Welcome to our ED 633 Educational Research class. In today’s lecture I would like to talk a bit about the class, provide you will a sense of how I see this class progressing, a bit about the textbook, and a bit about the sorts of assignments.
Before I begin, for those of you who don’t already know me, let me share with you a short introduction from a video clip I made for another class. So, for those of you who have seen this, my apologies. You certainly don’t need to view this again. And, quite frankly, not much has changed in my life over the last year — except for a few more aches and pains (too much sitting I think).
My name is Dana Ulveland. My first name is Randall but I go by Dana. If you are wondering how to address me in your emails, you could refer to me as Dr. Ulveland, or professor Ulveland, or Dr. Dana, or Dana. That’s all fine.
So here we are, at WOU. A very nice rural setting as far as I am concerned.
I grew up in a small rural town in central Alberta. Most of my recollections of childhood revolve around playing outside in the fields and forests, or down by the blind man river. I have lots of great school memories, and, many not so great memories. The good memories usually have to do with playing music in a variety of bands. Most of the not so good memories were in middle and high school. Though in high school, I did meet my wife, whom I am married to now. That was a good memory.
Let’s see, as for jobs, before I started university I was a heavy equipment operator on a road crew, worked on the rigs in the oil patch in Northern Alberta, worked in a gas plant, did some carpentry work along the way. I guess it was working in 30 below weather on the rigs that I thought university might be a better sort of life.
So, you are working on your degree here at WOU. This is a great university. I did my undergraduate work at the University of Alberta, majoring in philosophy and English. Then after studying French in Paris for a semester, I returned to the same university to get my degree in education. I taught elementary and junior high for five years. I did my graduate work at the University of Oregon, you know where that is of course, and I completed my Doctoral work at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. Some of my students in the past competed in sporting events at SFU, so you might know where that is.
As for my research, my research was in, and continues to be in, the philosophy of education, language, technology, and media. My initial interest in technology and media developed while using music technologies (MIDI synthesizers and sequencers) personally and as a musician, and in the classroom. When I was in high school I turned my parent’s basement into a recording studio. It began as a fairly modest endeavor (this was before the advent of digital recording equipment). I had an 8 track reel-to-reel tape recorder, soundboard, mics, effects, etc.. At the time, all of this seemed very exciting. Of course, as is often the case, like any other musician, I wanted to be able to replicate what the big recording studios were doing. And it was difficult to replicate what major studios were doing because they had the money to bring in any type of musician to play any type of instrument. Plus, the major studios had some pretty impressive-sounding synthesizers and sound samplers (all in about the $50,000 range, which in today’s money would be closer to $100,000). Anything I could afford was pretty limited in comparison. But, as you know, computer-based equipment started to take off. Synthesizers started to become affordable. The personal computer was marketed as something everyone could afford. And, before long, it was easy to be sitting with a 64 track digital recording outfit. Anyway, enough reminiscing. Suffice it to say that I became interested in computer technologies through music.
While teaching in the public school system I was the computer coordinator of the school, and I developed one of the first electronic music labs for student composition and performance in the province of Alberta. After teaching for five years, and completing a Masters in Computers in Education at the University of Oregon, I began my Doctoral research at Simon Fraser University. My area of study focused on the ontology of technology and the human-educational implications that emerge through phenomenological analysis and existential examination. That’s a mouthful isn’t it? What that means is that I like to come to understand how people experience the world and how schooling and education play into that. Eventually, I moved to Alabama where I taught at Auburn University at Montgomery for three years. Finally, I moved to Oregon and have been teaching here at WOU for twenty-two years.
As for my hobbies: Well, I am a pilot, a downhill skier, a scuba diver, and a musician of sorts. I am always trying to learn new things, and right now I am trying to learn Chinese and continue to try to learn Spanish. More importantly, I am a husband to my high school sweetheart, and a father of two girls who are also in university.
I am glad you are here. Welcome to the course.
A bit about the class
I should start with a story. And, in doing so, emphasize a moral to the story that will have relevance as to how we approach this class.
A number of years ago I supervised undergraduate student-teachers going through their student teaching experiences. At that time, to demonstrate proficiency as a beginning teacher, student teachers were expected to complete what we referred to as “The Work Sample.” Some of you will, I am sure, have fond memories of “The Work Sample.” For those of you who didn’t have to create one of these, the work sample was simply a sample of a teacher candidate’s teaching demonstrating that the student-teacher was able to help the students they were teaching learn pre-determined content. It probably sounds simple enough. And for those of you who may have struggled through the process, the whole thing probably sounds rather simple now in hindsight.
This is what was required: The candidate was required to develop a unit to teach. The unit was to have goals and objectives, 10 lesson plans with goals and objectives, unit pre-assessments, and unit post-assessments. The goals, the objectives, and the assessments were expected to be aligned. In other words, students had to pre-assess the students they were teaching and then prepare a summative assessment to see if the students had achieved the objectives and goals of the unit. A piece of cake for those of you who are teachers. However, developing a work sample seemed to be daunting and elaborate instructions were developed and given to the student teachers so that they could walk, step by step through the process. Even with these supports, student teachers continued to struggle. There was frustration, sometimes tears (and not tears of joy). What could possibly have been so difficult and complicated you might wonder?
I think those of you who are teaching now might know the reason. This is my explanation.
The student teachers, all enthusiastic and well-intentioned, knew they had to teach some lessons. This can be a bit worrisome for any new teacher. Often, the student teachers would start the process by imagining fun lessons that they would feel comfortable doing. I am sure you know the feeling — one begins by imagining a fun lesson and then goes about rehearsing the lesson in one’s mind. In one’s imagination, all is going well. The students being taught are having fun. Success is assured.
But then reality kicks in — the work sample. Now, how does the student-teacher make the work sample fit their fun lesson? (You can probably see what just happened there). The work sample now has to fit the work sample rather than the other way around. The goals for the unit require that students develop a particular understanding. Surely, the student-teacher thinks, there must be some way to keep my fun lesson and bend the work sample to the lesson.
Now, in comes the student teacher’s supervisor to evaluate the lesson. I recall many times I would sit in the class wondering what the student-teacher was doing. It was difficult to figure out exactly how the lesson related to the unit or lesson goals. I would move about the classroom, asking the young students what they were learning, or what they were understanding. I would ask students why they were learning this or that. Unfortunately, the answers rarely related to the goals or objectives.
Now, it would be fair to ask how this situation might have been more relevant? What might have alleviated some of the student teacher’s pain? Well, I am sure you are thinking about some things that would have helped. Let me mention a couple of what seems obvious to me .
One. Student teachers, like many students, found themselves in a program where they were expected to cover, and learn, a great deal of information in a very short time. That’s seldom a recipe for success. For those of us who are teachers, the alignment of goals, objectives, and evaluations seems rather obvious. But not for someone who is learning about these concepts for the first time. It doesn’t help to have grand expectations without ensuring someone is comfortable with the basics. And that takes time.
Two. Student teachers had not been given the opportunity to clearly distinguish differences between information, knowledge, and understanding. Often the state standards required that “students understand . . . ” However, without a clear understanding of understanding, it is difficult to teach or to assess. As you might recall, most objectives were performance-related and it is not clear how performance is related to understanding in the first place.
Three. Student teachers had not been given enough opportunities to ensure that they understood the purpose of what they were doing. In other words, had every student teacher started with the unit goals, and then articulated the ‘in-order-to’ the student-teacher would have started off in a better place. “I will do _____ in-order-to help students understand ____.” Clear recognition of purpose would have prevented students from wasting so much time trying to fit together unit and lesson components that clearly didn’t align.
There are many more issues here, I think three will suffice to make my point. Oh, by the way, please notice that I said that the student teachers “had not been given the opportunity.” I certainly don’t blame the student teachers for their struggles.
In hindsight, for those of you who are teaching now, you will know that you could outline a pretty good ten lesson unit with goals and objectives, and assessments in an evening. But, with experience, as an expert, you approach your work a bit differently than a beginning student teacher. When you create units and lessons you are probably thinking: what do I need my students to understand? What can I do to help them understand it? How can I assess whether or not they understand it? An expert often thinks about “the-in-order-to.” I will do this in-order-to ____. I will do that in-order-to ____.
So, what is the moral of the story? When we don’t know what or why we are doing something, it might lead to pain and misery. Well, maybe pain and misery are a bit strong. Let’s see. If we are very clear as to what and why we are doing something, we will inevitably find success and happiness and live in harmony with others. Still too strong?
