ED 521M Teacher as Researcher

Subtitle: Becoming a Reflective Practitioner through Research


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The full course syllabus is below:

Instructor: Dr. Mark Girod

E-mail: girodm@wou.edu

Phone: (503) 838-8518

Office: Ed 114D

Meetings:

Required Text:

No text required.

Readings and resources found at: http://www.wou.edu/~girodm/library

A few words about this experience…

To some teachers, research is a dirty word. It may conjure images of research scientists conducting experiments on teachers and students in laboratory settings far removed from real classrooms and real issues. It may remind us of trying to wade through research reports for other college coursework — cursing the language of research and searching, often in vain, for the practical ideas it had to offer. For others, research may be almost completely foreign, not having any bearing at all on the day-to-day happenings in classrooms. As a high school science teacher, each of these were apt descriptions of what I thought about research.

Now, as a university instructor, research is something I worry a great deal about. Challenged with the task of teaching teachers about research methods, I continuously struggle for a better way. I firmly believe that research isn’t what ends up in journals — it is a particular disposition to teaching and acting in the world. It’s about being curious and having the skills and knowledge to pursue those curiosities in ways that are beneficial to our practice and our students. I believe research is very closely tied to the idea of being a reflective teacher — a person who systematically explores both self and practice in an effort to be a better teacher. I believe strongly enough in this to add the subtitle to the class.

Our study of research methods will reflect these beliefs. We will simultaneously try to become more reflective in our practice as teachers as well as learn more systematic ways to explore what we do. At times, balancing this dual agenda will be tricky. Never allow conversations, however, to veer too far away from issues of practice. We are, after all, here to make ourselves better teachers.

Assignments - Attend carefully to due dates as the three assignments appear here NOT in the order in which they are due!

Work in this class is divided into 3 major assignments and several independent activities. The independent activities will be completed as the class unfolds so aren’t described here — know, however, that their completion matters in the calculation of overall grades for the course. Major assignments are described below. Keep the emphasis on honest learning rather than on skimping and short cuts as we are all sometimes prone to do.

Qualitative methods project (3 pages):

In the qualitative methods project you will work with a small group of researchers (your peers) to try to answer a particular research question. Your goal will be to use qualitative research methods (particularly observation, note taking, interviewing, and document analysis…) to make sense of a particular phenomenon that we stage in class. At the conclusion of your observations and analysis, you will write a short paper that should include the following:

  1. Research question and method — State both the research question and also the procedures and methods you used to try to find an answer to your research question. Be as specific as you can about how you divided the task of gathering data. Talk about how your initial hypotheses, analytic frameworks, assumptions, and own experiences guided or influenced what and how you observed, recorded data, and made initial sense of it.
  2. Data and results — Represent some synthesis of your data and articulate logical results based on this data. Show your raw data, not only your interpretations of that data — there’s a fine line here, be sure to understand the difference. Also, describe in as much detail as possible how you systematically analyzed your data — what method did you use to look across all data seeking patterns or some sensible understanding of what it had to offer. Recall the Zork activity. Remember, your job is to make an argument regarding the research question by using the data you’ve gathered. Make a logical argument without jumping to unsupported conclusions.
  3. Discussion and conclusion — What can you say meaningfully about the research question? What might have skewed the results of your efforts in terms of data gathering and analysis? What could we have done differently to ensure better, more trustworthy results? The issue of trustworthiness is a big deal in qualitative research — spend time looking at this issue from multiple angles. How could you ensure a similar, more trustworthy qualitative study? What can be learned from this as teachers?

Your paper will be evaluated on your ability to clearly and compellingly articulate what you did, how you systematically analyzed your data, and how convincingly you answer the research question using your data as evidence. Consider this a first attempt at writing research — likely a very different genre of writing for most of you.

Consider these Tips for Writing Research as you complete this assignment as well as the Quantitative Methods project.

