Dear Kelli: I went to this uni thing…

… and to begin with I was very annoyed. It seemed unfair that I should have to attend a workshop on research methodologies when I’ve already complete a course on it at USyd – two in fact! Add to that my stupid decision to drink a V right before I got there – resulting in my head spinning and my eyes unable to focus properly (no, I’m not a regular caffeine drinker; I’ve never had a cup of coffee in my life) – and you can imagine how it felt sitting still listening to someone talk at me. That was my first message to you that day – I was being put in the boring position of compliant student and I didn’t like it. 

The first session was all about definitions of key terms, and because this was revision for me, I was frustrated and bored. It reminded me of the importance of pre-testing and differentiation, but also of how bloody hard that is to do – what was this guy expected to do for those of us who knew the difference between a methodology, a method, and a conceptual framework before we sat down? Mostly I was after interesting examples of each, and to be honest I found his PPT too vague and non-specific. It turns out the purpose of the day was to exemplify the definitions in the form of humans – we had a series of actual researchers come and talk about their research. Some were better than others. 

I’ll tell you one thing that scared me silly – being given a worksheet asking us to outline our research (he called it a ‘methodology questionnaire’) – it asked for our field of research, research questions, ideas or concepts, and research activities. I got pretty anxious when I first looked at it (because I honestly feel I haven’t thought about this at all) but then I remembered my research proposal I submitted to get in this course, and woohoo – I had my answers! Well, temporary answers, but it sure felt good being able to fill the page in like the other students were (even though I knew deep in my heart those answers probably weren’t right anymore). On re-reading my proposal, I realised the awesome stuff Jane had added and refined – like things about my role as researcher within a context where I teach impacting the generalisability of my research etc. 

From the first session I really liked this definition of methodology: methodology is the how that develops the what. He also stressed that in PhDs (no, I’m not doing one, I’m doing my Masters) the conceptual framework is the weakest part – I’m hoping that will be my strength because I’m an English teacher, and concepts interest me. I think I’m at an advantage because when he listed example concepts and theories I already knew them – Marxism, feminism, post-structural, post-colonial, post-modern. He mentioned Foucault and I was like, ‘Yup, I know that name!’. Another definition I liked is this: conceptual framework + methods = methodology. He spoke about the possibility of developing an ‘innovative methodology’ and gave James Joyce as an example which really excited me – stream of consciousness + the novel. So cool. Could I be innovative and create an entirely new methodology? Probably not, haha! 

I didn’t find much in the second session useful, apart from the talk by Sandy Schuck about interviewing. She described the use of artefacts to encourage more authentic responses and gave the example of photographs used as metaphor for feelings, thoughts and experiences. For example, a researcher interviewing young students about Maths anxiety asked them to select a photograph from a group they felt represented their feelings after a Maths class, and this allowed the students to express themselves through metaphor – they felt safe, and could elaborate more on their feelings. Cool, huh? This could be a great classroom activity after reading a text. We had a go where we picked an image that represented how we feel about our projects right now and a partner interviewed us. To be honest at my table we were all pretty bleak – our photos included an endless road, a dark cave, and a child falling into a huge pile of leaves. Through our conversation we revealed that we all felt overwhelmed, directionless, and scared of the unknown. It was a cool activity, and I’m thinking it could get some honest responses from my interviewees who may feel too close to me, or worried about being honest about PBL if they have something negative to say etc. That’s something I really need to be careful about! 

The third session was weird because I didn’t collect a worksheet when I came back from lunch, and the teacher didn’t check we all had them, therefore I felt disengaged during the first couple of speakers (their research bore not relation to mine, making it hard to see the point) and only really engaged with the last speaker – impossible not to as he was from the Centre for the advancement of Indigenous knowledges (CAIK) and was so compelling and passionate! I loved his arguments about epistemological racism, and his confession that his own Phd was inherently racist – wow! Anyway, it turns out we were listening to these speakers to try to identify their research questions, concepts, methods, and methodology. It was on the worksheet that I didn’t get! Oops! I was impressed with my ability to contribute to the table discussion about these things even though I hadn’t filled in the sheet, and the teacher even valued my answer about one of the speakers’ conceptual framework that he asked me to share it with another group. This acknowledgement and implicit praise meant I was more engaged in the next session, more willing contribute ideas to the whole class. Being a student really helps you understand the powerful role of the teacher! 

I loved the final session – maybe it was because I’d eaten, I could see the finish line, I had been praised in the last session, I don’t know. We got to listen to the experiences of a current research student who is close the end of her Doctorate of Creative Arts (sounds like an incredible course, on my to-do list!) and a recent graduate who just completed her Phd on second career teachers. Whilst the former was fascinating (her novel is going to be incredible) the latter was more valuable to me as her methodology is very similar to mine. I loved her clear presentation style, and it reminded me of how much I already know about research, and how much I want to know more. To be honest, earlier in the day I had complained to others at my table about how I resented the fact that we had to devote so much time to researching research – know what I mean – the conceptual stuff. I want to just dive right into my topic, not read about research methods and theories. However, hearing Meera speak about her phenomenological approach (how it is interpretivr and descriptive) got me so excited! She read Heidegger as part of her conceptual research – hells to the yeah! She also suggested others like Smith, Flowers and Larkin (2008), Dewey (1938) and Van Manen (1990). I’m going to check them out. I loved her three guiding questions for research: 

– what would you like to find out in your research? 

– how does your research purpose align with your research question? 

– what kinds of methodological ‘literature’ exists around your research topic? 

Our teacher kept stressing that the ‘fun stuff’ is the methods – actually gathering the data – but that we must dedicate ourselves to the other stuff, namely researching the concepts and theories that frame our methods and topic. That’s my challenge, to be conceptually awesome, haha! 

So… that’s my first letter to you, Kelli. I’m thankful that you pushed me to admit I need to go part-time with my Masters, even though it hurts my ego. I’m grateful that I get to give more time to this project, so I can get it right. Maybe Jane is right, maybe there’s a PhD in this? To be honest, after this workshop I’m starting to feel like I need more time to make sure it’s really tight – not sure that’s the right word – I mean proper good research with a super sophisticated conceptual framework. Anyway, reality is that today I have a huge pile of Year 11 paragraphs to give feedback on, plus ILP journals to mark. I don’t know how I’m going to get it done, plus eat, and enjoy some of the weekend. It just makes it so hard to prioritise my research project, hey? Tips? Suggestions? All welcome. 

Looking forward to your reply, 

B 🙂 


3 thoughts on “Dear Kelli: I went to this uni thing…

  1. Hi Bianca,
    I’m right there with you! Masters while teaching and family that seem to suddenly be going through the whole gamut of births deaths and marriages!

    I’ve thought of deferring but love my topic too much and really enjoy it when I get to it but the juggle is crazy and would love to be full time with it but we can only do what we can do and enjoy the opportunity anyway. It will fly by!
    Best wishes and enjoy

  2. This is excellent – I am hatching a reply letter 🙂

    One question I can ask you straight off that you can take to these workshops and ask is: what’s the difference between a conceptual framework and a theoretical framework? I’m only just getting my head around it to be honest, after a colleague insisted they were different. I guess I used to know (?) because I had one in my thesis. Which one though?! *scrambles and looks it up*
    OK, I had a chapter called ‘Research Design’, and I put ‘theoretical orientation’, ‘methodology’ and ‘methods’ within it. Along with ‘research issue and key questions’ and ‘research framework’ (<- was this my conceptual or theoretical framework? I have to think about it again).

    Until next time!

  3. Pingback: Dear Bianca: Semester 2 is about to start and… | Kelli McGraw

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