But Wait, The Pendulum Swings
One morning I was observing a student-teacher of mine reading a story to a class of first graders. The story was about a rabbit. The children were loving it. They were engaged, dreamily lost in the happenings of this little rabbit.
As soon as my student-teacher said the words, The End, all the hands of the first graders rose into the air, waiving about excitedly, hoping to talk about the story and what they were experiencing and thinking about while listening. What a great opportunity to talk about the story and to emphasize some of the concepts that were being addressed in the lesson. However, my student-teacher stood up from her chair, said, “Please put your hands down, I want you to fill out this worksheet.” And, then she started distributing the worksheet to the students. After the class, when I asked her why she didn’t have a conversation with her students, she said that there wasn’t enough time. She needed data for her work sample. She was, as you might note, following the methodology blindly.
Those of you who went through the work-sample process will be able to sympathize. Some of you will be thinking, “when you have the work-sample methodology shoved at you as soon as you walk in the door, how is one possibly expected to do anything other than follow the recipe?
So there we have it. Two different work sample scenarios. Two extremes. Neither student teacher found that sweet spot where the engagement with students was about understanding.
What do these stories have to do with our research class?
Another little story might help.
I recall taking my first research class. I remember going into class and in that first class being confronted with all sorts of statistics, methods, procedures, data, and a flurry of other ‘important’ information. It seemed like a bit of a blur. And I never felt as though I understood why I was doing this or that. So I eventually took what I thought was a good idea at the time and tried to make it fit into the research models we were studying. Like my first student teacher, I was trying to bend my interests into a particular methodology. Do you see the connection here to my first story? I was, for all intents and purposes, experiencing research like many of our student teachers were experiencing their first teaching sessions. Perhaps now you know why I can so confidently speak about pain and suffering. To make things worse, I was experiencing something like my second student-teacher as well. I started trying to follow a research methodology continually losing sight of what I was really interested in. More pain.
Now, after years of researching, I am able to reflect on what the problem was with my first research class experience. I wasn’t given the opportunity to really understand the environment in which research is meaningful. Methodology obscured my interest, my wonder, and my curiosity. Like the student-teacher following the work-sample methodology without regard for the context in which she was teaching, with the work-sample methodology thrust at her without regard for fully understanding the dynamics of ‘understanding,’ I found myself in a research class with methodologies thrust at me without really being clear on the context in which we would even do research.
Without really being clear on questioning and wondering, it is easy to simply follow a methodology blindly. When you don’t understand something, the research experience seems more like trying to follow some recipe or procedure to accomplish a task. That’s not good. That’s not even enjoyable. I certainly don’t want that for you.
What should we do?
One: we have to take our time to understand the context in which we are even wanting to do research. And I am not talking about the context of getting a research project completed to graduate with a Master’s degree. I am talking about the educational context in which dwell that calls for curiosity and wonder.
Two: it is important to realize that it is much easier to develop a good research project and do good research once the context that makes research meaningful is understood. Think back to the student teachers. Had they really understood why they were doing what they were doing, they could have put together a work sample in very short order. And furthermore, what they did in the classroom would have made a lot more sense. The same goes for research. I have seen students jump into a research project and follow a research methodology without understanding the basics and then we have several terms of trying to bend and twist this research project into something passable. That’s not very enjoyable for anyone. We have to slow down a bit and develop our understanding. Then, developing a good research project will be much easier.
Now, I recognize that not everyone is taking this class because they plan on doing research. But even reading and understanding research (and recognizing good research from poorly designed research) requires basic understanding.
Before I talk about the specific course outcomes, let me briefly point out where I know many of you want to end up once the course is over. When we have finished the class, many of you will want to launch into the writing or the data collection of a research project — wanting to wrap your research project up in one more term. While there is value in taking our time to understand the basics, there is still the reality of completing the degree in a reasonable amount of time. However, as noted in the stories, launching forward without sufficient understanding actually slows the progress.
Once we have finished this class I am confident that you will not only find the context for your curiosity, you will also be well versed in different research methodologies and ready to really dig into the research project in a most expeditious manner. You will be asking contextually relevant questions. You will know the different sorts of research that are appropriate for different sorts of questions. You will have started the literature review process. And, you may have a research proposal completed. That will be something we should shoot for.
