investigation which is couched as a contribution to the literature.  If he wanted to, Jenison could follow-up with another study.

Scholarship was an accident of search for an explanation for Tim Jenison. Here he tries out a solution before setting up his simulation of Vermeer's painting.Any pedagogy a supervisor uses, the doctoral researcher can use too, as self-help.  In their book Supervising the Doctorate, the writers comment, with some guilt and admiration, about a student who like Jenison, proceeds to completion with little ‘supervision.’  A doctoral education outputs a scholar, aka a self-teacher, student of a discipline and learner, who uses scholarship to contribute to a literature.

Doctoral supervisors guide a learner through a critical passage to take on the apparatus of scholarship. The excellent book Helping Doctoral Students to Write: Pedagogies for Supervision  (Thomson & Kamler, 2006) would benefit doctoral students as much as supervisors. When I was putting together a research proposal, I read the first couple of chapters of this book.  It really helped me to understand how to write the literature review.  If heutagogy is the overarching principle of supervision in a research program, maybe the Thomson & Kamler text would reach it’s intended audience better if repackaged as a self-help book for doctoral students.

Doctoral Researcher and ‘Supervision’

In keeping with heutagogy as the overarching method of learning, doctoral students support a vast publishing industry for self-help with the doctorate.  Self-help and self-teaching fuel the doctoral learner.  With the paucity of knowledge about research training, doctoral self-help books even show up in the articles and bibliographies of academic research about the doctorate.

What if Thomson & Kamler’s book was titled Helping Doctoral Students to Write: Heutagogies for Supervision?  Ironically, the title sounds fussy and hair-splitting.  A supervisor trusts in the black box of heutagogy, about which so little is known that the word heutagogy only entered the language in the last two decades, whereas the word pedagogy has been around since 1580.

What would a Heutagogies of Supervision text discuss?  A heutagogies of supervision would likely be about academic writing groups, exemplars, literature reviews, writing and milestones in an academic passage; a presentation at a conference, writing an article or blog post in a MAAB (Multi-Author Academic Blog) or entering a three minute thesis contest.  Above all a heutagogy for supervision text would impart ideas to create a positive, nurturing and affirming culture in the department, program, academic society and faculty.  Creating a vibrant intellectual community would be paramount.

All academics are heutagogues, so are young children and so were learners in the pre-contact Indigenous world.  Heutagogy propels all of these learners forward.  Before the age of five, a child learns a language with nothing in the way of formal instruction.  However if the child’s environment, contains rich language streams through song, books, poetry, play, and oral traditions; the child’s grasp and mastery of language will be enhanced and enriched.

All of the vast knowledge of the Indigenous world, passed between generations via heutagogy.  Learning to survive in the frozen wasteland of a Canadian winter, in a snake infested jungle, or bone dry desert, was entrusted to the self-direction of the learner and to the culture.

The doctoral learner, like many in the Indigenous world, even passes through a rite of passage, the oral defense, intended to introduce a new member to the other side, of contributor and knowledge keeper.  As the oral defense lacks the markings of a bona fide assessment instrument in terms of its robustness, the oral defense has more in common with a rite of passage than an exam.

Trust in heutagogy frames supervision, the Indigenous world, and pre-school teaching.  When it comes to supervision, less is more. The doctoral supervisor trusts self-leading teaching to happen.   One of the best ways for a supervisor to enhance supervision would be to talk about heutagogy with the learner and to explain that a non-directive approach to supervision is appropriate for the work of scholarship.

An exploration of the way a doctoral supervisor and a kindergarten or nursery teacher work, sheds light on some of the conditions of heutagogy.  A pre-school teacher takes great pains to get the environment right, to observe, and to stimulate.  Learners get set loose to explore their interests.  The non-directive ‘teaching’ during play deepens, extends, and supports the learner and the learning.  The learner is free to deeply engage, to set challenges, and to work things out.

As much as doctoral researchers suffer the burden of working through a project of original research, the doctoral project still challenges and engages the researcher with an adult fascination akin to the intense satisfaction of play in kindergarten.  How fitting that schooling gets book-ended by some innate inner flame to learn, to challenge, and to grow.

Happy 350th Scholarly Journal: What Can Doctoral Programs Learn From Your History?