  1. Writing research is an exercise in logic. Everything you say should flow logically from everything else — your methods from your question, your analysis from your data, your conclusions from your analysis. Analyze your writing for logic.
  2. Research is also an argument — you’re trying to make an argument and persuade someone to believe in what you’re saying. To do this, don’t be discrete with your, really hit the reader over the head with what you want them to believe. More importantly, use lots and lots of data in an effort to convince. Avoid just offering a "laundry list" of data. What you offer should add up to something — a compelling argument!
  3. Use clear and well-organized writing. Begin with a paragraph that describes what you’ll be saying. Say it. Then end with another paragraph that summarizes what you’ve said. Don’t leave anything to chance! Consider organizing your ideas or parts of your ideas into separate paragraphs or even separate sections of your report — anything that lends structure to your argument.
  4. Avoid making inferences you can’t support with data. Don’t say, "they felt" when what you mean is "they said" — one is an opinion, the other is fact.
  5. Argue for why you chose to report or focus on a particular part of your data rather than another. Ask yourself, what’s so helpful about that data, and then explain that to your reader.
  6. It is also your obligation as a researcher to offer competing ideas or even competing evidence. A one-sided argument is not as convincing as an argument that pays attention to alternative ideas or explanations.

Your qualitative methods paper is due to me, via email, by midnight on Sunday, July 22nd. Although we're working in groups, each person should turn in his or her own paper. I will confirm receipt of your paper - if you don't get confirmation don't assume I got it - ask!

Quantitative methods project (3 pages)

Your task is to design, execute, and analyze either a descriptive, correlational, or a causal-comparative research study using your classmates (and others as necessary) as your population. We won’t be designing anything using an experimental model because we don’t have time to administer a treatment. Also, unless you have a really interesting descriptive study in mind — challenge yourself to use a correlational or causal-comparative design. Finally, think long and hard about your question and how to ask it in a way that will both yield the data you want and allow you to analyze it appropriately. For example, if you want to know if there’s a relationship between "age of students taught" and "teacher stress level" (a correlational design) then you cannot lump your student data into "elementary" and "secondary" age and calculate a correlation coefficient — you need 2 continuous variables and elementary vs. secondary is categorical data. It will take much time and energy to do this accurately and appropriately — as with all research. Seek assistance as challenges arise.

So…working in a group of 4 or 5 people, do the following (you can work independently if that fits your habits better):

  1. Identify an interesting and informative research question with educational significance given the population available to you
  2. Design an appropriate research study to help you answer the research question
  3. Develop data gather procedures (including a measure) that will help you gather the data necessary to answer your research question
  4. Gather your data — try to include at least 10 in each group if you’re using a causal-comparative design
  5. Compile and analyze your data using descriptive statistics and, if appropriate, an inferential statistic (all you know are the two kinds of t-tests)
  6. Answer your research question and write up a research report

The trick is, we’ll be doing this entirely on-line so gathering data might be tricky. I suggest you design measures that you can send to your participants through email. THIS MEANS EVERYBODY MUST RESPOND TO SURVEYS OR QUESTIONNAIRES IN A TIMELY FASHION! Don’t feel as though you are completely restricted to using your classmates as your participants. If it is appropriate, and you can gain easy and ethical access to other participants, feel free to do so. Make sure, however, that any additional participants fit your desired participant profile!

Potential research questions might include:

Really, your research questions are only limited to your imagination! Have a bit of fun with this one and complete a write-up with the following components:

  1. Research question and method — State both the research question and also the procedures and methods you used to try to find an answer to your research question. Be as specific as you can about the variables of interest, any hypotheses you might have about how they are associated, the population of interest, and what and how you designed appropriate measures to gather data. Talk about how your initial hypotheses, analytic frameworks, assumptions, and own experiences guided the research design.
  2. Data and results — Overall, represent some synthesis of your data and articulate logical results based on this data. Show your raw data in some graphical form — like a table, chart, or even a graph. Describe what methods you used to analyze your data — what statistical procedures you employed and if appropriate assumptions were met in employing these tools. Ultimately, report numerical data and what this suggests about your participants. Remember, your job is to make an argument regarding the research question by using the data you’ve gathered. Make a logical argument without jumping to unsupported conclusions.
  3. Discussion and conclusion — What can you say meaningfully about the research question? What might have skewed the results of your efforts in terms of data gathering and analysis? What could you have done differently to ensure better, more valid and reliable results? The issue of reliability is a big deal in quantitative research — spend time looking at this issue from multiple angles. How could you ensure a similar, more reliable qualitative study? What can be learned from this as teachers?

Consider the Tips for Writing Research given above as you write your final paper. The Quantitative methods project is due to me via email by midnight, Sunday, August 5th. I will confirm receipt of your paper - if you don't get confirmation don't assume I got it - ask! If you'd really like to turn in a single paper with all group members names on it... that's fine with me on this one. Now... this timeline leaves very little time for me to read and evaluate your paper before grades are due so please do not be late with this paper!

