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A methodology to illuminate teachers’ experiences and develop new horizons in maker education.

"To truly question something is to interrogate something from the heart of our existence, from the centre of our being.” (van Manen, 2016, p. 43)


There has been a resurgence of interest in phenomenology as a philosophy and a research movement among educationalists, prompted by its capacity to contribute with new insights into what it means to live, work, play and learn in schools today (Dall’Alba, 2009). The historical roots of phenomenology are as a movement rather than a period of time (Speigelberg, 1960), and this alignment to the ‘maker movement’ as my phenomena of study was one reason that I was drawn to phenomenology as a philosophy and research methodology. Just as Seymour Papert is acknowledged as the ‘Father of the Maker Movement’ (Martinez and Stager, 2013), Edmund Husserl is cited as the principal founder of phenomenology (Polkinghorne, 1989) and our understanding of phenomenology as a contemporary philosophy is dynamic and evolving (Laverty, 2003). Although some would argue that making and makerspaces have existed before, the impact of building communities of practice and the collaboration of makers coming together in one space from 2006 onwards is seen as a defining time and an era when “the movement was born, at least as a collective concept” (Burke, 2014). The adoption of maker education in schools continues to evolve and much of the research published over the last decade has focused on the student experience in makerspaces (Duhaney, 2019).

Maker culture is part of a burgeoning movement in which individuals leverage modern digital technologies to produce and share physical artifacts with a broader community (Cohen et al., 2017), and my own lived experiences emphasise the variance in epistemological and ontological assumptions of what ‘maker’ means to people in schools as teachers or students and perceptions of individuals from outside of the formal education system. Phenomenology provides a methodology to analyse and illuminate experiences of maker education from secondary school teachers participating in the EdD study, resulting in a much deeper understanding of the nature and meaning of the phenomena in a school context. A research design taking the voices of experienced teachers who have adopted maker education in their own schools can contribute to the development of unique perspectives and richer descriptions of the phenomena, with a goal of creating meaning and achieving a greater sense of understanding. It is also hoped that adopting phenomenology as a researcher will enable me to uncover transformative new or forgotten meanings through reflection and exploration with teachers as co-researchers, and for my own axiological assumptions to guide a chosen methodology.


Phenomenology methodology affords me a creative approach to examine maker education rather than a precise procedural method to follow (Polkinghorne, 1983). The focal methodology for my study is hermeneutic phenomenology which will be used to develop a research analysis on lived experiences to answer the following research question:

What are the lived experiences of teachers who have adopted maker education in secondary schools?

  1. What are the lived experiences of teachers implementing maker education to provide knowledge?

  2. What factors are essential to the implementation of maker education in a secondary school, if any?

  3. How do teachers of maker education measure what students have learnt, if at all?

  4. How do teachers describe challenges in the adoption of maker education in the curriculum, if any?

I was first attracted to Husserl’s procedure of descriptive phenomenological reduction and using epoché to strip away presumptions, ideas or bias from my own experiences of maker education to ensure validity and reliability within my study using descriptive phenomenology. My research design initially focused on what Husserl describes as ‘the things themselves’, that is maker education as the phenomena to examine as an epistemological study of how it presents itself to teachers (Willis, 2001). In asking participants how they experience maker education, this style of enquiry ‘brackets out’ the outer world as well as individual biases to successfully achieve contact with the essence of the phenomena (Moran, 2005), but in doing so would suspend my own judgements, and those of the teachers’ lived experiences and bracketing of the outside world. The situatedness of maker education lends itself to bring in the historicity of understanding emphasised by Martin Heidegger, in his alternative and interpretive phenomenology to determine what is real and in doing so recognise that one’s background cannot be completely explicit (Koch, 1995). Heidegger held a view that people in the world are indissolubly related in cultural, social and in historical contexts (Munhall, 1989) and this style of phenomenology is more relevant to my positionality as a researcher with an intention to uncover new and enlighten existing meanings of maker education. In Being and Time, Heidegger (1927) made the ontological distinction of interpreting being, depicted as Dasein’s “understanding of its being”, and through his philosophical developments argued that interpretive phenomenology was a way of moving forward towards clarifying conditions of understanding. From this perspective, bracketing is impossible as one cannot stand outside the pre-understandings and historicality of one's experience (Ibid), and more relevant to my study as I seek to fully understand the contextual and complex experiences of teachers who have adopted maker education in their schools.

My focal methodology is hermeneutical phenomenology which lies within the interpretive phenomenological methodologies and has guided my choices in data collection and analysis methods. Adopting Gadamerian philosophy, following Heidegger’s work on the relationship between an individual and his/her lifeworld using a hermeneutic circle of understanding, provides an iterative framework for me to co-construct understanding and interpret data with teachers participating in the study (Gadamer, 1970). This methodology positions the researcher and participants at the centre of the inquiry and it is here that Gadamer believes we can breathe new life and insights into a phenomenon, in this instance illuminating teaching and learning details of maker education. Like Heidegger, he viewed bracketing as impossible and argued that the unquestionable presence of historicality of understanding can play a positive role in the search for meaning and as a student of Martin Heidegger, Gadamer continued with an emphasis on the ontological mode of uncovering meaning that emerges through language (Rapport, 2005).

Writing Truth and Method in 1960, Gadamer defined a horizon as a range of vision that includes everything seen from a particular vantage point and he further developed the horizon metaphor to argue that a person with no horizon does not see far enough and overvalues what is nearest at hand, in contrast to somebody with a horizon and able to see beyond what is right in front of them. In the context of this study teachers’ own horizons are relative to their current situatedness but, as co-researchers involved in hermeneutic phenomenological research, the horizon becomes a versatile and unsurpassable limit with a capacity to delimit the meaning of maker education resulting in opportunities to uncover rich descriptions and new knowledge (Geniusas, 2012). Questioning is an essential part of the interpretive process in hermeneutic phenomenology, and in this study there is an opportunity to recreate more than somebody else’s meaning with the teachers collectively involved. Using the hermeneutic circle of understanding can transform the data collected into findings that are a fusion of horizons from every teacher participating, including the lived experiences of me as a researcher.

The value of co-production of knowledge with teachers is a fundamental element to my axiological perspective and hermeneutic phenomenological interviewing will support my intention to gain teachers’ experiences of the topic and build an emic perspective of maker education in secondary school settings. However, with an insider perspective as a researcher, transparency will be central to my approach as I conduct the research without influencing methodology and research design by projecting my own views onto teachers. Adopting hermeneutic phenomenology, I can explicitly bring in my own experiences of maker education and use the multiple stages of interpretation and discussion using the hermeneutic circle with participants of how interpretations arise from the data, to add rigour to the study. I have decided to journal during the pilot stage of a hermeneutic phenomenological study and if it turns out to be an effective mechanism to make any personal biases explicit then I will continue throughout the larger EdD study. Journaling from the start of the study any of my pre-understandings about maker education prior to data collection and analysis will be a useful way to keep abreast of revisions in my own thinking of the phenomena in relation to teacher experiences examined. I will acknowledge potential bias and be critically reflective to make sure that knowledge is well founded in evidence, thus ensuring trustworthiness of data collected.

Data Collection

Teachers will be interviewed three times over a three to four week period, with each interview session lasting ninety minutes or less. I want to find out more about how their experiences as a teacher have shaped the adoption of maker education in school, so each session will take a different focus:

  1. Pathways that lead to maker education in school today

  2. Descriptions of maker education in school

  3. Reflecting on the meaning of maker education in school

The interviews themselves will be semi-structured, so they’ll start with specific questions for the teacher to answer and start to share their experiences about maker education and continue in a conversational style between the researcher and teacher.

Data Analysis

Hermeneutic phenomenological data analysis is a continually reflective process of both my own experiences as the researcher and the phenomena of maker education being studied in order to move beyond the partiality of previous understanding (Finlay, 2014, p.130). In doing phenomenological analysis I will engage with interview data using the hermeneutic circle and dialogue with research participants to facilitate a process of interpretation that will lead to a fusion of horizons as understanding takes place. Understanding, according to Gadamer, is fundamentally ontological and made possible through language and a verbal world that enables us to provide a horizon to understand ourselves, things, events and people around us (Metro-Roland, 2010). Moving within a hermeneutic circle as a method of reduction will support me as I analyse the text and words which will remain the same, but a ‘movement of play’ will provide access to unfolding the texts, meaning and truth about maker education in schools (Vihauer, 2009). As a researcher, this movement is between part of the text from one teacher’s interview and the cumulative text from the whole study and will assist me in establishing truth by discovering and interpreting phenomena (Langdridge, 2007). Taking first steps to listen to the recordings of teacher interviews and focus on the texts and transcripts of each teacher to analysis individual accounts, I will begin to work with the part and the whole of data collected within the hermeneutic circle, set out in the approach described in figure 1 below. From that first analysis I will build understanding by working across the collective data as a whole and begin working toward a unified, comprehensive understanding of what is meaningful for the teachers as a whole. In stages of writing and returning to transcripts, I will work within and across multiple hermeneutic circles and dialogue in between to reach a new horizon of revelatory meaning.

Figure 1: Adapted from a model by Suddick et al. (2020)

Interaction between myself and the data will be conducted through the hermeneutic circle and I will implement Max van Manen’s phenomenology to conduct a structural analysis of what is most common in the data collected from interviews with teachers. van Manen’s four lifeworld existentials will act as a lens through which to explore and navigate interview data and uncover the essences of lived experience, without imposing categories upon the data itself (Rich et al., 2013). The aim of the analysis is to build rich descriptions of teacher actions, behaviours, intentions and experiences as one might meet them in the lifeworld and van Manen (1997) argues that educational research should be guided by pedagogical standards and lead to a clear understanding of the research data and a concept of practical use for the data. The four lifeworld existentials that will act as guides for reflection during data analysis are:

  1. Spatiality (Lived space)

  2. Lived body (Corporeality)

  3. Lived time (Temporality)

  4. Lived other (Relationality)

Each of the lifeworlds represent a different focus but are interwoven and interact with one another in the exploration of the lifeworld (Rich et al., 2013), presenting me with a method for reflective practice and analysis of data to understand teachers’ lived experiences of maker education in secondary schools.


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