#SOCRMx – Introduction to Social Research Methods MOOC. Week 1

 

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I am currently participating in two MOOCs – the #openedMOOC run by David Wiley and George Siemens, and this one – Introduction to Social Research Methods, run by Jeremy Knox and his team at Edinburgh University.

I have made a late start on both MOOCs because I was away for the first half of the week. I am hoping that working on two MOOCs won’t be too ambitious.

I have already written a blog post about the #openedMOOC and have now worked through the materials for Week 1 on the Introduction to Social Research Methods. To end this week we have been asked to think about and blog our responses to five questions. Here are the questions and my thoughts:

What kind of topics are you interested in researching?

Most of my research to date has centred on learners’ experiences in connectivist massive open online courses, or open online learning environments. I have been particularly interested in how the espoused principles for learning in these environments – autonomy, diversity, openness and connectedness – are experienced by participants. I have also been interested in how learning emerges in such environments which can be experienced as chaotic. Whilst there is now a lot of published research on MOOC learner experiences, we still don’t know enough about how these environments, in which learners determine their own learning paths, impact on their identity and development as learners. What is the quality of learning that occurs? How would we define or recognise that? I am also interested in the role of the teacher in these environments. How do these environments impact on the role of the teacher?

What initial research questions might be starting to emerge for you?

Currently I am working collaboratively on a position paper. Does a position paper count as research? It feels like research to me – research of the literature and the position that others have taken in relation to the research question that interests us. So far we have been working on this paper for a year and the direction of the paper continues to shift as we become exposed to new literature.

I like the fact that this question refers to research questions starting to emerge. For nearly all my research the question has initially been very vague – more like a pique of interest or a sense that something has happened in the learning environment that is not fully understood. And sometimes a more interesting question arises when the data starts to be analysed. This has happened to me more than once.

Currently since I am participating in two MOOCs, I am already intrigued by how they differ from each other and why. Whether or not this will lead to any interesting questions I don’t know as yet, but I am keeping an open mind.

What are you interested in researching – people, groups, communities, documents, images, organisations?

I like working with people. I am fascinated by how people behave in online environments and I am particularly interested in more vulnerable learners – those for whom the environment is not easy, those who can easily get shouted down by the louder voices.

Do you have any initial ideas for the kinds of methods that might help you to gather useful knowledge in your area of interest?

To date I have always preferred a qualitative approach. I like talking to people or reading what they write. I like to see alternative perspectives emerge. I agree with Stephen Downes (2014), when he says that lots of research ‘sees what it expects to see’ and with Scott, Williams and Letherby (2014) when they say (in the Week 1 video) that we have to beware of confirmation bias. So I am interested in “speculative research approaches, which recognise the potential impact of uncertain futures on education and the need for alternative approaches to research (Ross, 2015; Ross, 2016; Wilkie, Savransky & Rosengarten, 2017).” (Mackness, 2017). How might we do things differently?

What initial questions do you have about those methods? What don’t you understand yet?

I have always manually coded data. I have never used a tool like NVivo for data analysis. This is principally because I am an independent researcher, not affiliated to an institution, who doesn’t get paid to do research and these tools are not free. Having said that, I enjoy the manual data analysis, but it is very slow. It would be interesting to try out a tool like NVivo.

Do you perceive any potential challenges in your initial ideas: either practical challenges, such as gaining access to the area you want to research, or the time it might take to gather data; or conceptual challenges; such as how the method you are interested in can produce ‘facts’, ‘truths’, or ‘valuable knowledge’ in your chosen area?

I am not doing this course for a certificate –and I won’t be starting a research project during these 8 weeks, but I am keen to learn from others how they are approaching their research projects and I would be very willing to work with someone who would like a research partner for the duration of this course.

References

Downes, S. (2014, May 26). Digital Research Methodologies Redux. Seminar presentation Delivered to ESTeaching.org, Tübingen, Germany, online via Adobe Connect. http://www.downes.ca/presentation/341

Scott, J, Williams, M & Letherby, G. (2014). Objectivity and subjectivity in social research, SAGE Publications Ltd., London

Ross, J. (2015, April 13). ‘Not-yetness’ – Research and teaching at the edges of digital education.  http://jenrossity.net/blog/?p=12935

Ross, J. (2016). Speculative method in digital education research. Learning, Media and Technology, 1–16. doi:10.1080/17439884.2016.1160927.

Wilkie, A., Savransky, M. & Rosengarten, M. (2017). Speculative Research. The Lure of Possible Futures. Routledge

Mackness, J. (2017). ‘Learners’ experiences in cMOOCs (2008-2016)’ PhD thesis

4 thoughts on “#SOCRMx – Introduction to Social Research Methods MOOC. Week 1

  1. Jeremy Knox October 9, 2017 / 9:07 pm

    Great to see you in SOCRMx,

    ‘What is the quality of learning that occurs? How would we define or recognise that?’