Choose 1: Hot topics paper(4 pages) or Classroom ethnography paper (4 pages)

Hot topics paper description:

Another of our on-going projects in this class will require that you identify an educational topic, issue, or problem that is interesting to you and that you want to learn a bit more about. Your assignment is to find 3 research reports that inform the issue, topic, or problem that you are interested in, read them, complete a little write-up on each, and synthesize your thoughts into a general statement about the thing of interest — as informed by your investigations.

Invest some time and energy in clarifying the kinds of things you're interested in and crafting your interests into "researchable" language. For example, if you go to the library and search for "authentic assessment" — you’ll get two bazillion hits so we’ll need to streamline your search! Although it is not a requirement, try to find research reports that employ different methodologies — like a survey and an ethnography — as it is educative to see how researchers use different methods and tools to inform the same ideas.

Your final paper shouldn’t be very long — each of your reviews should be about a page long (you may run over a bit but try to be descriptive and concise) and your synthesis should run about a page as well. Follow the format given below for each review and give a complete bibliographic reference for the study at the top of each review. Your synthesis should provide an overview, or some top-level writing that says, collectively, "Here’s what I learned from my 3 research reports." Try to keep your synthesis at about 200-300 words. As you begin to write the synthesis — consult chapter 2, especially the section called Review of Related Literature, as this is basically what you’re doing, writing a miniature literature review.

Review format:

  1. Research question: As best you can, state the research question (topic) explored in this study. Many studies will come right out and tell you what the research questions are — others will not and you’ll have to infer them. Also, identify the constructs of interest in the study — these may be variables in a quantitative study or the relevant issues in a qualitative study. Do these issues, problems, or questions seem important to you? Why or why not?
  2. Research design/method and participant description: Describe the kind of study this is using the language of education research. For example, is it a pre-test, post-test experimental study with non-participating 8th grade art students as a control population? Is it an ethnographic field study observing 4 year olds in day care setting engaged in sandbox play? Do the methods make sense in light of the research questions? Does selection of the participant group suggest limitations for the study in any way? Sampling is a huge issue in education research so you’d better have something to say about this!
  3. Data gathering techniques: Describe the procedures and associated measures (if any) for gathering data. Are the researchers gathering data using field notes — if so, focusing on what and how often? Will they be conducting interviews — if so, structured or unstructured/individual or in focus groups? Will data be gathered using a survey — if so, do they give reliability statistics for the measure? Do the data gathering techniques make sense in light of the research questions? What concerns do you have regarding the data in this study? Will it be valid and reliable — or trustworthy, in the language of qualitative research — why or why not?
  4. Data analysis: Describe the procedures the researchers used to analyze or make sense of their data. Were descriptive and inferential statistics used? If so, were they used appropriately? Was data coded or categorized into groups or similar responses? Do these methods seem sound to you? Were concerns about data analysis techniques addressed by the authors? For example, what did they do with data that didn’t fit with the rest of the data — like incomplete survey responses, statistical outliers, bizarre interview responses…or other anomalies?
  5. Results and discussion: State as concisely as you can the results, findings, or outcomes of this research. Are generalizations or claims made about the research reasonable or appropriate given the design and execution of the study? Does the discussion connect well to the research questions? Are you persuaded by the research and its conclusions? Is the research believable? Why or why not? What’s here for teachers — if anything? What can you take away from this research that might help you think differently about educational practices?

Your paper will be evaluated on both the overall synthesis of your learning as well as the 3 reviews. However, invest most heavily in completing excellent reviews as these will carry the most evaluative weight.

Classroom ethnography description:

The goal of an ethnography is to study a particular culture in its natural state - without intervening in any significant way. Most commonly, the goal of an ethnography is to answer the following questions: What is this culture about (a classroom can be thought of as a culture)?   What are the methods for doing things here?   What are the norms and values associated with this culture and how are they learned, reinforced, changed, and challenged?   How is a sense of culture built here? What is the role of the people that exist in this culture?   Do different people have different roles in this culture?   Do these different roles overlap, create tensions, keep things running smoothly, or just add interesting spice?   What is the role of tools in this culture (tools broadly defined)? How is language used?   How are books, materials, tools, or other artifacts used?   Does the use of these tools contribute to the norms and values of the culture in significant ways or does their use run in contradiction to the values of the culture?   Where are the tensions in this culture? Most importantly, what evidence can you gather in support of your conclusions around these questions?

