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Blue Unit: Computational Tinkering

2A: The Methodological Landscape

Background Knowledge Probe

Reflect back on a way that you’ve taken something you have and used it in a way it wasn’t meant to be used, in order to get something done that you couldn’t do otherwise. Then, consider the landscape of methods you used to accomplish this innovation-in-use.

  • What are some ways you’ve used this and other methods and practices over time in similar contexts? How they have evolved over time? What are some ways these methods and practices may have originated as a part of your everyday or occasional praxis?
  • How might these methods and practices have shaped your work so far through this book, both positively and negatively?
  • What are some ways these methods and practices may be further developing as you work through this book?

Tinkering as Research

My work as a tinker began very early as my family encouraged me to tear apart any and all no-longer-used tools around me. Of course, while the goal was to discover what was inside and to make them work again, those earliest days were almost always “Not Yet” fail forward moments. At around 5, I was offered the opportunity to earn 50 cents an hour to help with basic sweeping, cleaning, and moving of sawdust and wood in the family sawmill. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was my first apprenticeship role. It seemed boring, but what was really happening was a first discovery of the music and performance of the sawmill as sociotechnical system. It is a combination of senses, knowledge, culture, community, and technology artifacts working in concert. As with most, if not all, such lived experiences and practices in our lives, it was not something that could be learned through a banking concept of education. Rather, it could only be done through community inquiry as part of a community of practice, which itself is rooted within the apprenticeship model of learning in which students study with master craftspeople.

I am first generation American, first generation English-as-first-language speaker, and first generation college graduate, let alone PhD. And yet, as I advanced through university and worked professionally the last two and a half decades within the university, I have found some aspects of the methodological landscape to be something I knew of, and practiced in part, even during my early years of work in that family community. While different perspectives may be incorporated, and while they may use different terms and practices, the research process is incorporated into many different disciplines beyond the academic realm. Still, it is in the academic disciplines that special emphasis has been given to identifying and practicing the perspectives and assumptions underlying our research paradigms. It has proven an extraordinarily valuable resource in addition to my apprenticeship learning, opening up new avenues for exploration, advancement, fine-tuning, and new discoveries of practice and knowledge.

Table 1. Meta-theoretical assumptions behind the three research paradigms.[1]

Paradigm Positivist Interpretive Critical
Reason for research To discover regularities and causal laws so that people can explain, predict and control events and processes. To describe and understand phenomena in the social world and their meanings in context. To empower people to change their conditions by unmasking and exposing hidden forms of oppression, false beliefs and commonly held myths.
Ontology – the nature and existence of social reality Assumes an ordered and stable reality exists out there waiting to be discovered, irrespective of an observer. Assumes reality is socially constructed, fluid and fragile, and exists as people experience it and assign meaning to it. Transcends objective-subjective poles and assumes reality is socially constructed but nevertheless perceived as objectively existing.
Epistemology – the nature and the ways of knowing Takes an instrumental approach to knowledge: knowledge enables people to master and control events. Knowledge represents reality, is stable and additive; statements about reality are true only if they are repeatedly not empirically falsified. Takes a practical approach to knowledge; aims to include as much evidence about the subject, the research process and context as possible to enable understanding of others’ lifeworlds and experiences, and how the researchers came to understand them. Takes a dialectical approach to knowledge. Knowledge enables people to see hidden forms of control, domination and oppression, which empowers them to seek change and reform existing conditions and social order.
The logic of scientific explanation The dominant logic of inquiry is hypothetic-deductive: hypothesized relations among variables (logically derived from causal laws or theories) are empirically tested in a way that can be repeated by others. The dominant logic of inquiry is inductive and develops idiographic descriptions and explanations based on studies of people and their actions in context; explanations need to make sense to those being studied as well as to the researchers and their community. The logic of inquiry can be deductive and inductive but also abductive, seeking creative leaps and revealing hidden forces or structures that help people understand their ways of changing them.
Ethics and claims about values and normative reasoning concerning with what ‘ought’ to be Assumes both natural and social sciences are objective and value-free, operating separately from social and power structures; ideally positivist researchers are detached from the topic studied and collect value-free facts. Questions the possibility of value-neutral science and a value-free research; values are seen as embedded in all human actions (including researchers) and hence are inevitably a part of everything we study, without the judging of one set of values as better than another. Any research is a moral-political and value-based activity; critical researchers explicitly declare and reflect on their value position(s) and provide arguments for their normative reasoning.

