How Research Diaries Can be Used to Better Research and be Used Via Social Media/Online Blogs:

I have written diaries on and off in my life and I always find value in them. They are a great way to record your thoughts in the moment and to reflect on what you have been doing/learning in a meaningful way.  In the two summer courses I am currently taking, EDCI 515 & 568, I have been tasked with keeping an online diary (blog) of my reflections on the academic readings and class time. I feel this is a smart approach to the courses as it is extremely condensed, and the blog forces me to reflect daily, helping me articulate my thoughts and challenge my knowledge.

Research diaries, as discussed by M. Engin in Research Diary: A Tool for Saffolding, allow the researcher and opportunity to reconnect with earlier research in the point of view of the researcher when the observations were made. This prevents the researcher from retroactively altering the way they perceived their past research and allows them to connect with the research process in a stronger and deeper way.

Using a blog, such as this one, as a research diary throughout my master’s program will serve in a similar way, affording me the opportunity to reflect and reconnect with past work. Online and offline programs, such as OneNote, Diigo, Trello, or Zotero, can be used to aid in the moderation of research and organize it for later consumption.

I have used a diary system in the past in my robotics courses to help students keep track of their progress and to help them reflect on what they have and need to accomplish. I find that, despite initial resistance, students do find them useful and by the end are glad they put in the effort.  I intend employ the blog method in the coming semester, expanding on my previously offline method. It would likely ease the work load and allow other students to see what other groups are doing and respond to it, adding another layer of student critique, peer assessment, and the sharing of ideas.  This could in turn lead to further reflection and refinement of their projects potentially making them better.


Ethics, Online rights, and Responsibilities of Use:

The research and design diary system I have used in the past with my students has always been offline.  If I were to move it onto a blog based system or any other online method I would need to be sure to meet BC FIPPA Cloud Guidelines and be conscious of other online ethics concerns.  As a member of a public institute, I am required as a teacher and researcher to make sure my students’ personal information is kept safe from potential online threats. I would need to be sure to use either a service that keeps the information stored in Canadian servers or I would need to gain permission/consent from students and parents to allow for it to be stored elsewhere. This can be a problem when using sites like Google Classroom which are based in the United States.

I have a duty to my students to make them aware of the potential harms that can come with being online and sharing one’s personal information. They need to understand that what is posted to the internet can very rarely be taken off. They are leading the way into a new frontier and we are all playing catch up. They will be the first generation to have had the internet their whole lives and we are only now starting to understand the good and bad or what that means.

Continuing on the theme of research and ethics, Alexandra D’Arcy explores in IRBs, researchers, and the gathering of data from social media the importance of being an ethical researcher. We were fortunate enough to have Dr. D’Arcy, former head of the UVIC Ethics Board, join us in class to discuss ethics and research with us. She stressed the importance of maintaining high ethical standards in our research.  She made clear how difficult it can be at times navigating the line between private and public material/information when collecting data and when it is necessary to gain consent from the public to minimize harm, risk, and confidentiality breaches. I found it particularly interesting how, as a teacher, I can make observations of how lessons and projects go and then make changes based on the in-class research/assessment I do. But if I record that data and report it without consent from each individual student and their parent, I would be breaching ethical standards.  Her overall message was, if you aren’t sure it’s ethical you should ask the ethics board.


Professionals and Students on Social Media and its Potential Perceptions:

Research, such as George Veletsianos Public comment sentiment on educational videos and Women Scholars’ Experiences with Online Harassment and Abuse demonstrates some of the potential dangers that social media can pose for students and professionals. Velentianos’ research suggests that females generally receive more negative comments/social interaction when online. This research would make a great opener for discussion in a classroom on online social behaviour. Students could be asked: Do you believe these results are accurate? Why or why not? Have you experienced this personally? Have you been on both ends of online abuse? What can you do to prevent this kind of behaviour? I think it is safe to say that some social media like Facebook and Twitter can be toxic places and it is up to teachers/parents to inform ourselves and the next generation of how to properly navigate that negative space. It is equally important that we understand the potential abuse women and people of color can face in an online context.

In Twitter Use and its Effects on Student Perception of Instructor Credibility, the authors assert that students perceptions of their teachers/professors changed based on their Twitter use. Personally, I have always hesitated to use social media as a professional. This is perhaps due to my teacher education program instilling a healthy fear of teachers posting the wrong things and getting fired for it.  I think the growing pains of the wild west internet of yesteryear have passed though and it may be time to open myself up a little bit. I think, if utilized responsibly, Twitter and/or a professional blog, can make for a powerful way to connect with students and colleagues to share ideas and help one another grow.

Christine Younghusband, sets a strong example of how Twitter can be used in a positive way on her blog post Evolution of my PLN. Here she outlines the BC EdChat group and demonstrates how it can be used to improve ones teaching practice and network effectively online.


Inquiry Based Research / Learning in the Modern Era:

One of the many things that has drawn me to higher education is the opportunity to conduct a large inquiry project into a subject of my choice. A big part of inquiry-based learning is the research, so it is important to understand the different methods that can be employed. There are the more traditional quantitative and qualitative methods, as well as mixed method, autoethnography, action research, narrative inquiry, phenomenology, and metissage. All these methods have their benefits and draw backs, but I find myself drawn to the more people focused methods, such as autoethnography and narrative inquiry.  Education is a person driven profession and reducing people to numbers or objects does not adequately help the individual student. Perhaps in broad general terms quantitative methods would work best but to be precise in my research I would select another method with a more person centric focus. I find myself drawn to the narrative inquiry method as it, if written well, can pull the reader into the work and entertain while it educates. It can input more feeling and story where often most research is cold and attempts to be overly objective.

Higher based education is based on inquiry research and beginning to take roots at the lower levels of education as well. Jeff Hopkins, who has started the PSII high school in Victoria, or High Tech High in the USA have demonstrated impressive programs that are driven completely by inquiry based learning.  Much of the work I do is at least partially inquiry based as shop classes tend to favour that type of learning.  The practice of full on student led inquiry sounds amazing and I have had some students capable of it but certainly not the majority.  Some students refuse to take the reins to their education and need a lot of encouragement to be pushed into taking ownership of their projects.  Others have become too accustom to traditional teacher led educational systems up and get confused or lost when they are given the freedom to choose their topic of research/learning. Using the competency framework outlined by Jeff Hopkins and the inquiry structure of Trevor MacKenzie, I believe I can find more inquiry learning success in my classroom.

Oddly enough, I think I would need to create more structure in order to make it work.  Students need a clear outline of expectations and they will need proper scaffolding to get them there.  It will be on me to set them in the right direction with the right amount of resources to do the research they need to do.  They will need to learn how to research, work independently and thoughtfully.