For those of you really worried about what a Research Question looks like – or how to write a Literature Review – or “What do you mean I have to put my questionnaire in the Appendix – I had mine out when I was a kid!!” Go no further. This link takes you to a model piece co-authored by one of London Met’s outstanding lecturers, Steven Curtis – who gained a National Teaching Fellowship partly due to his groundbreaking work on student blogging to learn:
This is a paper on student attitudes to feedback – read it – evaluate it – and if appropriate – model it!!
“Pssssst!” You whisper, “There is no Literature Review in there!” Well, no, as this is written as an academic article, rather than a Dissertation, the thing that is the Literature Review is given a sub-heading instead. Here it is: ‘The Value of Feedback’ … Get with the programme!
This week we explored the Project from end-to end – trying to sort out any and all remaining questions, worries and concerns about the Proposal part – and also leading our thinking towards the Report part – of the Project.
We started with a potential Question: How do (non-traditional) students feel about academic writing?
What does a question of that nature imply? Well we have ‘How’ and ‘feel’ – words that suggest qualitative, interpretist approaches … our Method begins to emerge. This in turn suggests an ontology/epistemology that acknowledges that knowledge is socially constructed: that knowledge is not fixed, as a more positivist approach might imply. What is constructed (made) can be changed.
Duuuuhhhhhhh – obviously!!
But no – there are (controversial) theories that suggest that educational and social inequality is not caused by political and power inequalities – but by genetic differences between peoples – and especially differences in levels of intelligence (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bell_Curve#Content ). Those operating this model might argue that Higher Education operates in an equal and fair manner; that people who struggle within HE are themselves deficit. Difficulties with studying, or feelings of discomfort in University have nothing to do with discourses of power and inclusion and exclusion; but in personal abilities and capacities. If people have trouble with academic reading or writing – that is down to their genetic make up. There is nothing that could or should be done to change this state of affairs – it merely models an educational survival of the fittest – and that is as it should be.
Even where the theories are not that explicitly controversial, you find narratives in education where the working classes are blamed for *their* educational failures: they lack aspiration or they over-estimate their own abilities. Perhaps it is not their fault, but the blame might be laid at the feet of their parents (feckless) – or their communities (not ambitious enough). Just read the newspapers. Just read Gove saying that it will all be solved by giving students more lines to write – more detentions to stay in for… Let’s not mention the resources!!
In our #becomingeducational course, we have explored the nature of education: the who, what and why of it – through a range of activities, including our post-apocalypse scenarios. You have all planned potential educational systems for a society emerging from the ashes. In all those educational systems, equity was central – as was the development of meaningful and useful educational programmes – that also developed the self-efficacy and sense of self-worth of all the students. Your own practice was a critique of the educational status quo – this research project allows you to dig a little deeper…
And that is where the Literature Review comes in. When we have the big idea that we want to research further, we need to ‘read around the subject’ to discover what has already been written – what has already been researched – what knowledge-claims already exist in that area. We wrestle with these different claims – we see what we want to explore a bit further – where we want to dig a bit deeper… And that helps us know what questions we want to ask when we are setting off a zig-zag discussion – or when we ask our participants to produce their collages – or choose their pictures in our Image Mediated Dialogue sessions.
A little note on ethics
Whilst in research for education studies we may puzzle at ‘ethics’ beyond the point of ‘at least do no harm… but it never hurts to remember that a young boy was deliberately infected with small pox to see if cow pox really produced immunity; that people were placed in freezing water to see how long it would take them to freeze to death in Hitler’s concentration camps. The only way is ethics!
The trouble with research
To start our exploration of the Report part of the Project: Findings, Discussion and Implications for Practice, we looked at extracts from Bowstead’s (2011) ‘Coming to Writing’ (Coming to writing | Bowstead | Journal of Learning … – Aldinhe
We saw how difficult it can be to transcribe interview material: there were three transcriptions of just one section of one audio tape… none of them satisfied Bowstead. It was not until she turned the interview material into poetry that she felt she had managed to capture what her subject really meant. Note that she then ran the poems by the subject to check that her poetic interpretation was okay. This demonstrated that even interviews – and by extension, questionnaire material – is not simple to de-code – to analyse – to understand… So – imagine how complex it will be to Discuss our Findings – and to draw proper Conclusions and so forth.
We will continue with this in future #becomingeducational sessions. In the meantime – read! Read for your Lit Review. Read to get models of writing. Dammit – read some of it because it is difficult – because you don’t understand it first go – because it can also be interesting! If nothing else – read Bowstead’s piece – it will help you with your research – it should inform your Lit Review – it should improve your whole research project!
CODA: There was some frustration in the class that here we are investigating the inequities of the education system and the exclusive and excluding nature of its language – and we will have to present our information in that language – we have to adopt the rules of that system. Two points: to be powerful within this system, we will need to be able to use its powerful structures; so we need to be able to use that language powerfully and purposefully. Secondly, we have all been invited to make a digital artefact (teaching/learning resource) based on our research project. The artefact will be for those ordinary students that we want to help. We will be able to communicate effectively in more human and every day ways. Thus in the end we should be able to express our ideas in different modes – and to multiple audiences – and that is the most powerful ability of all.