I’ve spent a lot of time these past few days staring at the ceiling, at the wall, or at a blank page with a flashing cursor. Writing is always hard, but this particular post seems harder than most.
Where am I now? That’s the assignment. The problem, for me, is that when I sat down to start writing, I wasn’t sure that where I am now was all that different from where I was three weeks ago. I had a handful of disjointed questions and thoughts to move forward with, but no overall epiphany. How do you make a coherent blog post with that?
One of our early readings about research diaries said that “writing is thinking.” They argued that while we often feel we need to be clear in our thinking in order to write, the act of writing itself can provide clarity to our thought. I guess this is one of the many things I’ve learned over the past few weeks, because the process of writing this post has highlighted that all my disjointed questions and thoughts fall into two themes:
- Even though I work with students who are just leaving the K-12 system, I know very little about that system in its present-day state.
- I like things that are black and white, and that can sometimes work in my favour, and at other times, leave me out in the cold.
What even happens in K-12?
One of the things that I found interesting over the past few weeks was learning about what today’s classroom is like. It’s been over 10 years since I’ve been in a high school classroom, and even longer than that since I’ve been in an elementary classroom. On one hand, it’s not surprising that things have changed; everything changes with time. But on the other hand, every time I hear about something that is different, I’m surprised.
Who is teaching digital citizenship?
One of the things that made me realize how little I know about K-12 today was our conversations around digital citizenship. While I’m familiar with conversations about digital citizenship for college students, I had somehow remained unaware that these conversations were also happening in K-12.
I have long been aware of the concept of digital citizenship, and the importance of teaching students about the online world. While we may be working with digital natives, there is still so much they don’t know- about privacy, bullying, online harassment, self-regulation, strategic social media use, etc. All the topics that Alex Couros, Jesse Miller, Bonnie Stewart and George Veletsianos talked about are a part of my regular social media diet and thought processes. I’ve been having thoughts and conversations about what we could be doing in post-secondary to address digital literacy for years.
Perhaps because all the conversations I was seeing were focused on college students, I’ve always had the impression that our K-12 educators weren’t talking or teaching about digital citizenship. It was a pleasant surprise to read the ISTE standards, and then to read B.C.’s Digital Literacy Framework. Of course, this was quickly followed by the realization that many of my fellow classmates had never seen either of these documents before, and they were all still learning and trying to figure out all these things for their classes. But this was a bit of a reminder that we’re all part of one larger system and when students get to university, we’re not starting from scratch. We need to work across the K-12/post-secondary divide to make sure students have the knowledge and tools they need to thrive in a digital world.
I also realized how little I knew about what is happening in K-12 classrooms during our conversations about inquiry. My awareness of new teaching practices was low, but my interest was high.
I’ve loved learning about inquiry as a teaching method. Hearing from Trevor MacKenzie and Jeff Hopkins, reading through Dive Into Inquiry, and seeing examples of inquiry projects has been fascinating. It just feels like a better way to teach.
My interest in inquiry, however, hasn’t made it any easy to figure out how it applies to my work. In most situations in which I am teaching in-person, it’s in a training session for student leaders. My whole goal is to, in about 45 minutes, have my learners reach a specific outcome. There’s no time or space for inquiry. Is there?
My answer to this question goes back and forth. Is there time for free inquiry? Probably not. However, when I think about all the different aspects of inquiry that Trevor MacKenzie talks about- the different levels in the swimming pool, the essential question, providing students will different types of resources to explore, the co-creation of assessment criteria- I start to see opportunities. It would certainly look somewhat different than the inquiry models Trevor and Jeff presented to our class. But is there a different sort of inquiry model that could be developed for training sessions? Is there a different sort of inquiry model that could be developed for an online orientation program? It’s certainly an idea worth exploring, and one I think I’ll be thinking about for a while.
Overall, the fact that the K-12 system has changed and I’m relatively unaware has raised an interesting question. My entire job is focused on helping students transition into post-secondary education. I’m quite familiar with the post-secondary system, and I know a lot about the transition in. However, I know very little about the other side of the transition- the high school experience, the transition out. How is this impacting the way I approach orientation and transition? Could I create a better experience if I knew more about students’ high school experience?
A penchant for black & white
I like things to be neat and organized and logical. They should be easy to tie up in a bow, should be black and white, should fit neatly in their box. Some of what we learned fit nicely into this mold. Other things, not so much.
I loved reading Alicia O’Cathain’s chapter Assessing the quality of mixed methods research: Towards a comprehensive framework, and it’s one of the readings that has stuck with me the most throughout the last three weeks. This feels like a strange thing to say: I liked the article about assessing a research methodology. But as the type of person who likes work to be of high quality, a framework built to determine the quality of work is right up my alley.
While reading this chapter, I couldn’t help but wonder about what a framework assessing the quality of assessment in student affairs might look like. O’Cathain identified the reasons for creating her framework for mixed methods quality assessment as “the need to offer guidance to researchers, to establish a common language, and to provide direction.” All of those elements would be useful to the assessment work in student affairs. Since much of the assessment we do is essentially mixed methods, having both a quantitative and qualitative component, the stages of study and domains of quality O’Cathain outlined resonated with me as well.
Translating this framework to be applicable in the context of student affairs assessment is an idea I haven’t been able to get out of my head since I read O’Cathain’s chapter. I’m excited to find time to dive into this further.
Using the lit review in every day practice
My reaction to the Scholars before researchers: On the centrality of the dissertation literature review in research preparation was similar to that of the assessing mixed methods article: I liked it, and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it due to its potential direct relevance to my student affairs work. The basic premise of the article is that the literature review should be foundational to every doctoral dissertation, but many literature reviews are not done well. The authors state: “A substantive, thorough, sophisticated literature review is a pre-condition for doing substantive, thorough, sophisticated research.” While I have no expectation that student affairs practitioners are going to start writing entire literature reviews whenever they undertake a new initiative, I do believe that grounding our work and programs in research and in evidence is important, and something we skip over far too often. I think completing our own form of
Not surprisingly, I also liked the article because it featured a scoring rubric, making it easy to determine what was good vs. what was bad.
It’s not always black or white
Both of the preceding sections have highlighted my love of process, order, standards, checklists, black and white. But much of the content of our research methods course also challenged that black and white view. I wrote about this from the get-go in Resisting Autoethnography, and this challenge kept showing up as we learned about action research, narrative inquiry, self-study, métissage, and other, less-known research methodologies. Learning and reading about Indigenous ways of knowing and hearing from Shauneen Pete also challenged this view as being a Western, colonial view of research. I still feel myself resisting and questioning these methodologies and trying to fit them within my black and white world, while also being aware that they simply don’t fit, and that’s okay. It’s made me start wondering, in my everyday practice, what are the kinds of assessment questions I should be asking? What are the kinds of assessment data I should be gathering? Are there different ways of getting where we want that are equally valid? If I’m being honest, venturing into this question scares me, because it’s a grey area. But I also recognize it as important.
At the end of my first grad school blog post, I wrote: “Learning and unlearning. Is this what graduate school is all about?”
At the end of our first two classes, I can unequivocally say the answer is yes.
I can’t wait to continue the process.