The ultimate workplace

This place looks awesome to work. Talk about student driven! I think I have just found my dream job AND a way to be thrown right out of my comfort zone. And even if you aren’t quite as convinced, it provides some great examples of ways to promote success, student  driven learning, child agency and develop great human beings. Imagine if this school’s curriculum became that of the nation!

Sudbury School

Ethics

Finally, a return to ethics. Perhaps finally is the wrong word. I have just completed an assignment on ethics (actually I began this post a couple of weeks ago when I had just completed an ethics assignment).

Ethics are an extremely complex issue, although they seem relatively straight forward. Moving forward I still wonder what implications this has for teaching as inquiry – an embedded part of the NZ curriculum and as much an expectation of teacher practice as reflections and professionalism.

This inquiry into your teaching practice involves a reflective cycle, upon which you take focus and action your findings within the classroom. This could be called action research, although it may vary slightly.

If, however, we as teachers are doing research which we are sharing with our peers, do we not owe it to the students to involve them so they realise what is actually happening? Beneficence and non-malfiecience (I still struggle spelling those two) are pretty straight forward and almost go without saying. Deception – I cannot imagine this issue coming up as a deliberate part of any teacher inquiry. Yet, what are the ethical implications in terms of informed consent and anonymity/confidentiality?
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Informed consent carries with it the participant’s right to not just know what they are involved in, agree to be involved and the right to withdraw at any stage. How does that work when it is a professional obligation and, in some cases, you might be required to do an inquiry around a student? What about the power differential here? If I ask a child to do something like this, they are already in a position of being conditioned to comply* What potential consequences do they imagine if they say no? ** What are the implications for the teacher – do you go ‘tough’ and do it anyway or do you have to redirect your inquiry to focus on other students?

Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 10.59.41 PM.pngAs far as anonymity/confidentiality is concerned, this is next to impossible in a small school community. In my school you know all the students (or just about all the students) and have taught or interacted with all of them at some point in time. Sharing results with other teachers on staff can be interrupted with … ‘is that______? I recognise that handwriting etc’. I have experienced this myself. An inquiry into behaviour featured a quote from me. My name was not attached but it was very obvious to all that I was the one who had written it. It was embarrassing
and felt unnecessary (even though the quote was apt and completely professional).

 

What about if, upon the completion of an inquiry, others from outside the school want to know about your results and have your information presented. What happens then? Is it this point that ‘research ethics’ become important when in fact they are important throughout the whole process? Or is this just creating work for work’s sake?

I read a statement which essentially said research is not research unless peer reviewed and published. If this is the case then the above debate is unnecessary. I would arg
ue that often these inquiries are research, even if they are only ‘published’ in a staff meeting, in which case if anyone has an easy answer please send it my way! I have found none amongst my readings.

 

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*I often present children with the opportunity to decide not to do a task, or for feedback about something. Often this takes considerable reassurances to get them to believe me. As they work more with me they do come to see that I mean it. Even then they will still check. A reflection on me and the system perhaps. After all, our very system is set up to teach compliance, socialisation, academic hierarchies and reinforce cultural ways of knowing.

 

**It can be very exciting when kids say ‘no – I don’t want to’ for the first time. They are beginning to experiment with choice. They feel comfortable and safe enough to step out  Sometimes that’s okay, and other times I will respond, ‘tough – it’s teacher choice,’ negotiate and alternative (or move into non-verbal cues (i.e. the teacher’s look) if they are just boundary pushing). Context!

The learning revolution: an opinion piece

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 11.02.22 PM.png Among other things I have been rereading Ken Robinson’s & Lou Aronica’s book : Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution that’s Transforming Education. As part of my course I have been reading this that and everything paradigm and research methods/methodology related (with a current focus on questionnaire design at present)with a of John Hattie’s meta analysis work and a few bits and pieces on literacy (and another fantastic book about killer bananas rising up for dessert…moving on quickly).

These, along with my wandering thoughts, have brought me back once again to the learning revolution. What constitutes a revolution? Is there one happening? Should there be?

The key word that pops up in literature is not revolution but transformation. John Dewey transformed our understanding of education by putting the child at the centre. Vygotsky transformed our thinking with the ZPD (zone of proximal development). Freire transformed thinking with the notion of the banking pedagogy: deposit, deposit, deposit. Literature surrounding digital technology use (write back to its birth) discuss how it will transform education. But where is the evidence of that transformation?

Yes, in New Zealand we teach in groups. There has been a shift to MLP (modern learning practice  e.g. team teaching in open plan classrooms). Learning is more individualised and child centred. We have newer, flasher whiteboards and computers – portability, wifi and indoor-outdoor flow. Amazing people break the boundaries of possibility with these tools. But is this consistent? Has education transformed or has it just been those pockets of individuals and teams? It has changed, but change is not transformation.

The ever reliable Google defines transformation essentially as a form of change. However when the word transformation is entered into a thesaurus, synonyms such as metamorphosis and transfiguration appear. This implies not just a shedding of a skin or donning a new top but a complete and irreversible change. And it is with this view in mind that I would argue that education has not transformed. Simply changing an appearance or the language is not enough when the core of education remains the same.* At the core of education is politics, economics and culture. Yet the rhetoric is that children are at the centre, that the people are at the centre.

 

*I am not referring to core subjects such as learning to read, write and do maths, rather the notion of what counts, or rather, is discounted. What kind of world would we live in if we could all read, write and do maths but could not manage ourselves, our behaviour, our impulses, our relationships or understand the consequences of your actions? These are extremes – it does not have to be one or the other. The trouble is it is almost presented as that dichotomy – this or that, and that the core subjects are the be all and end all. They aren’t. If they were, a child could have their entire learning programme presented by a computer with very intelligent, adaptive AI. But then we would be putting out machines not people and aren’t people the most important thing at the end of the day? How have we come to think that being good at literacy and numeracy is all that matters? I have heard the argument that that is what home is for – to teach those other things. And if that happens in your home fantastic! But what about all of those people who are not in a home where they have those are opportunities. Yes, some will survive and thrive despite their circumstances, but others won’t. Others will become yet another statistic, something which doesn’t seem so bad when its positive. The trouble is that people aren’t statistics.

 

 

Evidence…the new four letter word?

The current globo-political climate (in the West anyway) calls for evidence for what seems like everything. We need evidence for climate change, evidence for  new medical treatment, evidence of the best ways to raise children, evidence of the best ways to teach, evidence which proves that what you are doing works and even evidence to find a person guilty!

Evidence in of itself is not bad. Do I want to take a medicine that is not proven to be safe? Not particularly (although there may be times when it is necessary). Do I want to remove the requirement of evidence from the justice system or the education system? Absolutely not. Evidence has its place in many facets of life. I become frustrated when I feel required to find evidence for evidence’s sake or when there is no obvious point to it, now or in the envisioned future.

Denzin (2009, p.142) puts it quite well:

 “And evidence is nevermorally or ethically neutral. But, paraphrasing Morse, who quotes Larner (2004: 20), the politics and political economy of evidence is not a question of evidence or no evidence. It is rather a question of who has the power to control the definition of evidence, who defines the kinds of materials that count as evidence, who determines what methods best produce the best forms of evidence, whose criteria and standards are used to evaluate quality evidence?

It is amazing how much comes back to power – how much frustration powerlessness (perceived or real) causes.

Denzin’s article is written in the context of the qualitative v quantitative paradigm debate. Continue reading

John Hattie and the controversial meta-analysis synthesis

Mention John Hattie’s name and a variety of responses will come, ranging from disgust, dismissal and anger through to acceptance, interest and resounding praise for the man and his work. These strong reactions (and having more time) have led to me visiting his research myself.  Continue reading

Plane Ramble

And with the last day of the block course today, the time has come for me to address assignments. Don’t panic (as I’m sure you were – great empathy…perhaps a little over the top – unless you are yourself facing assignments in which case still don’t panic, but not at all over the top).

To be honest I won’t tag this with anything because it is just a ramble I am writing on the plane as I travel home. I got a tad homesick but it was good for me. I love being home. It is awesome. My house is there. My bed is there and my dog is there. Home is a bit like a giant, expensive child’s security blanket. Things just aren’t quite the same without it. 

In saying that I am rather glad I chose to do things this way. It has been great for reestablishing my confidence, and a great opportunity to meet new people. I was way out of my comfort zone, but I think I am more confident for it. I have at least one potential option for housing later this year when I head back up. Bonus. That is a bit of an aside, but the experience reaffirmed to me that a world indeed exists outside of my comfort zone, and that it is a world I can move into.

I am not the same as I was the last time I went to uni and I am glad I worked in between. The normal where I went was different to the normal where I live, yet still had many similarities (not the least of which that I was in the same country and English was still the primary language used).

As I approach my assignments I face myself questioning where I am headed with this. I had planned to do self directed study, but find myself wondering if this should not be altered, with some changed papers so I could do a thesis. I feel like I have a grasp on research, and that all the things I had considered so terrifying about original research just really aren’t as bad as I thought they were. At the same time I find myself questioning why I am actually wanting to make the change. Is it simply a matter of pride creeping in, or is it more pragmatic? Would I really want to do a second research masters to enter the PHD world as my current course seems to shut that notion down or is it better to suck it up now? One of the reasons for my original plan was that I was not intending to go further in a formal academic sense. Another was I have a broad interest in topics and didn’t want to spend too long on any one topic. 

I have no fast answers. I have prayed for guidance and think I know the direction I should go in. Further prayer and thought is required outside of the influence of that sphere.

My flight is descending now so I shall sign off…not so much because of the descent, but more because I think this post is long enough and I have run out of things to say.