But remember, not too fast. As the course description says, we will be introduced to the methods and techniques of quantitative, qualitative, action, and mixed methods commonly used in educational research in a variety of education, workplace, and community settings. We will build awareness of the range of methods that may be applied to different types of research studies and guidelines that should be used to select appropriate research methods.
Simply stated, there are many different types of research. And the research methodology we choose to pursue will be based on why we are doing the research and the questions that we are asking. We are doing this research “for-the-sake-of” _____. We say we are doing this research “to-try-to-figure-out” or “to-try-to-understand” The answers to these sorts of questions determine the type of research methodology we use.
So, the course description seems pretty clear. How about the course outcomes?
The course outcomes help us discriminate among different aspects of research. Notice the course outcome: Differentiate between the major education research methodologies. That would seem to make good sense. How would we choose a methodology if we hadn’t already differentiated between the various methodologies? How could we judge good research from poor research if we didn’t understand the various methodologies?
Then we have: Articulate the impact of educational research in the field of education. If we are doing something for-the-sake-of, we would want to know the impact.
We have: Analyze peer-reviewed and practitioner-focused research articles. This would give us some practice.
And finally: Support a stated research problem or question with associated research and academic writing. This is where we end up. Clearly stating our questions, clear on a sensible methodology, and knowing how to share our research in written form. This, then, is represented in our research proposal.
So, how about the “for-the-sake-of” for the course as a whole.
I should emphasize some of the “for-the-sake-of” for the course as a whole. I will do this imagining that I am a student in the class. As a student I might say:
I am learning about research for-the-sake-of being able to conduct good research in the future.
I am learning about research for-the-sake-of being able to judge whether the school expectations I am exposed to are based on good appropriate research (learning styles is an example of a concept created out of poor research).
I am learning about research for-the-sake-of preparing myself for future doctoral work. (I have had a number of students continue on into doctoral research. It helps to have a good foundation in research).
I am learning about research for-the-sake-of becoming a consultant and needing to read and make decisions based on research.
I am learning about research for-the-sake-of being able to challenge some of the school mandates being imposed upon me and my students.
I am learning about research for-the-sake-of being able to sit in faculty meetings and say, “Well you know, the research says . . . . ” (We do work in a culture of evidence — research is important).
I am learning about research for-the-sake-of developing research-based activities for my class.
I am learning about research for-the-sake-of discriminating between good research-based expectations placed upon me and my students and poor research-based expectations placed upon me and my students.
I am learning about research for-the-sake-of working in a job where I am able to read and share research with others.
I am learning about research for-the-sake-of doing well in a job interview.
I am learning about research for-the-sake-of developing curricula for a software company.
I am learning about research for-the-sake-of . . . . . (I am sure you have some of your own reasons).
How can we ensure you are making progress? And how can you share your understanding with me?
I will pose a number of questions that I will ask that you respond to over the duration of the class. One of the best ways to ensure one understands is to explain or teach what one is learning to a novice or a beginner. I am sure some of you have had the experience of feeling like you really understood something well once you had to teach it to your students.
We will do something similar here. I will ask you to respond to questions as if you are explaining something to a novice.
Have you ever heard of the Feynman Technique? Let’s use that as a method of developing responses for questions I pose.
The Feynman Technique
As you see, the technique is easy. The beauty of it is that we really have to understand something well to explain it to others in a way that they will understand.
So, I will pose questions throughout the course, and ask that you respond in a way that you would be teaching or explaining the material to a novice.
Being able to explain something simply in your own words, provides a much better indication of understanding than finding and copying answers from a textbook. I will pose my questions in the form of interview questions as if you are answering questions in an interview without having a book in front of you.
A bit about the textbook
The WOU bookstore has ordered the book. You can also order the book through Amazon.
There is also a fourth edition of the text that is very similar to the 5th edition (and as you can imagine, it is less expensive).
So there we have it.
We know the class is one where we will develop our understanding of the basics of research.
In a short amount of time, we will have a sufficient understanding of research methodologies that we will know the best sort of research to employ once we find the questions that interest us.
And, by the time we are finished, we will have begun our own research proposal/project.
While Methodology is Important, It is still secondary to our worldly interactions.
I would like to use a talk by Dr. Firestein to make a point about methodology. I will take some of the things that Dr. Firestein says, and rewrite them a bit to make my point. If you would, please read the following few passages before watching Stuart Firestein’s: The Pursuit of Ignorance.
