Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Negotiating Position During the Process of Design Within a Researcher-Developer-Practitioner Partnership: An Activity Systems Analysis
by Brown, Stephanie L., Ph.D., The Florida State University, 2017, 252; 10260189
Abstract (Summary)

Within the field of K–12 education, collaborative partnerships between research institutions, state and local school systems, and intermediary actors are becoming more prevalent, especially in some of the largest urban school districts in the United States. Despite their growth, very little is understood about the internal working dynamics of these partnerships and the discursive processes explaining how these institutions, with very different cultures, histories and missions are coming together to bridge professional knowledge. The purpose of this study was to understand the similarities and differences between the researchers, developers, and practitioners in one such partnership, The National Center on Scaling Up Effective Schools (NCSU). Drawing from key documents, six months of design team meetings, field notes, participant feedback and reflection forms, debrief meeting notes, progress reports, meeting agendas and notes, and participant cognitive interviews, I used Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) and positioning theory to understand the partners’ interacting ‘activity systems’ and how they positioned themselves and one another in the evolving context of the NCSU’s design work as they worked as a District Innovation Design Team (DIDT). This also helped me understand the contradictions that led to the tensions that unraveled within the partnership. Positioning provided key insight about the cultural and historical contexts of the partners. It also informed how the partners gradually evolved into community, despite the variety of boundary spanning strategies used somewhat prematurely by the developers in an effort to accelerate their formation into a collective identity. Evidence suggests that once the design team engaged in school and district-level data collection and analysis to inform the similarities of their school contexts, they were able to see themselves as a collective. During design team meetings the researchers and developers functioned successfully as boundary spanners. However, outside of the meetings they tended to struggle much more to find a ‘lingua franca.’ This relates to the first tension that emerged within the partnership over time – attaining the object with adequate expertise. Each partner had a specific area of expertise that served as a critical tool in the design of the prototype. The real expertise however, was in how different individuals positioned themselves to access this valuable expertise. All three of the partner institutions held fast to their original role designations, assumptions and expectations about the obligations of themselves and one another, which was in conflict with the fluid nature of the design work in which they were engaged that necessitated an openness to evolving roles. The second tension that emerged was attaining the object with adequate resources, including: time, human resources, and district support. The concepts of boundary spanning and boundary objects were central to understanding my findings related to how the different partners crossed institutional and hierarchical lines. The long-term nature of many partnerships in education provides the opportunity for participants from diverse institutional backgrounds to establish a shared knowledge base and range of shared experiences to draw from; thus “leveling the playing field” of expertise over time. As a result, this encourages a more egalitarian mindset, and decreases the potential for an imbalance of power. This expertise became a vital cultural tool for the new community of the School Innovation Design Teams (SIDTs) to draw from as they then took the prototype design and used it as their key tool and rule for development and refinement. How the partners positioned themselves, given their institutional role served as either a tool for boundary crossing or hindered it with ‘boundary blocking.’ Intermediaries bring a new dimension to partnerships for education researchers to explore in the context of school improvement. This dissertation is one of the first of its kind to look at intermediaries in this way and provides timely insight into how education partnerships function when harnessing the expertise of these less understood organizations.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Rutledge, Stacey A.
Commitee: Akiba, Motoko, Boyle, Helen, Dennen, Vanessa
School: The Florida State University
Department: Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
School Location: United States -- Florida
Source: DAI-A 78/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Educational psychology, Sociolinguistics
Keywords: Activity systems analysis, Cultural historical activity theory, Discourse analysis, Intermediary organizations, Positioning theory, Research practice partnerships
Publication Number: 10260189
ISBN: 978-1-369-86999-6
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