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

Researcher’s Journal: Living in a post-truth world

Finding a research topic that is really meaningful is hard work. It should be if you plan to spend five years working on it.

Maybe I am getting closer. I have abandoned anything about historical thinking concepts – this is an academic field that doesn’t seem to have much in the way of a pick-up in the school system. Lots of writers, questionable impact.

Searching for something new one of my advisors suggested that I start looking at Canadian historical websites to develop tools to test for validity.

I had forgotten how important this type of work was to me. I remember sitting on the school board’s tech advisory committee. One of the members (who actually knows a fair amount about education technology) suggested at one of our sessions that there was little point in using curated web tools when you could Google anything. Curated web material usually is expensive mainly because you have to pay someone to make sure the material you put out there has been reviewed for validity. This scene sticks with me to this day and I really wonder what advice school boards are giving to teachers now about how to access digital information.

A few weeks ago, I entered the world of post-truth. Post-truth is a new environment where confusion reigns. In this world, there are no shared facts on which to base decisions. There is widespread disagreement over what is known, how to know, and who to trust. Research as current as 2022 confirms this is a widespread problem that has not yet been dealt with by educators (see – Education for a “Post-Truth” World: New Directions for Research and Practice Clark A. Chinn, Sarit Barzilai, and Ravit Golan Duncan 2021)

This is an ad for the New York Times, but the message is important.

I am citing only one reference here, but there is a vast body of research that backs up this claim. The research on digital information sources goes back over 20 years and begins in earnest with the work of Sam Wineburg, the wonderful writer of Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts (2001).

I am going back and reading everything I can by Sam Wineburg. Next – Why Read History (When It’s Already on Your Phone)
Sam Wineburg, 2018

We can reach back further. Every generation has its own media that confound teachers and students. In 1991, Wineburg produced a study indicating that students tended to rely on textbook material even though they were presented with more credible primary historical evidence. The textbooks were preferred because students believed that they were just telling the facts. They adopted the story even though analysis showed that the textbooks didn’t get into much detail, were overly patriotic and political and were designed to offer information that could be answered on a multiple-choice exam (see Historical problem solving: A study of the cognitive processes used in the evaluation of documentary and pictorial evidence, Wineburg, 1991)

The current rapid reach of information is unprecedented and with that reach comes a diminishing ability to discern what is actually true.

I remember a presenter at one of the schools I worked at who specialized in the dangers of social media. He was really popular with parents and educators because he focused on creating fear. Students should not be allowed on Facebook etc (the social media at the time) because of the dangers that lurked behind the screen. There was no question that he was right about the abuses of social media, but the solution of just taking it away was misplaced.

avoiding a problem is never the solution

As far back as the invention of movable type pamphleteers in 18th century America were free to print anything that would fit on the page. Thomas Jefferson watched the increasing availability of printed material along with the associated increase in baseless claims and stories. His conclusion however was not to stop the publishing of leaflets and books but to educate the public to be wary of what they read.

If we think [the people] not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.

(quoted in Wineburg, McGrew, 2019)

Researchers have been very good at presenting the dangers that exist in the post-truth world. They would agree with Jefferson, that education is the key – but what kind of education?

At the end of every research paper I am reading these days is the declaration by academics that something must be done about the post-truth world:

Any successful approach will likely need to go beyond modest tweaks to current instruction, which will inevitably increase the demands on teachers and educational designers. Part of the research agenda should therefore include work on how to implement and scale up proposals for ambitious instruction. Our call is for rapid, intensive research and design to develop these (and other) paths of promoting students’ capacities to engage in apt epistemic performance.

Education for a “Post-Truth” World: New Directions for Research and Practice Clark A. Chinn , Sarit Barzilai, and Ravit Golan Duncan, 2020, p. 58

So, I am asking.

How have different writers sought to critically address the ability of students and teachers to make sense of multiple information sources in a Post-Truth World?

What is Post-Truth? What are some post-truth reasoning challenges? 

What is the current ability of educators and students to accurately assess multiple forms of information?

What can we do to teach complex sensemaking skills to educators and students?

Future Directions and Ideas: What are the ways forward? 