Key Takeaways: Purposes of Research Paradigms

Positivist Paradigms

  • Behind all of our electronics and programming code, and much of traditional scientific research, stands deductive reasoning, also known as deductive logic. The goal in this paradigm is to produce and continuously adapt predictable, reliable, anticipatable, and controllable events and processes.
    • Boolean logic brings together one or more propositions into simple Yes/No, True/False, or 1/0 statements.
    • Boolean logic moves from more general to very specific in a top-down logic, in which a conclusion is reached deductively, narrowing the range under consideration until only the conclusion is left.
    • The ordering of our Boolean logic tests matters!

Interpretive Paradigms

  • Within a sociotechnical framing of technologies, the continuous changes of our technological tools are events and processes of contingency, which are not fully predictable. Case study analysis and situated evaluation use inductive reasoning to develop interpretive understandings of complex social phenomena.
    • While inductive reasoning and interpretive paradigms generally do not serve in the building of the physical technical system, they are essential to meta-design, in which users become co-designers during the formal design process, and throughout ongoing use of a product.
    • Evaluation of “it” moves from the product generally, or even the idealization of that product in design thinking terms, to the innovation-in-use, a situation-specific use of the product by individuals and cohorts.

Critical Paradigms

  • Within a critical sociotechnical framing of technologies, deductive reasoning in support of the physical construction of a product and inductive reasoning in support of meta-design and innovation-in-use are both essential, but not sufficient. It is necessary to also incorporate moral and ethical questioning to unmask and expose hidden forms of oppression, false beliefs, and commonly held myths. To do so, abductive reasoning is also used, bringing together the best resources at hand to attempt creative leaps in understanding.
    • Critical research requires work in community, with community, and for community using methods such as participatory action research and participant observation to apply a dialectic approach to knowledge.
    • As the intersectionality of individuals brings together oppressed and oppressors in cycles of action-reflection, the resulting new understanding of reality serves to bring forward new starting points for deductive, inductive, and abductive reasoning in support of meta-design and innovation-in-use of sociotechnical artifacts.
    • Knowledge is not static or individualistic. At its best, culturally responsive, sustaining pedagogy using a critical sociotechnical lens works to foster and incorporate a dynamic, synergistic relationship between the cultures of home, community, schools/universities, library/museum spaces, for-profit/not-for-profit institutions, and many other co-exploration spaces.

Sources for further investigation:

The Meta-Theoretical Landscape in Practice

Since its release in 2015, Robin Wall-Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants has been an ongoing source for expanding my own meta-theoretical landscape. As I recommend this book to new generations of readers/listeners, their response is universally the same. In the context of this text, her chapters “Asters and Goldenrod” and “Learning the Grammar of Animacy” especially highlight ways indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teachings of the more-than-human persons around us complement each other. Together, this diversity of knowledge and experience enriches and greatly expands our reading of the world and of the word as part of action reflection praxis.

“Asters and Goldenrod” brings forward the ways in which our cultural knowledge and wealth is taken away from us, to be replaced by dominant paradigms and ways of being and doing. We lose a core part of who we are and what we can be in order to be that which we are told to be. It is a process of removing parts of our humanity and pushing us to be a disposable thing.

“Learning the Grammar of Animacy” highlights how the subjects around us — the living persons typically beyond that which we can conceive to exist — can and need to serve as wise elders. Listening to them can lead to creative leaps of understanding. And so it was for Kimmerer, as she discovered the walls keeping her from learning her cultural language, Potawatomi, were ones of language, and specifically the English language. In Potawatomi, 70 percent of the words are verbs, indicating the animacy of those around us. Plants and streams alike are animate, thinking, feeling entities. This compares to English, which is primarily noun-based, and which objectifies much around us, turning it into a thing.

