Discovering Phenomenography

Dec 11 2015

After receiving my copy of Laurillard’s Conversation Framework I picked up quickly on her praise of phenomenography as an approach to research that might translate into practice. Now phenomenography might well be the methodological underpinning for my whole project, it sounds applicable, but as a novice educational theorist many things you come across at this early stage sound appealing and relevant, so it’s hard to make clear decisions about the importance of things. That said, I’m enjoying picking up on a few papers and widening my knowledge and understanding of this particular methodology.

Phenomenography might offer me a theoretical way of categorising user experiences without the problems which come with other methodological approaches, like how to measure the reality being experienced, or how to offer evidence for the authenticity of the expereince. I have nowhere near enough knowledge yet as to how deep this will go, but I know it’s useful foundation thinking.

Notes from Yates et al, 2012

This paper is hugely useful as an overview with helpful critique and theoretical context/explanatory text. Notes are first read, p 1-6 of 18.

It’s about description, analysis and understanding of experiences – “the qualitatively different ways in which people experience, conceptualise, perceive, and understand various aspects of, and various phenomena in, the world around them” (Marton, 1986, 31), and as ‘content-oriented and interpretative descriptions of the qualitatively different ways in which people perceive and understand their reality’ (Ference Marton, 1981).

‘Phenomenography emanated out of research led by Ference Marton to investigate variation in student learning outcomes […] underpinned by the notion that people collectively experience and understand phenomena in a number of qualitatively different but interrelated ways’ (Bruce, 1997; Marton, 1986).

Noting the variations of these conceptualisations of the world : ‘This variation in experience is said to represent ‘collective consciousness’ about phenomena (Marton & Booth, 1997); (NB This may compliment Pask’s p-individuals concept, i.e. a variety of perceptions and experiences even within the same person, and the combination of multi p-individuals).

 Marton and Pang (2008, 535) further explain the intentional nature of human experience by emphasising that an individual “cannot experience without something being experienced”. Therefore knowledge in phenomenography is understood in terms of the various meanings associated with the phenomena of interest, and the similarities and differences in those meanings (Svensson, 1997). This variation in experience is said to represent ‘collective consciousness’ about phenomena (Marton & Booth, 1997).

Epistemological stance: ‘phenomenography is based upon the principle of intentionality’; ‘a non-dualist view of human consciousness whereby experience is depicted as “an internal relationship between human beings and the world’ (Marton and Pang 2008, Pang 2003)

‘Phenomenography focuses on investigating the central characteristics of variation in how participants experience a particular phenomenon, instead of the cognitive processes associated with constructing these characteristics, differences and change (Barnard, McCosker & Gerber, 1999).

‘This focus is described by Marton (1986, 32) as an interest in “content of thinkingrather than the process of thought or perception”. It is important to note here that ‘content of thinking’ is another way of expressing the knowledge object of phenomenography […]’

Anatomy of Experience

The anatomy of experience (Marton & Booth, 1997, 88)

The anatomy of experiencing a phenomenon can be further illustrated by drawing upon an example from Marton and Booth (1997, 86-87). Imagine that you notice a bird (the phenomenon) sitting in a tree while walking through a park. To see the bird at all you need to distinguish it from the surrounding trees and the broader environment. The surrounding trees and the broader environment form the external horizon of the experience.

It is also possible see the various parts of the bird’s body, its pointy beak, its colourful plumage, its tail. You are able to differentiate between the bird and the trees and to know that these separate parts of the bird constitute a whole. Discerning the bird itself, its different parts, and being able to relate these different parts together is what forms the internal horizon of an experience. Together the external horizon and internal horizon comprise the structural aspect of the experience whereby there is “discernment of the whole from the context on one hand and discernment of the parts and their relationships within the whole on the other” (Marton & Booth, 1997, 87).

In addition the bird (the phenomenon) also has to be seen or identified as a bird by the person experiencing it. Hence the bird itself needs to be assigned a meaning and our prior experiences of this same phenomenon (the bird) assist us to recognise what it represents. This is the meaning or referential aspect of the experience. These two aspects of the experience, the structural and referential aspects are experienced simultaneously and as previously mentioned are closely related.

In Yale et al, 2012

/to be continued.

A consideration of this or other aspects of my methodology is how they connect with Connectivism, and how to measure that connection. Node/edge, in other words, with greater or lesser edge occurances.

NB all images used in these notes derive from Yates et al, 2012.


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