Researcher Journal: Research Questions

When I changed my PhD thesis title a while back, I omitted to think through any accompanying research questions. At my last supervision meeting, Vic suggested that it was time to think about what my up to date research questions should be. Good plan!

My current thesis title is: “Underexplored issues determining the effectiveness for learning of peer interaction”, and I am looking at the #CLMooc community to try to find out what the secret sauce that makes things work. There’s three areas of educational research that I think that I will be using:

  1. Co-operative/collaborative learning (I’ve done a lot of reading around this early in my studies);
  2. Active learning (I’ve really not looked into this at very much);
  3. Social constructivism (Vygotsky) (I’ve read a fair bit about this, but need to read more).

So what questions do I need to guide my research? I am sure that I’ll think of more as time goes on, but so far I have thought of these:

• How do we know when learning has happened? (This is the biggie for me).
• What types of peer interaction lead to learning? All of them or not?
• What is different about interacting and solo learning?
• How does collaboration aid learning?

What questions do you think I should be asking?

Beach Question” flickr photo by cogdogblog  shared under a Creative Commons (CC0) license

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6 Responses to Researcher Journal: Research Questions

  1. Aaron says:

    I did this a bit ago with a group of PhD students and it was so interesting to rethink, after a couple of years, whether my research questions were still what interested me and if they were still phrased correctly. Such a great opportunity and I love that you’re using this platform to generate a discussion. I’ll pm you a link to a new anthology i found on social constructionist research in education; i’m really enjoying it. the thing i’ve been wondering about that I think relates to your questions is autonomy in learning. by the time I meet my students they are undergraduates and they’ve been trained/socialised/brainwashed into thinking that there should be these very specific leading questions and thus predictable answers. many instructors respond to this with further clarity about word counts and rubrics for success. none of this seems to make them less stressed and anxious however. my office-mate and i were talking about how in our educations we rarely followed the rules and we pursued what interested us far more independently. so now i create curricula that are essentially parallel – here’s the recipe if you need it, here’s the thing that might interest us, if you don’t need it and want to go in your own direction (and feel free to be quite wrong but have good questions). i’ve just refined this a bit by adding a rubric about whether or not they’ve accomplished their own (rhizomatic!) learning goals during the course so that i am able to give them credit for that. it also means that i need to change the evaluation processes so that i am able to engage in more dialogic evaluation with them. whether learning occurs is essentially, i think, subjective but that doesn’t mean it isn’t arguable and thus there’s some meta-learning around assertiveness going on, which i tell them is the real point of everything. my next step in all of this is going to be figuring out individualised ways for people to get credit for knowing how they best learn in groups (or solo) and pursuing that. like, if you learn better with two other people doing a group project, go find two other people and come up with a project. i’m concerned that this “good idea” of people learning together becomes another ensnaring process that doesn’t work for everyone – some people HATE these groups and they’re stymied by the anxiety of others not performing. but last semester for the first time i had an amazing group of students who worked as a group so effectively, helping those with more challenges become more autonomous and confident, and allowing those who worked really effectively to range out with some real freedom. It was in my first attempt at a class based on problem based learning and it was very convincing to me about that model which i hope to do more with.

    • NomadWarMachine says:

      Hi Aaron – thank you for this. I think that you are absolutely spot on to highlight autonomy – and that’s made me realise that I need to think about the difference between experiences like CLMooc and rhizo happenings, where we are autonomous agents choosing to participate, and the types of learning that we support in more formal contexts – where we do talk about our students as being adults choosing to participate, but there is a different dynamic at work. This is giving me a LOT to think about over the next few months.

      I also hear you about group work – I tend to prefer models which use collaboration rather than co-operation – and it is definitely something for me to think about.

      Thank you for giving me so much to add to my thinking!

  2. scottx5 says:

    Measuring that learning has happened might appear if the student is asked what steps they would take to find an answer. Being conscious that answers emerge from processes or strategic prompts indicates knowledge of how knowledge is assembled by active inquiry. This comes from my understanding of critical thinking and the image of answers being a series of mirrors that (reflecting on each other) combine together to form a comprehensible picture. Like a jigsaw puzzle that communicates among its pieces.
    With interaction it’s necessary to step outside your own thought paths that are often extremely good at jumping over discontinuities that might tip your ideas nice ideas right over. There’s also something in the urge to persuade or influence that makes us think outside of ourselves. I think we are fundamentally devious creatures always searching for the most inarguable line of bullshit we can spin and by inversion achieve something truthful–or plausible.

    This helps?
    “Why Critical Thinking?
    The Problem: Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed or down-right prejudiced. Yet the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated. A Definition: Critical thinking is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to
    improving it. The Result: A well cultivated critical thinker: • raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely; • gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively; • comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards; • thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and • communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems. Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It requires rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving abilities and a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.”
    © 2006 Foundation for Critical Thinking

    • NomadWarMachine says:

      Scott – thank you – that’s a really good point. I had something like it written on my whiteboard a while back – that having to spell out in words what you were doing/had dome/would do meant that a learner knew things in a different way – as you say, you can’t gloss over the gaps in your understanding.

  3. says:

    To add to your list of questions, what about one like “how does peer feedback/critique influence learning?”

    • NomadWarMachine says:

      Than you Charlene – I tend to play down the importance of receiving peer critique as I am a big fan of David Nicol’s research – which finds that the real benefits of peer review is in doing them, rather than receiving them – but I think that you are right to highlight it here as the dynamics in these more rhizomatic happenings are different, and I do value all of your feedback.

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