In mid-2011 at the encouragement of my then school principal I enrolled in a Master of Education (Honours). I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do: to be honest when I started teaching I really just wanted to keep learning. I wanted to know know more about theories of education and students’ affective domain. As someone who had for a long time contemplated studying medicine, the field of educational psychology appealed immensely to me. Over the next two years I veeeeery slowly worked my way through four units of coursework (interrupted by semesters of enrolment in only one unit, or no units). Finally, in semester two last year I commenced the research component of my course.
I was interested, initially, in Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and the relationship between PBL and students’ attitudes towards learning mathematics. I read the works of Ron Ritchhart (intellectual character); Carol Dweck (mindset and theories of intelligence); Linda Darling-Hammond, Piaget; Vygotsky; Bandura; and von Glaserfeld. Slowly, over time, my areas of interest morphed. I developed my understanding of what it was like to be a teacher in a classroom. I began to greater appreciate the divide between academia and teaching practice, and the disdain in which many teachers (rightly) hold educational research. It is often viewed as cold, abstract, and elusive: failing to appreciate the demands of day-to-day teaching.
I wanted my study to be relevant and practical and accessible to teachers. I didn’t want some difficult-to-implement program that was costly in terms of both time and money. So I reflected, intensively, on what made me a successful learner. And I realised that I reflected, A LOT. Yes I was self-critical but generally it was in a ‘productive’ way: I considered my areas of success and my shortcomings so that I could modify my learning to do better next time. I really understood my own learning. I realised I had excellent metacognitive skills and a fantastic capacity to self-reflect. I theorised this is what contributed to my success as a learner.
The movement of a jellyfish is the best analogy I can think of to describe the process of defining an area of research interest. You read more and your topic grows. You consolidate the knowledge, drawing your topic back in, and shoot forward. Read some more, and out expands the topic again, reflect on this new knowledge, align it with what you already know, and in it shrinks and you spurt forward. And so it continues.
I completed Confirmation of Candidature in September last year. Confirmation was incredibly significant in terms of clarifying my topic, considering a fresh angles, and landing me an additional co-supervisor. The opportunity to present ideas to a panel and to receive their feedback on your research is somewhat (very) intimidating, but also a powerful and useful process.
Ethics applications were submitted (and eventually, after much back and forth) approved in November. I received approval from a local high school to conduct my study, and lined up a teacher and a class.
I was ready for 2014: the year of data collection.
Tomorrow, data collection begins. The surveys are printed. Consent forms have been collected. After two and a half years of thinking and reading and refining and writing I’m finally ready to collect some original data.
It’s simultaneously exciting, nerve-wracking and anti-climatic.
After tomorrow’s surveys I will be conducting interviews with a small group of students, before commencing four weeks of lesson observations. At the end of the four weeks there will be another round of surveys and interviews. And then I’ll be able to see if what I’ve theorised has held true. If it does, fantastic. If it doesn’t, that’s okay: it’s still a result.
My results will be included as a pilot study after I (hopefully) upgrade to PhD. 2015 will see a second round of data collection with more students and more classes. It is interesting to reflect back on how much I have learned over the past few years. Perhaps it was my twenty-fifth birthday on Tuesday that contributed to this particularly reflective mood. Perhaps it’s the nature of my research itself. Or perhaps it boils down to my personality. Regardless of the prompt it is useful to take stock, particularly at these ‘milestone’ moments of our lives. To acknowledge how far we’ve come, what we’ve learnt, we’ve achieved. Post-graduate study might not be for everyone: it’s demanding of energy and it’s time consuming. But it’s incredibly rewarding and interesting, and worthy of consideration.