As defined by the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries:
Research: a careful study of a subject, especially in order to discover new facts or information about it
Methodology: a set of methods and principles used to perform a particular activity
It follows that Research Methodology is the careful study of the methods and principles used to do research.
My teaching experience has been that of a Science Teacher that implements the Scientific Method in order to do research with my students. In my area of study, quantitative data is often considered the only relevant data. If you do the Scientific Method properly, your results should be reproducible and reliable over and over again. But as I sit and contemplate my research methodology in light of Ellis, Adams, and Bochner’s article: Autoethnography: An Overview and Engin’s article: Research Diary: A Tool for Scaffolding, I am confronted with the limitations of the research practiced in my classroom; for both student and teacher. Students perform the scientific method. I rely on quantitative data for assessment. I regularly journal my thinking with respect to my teaching practice, and I encourage my students to reflect on their learning through writing, however I have failed to consider that this process will enhance the quality of research that goes on in the classroom for both teachers and learners.
I recently attended a series of workshops on Indigenous Perspective in Science. I was humbled greatly over the course of our workshops, where my foundation of Traditional Western Science and the Scientific Method was revealed as a limiting and narrow perspective. One example of this narrow perspective is the myth that reliable science and scientific discoveries are the result of the scientific method. Another example includes the definitions of living and non living things. Before I dive in to the consequences of this narrow view of Traditional Western Science and the Scientific Method, it is interesting to consider the definition of Science.
(As defined by the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries)
Science: the knowledge about the structure and behaviour of the natural and physical world, based on facts that you can prove, for example by experiments
There is no doubt that science has been performed since the beginning of higher level thinking primates. From understanding that a rock can break through a shelled organism, to identifying and synthesizing the gene that is responsible for the enzyme lactase, I am comfortable labeling the acquisition of that knowledge ‘science’. So, science has been practiced long before the definition was put into print, and long before the scientific method became the accepted method for research in the 19th century. And yet, I was unaware that by restricting myself and my students to the scientific method I was undervaluing the contributions of those that came before me. And similarly, in the study of ecology (the study of relationships between organisms and their physical surroundings) detailing the difference between living and non living things contradicted the views and experience of indigenous peoples and their intimate understanding of interconnectedness.
It was not until I accepted that my view was narrow, and my knowledge and experiences limited, that I could work on creating an environment in my classroom that is more respectful of the individual. Through my experience exploring Indigenous Perspectives in Science, the work of Ellis, Adams and Bochner and also of Engin, I can confidently approach the analysis of my teaching practice qualitatively.
My reflections of the reading Autoethnography: An Overview, are limited to my experience as a science teacher with a current focus on Indigenous Perspectives. I am struck with the absence of autoethnography in the classroom, and am once again humbled at the amount of information and connections I am preventing by not engaging in this approach.
- Scholars have acknowledged how the “facts” and “truths” scientists “found” were inextricably tied to the vocabularies and paradigms the scientists used to represent them (KUHN, 1996; RORTY, 1982) These results were that of social science inquiry, however I would like to suggest it would be valid to explore these limitations in scientific inquiry.
- It is understood that different people possess different assumptions about the world. When we are learning or participating in a philosophical chairs activity, or a socratic seminar, we are limiting the conversations to those of like minded individuals and thereby limiting the learning. Just a few examples of where our learning is incomplete without a wider lens include renewable and non renewable energy, GMO’s, Genetics, space exploration, evolution and pharmaceuticals versus traditional medicine.
- The importance of community and connection in the classroom is paramount for meaningful learning, and I am committed to the inclusion of all learners, from all experiences and backgrounds. As noted earlier, I am working to honour indigenous perspectives in my classroom and create a learning environment that values one-another’s knowledge and experience. This paragraph from Autoethnography: an Overview really highlighted the purpose of this approach as a research methodology is to foster mutual respect and understanding.
When researchers write autoethnographies, they seek to produce aesthetic and evocative thick descriptions of personal and interpersonal experience. They accomplish this by first discerning patterns of cultural experience evidenced by field notes, interviews, and/or artifacts, and then describing these patterns using facets of storytelling (e.g., character and plot development), showing and telling, and alterations of authorial voice. Thus, the autoethnographer not only tries to make personal experience meaningful and cultural experience engaging, but also, by producing accessible texts, she or he may be able to reach wider and more diverse mass audiences that traditional research usually disregards, a move that can make personal and social change possible for more people.
Please note, that in the context of indigenous peoples, it would be appropriate to refer to accessible stories and knowledge rather than accessible texts.
I have not encountered autoethnography in the context of the science classroom, however I would like to explore this approach and the rich content it affords with respect to indigenous perspectives.
The reading of Research Diary: A Tool for Scaffolding is yet another approach that has been overlooked in many science classrooms. In this article, Engin states
that in the research process, data collection should not be separated from reflection and analysis, as all process feed into each other. Reflections involve writing about the process of research. This includes analysis of strengths and weaknesses of each stage of research, as well as personal thoughts on the research process.
I would like to suggest that a research diary would not only be useful for students to reflect on their learning, but also useful for students to critique their experimental methods and scientific discoveries, thereby uncovering potential biases.
I carefully study my teaching methods, and the efficacy of my practice, and yet I have not approached the study of my teaching from the discipline of Research Methodology. I have been limited to quantitative research, and mostly quantitative assessment, and look forward to experiencing the significant learning that a qualitative perspective will bring to my classroom.
Reflections on the 4 R’s: the researcher, the research, the researched, and the reader
Prior to my learning, I would have responded that my role as a researcher was to research good teaching strategies, new discoveries in my discipline, and my efficacy as an educator. I would research my efficacy by using student assignments, reflections and test scores, which would include both qualitative and quantitative data. The reader of my research (both summative and formative student assessments) would be student and parent.
Prior to my learning, I would have responded that the student role as a researcher was to perform carefully constructed or delivered scientific experiments, research the course curriculum, and research the effectiveness of their study habits. Students would research the course content, their behaviours and their thinking as learners. The reader of student research would be the teacher, and often each other.
After my learning, differences between teacher and student as researcher disappear. The learning community becomes united in what is researched and and we all become the readers. The scientific research as curriculum may remain, however new content is introduced as we learn more about each other, ourselves, the learning process, and the deep context of who we are, where we live, and what has formed our thoughts and experiences. As individuals who feel valued, respected, and confident the reader extends beyond student, teacher and parent, to community and perhaps beyond as we take our research and learning beyond the classroom.
I am excited to implement research diaries and the approach of autoethnography in my science classroom and in my teaching practice. I expect the invitation to deepen our connections with course material and each other will provide a rich learning environment that extends beyond the classroom.