Your task is to spend some time observing carefully in your field placement classroom with an ethnographic lens. Take some notes, talk to your mentor teacher, talk to the students about what you're noticing and how you're making sense of what you see.   In other words, gather some data!   Organize your paper around a few central themes (or a single theme) with well-supported claims using your data to back up your ideas.   For example, a recent student organized her paper around how power circulated in her mentor teacher's classroom. First, she described and provided evidence for the teacher as one who worked hard not to be the sole broker of power in the classroom - how she worked to engage the class in group decision making and democratic ideals. Second, the student then described how the book or curriculum provided little in terms of power or authority either as this was a high school language arts class that emphasized interpretation and textual criticism. Third, the student gathered some data on the result of this apparent lack of power/authority in the classroom and the effect on both teacher and students. Her last page was dedicated to analysis of this power/authority-less system and if/how she would participate in it. Very interesting stuff!   Pick an equally interesting organizing framework like the role of difference or diversity in the classroom, how technology is used/privileged, or simply something about the unique values and values systems that operate in the classroom - how they are learned, displayed, and reinforced.

Unlike most ethnography, here you get the opportunity to critique this classroom culture (as per the example above).   Because you are (or will be soon) a full participant in this culture, this is your chance to discuss things within the culture that don't run smoothly or run in contradiction to your own personal beliefs and values.   Be cautious and judicious with your critique - this is potentially sensitive information so you should also use pseudonyms when talking about real people.   However, I believe the work of critique will help you solidify and defend your own ideas about managing a classroom culture. Spend the last page talking about this aspect of your ethnographic work.

Your paper will be evaluated on your ability to articulate a compelling theme or to argue a compelling case drawing systematically on the data you have gathered. Don't make claims unsupported by data and don't be general in your writing - be specific to make specific points. Again, read the Tips for Writing Research found above.

Send either the Hot Topics Paper or the Classroom Ethnography Paper to me via email by midnight, Sunday, July 29th. I will confirm receipt of your paper - if you don't get confirmation don't assume I got it - ask!

Other Weekly Assignments (several throughout)

You will be completing several additional assignments throughout the quarter. For example, in unit 1, you will complete an assignment that asks you to synthesize the content of chapter 1 in your book. In unit 5 on Quantitative methods, you will complete several methods activities exploring how to calculate simple statistics. Complete each of these activities as required in the course units. These are practice activities that will help you in completing your larger assignments. So... I will actually post the "right answers" to these assignments throughout the summer. Your job will be to complete the activities, then "correct" them when the answers are made available. The potential to short cut the system is huge here but I trust your professionalism and know that you will do the activities as described. On the last day of class (Saturday, August 4th), we will turn in all these in class activities so... if the unit says "do this activity" know that you will be asked to turn it in as part of your participation grade.

Grading

In true constructivist fashion, I don’t have a perfectly clear plan of what I want you to "get" from this class. In fact, it is this "getting it" metaphor that I think is one of the most damaging dispositions to a true education. Of course, I have a set of ideas and skills I want you to acquire in our study of education research but how your understanding of these things looks is partly dependent on the prior experiences and interests you bring to this course. Very rarely will your work as a teacher be neat and tidy like a traditional test would have you believe. For this reason, I believe the most authentic activities I can assign to evaluate or judge the degree to which you are wrestling with these big ideas is through writing. Part of what we’re trying to do is learn about research methods but we’re also trying to express ideas about how they matter in clear and thoughtful prose. You will be evaluated on your ability to do so.

Additionally, I have identified the following characteristics I believe are indicative of a genuine commitment to the spirit of this course:

I believe very strongly in only asking teachers to engage in readings and assignments that are important and meaningful. I believe the assignments above reflect that. Although, as you all know, grading is the bane of teachers; my experience has been this: engage fully — read, write, reflect, and learn with reckless abandon and grades tend to take care of themselves. Come along for the ride!

Just so you know, however, I will weight our assignments according to the following scale.

Assignments:

Qualitative methods write-up 25%

Quantitative methods write-up 25%

Hot topics paper or Classroom ethnography paper 25%

Other weekly assignments and participation 25% (weekly assignments factor in here, all turned in on last day of class)

Grades will be assigned according to the following scale:

A … … 94-100% B … … 84-86%

A- … … 90-93% B- … … 80-83%

B+ … … 87-89% C+ … … 77-79%