Along with all these questions, there is a vast array of material I need to read to catch up on what researchers are saying. Maybe someone has an answer – this is what we need to do with our curriculum – but I haven’t seen this yet.

This is a screenshot of some of the material I have collected over the past few weeks

If you have any ideas, please let me know. There is no question that this is something we need to get right. The consequences of losing a grasp on the truth can be seen around us, will we respond?

Here in Ottawa, we witnessed one of the consequences of post-truth

What Wikipedia teaches us about balancing truth and beliefs

I am adding this piece about Wikipedia. One of my professors has suggested some really interesting material on Wikipedia and how this could be a good tool to help us adapt to a post-truth world. Worth watch.

Really interesting interview – how long will it take us to manage misinformation?

New professor of the practice of health services, policy and practice, Claire Wardle, is not a health professional. She is, however, considered one of the leading experts on misinformation. Co-founder of First Draft, a non-profit dedicated to supporting organizations fighting misinformation, Wardle talks to Megan Hall MPH’15, about her plans for collaborative work at Brown that aims not only to understand mis- and disinformation, but to create tools for more effective public health communication.

misinformationpublic healthfirst draftinformation futures lab

Researcher’s Journal – Learning is Hard

I am writing this for me, but you can read this if you want.

Whoever said that failure is good, that’s how students learn. Have you tried it? It is good learning, but it is really hard.

So, I want to read this post in January when my comprehensive exams are over. I did a mock version of my research question and I failed miserably. I think there is probably a comment on every paragraph I wrote. And I appreciate every comment. Two very busy academics took the time to go over every word I wrote, the fact that I came up short is good, it gives me something to work on.

It is hard after a long and pretty successful career to start over. It is like learning Spanish in downtown Consuelo (in the DR) you feel a little like a baby, each step is tentative, and everything is risky.

taking baby steps again

I certainly didn’t have to do this, but I have to take the long view right now. The courses were the easy part, the comprehensives are really serious and no one is going to give you a break here. I have six months to get ready for the comprehensives. My original research question was too much, it was a bit like flying in the face of a hurricane. I winced, so I need to move on.

My old question is gone, I don’t think I even understood what I was asking. I am going back to something I have experienced – how does one assess and use digital resources as a credible learning tool when there are no rules? Textbooks were easy, they were written by credible publishers and they have been approved by our provincial government.

starting with words and pictures

Web information is different – this is a totally unregulated field. Does anyone understand how dangerous this can be? What is a good source? Who is behind the site? What is available at 8:30 in the morning when you have a 90-minute class to teach?

I think I was focusing on themes that were not my own. If you are going to spend four years studying something, you better choose something that you care about deeply. My advisors gently moved me away from a theme that really didn’t resonate. Digital literacy and the curation of learning resources for teachers and students is something I am passionate about. While textbooks are still produced for schools, people (school boards) don’t want to invest as much in digital materials. The temptation is to use Google – Google is free, Google will tell you what you need to know.

When I worked on a committee that advised the school board on digital implementation this attitude was shared by many. When something is free and it looks good it is very hard to convince people to invest in content and staff training to effectively use this content. This was shocking to me, but it makes sense. Digital curation is really hard and it costs money. School boards still focus on expensive textbooks. The idea that you should pay for digital content is still a bit of a reach.

So here is my new question:

Digital literacies and the teaching of history – the development of critical thinking skills to assess and curate learning material for the classroom.

This is my old question, not answering this well has taught me a great deal:

Drawing on existing history education scholarship, how have different writers sought to critically address the teaching of history education in Canada? In your response draw on the scholarly literature to show 1) the role of historical thinking concepts in Canada; 2) the tensions that currently exist; and 3) how these relate to settler colonial narratives about Canada’s past.

Thanks very much to my course prof and my academic advisor for taking the considerable time to go over my work. I am sure this was not easy to do and it took lots of time. Yes, in the trial run I didn’t do very well, but I will keep and read again every comment that they have written. Failure is tough, failure is liberating and it can be a wonderful teacher.

This where I start again. I am getting really good
material on comprehensive exams and new resources!