Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Draft Purpose Statement

The purpose of this three-phase, sequential mixed method study is to clarify the role of reflection within the Freshman Composition curriculum at Texas Tech University. The first phase of the study will be a qualitative exploration of the design intentions behind reflection's place in the curriculum by interviewing present and past Composition Program Administrators. In the second phase, ideas and themes from these interviews will then be developed into a survey so that the intentions and expectations about reflection articulated by the designers of the curriculum can be tested against the attitudes and experiences of those who deliver the curriculum (Classroom and Document Instructors) and those who experience the curriculum (students). In the third phase, qualitative interviews will be used to probe significant results from the survey in more depth.

Commentary: This purpose statement was created based upon some templates that Creswell offers in chapter 5. I don't particularly like "three-phase, sequential mixed method study," but the more I learn about my design the more I see it fits. I'm also getting a better idea of the sequence. 1) explore to find, 2) test these findings, 3) triangulate results of survey with interviews. I see now that if I wanted to make my study simple, I would have left out step three. 1 and 2 might have been enough, but no, I had to make it hard on myself. I'm still not sure about the survey as a "test," but in a way that is what it is. I am going to test how representative certain beliefs, attitudes, and experiences about reflection are across the general population of instructors and students. Getting response from instructors may be hard!

One thing that I may see happen is that this purpose statement will gain definition after I do the study. What I write up in my report may be much more defined as far as results tested.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Strategies of Inquiry

I have made slow progress on my project this week. Busy busy. I have not had a chance to read as much of Creswell as I wanted up until this afternoon. I've also had a difficult time chasing down my first interviews. I had to reach each one by phone and do an "oral presentation" of the project and then send them the Consent form. I finally caught up with them all. Each was very willing and helpful--for which I am very grateful. I suppose this kind of leg work to catch research subjects is part of the typical aspect of a study. Now I have to chase them down to do the actual interview.

I want to continue my refining and framing of my study via Creswell (one month late). In his section on Research Design he goes on to talk about "Stategies of Inquiry" as well as methods. The three stategies are quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods. I'm starting to feel constrained by this taxonomy: it is either-or or both either-or (1 or 2, or 1 and 2). What about three? How about 1.5?

But then I am feeling out what each stategy of inquiry means and is about. Qualitative is much more open and exploratory while Quantitative seems to be about establishing cause-effect relationships. I'm still working out what the heck is my strategy. Is it a true mixed method? I'm using mixed methods (survey-quant and interview-qual), but am I really testing a theory to establish a cause-effect relationship? I can tell I need to learn more about surveys. My overall objective in the study, I believe, is descriptive. In a way, this is almost a kind of ethnography. There is this phenomenon (writer's reviews)--how do all the constituents of the tribe use and think of this thing. Let's rephrase it: There is this activity called "learning." Writer's Reviews as reflective pieces of writing do something inside that activity. What do the members of the learning community think it does and believe it does from their experience? What place does this think have within the activity? I'm not sure activity is the best frame to use, but it is getting me to think in broader terms.

If my study is a mixed method study, then it could be labeled as what Creswell calls a "sequential" study "in which the researcher seeks to elaborate on or expand the findings of one method with another" (16). Sequential it seems to me has two approaches--one that triangulates the same thing, and another that is evolutionary in nature. What I mean is that what is being studied evolves through the sequence. Triangulation seems to be a matter of testing the same result in another way. I'll coin some terms--Mixed method sequential triangulation and mixed method sequential evolution.

My Sequence (sequential evolution)
Step One: Comp Program Administrator Interviews
From the initial interviews, I hope to generate the ideas and perceptions of reflection's role in the writing program.

Step Two: Survey
The survey will then test how those intended roles of reflection exist within the attitudes and experiences of instructors and students in the program. (Oh my! I said the word "test.") I guess I am going to use the survey in a quantitative way, but I don't see it as exactly establishing cause-effect. The "testing" within the survey goes deeper though because of the distributed delivery of instruction within the TTU comp program.

What the survey tests:
1) Do the views of instructors match those of the program administrators?
2) Further--do the views of document instructors differ from the views of classroom instructors?
3) How do the views of the program administrators and instructors (CIs and DIs) match or differ from the attitudes and experience of students?