    Good questions. How we define ‘learning’ would then determine how we ‘recognise’ (or research) it?

    ‘How do these environments impact on the role of the teacher?’

    This is a really interesting question. Some of the ‘cMOOC-type’ courses seemed to, curiously, both diminish and emphasise the role of the teacher. I think ‘teaching’ becomes interesting in MOOCs, in the sense that it may not just emanate from the expected individuals.

    ‘research of the literature and the position that others have taken in relation to the research question that interests us’

    Sounds like my research!

    ‘And sometimes a more interesting question arises when the data starts to be analysed’

    I absolutely agree with this, and often find that the process of writing changes the question too. However, shouldn’t research also acknowledge the things that aren’t ‘interesting’. In other words, sticking to the original question, and demonstrating why it isn’t the right question to be asking? (That analogy might work better with ‘evidence’)

    ‘I am particularly interested in more vulnerable learners – those for whom the environment is not easy, those who can easily get shouted down by the louder voices’

    Interesting focus. I guess you’d still need some kind of ‘voice’ in online environments to be noticed at all? Perhaps that is where data and more of the ‘analytic’ methods can help? However, analytic approaches tend to look for majorities, ‘patterns’, not outliers?

    ‘So I am interested in “speculative research approaches’

    Great! This course is much more ‘foundational’ in terms of the methods explored, but hopefully you can make some links to these kind of approaches. ‘How might we do things differently’ is a pretty good question to bring to each of the methods in this course. And there are lots of answers!

    ‘It would be interesting to try out a tool like NVivo’

    There are some ideas for software in some of the week 5 materials. ‘Dedoose’ is a good alternative to NVivo, and offers a free trial, I believe.

  2. x28 October 11, 2017 / 8:09 am

    “How we define ‘learning’ would then determine how we ‘recognise’ (or research) it?”
    No, not ‘define then recognise’. Jenny’s ‘define OR recognize’ acknowledges that recognising is a much bigger idea, while defining reduces it to its formalisable surface aspects. Perhaps ‘recognise then define’ would catch the necessary later rationalising? I need to look up Downes’s thoughts about rationalising.

  3. jennymackness October 11, 2017 / 3:09 pm

    Jeremy – thank you for such a comprehensive response to my first post. Just to say – that so far I am finding the course very interesting. The quieter environment than is often found in MOOCs, suits me, and so far I am finding the content to be very helpful, particularly the SAGE videos which are excellent.

    In response to some of your points:

    My interest in the question of teaching in MOOCs stems from a long, long career in teaching, and a background in teacher training and an interest in Gert Biesta’s work on learnification and his defence of teaching. I agree that in MOOCs teaching ‘may not just emanate from the expected individuals’, but in an education setting do we have specific expectations of teachers and teaching? Everyone teaches in one way or another – think of parents and children. What distinguishes a teacher in an education setting?

    Re your point: ‘shouldn’t research also acknowledge the things that aren’t ‘interesting’. In other words, sticking to the original question, and demonstrating why it isn’t the right question to be asking? ‘ – I would find it hard to stay motivated if the research wasn’t interesting to me. I would also have to think about what value there is in pursuing research that isn’t interesting. Perhaps I have misunderstood you here.

    Re vulnerable learners – I think it’s possible to be vulnerable and have a voice, although that voice could be constrained or limited by the louder voices. I personally haven’t found the data analytics research, which as you say focusses on patterns, as interesting as when I and my colleagues have had some, albeit limited, success in reaching individual alternative perspectives and a sense of the vulnerability that exists for some learners in these open environments. But I agree that it is hard to reach these people. I acknowledge that this is a tricky research area.

    Thanks for your suggestion for thinking about the methods in terms of how we might do things differently. That’s helpful. And also for the information about Dedoose.

  4. jennymackness October 11, 2017 / 3:21 pm

    Hi Matthias – thanks for your response to Jeremy’s comment, which in turn was a response to mine.

    Knowing as I do your interest in the importance of ‘recognition’ in the process of learning, your response doesn’t come as a surprise to me.

    I have written about the problems with definitions a couple of time before on this blog which have focussed on the problem of trying to pin things down with definitions:

    https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/definitions-diversity-emergent-learning-and-responsibility-in-moocs/

    https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/rhizomatic-learning-definitions-and-cheating/

    But your comment reminds me of the question that has been asked of Stephen Downes’ work in the past, i.e. how do you recognise something that you don’t know?

    In relation to quality of learning, I think we ‘recognise’ when we have experienced quality learning, but this wouldn’t be enough for research purposes. We would have to be able to defend and explain this.

    Hope I haven’t misunderstood you.

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