Through the research lens

One more post before I draw a line under my work and prepare my self-assessment assignment.  I feel that this record of reflection would not be complete without blogging about how our two weeks of learning about research have now coloured how I look at all manner of new information, particularly the news.

In the Victoria News from Friday (August 3, 2012) I read about a U.Vic researcher who is looking for participants in her study on the effects of moderate exercise in the cognitive functioning of seniors.  As I read through the article, I was looking at her methodology, a topic that would have made my eyes glaze over just three weeks ago.  Sample size? 100 participants.  Selection criteria? The research is selecting her participants according to screening criteria, e.g. they can’t already be active for 150 minutes per week.  What kind of research? Mixed method, featuring quantitative testing and interviews.  Researcher bias? She has an interesting background in neuroscience and kinesiology.  Is that going to colour her interpretation of the results?  We’ll see.

And that’s just one article!  How will I cope with Dr. Art Hister on the Global Morning News, with his daily look at the latest health research?  I’m sure I’ll be running to the internet to look up the journal, or emailing Dr. Art myself to say, “What are your sources?”

I’m even planning to read one of my favourite books with my research cap on.  That would be Now you see it: The brain science of attention and how it will transform the way we live, work and learn, by Cathy N. Davidson (2011).  As the chair of English and interdisciplinary studies at Duke University, she *should* have some very solid research behind her claims.  I haven’t examined them with my research hat on yet, but it’s on my to-do list for the month of August.

Yes, this program has changed me already.  I hope Paul and my kids get used to seeing me with my nose in a book or in my laptop… Reference: Davidson, C.N. Now you see it: The brain science of attention and how it will transform the way we live, work and learn. (2011) New York, NY: Penguin.


Research ruminations

Photo image creative commons attribution to Stephen Harris on FlickrTwo weeks of residency are done.  I’m back at home, and flipping back and forth in my mind between looking back on my experience in residency at Royal Roads, and looking ahead to the next 23 months with more courses, assignments… and research.

Last week, Bill gave us an introduction to research, going over both qualitative and quantitative methods. Quantitative research is what most people think of when they imagine graduate studies.  It has the hypothesis, carefully-controlled experiments, objective data, and lots of statistical analysis.  When I imagine what quantitative research must be like, I can almost see people running around with clipboards and lab coats.  It has always felt like an unfamiliar world to me, though I am sure I could like it if I knew the rules.

Qualitative research, however, trades in the clipboard for careful listening and questioning.  Qualitative research is all about the interview, probing the participant for rich layers on information, and getting to the core of the story.  It’s what good journalists and storystellers do.  Coming from the humanities end of things as I do, it feels like “home” to me.

I wasn’t expecting to feel this way about qualitative research; years back, a good friend of mine did qualitative research, interviewing seven divorced fathers on how they felt their divorce had affected their relationship with their children.  My reaction at the time was, “Interesting stories – but surely it’s bad science.”  Where was the hypothesis?  The large sample size?  What could you derive about cause and effect from this study ?  I literally didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Now I know that depending on the question you ask (and it ALL depends upon your question – make sure you are asking what you mean to ask!), you can design your research in many ways.  It’s not all about causation.  Sometimes the question is, “What is it?”  Sometimes it’s, “What is more effective?”  Sometimes it’s, “Tell me about your experience.”  These are all valid questions that research can answer – provided the methodology addresses the question.

Thanks, Bill, and thanks to Bickman and Rog (2009), for giving me a solid foundation on research methods!


Bickman, L. &  Rog, D. Eds. (2009). The Sage handbook of applied social research methods, 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: 2009. pp. 3 – 44.

Tuckman’s Group Process – will we follow the pattern?

group workGroup work.  It’s a huge focus of our 2-week residency at Royal Roads, and no doubt all this group work is setting the stage for collaboration and support as we head back to our homes and continue our course work. We need to lean on and trust each other if we’re going to make it all the way through this Master’s program.  That was one of the learning objectives of this morning’s community building exercise, and I really appreciated spending the time building a “web of support” by tossing yarn to each other.

This residency is also about learning research methods  and learning theory – they’re the gist of the two courses we are working on while we’re here.  I took some time this afternoon to look up an old chestnut of “group process” research that keeps coming to mind as we form new teams for each new assignment (or so it seems).  It’s from Bruce W. Tuckman (1965) and I first learned about it during some advanced training with Scouts Canada.  Tuckman said that many groups working together for several months or more go through a predictable pattern of group dynamics, following four stages (in 1977 he added a fifth stage).  He called these stages “forming”, “storming”, “norming”, “performing”, and later added “‘adjourning”.

Forming is the stage where people are brought together. It involves testing the waters, and getting to know each other.  The second stage, storming, is a time of some dischord in the group – perhaps because the group members are starting to learn from each other, and that is causing a period of cognitive dissonance.  I sometimes see it as several people trying to make room for themselves on the same bench, and adjusting their postures and their seating positions so they don’t get cramped!

As people figure out their relative positions and strengths within the group, the “storming” period shifts into the “norming” period.  Group members begin to find methods that work for them as a team, and momentum starts to build in the work that they are doing together.  The team is reinforcing trust in each other.

This leads to the most productive period in the life of the group, “performing”.  This is when everyone is sure of their roles, and confident in the work they are doing together. The motor is firing on all cylinders!  Adjourning happens when the group winds down, and can be accompanied by a period of reminiscing and even mourning.

Will our cohort and its smaller teams go through these stages?  Tuckman’s meta-analysis looks at groups that are together for a period of three to six months. Here we are, in groups lasting just a week or two.  It’s not clear to me that these short-lived mini-groups have the time to go through the whole process.  But I will be looking out for the pattern in the larger number and timeline of our cohort.  And when it comes time for me to take my leave and continue with the Professional Communications portion of my MAIS, you can bet it will be a bittersweet adjournment for me.

Tuckman, Bruce W. (1965) ‘Developmental sequence in small groups’,  Psychological Bulletin, 63, 384-399. The article was reprinted in Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications Journal  Number 3, Spring 2001 and is available as a Word document: