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!

Reference:

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

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Looking ahead to changes

The fork for Wernfigin on the road to Pentre'r-felin

© Copyright Bonelli and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Today is certainly an emotionally up-and-down sort of day for me.  I had been waiting for a phone call for a job interview, and it never came.  Here I am, in a room full of people with fascinating jobs in teaching, distributed learning and educational technology, and I haven’t had a job interview since May. I should have worked way harder on my entrance bursary application. I should be out interviewing potential employers and asking, “What ideas would you like to see implemented at your workplace in the next few years?” (thanks, Chris Brown).

While others in my cohort will be going back to their workplace, eager to share what they have learned with their colleagues and implementing it in their practice, I will be… well, I’ll be selling colostomy pouches and applying for work.  Bummer.

But – David Porter, executive director of BCCampus, came and spoke to our cohort this afternoon.  His message to us covered the massive changes expected in education over the next ten years.  A billion potential learners are approaching adulthood.  Major funders are looking at open models of distributed learning to fill the need. Those changes will require changes in instructional design and delivery. Those changes are exactly what we are being trained for.  I am treading on some very fertile ground!

I may not get to my target job right away; after all, I am only four weeks into a two-year course.  But I am certainly on the right path, and pointed in the right direction.

I believe everything I hear

I heard this on the CBC so it must be true…

An intrepid commuter decided to combine thrift and exercise, and started cycling to work along the highway.

“Big whoop,” I thought as I listened, “people commute by bicycle all the time here, and on the highway too.” But it turns out that this cycle trip was in Ontario, and on the 401 from Ajax to Mississauga.

Peter Oldring, the host, went on the morning cycle trip – complete with honking cars, 3-lane merges, hitching onto the back of trucks, and being pulled over for a ticket. The commuter pocketed the slip of paper without batting an eyelid (I assume… this was radio). He’s received about 75 so far.

Why does he do it? Because he can! He’s in great shape, and is breaking new trails.

This is ThatMore awesome stuff from This Is That includes the Pay Per Use Parks program, Canadian kids who practice mixed martial arts, and why a protest group from Saltspring Island wants the Calgary Stampede to change its name.

I Knew It…


Which Hogwarts house will you be sorted into?

My detailed score was Gryffindor 12, Ravenclaw 11, Hufflepuff 9, Slytherin 8.

OK, so the sorting hat isn’t all that serious. But I was told about it in class by Kolby, who tried the quiz and found himself to be a Hufflepuff, to his own delight.  It’s just one of the many ways we can analyze our own personalities and see how we fit into the larger picture.

According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I am a very strong ENFP (Extroverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving), an ADHD category if ever there was one.  The “Serenity Prayer” for my group is, “Lord, help me to concentrate on – look! a bird! – one thing at a time.”  I have done this test before, with similar results, but haven’t gone over its implications in as much depth as we did with our instructor, Hilary Leighton.

Hilary brought up a relatively new concept for me, that of “the shadow” – the mirror image of my type.  Introverted, analytical people who are endlessly poring over the plans, schedules and details puzzle me.  I don’t know how they get through their day.  But these same people probably think I am a vortex of chaos.  In truth, while those “shadow traits” don’t come naturally, they are absolutely essential to success.  I won’t get through my MA without plenty of attention to details, plans and schedules.  These tasks may not fill me with joy in the moment that I am wrestling with them, but without them, I will just be a flaky starter with no follow-up. Time to embrace the shadow.

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.

Reference:
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:
http://dennislearningcenter.osu.edu/references/GROUP%20DEV%20ARTICLE.doc

Getting through the “Overwhelm”

Garden Path, by Sue Horner, MAPCIt’s the evening of our second day of the residency program, and already there are three group projects, our blog, and a lot of reading to get through.  When we finished class at 4pm today, I knew I had to meet with a group, but could not remember which one, or what we were supposed to be doing once we met.  My head was spinning with information and overload. Thankfully, some of the members of my “critical applique” group called me over, and I was able to make some decent contributions to our discussion, which was basically a review of Lisa’s information from yesterday, clarification of the requirements, and taking a first look at the article.

We left the classroom a half-hour later and I hustled down to the Gift Shop to buy a binder, some looseleaf paper, and dividers before the shop closed.  The gift shop is adjacent to the Hatley Gardens, and thank goodness it is, because greenery behind the gate called out to me.

Beyond the gate is a series of gardens, laid out almost like rooms in a house, where you can’t see the whole thing, but have to move to take in this bit, then that bit, then the next bit.  I started up in the very architectural Italian Garden, where the symmetry helped to restore some order to my frayed synapses.  Italianate statues stood in each corner, and at the centre a small obelisk paid tribute to the various evolutions of the military college, and to its war dead.  Large baskets of petunias hung in the shade of the petunias, and over the low wall, I could see a broad, level swath of grass, where the Dunsmuirs used to play croquet.  My pace started to slow down, imagining the wealth and leisure of the family that lived here a century ago.

From there, I walked down through the fernery, the woodland garden, and the bog garden, which was completely still, apart from the burble of the old fish ladder.  Then I went up the slope again, past the Japanese garden, where the massive old trees now dwarf the statuary, and the rose garden, just past its peak.  I hunted out the fragrant varieties, and buried my nose in their blooms.

Beyond the rose garden was the walled garden, and this was actually my favourite part.  Here, simple “domestic” flowers mixed with herbs, vines and espaliered fruit trees.  I was on familiar ground.  The names my mother has taught me over the years surfaced in my now-meditative state, and I was surprised at how many plants I could identify.  Lavender, hyssop, sage, grape arbor, pear, apple, day lily, euphorbia, rosemary, chive.  Their colours, shapes, textures and fragrances are intertwined with their names. I never took lessons to learn them – they have just been imparted to me over the years.  The more I can describe them, the easier it is to recall their name.  They all fill me with a sense of peace.

Getting back to the purpose of this post, which is to reflect on my experience of learning, I feel much more prepared now to sit down and parse out the academic lessons of the past two days now that I have taken some time to literally stop and smell the roses.  Walking, engaging the senses, connecting with emotionally fulfilling memories from my childhood, and allowing my mind to reorder itself while out in nature and fresh air has all been restorative.  Now I have the right frame of mind to tackle the requirements of the article critique.

Too excited to sleep

Sleepless nightIt’s three in the morning, and I woke up about 15 minutes ago, my head buzzing with anticipation after less than four hours of sleep. Tomorrow is the first day of residency for the Learning and Technology program, and our cohort met on the Royal Roads campus for the first time this evening.

In the short welcome address, Bill Muirhead informed us that people apply to graduate school at Royal Roads in much greater numbers than are accepted.  Until now, it had never occurred to me that Royal Roads chose me as well as me choosing it. That puts a whole new, even more sparkly spin on things.  They think I have the right stuff!

Following the wine, beer and snacks welcome in the large, echo-y Quarterdeck hall,  I went with one of the women in my study group up to the sixth floor of the residence, “Just to make sure we aren’t missing out on anything before we go home”.  She is staying at a bed and breakfast near the campus, I’ll mostly be staying at my own home in Vic West, 14 km away. Sure enough, in ones and twos, about 15 of us gathered in the kitchen, bringing bottles of beer, wine, even Baileys, and continuing a small celebration of being there and getting to know each other.  Jenn and I left at 10, with the gathering still going strong.

For the next two weeks, we will be spending most of our waking hours in each others’ company.  The program directors anticipate that we will spend approximately 12 hours each weekday in our studies, and we will want to squeeze in some time for exercise, sightseeing and simple decompressing as well.  That’s pretty intense… is it any wonder that I am awake right now?  I have some idea of what is to come, having already spent some time on campus, where I’ve observed small groups of  people in study halls and breakout rooms, going over their assignments together.  For someone who loves the shared energy of minds working together, this is better than Christmas.

Facing my ADHD head-on

ADHD labelFor the first time in my life, I am going into an education setting with a label, and its corresponding accommodations: ADHD.  It’s a very odd feeling for me, because it’s not like I was hit by an attention deficit bus, and am different now than I was when I was last in a formal learning situation.  I am the same “me” I always have been, with the same promise, same creativity, same leap out of the starting gate.  Only now, I may ask for and receive help when the sprint becomes a marathon.

Here is my usual performance pattern: I start off with loads of promise, and often get an early reputation as “the smart girl”. If the class is easy, I can run into trouble from a pace that’s too slow.  I end up doodling all over my notes and zoning out in class, missing important information, like when our assignment is due. My public school report cards were riddled with comments like, “Catherine would do much better if she would stop starting out the window.  She dreams for most of the class and then rushes through her work at the last minute, and does not hand in her best work.”

If the class is challenging, you might find me halfway through a course, staggering under the burdens with overwhelm and paralysis, not knowing how to break a big job into small parts. University was a bit like this.  In high school, I was used to being “the smart girl” and getting As and Bs even when all the work was done the night before an assignment was due.  At UVic in the 80s, suddenly I was one of a class full of “smart” students, and the ones who learned how to study in high school suddenly were performing far better than I was. I didn’t have a chance at a scholarship, or even keeping my grades high enough for a co-op program.

Now, in my late 40s, I am trying out a new pattern.  I’m starting my work when it is assigned.  I’m doing the readings.  I’m taking time every day to work on this Master’s degree.  And I’m asking for help ahead of time.  For me, that means meeting with an academic coach, for assistance with planning out my work.  It also means letting my fellow learners and teachers know that my strength is found in being “in the moment”.  Improvisation and synthesis is more my style than organizing and classifying.

This goes some way to address my own learning style, though I haven’t seen a good match so far in the reading materials.  It will inform everything I do in the Learning and Technology program – don’t be surprised if I consistently look at learning and teaching methods through the lens of ADHD.  I hope that it adds to the overall body of knowledge, instead of being a distraction for others.  Goodness knows, I know what it means to be distracted!

My Learning Style – is it possible to have no preference??

I am reading Chapter 4 of Making Sense of Adult Learning, by Dorothy MacKeracher, where the author discusses a variety of learning styles that most people exhibit.  I am no stranger to the many ways a person can slice and dice their ways of getting along in the world, and have submitted to a number of profiling systems.  I know that I have ADHD (we figured that one out at the same time as my son was diagnosed, and I received my own diagnosis within the year). Keirsey says I am a Champion/Idealist, while Myers-Briggs says I am ENFP.  I am a Scorpio/Rabbit, and the element of water forms an important part of my personality, should you believe that sort of thing.

However, I am having trouble figuring out what my ideal learning style is, particularly as categorized by Kolb’s inventory of learning styles. None of the learning preferences listed in MacKeracher jump out at me.  Language-based learning comes easily, and I am OK with numbers, too.  I don’t even know whether I prefer visual, auditory or kinesthetic input.  I love colours, sound and motion.  I can memorize phone numbers using finger patterns or melodies.  Venn diagrams and spreadsheets help me categorize things.  I am quick with a metaphor, and believe that the human ability to recognize patterns is key to our intelligence.  But none of this helps me decide whether I am convergent, divergent, accommodating or assimilative in my learning style (MacKeracher, pp. 83-91)

This is something I am going to have to tease apart… I’d like to talk to other students about it, or draw a list of learning methods I like/don’t like, or ima
gine myself learning something quickly. Today I even took the time to fix a broken lamp, just so I could observe my own process of figuring out what to do, and then doing it.  But I don’t think I’m any closer.

Live, from Royal Roads University!

The Study Group

The Study Group at the RRU library

I’m sitting in one of the computer areas at the Royal Roads library, with business undergrads around me, working on a group project.  It’s nice to have a big screen and a mouse in front of me, since I mostly use my laptop and touch screen.  The facilities here are fantastic.

Today I biked for the first time out to to RRU, taking Craigflower Road from my home in Vic West, and switching to the Galloping Goose trail where the road meets the Old Island Highway.  I’ve been here many times, both as an instructor in Continuing Studies here, and as a Scout leader.  Every spring, Scouts have a “Klondike Derby” on the grounds, making full use of the forested trails of Hatley Park to run a challenge competition. Lots of rolling hills both on-campus and on the way here – if I make a habit of riding my bike, I’ll be in great shape, and it sure beats driving for beauty and de-stressing.

The first thing I did was head up to the Learning and Innovation Centre to get my student card. Alas, it doesn’t save any money at Habitat – you have to be staff to get a discount – but it will be great for borrowing books from the library, and perhaps for scoring cheap bus tickets, should this bike thing get to be a bit much.  From there, a quick lunch at Habitat, surrounded by learners.  Try the falafel wrap – it’s delicious and vegetarian!

Now I’m at the library, which is also the bookstore.  Just go up to the front desk and let the librarian know which program you are in.  Not only will the staff get you your books, they’ll also let you know which ones are in the stacks and which ones are on reserve.  We discussed whether I should buy the APA, as the Writing Centre has those resources online and close at hand.  I’ve left it for now, with the knowledge that I can always buy it later if it turns out that we really need it.  If it’s available as an ebook, I’d like that even better.

I feel very privileged to be here well ahead of our residency period – doing my undergrad, I always found that I studied better where other people were engaged in the same activity.  It also means one less thing to find overwhelming when the residency period begins.