Quantitative Analysis

As promised (or perhaps forewarned), today’s focus was on quantitative analysis and taken by Dr Mira Peter. She faced teaching in a. Computer suite that had high ceilings and bare walls – it reminded me of my teaching space! Regardless of the environmental challenges, I learned a great deal that I had found challenging when I read it. I won’t type up all seven pages of notes (just wanted to throw that out there), but here are the key ideas I took away. 

  • There are four common quantitative data gathering methods – observer action, interviews, questionnaires and databases. 
  • A sample (which should be representative of the wider population in order for generalisation to occur) which is not representative is called BIASED

Some aspects were a throwback to high school statistics (thank goodness I had that foundation), and other aspects were new. Key terms included

  • Variable (something that changes)
  • Statistic (collected from the data
  • Parameter (statistics when talked about in terms of the population as a whole – inferred population)

There are two main types of variables: Independent (which is manipulated by the researcher) and dependent variable (DV) which is the OBSERVED OUTCOME (data of the independent variable being manipulated. Extraneous variables are also important, consisting of those variables which may affect the outcome e.g. Age of participants, experiment, the researcher or environmental factors. Extraneous variables need to be controlled for as much as is possible.

Data

There are three kinds of data (at least – these were the three that were discussed in terms of today’s session): Nominal (yes/no type answers), ordinal (choose from one to five on a scale type answers) and continuous/scale data (think timing an athlete, measuring height etc).

We also learned how to work out a standard deviation (and then how to do it on excel), and about confidence intervals. Effect sizes were also discussed and how to work these out. And the different numbers – what they mean. 

Alright… a better sentence about that….

There’s this thing called Cohen’s standard which is used by statisticians and data analysers. If (after various calculations are made the effect size is…

  • 0.2 to 0.4 the effect size is small – real but hard to detect. 
  • 0.5 to 0.7 the effect size is medium – it can be seen and noticed
  • 0.8 or above the effect size is large and very very obvious.

If the effect size is one, in education, this means that more than one year’s growth has been achieved.
Signing off!

Pulling it together

I am really really surprised but I think this is beginning to make sense….hold fire. For those who don’t know I am studying a research methodologies paper. I have had several challenges on the way through, including finding my way around campus. But the exciting thing is I think I’m getting it…that I am beginning to see how the different elements of research pull together. I am beginning to understand how qualitative data can be interpreted without turning it all to numbers. I am beginning to make links to teacher inquiry and ways I could better do that.

I have started this too late in the day…again. But my summary from today’s learning is below

  • An instrument in research is what you use to gather the data e.g. Survey
  • I now have a list of articles useful for designing questionnaires and interviews
  • Document analysis (gathering data from secondary sources and analysing it) can be used as research. In the context of grounded theory it can be used for a research project. 
  • I might be able to do research in a formal academic setting after all!

Paradigms and Ethics

These are just learning summaries from my course. I will add more at a later date, trying to pull all the ideas together.
Two rather large, complex issues…what do I break them down into?

A paradigm stitches together a worldview (ontology) and way of knowing (epistemology). There are three main paradigms – quantitative

-mixed methods

-qualitative 

These three have variations along the ways including things like critical theory etc. There are strong arguments for each and they each inform your methodologies (although your methodologies should inform your epistemology – a bit like the chicken and the egg paradox).
Ethics

This is a much more challenging subject (now that I have created a rather imperfect box for paradigms to be framed in). Ethics in research are ultimately there to protect the participant. Although we exist in a world where those who recognise a universal right and wrong, good and bad are fewer and these concepts have been replaced by better and worse.

Somehow there are still right and wrong things to do in research, as well as good and bad and better and worse. Confusing? I think so.  I ultimately view ethics as a moral assertion, a way to protect people involved in experiments and the integrity of systematic research. Whatever descriptive words are used, ethics are a set of standards in research (and most professions) which are expected to be adhered to. 

Within sociological research, there are a few main ethical principles to abide by – 

-protection from harm

-the right to withdraw

-deception

-informed consent
The issue of power is also inherent within these. Some ethical issues seem obvious – should I permantly injure somebody to see how they react because I am curious in one particular moment in time? No (at least I hope that would be your answer).
However many of these principles become very sticky very quickly. What is defined as harm? If someone knows they have the right. To withdraw, do they feel that they actually can or do they feel pressured to remain in a given situation? If this is the case, how can this be mitigated? Someone has been given the information and has signed it, giving consent – Does this mean they are actually informed and actually consenting of their own choice, or is it a case of pressures they feel to enter into something they don’t really. Understand? Deceit sounds nasty but are there times when it is necessary or justifiable? These issues and many more come up very quickly in research. In researching a situation one is involved in such as education, how many more issues immediately arise (particularly around the issue of power). 

I will potentially blog more about this at a later date . Tomorrow brings promise of research methods and methodology so I will leave this post here until those questions are satisfied.