Researcher’s Journal: Starting Year 2

I am back in school again.

I am starting my second year in the Ph.D. program at Ottawa University. Over the summer, I completed my last required course so, in theory, I don’t need to take any more courses and I can move on to getting ready for my comprehensive exam.

Many of the people in my cohort have written or are writing their comprehensives. There seems to be a pronounced rush to get this next stage done. Once successfully completed, you can actually call yourself a Ph.D. Candidate.

I’m not doing that, there is too much I still don’t know.

For one thing, I recently changed my research topic. I wrote about this in early June.

The change moved me in an entirely different direction and I have a new wonderful supervisor who specializes in the same area I am interested in. To be honest, the change in thinking started back in April when my first attempt at writing a comprehensive-style essay flopped.

After a year of courses at the graduate level, all I feel is that I don’t know anything. I continue to read every day, but it is easy to lose touch with where I am going with all this. For the next few months, I will focus on learning about quantitative methodology, something I will need for sure and a topic I know nothing about.

a totally new area for me

I am also starting (again) to look at a different methodology – one that can connect to the research I hope to do one day. It is interesting how we make these decisions. In speaking with my supervisor, we talked about a method of research Sam Wineburg used to study the thinking patterns of students and professors when assessing the value and credibility of a variety of historical sources ( see Wineberg, S. (1991). On the reading of historical texts: Notes on the breach between school and academy. American Educational Research Journal, 28, p. 495-520.) Wineburg used think aloud techniques to gather information on what his subjects were thinking about as they reviewed various sources. This happens to be an area my supervisor is very interested in so I am now reading up on the literature about this methodology. I am starting with Verbal Protocols of Reading: The Nature of Constructively Responsive Reading By Michael Pressley and Peter Afflerbach (1994). This sets the stage for everything else I will read on this methodology. This work is in its early days, so my Zotero on this topic looks a little bleak.

My think aloud methodology section on Zotero (needs some work)

This will grow quickly. Recording people’s thinking as they review different online sources is a fascinating way to understand how students especially make decisions on what websites are actually credible to them.

My question now looks like this:


In an increasingly complex post-truth world, people in general – students and teachers
in particular – struggle to discern credible sources of online information. Their ability to judge multiple sources of information has and will have a major impact on their collective ability to make decisions in a modern, democratic society.
 
We need to better understand the challenges presented by a post-truth
world and what strategies and techniques need to be developed to provide educators and students with appropriate tools to effectively evaluate multiple online sources of information.


 Discerning Online Reasoning in a Post-Truth World 

This is what I want to go with. It is a big jump from where I started, but this represents the best of my thinking and research so far. Is this a good effort? I have no idea. The paper received a good mark, but no comments at all. That’s not right.

So next steps, read lots (again) but this time on methodology. Come up with three questions I can use for my comprehensive, practice writing on two of these questions (I think/hope I have one of these covered) then take a month to write on two of these questions.

I have learned over the past year to take small steps and not expect too much. Grad students are left very much on their own and you have to have a good supervisor, especially after year one, to make this whole process work.

I have also learned that this is a venture that favours the young. We the older students offer decades of experience in the field of education, but that seems to have little cache in academia. There is no way I could be writing on this topic without the experience I gained implementing digital technology in the school system. But more on this later.

Next week I will be looking for more articles on think aloud techniques and of course Wineburg