I know I need to use a different term than "match," but I can't think of it right now.

Step Three: Follow up interviews
I don't know exactly what the surveys will reveal. Based from what I think I see in the surveys, I will generate interview questions (that are open-ended) to explore possible findings from the surveys more deeply.

Ah hah! This last interview follow-up is a sequential triangulation.

This sequence makes sense to me, but it is hard to put it into the strict quant and qual box or now the mixed box. I think this confusion on my part is more a reflection of my lack of experience and knowledge that anything about these approaches.

Next time Purpose Statement.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Research Design

I just got my hands on Research Design: Quantitative, Qualitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches by John Creswell (2nd ed. 2003), and I want to reexamine my research project based upon his opening section on research design. (I should have done this thinking a month ago...but I'm learning as I go.)

Creswell uses Crotty's model to consider three key questions to the design of research:
  1. What knowledge claims are being made by the researcher (including a theoretical perspective)?
  2. What strategies of inquiry will inform the procedures?
  3. What methods of data collection and analysis will be used? (5)
Creswell in #1 combines Crotty's first two items of his framework--what epistemology informs the research and what theoretical perspective lies behind the methodology? I see from my own project that I have skipped consideration of question #1 and thought immediately of #3. Plus, I've tried to understand #3 in terms of #2--that is, I've selected my methods and then tried to understand whether I'm really doing qualitative or quantitative methodologies (or field methods). Basically, I'm all mixed up. So this post is about backtracking a bit to frame the knowledge claims behind this research.

In Table 1.1 on page 6, Creswell presents four "Alternative Knowledge Claim Positions" that reflect more current scholarly positions on research. Creswell defines a knowledge claim as "certain assumptions about how they [researchers] will learn and what they will learn during the inquiry" (6). Creswell presents four schools of thought on knowledge claims:
  • Postpostitive knowledge claims
    This appears to be a post-modern modified positivist approach to research. It employs experiemental research and traditional positivist assumptions and still is after describing causal relationships. The interesting post-modern alteration is it takes knowledge to be conjectural (anti-foundational) so rather than proving hypotheses is seeks a failure to reject. The methods Creswell discusses for this knowledge claim is experimental and survey research (survey!!??).
  • Socially Constructed knowledge claims
    I won't summarize all that he says about social construction, but only part. The stance here is based more on subjective understanding and that these meanings are varied and multiple. The researcher looks for the complexity of views rather than a narrow meaning placed into categories or ideas. Open-ended inquiry of participants and analysis of data is important. The intent of the researcher is "to make sense of (or interpret) the meanings others have about the world. Rather than starting with a theory (as in postpositivism), inquirers generate or inductively develop a theory or pattern of meaning" (9).
  • Advocacy/Participatory knowledge claims
    I wasn't familiar with this approach, but it has a political/social agenda to enact reform. Janie is talking about taking this approach. What is odd to me is that participatory research (and design) seems to be lumped in here, and it seems that participatory methods don't have to be limited to advocacy/critical research.
  • Pragmatic knowledge claims
    Based on Dewey, Peirce, Mead and others, this stance appeals to me. This approach believes "knowledge claims arise out of actions, situations, and consequences rather than antecedent conditions (as in postpositivism)" (11). The concern is with what works and solves problems: "Instead of methods being important, the problem is most important." This sounds somewhat like how we have framed "field methods" in Tech Comm--it is practically motivated to solve specific, contextually-based problems. Creswell describes this approach as using mixed methods--whatever works.
As I step back and think also interms of my "Strategy of Inquiry," I see that I am not clear in my philosophical position. I am just about all over the map (except for advocacy). I can't seem to get away from the positivist (postpositivist) inclination I have. I suppose it comes from my case study where I believe I employed a constructivist position to formulate some theories. Now that I have these theories about the role of reflection in the writing process, I am eager to test them. But... . But this research project is not predominantly about testing my theories about reflection. Beneath the surface is my hope that I can see some indication about the truth or validity of my theories. This hope may be subversive to the current research project, and I have to weigh that danger.