For us to “rapidly shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society,” as we are called to do by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech, we need something beyond what our existing language and landscapes can often provide. It does not mean we must put aside who we are, how we live, what we value, and so much more. But it does mean we need to enter into new communities of practice, ones that help us address the shortcomings in our own meta-theoretical landscapes even as we bring forward our own expertise and knowledge that has built from these landscapes. Often, it is not an “either-or” work, but a “both-and” proposition that truly helps us reach ever greater individual and collective fulfillment. Lastly, it’s essential this is done in ways that push for greater justice for all, and especially for those most pushed to the margins and those who are oppressed.

Lesson Plan

By demystifying these methodologies and introducing new ideas, we seek to further advance our ability to consider and tell counterstories.

In the technical session, we will see how the positivist paradigm of research is fundamental to both electronics and modern programming.

This session helps us better explore the meta-theoretical assumptions and research paradigms that shape our sociotechnical environment and the social and technical products that arise from our hands-on activities that put these assumptions and paradigms into practice. What within your Professional Journal Reflections from last session has helped you move into this session? What has proved problematic, requiring further codification and decodification in dialogue with others so as to more closely align to the valued beings and doings of all?

Essential Resources

  • Kimmerer, Robin. “Asters and Goldenrod” and “The Grammar of Animacy.” In Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, 39–47. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2013.
  • Wolske, Martin, Colin Rhinesmith, and Beth Kumar. “Community Informatics Studio: Designing Experiential Learning to Support Teaching, Research, and Practice.” Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 55, no. 2 (April 2014): 166–77.

Additional Resources:

  • Cecez-Kecmanovic, Dubravka, and Mary Anne Kennan. “The Methodological Landscape.” In Research Methods: Information, Systems, and Contexts, edited by Kirsty Williamson and Graeme Johanson, Second Edition, 127–55, Elsevier, 2018.

Professional Journal Reflections:

  1. Take a few minutes to review your Professional Journal Reflection(s) from last session. Reflect on ways this is a new reading of these reflective words and worlds one session later. How have these reflections shaped you? How have you shaped your reading of the world and word within these reflections?
  2. In what ways have deductive ontological and epistemological reasoning and Boolean scientific logic contributed to your action reflection praxis, individually and within your community of practice, since your last reflection(s)?
  3. In what ways have inductive reasoning, meta-design, and innovation-in-use, along with associated ontological and epistemological reasoning, contributed to your action reflection praxis, individually and within your community of practice, since your last reflection(s)?
  4. In what ways have abductive reasoning and moral and ethical questioning individually and within your community of practice helped to unmask and expose hidden forms of oppression, false beliefs, and commonly held myths, thereby contributing to your action reflection praxis since your last reflection(s)?
  5. Bringing these together, how has this influenced your hands-on coding to build a Toolbox Trumpet? How has the design and implementation of the sociotechnical artifacts used in these hands-on works shaped your own hands-on work?

  1. “Table 1. Meta-theoretical assumptions behind the three research paradigms” © 2018 Dubravka Cecez-Kecmanovic and Mary Anne Kennan. From: Dubravka Cecez-Kecmanovic and Mary Anne Kennan, “The Methodological Landscape,” in Research Methods: Information, Systems, and Contexts, eds. Kirsty Williamson and Graeme Johanson (Elsevier, 2018), 127–55.


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A Person-Centered Guide to Demystifying Technology Copyright © 2020 by Copyright © 2020 Martin Wolske. Copyright “Ideating and Iterating Code: Scratch Example” © 2020 Betty Bayer and Stephanie Shallcross. Copyright “Introducing the Unix Command Line” © 2020 Martin Wolske, Dinesh Rathi, Henry Grob, and Vandana Singh. Copyright “Security and Privacy” © 2020 Sara Rasmussen. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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