I started my Masters of Education (research) half-way through this year. It has been a tumultuous ride … my ideas about education, research, my future have been given a good spanking courtesy of my lecturer, my supervisor and my independent reading. I have grown as a thinker, I know that much for sure. But what will the end result be for people other than me?
I went into this post-graduate study with the dreams of researching PBL and being able to get real data that would indicate whether this pedagogy is worth the hard yards – for the students and the teachers. I wanted to have some real evidence to support or refute what I have been doing in my classroom (and banging on about on this blog) for the last 15 months. I wanted to contribute something meaningful to my profession and make an impact on how teachers teach. But you know what? After 6 months of talking, reading, writing, crying, stressing, arguing and giving in and getting on with it, I’ve discovered that the contribution I can make as a researcher is pretty damn small. And by small I mean drop in the ocean. It’s not like I thought that I’d revolutionise education by writing a 20,000 word research paper on PBL. I truly didn’t. And it’s not like I didn’t know that most education research – despite the thousands of hours of work and the absolute heartache given over to an idea – makes a very, very small difference to how teachers teach. But what hurts the most it the realisation that this Masters is only going to impact me. It’s a thing you do to get ‘qualified’ … it’s a horrible, painful process designed to test me and see if I’ve got what it takes to be a researcher and/or an academic. It’s like the HSC on steroids.
You can read the progression of my thesis proposal here. It’s morphed like crazy from a naive idea of a non-researcher to the more realistic questions of a researcher-in-training. I worked so hard on that final draft thesis proposal that it almost broke me. That’s not one of my trademark hyperbolic statements either. And guess what? I had a meeting with my supervisor (who is a great guy, BTW) last Wednesday and he helped me get to the realisation that my proposal needs to go. The focus, the question, the design … all of it. Gone. Basically I was being too ambitious for a Masters student. It’s impossible to get all the data I wanted to and then work with it meaningfully to answer the questions I had proposed. So instead, I’m going to be writing a case study of one class in one school. It could even by my school – he said that’d be great. It won’t be focused on PBL. It’ll be focused on technology use for formative assessment using aspects of PBL. Oh, and I won’t worry about the multiliteracies stuff – that’s a 16 year old paper – and besides, literacy is implied in the study because I’m focusing on English teaching anyway. Finally, I should probably use a modification of an Action Research design.
Why have these decisions made me lose my research convictions? Because I do this in my classroom all of the time. I study MY classroom and write ‘rich descriptions’ of my lessons on this blog frequently. Sharing my experiences with PBL, technology, assessment, teaching English in the 21st century here seems – to me – to have as much, if not more, impact than writing a 20,000 word dissertation that *might* get published in an education journal. Oh, and those journals mostly aren’t read by my target audience – real, actual, not fake or full of shit, working teachers. I just don’t see how me learning how to collect ‘data’ and analyse said ‘data’ then write up my ‘discoveries’ is going to benefit anyone but me. Why would it help me? Well completing an MEd (research) is a stepping stone to a career as an academic … if that’s a path I wish to pursue. But that was never my intentions. Of course I have thought about where I want to be professionally in 5 years and still at Davo hasn’t featured high on that list … the possibility of teaching budding teachers is kinda cool. And yeah, I definitely fantasied about being called Dr Hewes or even better, Professor Hewes. But being a researcher … what impact does that have on us, the teachers? It seems to take FOREVER for any research-based ideas about education to actually gain traction in the classroom. I just don’t know if that’s the path I should take.
I guess I should conclude by making it clear that I am not saying I make a massive difference writing this blog. But if I counted all of the words I have written about my teaching practice in blog posts, and then add all of the words you have written in comments about your teaching practice, well … I reckon that’d be well over 20,000 words. And I reckon, just maybe, those words have or will have more impact than the 20,000 I’ll be writing for my dissertation.
Hewes, B. (2011). Her Brain. Sydney: WordPress.