One thing I am finding out (also from reading some on surveys, specifically Earl Babbie's Survey Research Methods (1973) is that surveys fall into the more positivist (or postpositivist) quantitative camp. Their intent is to generalize from a sample to a population. On the other hand, my survey may also include some rather open ended questions (I have to decide that), so I may have to use some constructivist, qualitative methods (most likely rhetorical analysis of textual responses and interviews) to make some of these generalizations. What I am struggling with is using a method that is postpositive, but my ultimate goal is not to make a postpositive claim--I don't think I can reach the point where I can confirm a hypothesis on the basis of failing to reject it. Yet, survey research has its own tradition and epistemological claim that I certainly can feel comfortable in relying on. At least that is what I am finding from reading Babbie. Since Babbie was written in 1973, he comes out of a pretty strong scientific, positivistic grounding. I know I will need to find more current perspectives on doing survey research, but he is a good start.

I would have to say that my knowledge claim in this project is more postpositivistic in that I am seeking to make some generalizations about a population; however, I also believe that I will be more constructivist in terms of the interpretation of my data. That is, my purpose in the research is not so much to present and prove hypotheses of causal relationships (though it may be possible to theorize about some of these), but it will be more about describing the place of this one learning activity (writer's reviews) within the larger "activity system" that is Freshman Composition and the delivery of that curriculum to students. With this purpose in mind, I would have to say that my predominant epistemological stance is constructivist in nature. Yet their is that postpositivistic nature of survey research?

Does this discussion of research design help me? How?
At this point, I'm in a bit of a quandry as to how I understand this mixed nature of my knowledge claim. But it has made me think of perhaps other methods or inquiries that might be interesting (such as some numbers on the percentage of students who skip doing writer's reviews, even though they lose points).

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Draft Study Timeline

My study involves some rather complicated "do this" and "then do that" moves, so I've tried to put together a timeline for when I will schedule all the elements of my research project. Here in rough form is my sequence--

1) Interview WPAs
2) Formulate survey questions informed by interview information (2 surveys instructors-students)
3) Send survey questions for IRB review
4) Implement surveys
5) Review survey data, create follow up interview questions
6) Send interview questions in for IRB review
7) Recruit interviews/ conduct interviews
8) Analyze results and write'em up

I'm scratching my head with two interim IRB approval steps, plus some rapid development of survey and interview questions.

Here is a 1.0 version of this timeline.

I look at it, and I see I better get hopping on setting up my WPA interviews and learning more about survey and interview methodology.

Viewing the Traditional Genre of the "Critical Essay" through the Lens of Activity Theory

This post is part of a larger handout on genre and academic writing:
Ideas on genre from Clay Spinuzzi's Tracing Genres Through Organizations: A Sociocultural Approach to Information Design.

Viewing Genre through the lens of Activity Theory

Genre at the Macroscopic Level—Genre as Activity
At the level of activity, genre is seen as shaping and being shaped by is sociocultural and historical context (milieu).

Genre at the Mesoscopic Level—Genre as Action
As the level of action, genre is seen as a "tool-in-use," a constellation of goal-directed, conscious strategies or tactics for action.

Genre at the Microscopic Level—Genre as Operation
At the level of operation, genre is seen as a coherent collection of habits, as operationalized rules, and as the typification of talk used to maintain regularity and structure of work. Once learned these operationalized actions can be unconsciously drawn upon to perform familiar, repeated tasks.

Viewing the Traditional Genre of the "Critical Essay" through the Lens of Activity Theory

The Critical Essay at the Macroscopic Level—Genre as Activity (sociocultural and historical context)

The "critical essay" comes from the tradition of English Studies developed in the 19th century and represents in many ways a discipline-specific genre of academic writing; however, since English Departments are charged with the task of teaching "composition," this genre has always sought to perform a hybrid role of teaching foundational writing skills for academic writing. Features of this context include:

* Teacher as primary audience

* Purpose behind the writing activity to demonstrate learning and intellectual, aesthetic, and interpretive skills. Writing as evaluation.

* Literature seen as a sort of sacred text and the critical essay as a form of "exigesis" (interpretation of the sacred text) that will develop one in "spiritual" ways

* A value placed in writing on reason and intellect over emotion

* The form of reason valued tends to be inductive, founded on evidence and close observation (in that way it aligns with science and its notion that truth can be apprehended through the senses) rather than from commonly held opinions (common places).