On the 350th anniversary of the scholarly journal, changes to scholarly communication call for incorporation of new vehicles and methods of communication in doctoral education.   On March 6, 1655, Henry Oldenburg published The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Giving some Account of the present Undertakings, Studies, and Labour of the Ingenious in Many Considerable Parts of the World; the first scholarly journal. In 1660,The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, had brought together natural philosophers by royal charter. 

Oldenburg’s publication evolved to its present day counterpart, which now gives account of the studies of the Ingenious and leaves out their present undertakings and labour.  Improving natural knowledge meant study of an indivisible realm which encompassed botany, mathematics, zoology, physiology, chemistry, physics, geology, geography and so on.  Imagine improvement of knowledge without scientific disciplinary divisions and journals.  That was scholarship in 1660.

Oldenburg assembled the literature of the royal society into a publication both to speed up sharing of knowledge, which had until now occurred through letter writing and meetings, and to make some money

Robert Boyle, the scientist whom school children now learn about, was a member of the society and he wanted Oldenburg to archive, develop provenance, registration and dating of works published in the journal.   Accordingly Oldenburg marked the articles published in Philosophical Transactions, however he didn’t make much money.   Even so, acceptance for publication conferred recognition and became sought after with the added features of archiving and tracking of provenance.

The motto of the society “Nullius in Verba” meant don’t trust claims (but check them) and entrenched the scholarly habit of skepticism and independent thought, associated with the charter for the first university in Bologna in 1088.  In 1752, when the publishing of Philosophical Transactions was getting off point, the society righted its self and declared that the journal would from now on be published ‘for the sole use and benefit of the (royal) society.’  The society therefore asserted integrity for the scholarly brand that continued to confer recognition to natural philosophers of the works it published.  The society established a pedigree of the highest order for its membership, a pedigree associated with a lengthy list of scientific achievements.

At times during its history, Philosophical Transactions was a drain on the finances of the society with the cost to put scientific drawings to print.  Given that the technology of printing then facilitated type and drawings or diagrams required much more labour and therefore cost, the publication struggled.  Taylor & Francis was a specialist printer for the publication at one point, and evolved along with other technological and academic developments in the knowledge communication infrastructure to occupy its present perch as a major player in the now lucrative business of scholarly publications.

As scholarly transactions increased, the journal evolved the standards and specifications for communication of scientific knowledge.  By the late 19th century, it introduced standardization of format, better peer review of articles, and it split into two journals, one for biological sciences and one for physical sciences.

In Latin, 'nullius in verba.'
In Latin, ‘nullius in verba.’

In the history of scholarship, certain threads continue over the centuries, while existing technology supports the root purpose of scholarship, ‘nullius in verba.’  Today, the multiple author academic blog (MAABs) and new genres of scholarly knowledge production give new forms, venues and meaning to publication.  MAABs disrupt and undercut publication pathways to specialty journals which now takes too long, is too slow, and too verbose when a good graphic or video will do.

Scholarly communication continues to evolve and influence the nature of scholarship.  With the inter, cross, and trans discipline pollination just beginning in MAABS, will ‘disciplines’ continue to become broader and more hybrid?  Will students and scholars join together to study phenomena instead of disciplines?  How will the scholars of the future communicate?  What kind of communication skills should doctoral programs impart?  How much should doctoral programs encourage forms of scholarly communication outside of the journal article and print?

Doctoral programs should welcome and invite disciplinary promiscuity and a broadening of experience with new forms of  scholarly communications by:

  •  A requirement that doctoral students write in a multidisciplinary academic blog.
  • Grouping all students who will be using similar research methods together for research methods courses regardless of discipline.
  • Encouraging collaborative and networked research around a common phenomena like water use, aggression, change or garbage.
  • Experimenting with signature pedagogies from other disciplines.

Scholars working today incorporate new media for scholarly communication that tear at disciplinary barriers.  Imagine improvement of knowledge without disciplinary distinctions or journals.  That could be scholarship in the future.  Doctoral education needs to equip its grads to work in the scholarship of the future or loose credibility.  On this 350th anniversary, scholarship has come full circle back to another starting point.  Doctoral education needs to place its graduates at that starting point and needs to question everything.

See the history of copyright battles are writ small in the following chart of access to the publications of Philosophical Transactions.

a) 1665-1943* Free in perpetuity
b) 1944*-2003* under access control
c) 2004*-2 years ago Free
d) Last 2 years under access control
Each January the years with an * will move forward by one