You can’t shoot lasers at children

Right now, I am in the throes of the UGLY WRITING. Namely, I am attempting to craft a research proposal. At the beginning of my writing process, I had a major family medical emergency (everyone is fine now), but it was one of those life-encompassing, make-you-realize-what’s-important kind of moments that make you hug all of your loved ones a little tighter.  While I still wrote things during this time, they were not good things. Still, bad writing and ideas are infinitely better than no ideas.  As Thomas Alva Edison said, : I have not failed. I have just found 10, 000 ways that did not work.”  I might be on at least the 6781st failure.

There is a ton of work to do as well beyond the crafting of my research proposal.  In my course right now, we are reading Scientific Research in Education, by Committee on Scientific Principles for Education Research, Richard J. Shavelson and Lisa Towne, Editors, National Research Council (free download!) as a guiding text for us budding researchers. In the text, they identify six guiding principles for identifying scientific research in education.

What I think is missing in the discussion of ‘scientific-ness’  are two major ways a researcher, and thus her research, needs to develop. The first are the ethical considerations that all educational researchers need to consider. During our class discussion, my fellow cohortian Tim Xeriland, mentioned the idea of “physics envy:” physics research being the sort of gold standard of scientific inquiry.  But we educational researchers can’t shoot lasers at children.  There are ethical limits to what we can do, and rightly so, for the research we do.

The second issue here is our own researchly philosophical disposition. In Creswell’s text, Research Design: qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-methods, does this well. While “good scholarly writing” situates the issue within the larger theoretical conversation, what is implied by that positioning is an approach to research that is taken by that researcher. In the drafting stage of a proposal, I find my newbie student status demands a defining of that disposition. That’s a lot of moving parts–no wonder I stumble. And once again, I get up, dust myself off, and try to avoid shooting off any lasers at kids.

Social Needs and Learning

I have been reading up on theories about social needs, and my favorite one so far is Baumeister and Leary’s 1995 article” The Need to Belong: Desire for Interpersonal Attachments as a Fundamental Human Motivation.”  It is a tad long, so be forewarned.  What Baumeister and Leary do in this article is to survey the empirical research in the fields of psychology, sociology, and ethnography to provide evidence for the theory of what is known as belongingness. They state, “the belongingness hypothesis is that human beings have a pervasive drive to form and maintain at least a minimum quantity of lasting, positive, and significant interpersonal relationships (497).” They go on to describe that the ways that we fulfill these needs is through frequent, pleasant interactions with other people that are sustained over time. Additionally, these interactions should be with other people with which we have a mutual concern for one another’s welfare.

The evidence that the authors provide is interesting, varied, and compelling. They note instances where one or more aspects of the belongingness need is not met and the negative outcomes people endure on the emotional, physical, and cognitive level.  The reverse is noted when belongingness needs are met.

There are good many questions I have as a result of thinking through this. It seems to me that there are lots of ways that technology might meet belongingness needs, and the language around social networks as communities is intriguing to me as a possible place where these needs are being met.  But how often is enough to meet the beloningness need? What is the threshold for interactions? What about the quality of the interaction: is an @ reply on twitter enough? There are different levels of investment we have in one another on these spaces that are interesting.

I also can’t help but read this with my professional developer hat on. I have wondered in the past if part of the lack of technology integration by teachers might be because of a fear of taking the risk to change their practices. Would creating a community around quelling that fear help improve technology integration outcomes? Is it that teachers who routinely utilize technology in their practice have a community to which they belong that meets the needs that others don’t have? Practically, a community might be able to think through logistical issues or offer inspiration. More distantly, having a trusted community that fulfilled belongingness needs might reduce the stress of changing an established teaching practice to include more technology.

The article:

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, L.R. (1995). The Need to Belong: Desire for Interpersonal  Attachment as a Fundamental Human Motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497-539. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.117.3.497

Know thyself, Researcher

I’ve been thinking a lot about research design lately, mostly because I am a graduate student (and really, what else do we think about?) but also because there are so many interesting studies I’ve been reading that employ a wide variety of design, philosophy, and methods.

In the first chapter, Creswell lays out a general definition of philosophical assumptions researchers make, the approaches researchers tend to take, and the methods that comes out of that. There is, of course, the old quantitative vs. qualitative discussion, which Creswell answers by saying both (he’s a big mixed-methods guy, even founded a journal about it. Now that’s dedication.) He states, “Thus, it is more than simply collecting and analyzing both kinds of data; it also involves the use of both approaches in tandem so that the overall strength of a study is greater than either qualitative or quantitative research.”  I have a lot of questions about this statement as it seems like you could actually do a really bad job of a mixed-methods study and combine the weakest flaws of each approach, but I digress.

Overall, the chapter’s explanations of philosophy, methods, and strategies emphasized that the researcher herself has a great deal of impact on the studies done, no matter which approach she uses.  In my academic voice, I obscure my identity, take the emphasis off of myself and place it on the question, where the question is situated in the larger theoretical discussion, and the findings. What Creswell makes visible is how much researchers philosophical bent and even knowledge (how many quantitative methods courses did you take? Does this make you a more confident quantitative methods researcher? You may be more likely to do a quantitative study then.) This was sort of a big AHA! grad student epiphany for me, as if someone finally let me peek behind the current a bit. I just never really considered it explicitly before.

It made me wish for a Cosmo quiz (you know:are you way too good for him? etc.) for research identity: what kind of researcher are you?  Hmmm….I smell a future project for me.  Stay tuned :)