* A value placed on individual and original response (and a concurrent view of plagiarism as a "sin"). Credibility comes from original and deep intellectual thinking (interpretation)

* A notion of language as a mirror of thought. Writing MUST be correct to transfer this thought clearly to the reader (rather than a notion of language shaping our thought).

* Puts a high value on print-based literacy

The Critical Essay at Mesoscopic Level—Genre as Action

The essay is seen as a "tool-in-use," a constellation of goal-directed, conscious strategies or tactics for action. These are the goals, strategies, and tactics employed for action

* The notion that the activity of producing the critical essay follows what is called "the writing process" (invention (pre-writing), writing (drafting), revision)

* The writing is often founded upon close reading

* The writing is constructed along a formal structure (commonly called "essay form")

* In order to demonstrate knowledge, the views of others are included in clearly discriminated ways (i.e. the use of quotes, documentation of sources)

The Critical Essay at Microscopic Level—Genre as Operation

The habits, operationalized rules, and the typification of talk used to maintain regularity and structure of work. Once learned these operationalized actions become unconscious

* Specific features of format like placement of the thesis, heading (MLA Format and Documentation Style), line spacing, paragraph formation, transition sentences

* Grammatical form (Standard American English)

* Rules for using quotations

* Sense of support and how to structure it and how much is needed

Academic Writing in many cases is a form of evaluation

Monday, February 5, 2007

Research update 2/5

I sent Becky my Human Subjects Proposal to submit to the IRB office today. I hope she gets it there. I want to begin a dialogue with myself about where I am in the project and what I need to do--a Writer's Review of sorts. I will probably update and add to this post over a couple of sittings (since I have to go in a minute), so I'll keep track of updates with version numbers.
This is version 2--posted 2/6 12:00 PM

I am a bit overwhelmed by this proposal. It seems like it may be overly complex given that I am researching four different subject populations and gathering data using two different data instruments. At this point, I need to do some research on these two methods. I came across a mention of a Handbook of Qualitative Researching Methods, and I think I need to get it. I know that I will need to learn more about both techniques--surveys and interviews--to make sure that I don't make mistakes and that I get good productive data. I've already begun a review of reflection and the scholarship on reflection, so that I can better design questions as well as interpret results. Since we don't have a heavy reading load this week, I think I want to search out some of these texts on researching. Trinity library here I come.

I am also worried about my timeline. How long with the IRB approval take? How will I hear when I have been approved? Here is my rough sketch of the timeline:

2/15--interviews with WPAs
3/1--complete survey instrument
3/9--have students and instructors complete surveys
3/9-20--analyze surveys, design interviews, IRB second round approval
4/1--interviews with instructors and students
4/15--write up results done
--This timeline needs definition and refining.

My next step needs to be preparing for my interviews with the WPAs. I plan to hold each one in TTU MOO, so I need to begin prepping the questions (I think they are set pretty well in the HSF proposal) and then the kinds of views towards reflection I might code their responses in (if coding is the word). I also need to begin NOW setting up the mechanics of the survey. I have until March 9th or so to get this set up. I also need to find the link to the TTU curriculum again.

Showcasing Writing Across the Curriculum

The first open Saturday event for the San Antonio Writing Project happened last Saturday, and it went amazingly well. We had something like 130 teachers from the community come and see presentations from seven of our Teacher Consultants (me being one of them). Gretchen Bernabi was our keynote. I felt like between Gretchen, Roxanne, and then Judi Berridge at the end, we might have "over wonderfulled" them, but the bottom line is I hope that they got something from attending. The NWP model is so simple and powerful, and it is fallible. It is based on teachers sharing their practice, and these teachers are good teachers, but they also aren't necessarily professional trainers.

I talked about using Process Journals to promote learning. ( )
It seemed to be well received, but I think that some of those attending didn't think that their students were capable of using this kind of reflection. My son's former 5th grade teacher came, and she was complimentary and made the comment that it might be above her fifth graders. That comment made me pause. Is reflection so dependent upon developmental factors that it is productively used only at certain levels? I don't know. I think any age has the capability to reflect. What may limit reflection is that the thinking of younger students may not have the experience and the frame of reference and knowledge to see what they have done in context and see alternatives.
All in all, it was a wonderful event and I'm so proud of our group for putting it together and pulling it off. I hope that we generate lots of applications for the Summer Institute from it.