Well, if you were able to finish your CITI training, you might just be reconsidering whether or not you want to use human subjects in your research. This week I would like to provide you with a couple more options, that don’t require human subjects, that you might find attractive.
Before I do, I would like to share something with you that I have been thinking about the last couple of days.
In my discussions with students I am reminded of the difficulties of narrowing down the research question. I am also reminded of my own initial attempts at narrowing down the research topics in my own research. When I first started doing research, I was going to find a way to change the education system so that all students would love school and have high academic achievement. It was a grandiose idea. I imagined rays of light shining down on the multitudes, and trumpets playing once I revealed to the world the secrets to learning and happiness.
Even to the most grandiose thinker, this probably seems an impossible achievement—especially when the research has to be finished up in a couple of terms.
As I was thinking about the difficulty of narrowing down the research question I thought of an analogy that might be helpful. I am thinking that the difficulty might have more to do with being clear on what we are doing rather than the actual difficulty in narrowing the question. Here is my analogy.
Let’s call this: What we would like to achieve versus what we should expect to achieve.
What We Would Like to Achieve VS What We Should Expect to Achieve
Imagine, you are led into a darkened area at night. All you see is darkness. In your hand you have an object with a switch. When you flick the switch all of a sudden a mass of lights illuminate a football stadium. You look around. You can see the field, the seats, the colors, the banners, the passageways. By your action, you have revealed all there is to see in the stadium.
Sometimes we believe, at least I guess I did, that by our research we hold the switch that will enable us to reveal, and make sense of, the big picture. In this case, the stadium is the big picture that we were trying to reveal.
Now, what if we take the stadium to represent schooling, or education, or student behavior, technology, well-being, grades, etc. Just like the stadium, the topics are massive. And naturally we have a desire to make sense of the whole thing—the big picture. Let us call this the “what we would like to achieve.”
We would like our research to reveal something significant, the big picture. We would like to solve the big problems, and take on the big challenges.
But, not so fast.
But here is what we are really doing. No trumpets, no rays of light shining down as the clouds part. Our research is a much simpler endeavor.
Once again, think of yourself being led into the stadium. And as before you do not know that you are entering a stadium. The location is unknown. And, as before, you are holding a device with a switch. You move to a location, flip the switch, and you light up a 5X5 foot circle. You see, you are holding a flashlight.
And that’s it. That’s all you see.
Now, you observe what is being revealed by the light. If you look closely. You make note of the longitude and latitude (let’s imagine you have access to this information), you carefully measure and record the object that appears. It looks like a number 5. You write up, and publish, your findings.
Other researchers who have also been taking their flashlights into the stadium (remember, they don’t know it’s a stadium either), will read your research contribution to see if it will help them make sense of the bigger picture. Your measurements might seem small and insignificant. But, in reality, your precise measurements can be used to contribute to the big picture. Your research might even contribute to other research in such a way that the big picture is starting to be revealed. Another researcher figured out that there is a ‘0’ after your ‘5’. Another picked out that the ’50’ is on artificial turf. Slowly, with all the contributions, the big picture is becoming clear.
Now, we could create a story of the novice researcher who doesn’t realize they are contributing a small piece to the big picture. They are led into the darken space. They turn on their flashlight, and wildly point the weak beam in all directions, pointing here, pointing there, unable to make sense of anything. Is that a table? A clock? A line? And before you know it, before any specific and clear measurements were taken, the battery runs down and the light, fades into darkness.
Is there a moral to the story? I think one rule of thumb that we should all follow is that we probably shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. That’s not to say that what we are doing isn’t important, but we have to keep everything we do here in perspective. Do you remember what is was like when you were a kid and you got to play with a flashlight out in the dark of night. If we could all remember that that is the sort of fun we should be having at this point in our research, then we all be better off. If we could remember what it was like to hold a magnifying glass in our hands for the first time and look at something crawling on the ground, or looking at the petal of a flower, that would be the appropriate sort of engagement that we should bring to our research.
When you are a paid researcher, well, then I guess you should stress. Especially if your job depended on it.
I would like to share with you my favorite form of research — something that does not require human subjects. And for those of you who like to write and reflect on your experience, this might be a type of research that you find attractive. It is called phenomenology.
You will find lots of examples of phenomenological reflections on this site:
Go to the sources page and you will find quite a number of interesting examples.
You will know, as you read this, whether or not this is the type of research you are attracted to.
Kumar also talks a bit about narrative, ethnographic and case study research. If you feel as though any of these interest you, I have included a few chapters here that you might like to include in your reading.
As a final note, you should probably keep in mind that as far as an exit project for your Master’s goes, you might choose to do a project such as creating curriculum, designing educational spaces, or developing a unit of study for your students. These are the sorts of projects that would not require you to involve human subjects directly. After reading through the CITI training, it might seem obvious to you why I chose to become a philosopher.
No questions for today.
I hope you find this information helpful. And I hope you take seriously that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously 🙂
Until next time, have a great week.