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An exploration of the potential of complexity theory for addressing the limitations of current models of change and innovation in educational practice

Cunningham, Roderick (2004) An exploration of the potential of complexity theory for addressing the limitations of current models of change and innovation in educational practice. PhD thesis, Institute of Education, University of London.

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Abstract: In this thesis I argue that there are limitations inherent in many of the research projects undertaken within the traditions of school effectiveness and school improvement. These limitations, in my view, are in large part due to assumptions that change in schools is a linear process and that innovations can be introduced most effectively through rational planning and implementation. I argue that these assumptions may misrepresent the fundamentally dynamic and inherently unpredictable nature of many educational contexts. Complexity Theory appears to provide useful insights into such dynamic contexts elsewhere. This thesis explores the application of Complexity Theory to education. A unique contribution of the work undertaken in this thesis is in the attempt to develop instruments and techniques of data collection and analysis to detect Complexity features. Research was carried out in three primary schools in a South Wales Local Education Authority where I work as an Education Adviser. Quantitative and qualitative data were utilized including interview and observational data integrated to form what I have called a 'Learning Episode'. In the longer term these are being used with teachers in a relatively non-judgemental and 'evolutionary' way whereby practitioners act to select and refine ideas from a published bank of such episodes. This approach has a strong affinity with some Action Research programmes. Within the time-span of the thesis a first attempt has been made to identify the 'fractal' nature of learning at different levels within the three schools, it being argued that learning is central to the life of schools. Other Complexity principles have also been explored culminating in a proposed pair of 'attractor states' for schools in the study. These findings have been compared with those generated by official inspections and by school effectiveness and school improvement approaches. A principal outcome of the work has been a radical change in my own professional practice. This study makes a contribution to the understanding of the dynamics of learning and change within schools.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Depositing User: IOE Repository Editor (10)
Date Deposited: 14 Mar 2013 14:56
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2015 14:35
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