Saturday, 28 June 2014

Creating a partnership with students

While I was at the Student Voice conference, I was able to purchase an amazing book by Alison Cook-Sather, Catherine Bovill and Peter Felton (Engaging Students as Parterns in Learning and Teaching: A Guide for Faculty, Jossey-Bass, 2014). I've started to read the book and thought that it would be a good idea if I started to record some of my reflections upon reading it. I don't think I will be able to implement any of the ideas that come to mind until the next academic year, and I fear that if I don't record my thoughts I'll lose them!

Basically, I was extremely motivated by all the conversations I overheard and took part in over the course of my day at the conference, not to mention one of the seminars I attended at the final session for my Master's course this year. I am now, more than ever, determine to establish a culture of working collaboratively with students at my school. I think we will be richly rewarded if we make better use of student voice, opposed to some of the 'tokenistic' uses we currently employ. Ideally, I'd like to incorporate the Speak Up program currently used in Ontario (which I learnt about through Jean Courtney) to help establish a school wide students as researchers project within my school. This would be something that is outside of my Masters work, but I feel passionately enough about it to commit myself to making sure it happens. As Cook-Sather et al. state in their book, 'People typically find time for the things they consider most important' (2014).

In terms of how I plan to use students to help me with my thesis, the  book has also provided me with much help and guidance. One of the things I was initially concerned about was the ethically based argument that I may be seen to be 'using' the students. While I suppose there might be some element of truth in this, because essentially I want them to help me collect data which I will use in a paper to obtain my Master's degree, I am uncomfortable with the idea of using the students for my own gains. Cook-Sather et al. discuss this by stating that as long as teachers are 'willing to truly share - not give up, but share - power and responsibility...and if [they] stay in open and honest dialogue with students about the processes as well as the outcomes, then they are not liking to think you are experimenting on them' (2014). What I've taken from this is that I need to establish an open and collaborative relationship with the students I plan to involve in my research in order to truly have them feel that they are working with me, and not for me. This shouldn't be too hard, because I am choosing students from my form, which means I've been able to establish a relationship with them over the past four years already. In order for them to feel that they're truly working collaboratively with me, and so that they gain something from the project as well, I am going to be sure to refer to them as my Research Partners in my thesis, and will tell them that they should use the title itself on any CVs or college applications that they write.

To ensure that they are truly research partners, I'd like to get them to not only help me collect my data via interviews, I'd also like to have them help me validate my transcription as well as my codes. I think what I may do is have students conduct the interviews, whilst recording them for later transcription and analysis. I'd then like to show the recorded interviews back to my research partners and ask them to determine what some of the key points (which may then contribute to codes) were. In this way they would be able to analyse and question the interviews that they themselves conducted, helping me to come to better conclusions. I may also encourage them to keep field notes or a blog such as this one, in which they record their initial thoughts after each interview. This would undoubtably provide me with some rich and interesting data to use alongside the recorded interviews. However, I do wonder if perhaps the findings from their field notes could be used as part of a bigger study on using students-as-researchers.... ah, I am getting ahead of myself, and will stop that train of thought there for now.

Another interesting concept is the idea that I need to make sure that, throughout my research, I am not merely using the students to find out what I want, in order to then give it to them. If that's the outcome of my research, then I am doing nothing but fuelling the 'consumerist' culture that exists in many educational settings. Instead, I need to try and use my findings to help challenge and stretch both teachers and learners.

Anyways, these are my initial thoughts based on the first two chapters of the book. I will read some more over the coming weeks, alongside finishing up Essay 2, and provide more updates as and when I feel I have interesting thoughts worth recording.

Until next time!