Now I know this is different than the way most people think about research. Research, we generally are told, is a very well-ordered mechanism for understanding the world, for gaining facts, for gaining data, that it’s rule-based, that researchers use research methodologies and we’ve been doing this for 14 generations or so now, and research methods are designed a set of rules for getting hard, cold facts out of our observations.
While teaching a course on the brain, I began to realize, by the end of this course, that the students maybe were getting the idea that we must know everything there is to know about the brain. That’s clearly not true. And they must also have this idea, I suppose, that what researchers do is collect data and collect facts and stick them in these big text books. And that’s not really the case either. As a researchers, I go to a meeting, after the meeting day is over and we collect in the bar over a couple of beers with my colleagues, we never talk about what we know. We talk about what we don’t know. We talk about what still has to get done, what’s so critical to get done in the lab.
This is what I think we were leaving out of our courses and leaving out of the interaction that we have with the public as researchers, the what-remains-to-be-done. This is the stuff that’s exhilarating and interesting. It is, if you will, the ignorance. That’s what was missing.
When I talk about ignorance, I mean a kind of ignorance that comes from a communal gap in our knowledge, something that’s just not there to be known or isn’t known well enough yet or we can’t make predictions from, the kind of ignorance that’s maybe best summed up in a statement by James Clerk Maxwell, perhaps the greatest physicist between Newton and Einstein, who said, “Thoroughly conscious ignorance is the prelude to every real advance in science.” I think it’s a wonderful idea: thoroughly conscious ignorance.
Well, the fact is that what researchers do about it is a kind of a controlled neglect, if you will. The facts are important. You have to know a lot of stuff to be a researcher. That’s true. But knowing a lot of stuff doesn’t make you a researcher. You need to know a lot of stuff to be a lawyer or an accountant or an electrician or a carpenter. But in research, knowing a lot of stuff is not the point. Knowing a lot of stuff is there to help you get to more ignorance. So knowledge is a big subject, but I would say ignorance is a bigger one.
When we do come up with facts, we’re using these facts to make better ignorance, to come up with, if you will, higher-quality ignorance.
It’s the ignorance. It’s the what we don’t know. It’s what makes a good question.
So instead of how much you know about it, we could say, “What can you ask about it?” So yes, you do need to know a lot of stuff as a researcher, but the purpose of knowing a lot of stuff is not just to know a lot of stuff. That just makes you a geek, right? Knowing a lot of stuff, the purpose is to be able to ask lots of questions, to be able to frame thoughtful, interesting questions, because that’s where the real work is.
So what do we have to do? We have to give our students a taste for the boundaries, for what’s outside that circumference, for what’s outside the facts, what’s just beyond the facts.
Now, as you watch the following, you will see that in the previous section I changed scientist to researcher, but the point is still quite relevant.
Stuart Firestein: The pursuit of ignorance
I hope you enjoyed the talk. I think it is a good reminder that while methodology is important, curiosity, wonder, and questioning precede the methodology.
Please do your best to get the textbook and start reading the first chapter. Thanks.
Questions: Set One
Here I will pose my two questions to you. The questions I pose will be in the form of interview questions. Many of these questions will be similar to those our faculty ask of new prospective faculty employees. In other words, when someone applies for a job as a faculty member, they are expected to sit in front of a search committee and answer questions, for about an hour, about their research. They then do an hour presentation of their research in front of all interested faculty.
Let us imagine that you are in an interview. I am asking you questions. Please answer the question in your own words. The twist here is that your answer should be understandable to a novice (let us say a first-year university student who has no research background). Think back to the Feynman Technique.
The questions I pose relate to the first-chapter reading in our textbook.
Please hold on to your response so that you can email it to me on the First Response Due Date (during the fourth week of class).
Question 1: Thanks for being here and talking with us today. We are excited to hear about your research and the way you think about research. Before we begin, would you please tell us your name, and what interests you?
Question 2: Our first question is this: What is research? And how do you see research relating to practice?
Question 3: How does one come up with research questions?
Please compile your questions and responses to the questions so that you can email those to me on the due date (during the fourth week of class). Thanks.
That’s all for today. I hope you are excited about our excursion into the world of research.
Have a great week!