Notes for week 1

The notes for this week are on the L@G site. They are also reproduced here. I've added some links back into other parts of the Wiki to help you familiarise you with what is on the site.

Module 1, some notes

Introduction to the Course

"It's too hard!" Ballplayer to Coach in A League of Their Own.
"It's supposed to be hard…otherwise everyone would be doing it." Coach (played by Tom Hanks).

Perhaps not your coach but I am your teacher/tutor for this course1 and, in my mind, each of you is a small project for me for this semester. My job is to support/help you complete the work associated with the course, and at the same time, help you improve your skills and understandings about working at a postgraduate level. I know some of you will opt to do the course on “two wet weekends” and others will throw yourself into all of the activities and thinking which, I hope, we can generate collectively. How you do this course will always be your choice. I will do my best to support folk at both ends of the participation spectrum.

By now you should have looked over the course profile document to get a sense of the logic/structure of the course. You’ve probably already noticed that there are two assignments and marked on your diary when they are due ☺.

The course is about you as a professional teacher/educator and the role that educational research plays in your professional life. It is also a course that is an introduction to doing postgraduate study in education2.

What I want to do is use an analogy to write about how I think you can usefully approach this course and the whole postgraduate program. It’s a common enough analogy, one you may have used yourself in your teaching, that of learning as a journey or travel of some sort. Since the place or territory we are traveling to is somewhat unfamiliar then it makes sense to do some mapping or make some record of our travels3. This notion will be useful for your entire journey, that is for the duration of your postgraduate work at Griffith and beyond4.

All of the information that follows will be available in the course resources, mainly on the course wiki5.

For your journey you will need three notebooks. It does not matter if you use physical notebooks or digital ones, or a mix. The most important thing is to use them. The notebooks are not a matter for assessment or evaluation. If you do them well, they will be a sound basis for all of the writing that you do along the way. Keeping notebooks is one of the habits I will be encouraging you to keep up during this course. Notebooks are not just for writing. They are things you read back over, annotate, date stamp your ideas and make links between your little chunks of writing.

The first notebook is a log of the journey. Because we are trying to make sense of things then we can’t leave anything out. We don’t know or have decided yet what is important, what we want to give attention to and so on. This is the only way to document the changes you undergo by taking the journey. Meetings, classes, people, resources associated with each course, reactions to your travel by others, surprises to the strangeness of the terrain, and so on, should be documented as regularly as possible. Record the time and date for all of the items you put in your log. Without such a record, your making sense of the new terrain will be lost and with it your capability to map where you are, where you have come from and the direction you want to go. As a professional you have to hand or in your mind various ‘maps’ that you use to make sense of the various fields in which you work. All this notebook is, is a device to extend your making sense of new fields, new terrains. This is therefore where you record your questions and puzzles as you trek into places you may not have imagined could exist. This is where you record your impressions, ideas, assumptions about the new, the different, the puzzling.

The second notebook is for recording the information you gather. The common artifacts you will collect in the new terrain will be articles, sections of books and documents in general. Some of it will be provided to you. Some of it you will have to locate for yourself. How you go about locating things will, of course, be recorded in your first notebook. Again, you can use software to keep track of this or hand write it, whatever suits6.

The third notebook is for your ad libitum7 writing. Ideas, thoughts that come to mind as you trudge across the strange terrain that is this course and the other courses of this degree. If you like, you might call this notebook the place for the good ideas you had while you were doing this silly course! This notebook may also provide good grist for some of the assignment work you will have to complete in subsequent courses.

So, armed with our three notebooks8 we are ready to tackle a journey into what we might loosely call the terrain of educational research.

When do you start writing? Now!

A couple of points before we head off into the unknown, think of them as the kind of advice your Mum might have given you before you first went off to school or your partner gave you before you began your first job.

University study, particularly at a postgraduate level can often be a solitary and somewhat intellectually lonely experience. Using our travel metaphor, it’s like taking a journey on your own. That may be your preference. I want to suggest that taking it with others is infinitely more satisfying. I’d want to suggest that the travel will be many more times more enjoyable and fun if you begin to think of yourself on this journey as a professional who brings to the journey a rich set of experience, know-how and smarts from the fields in which you work. These resources, no matter how strange it may seem to you now, will be valuable in your explorations. To win the respect of your fellow travelers can I suggest that you aspire to becoming part pack rat (because you have great private collections of stuff), part librarian (because you know who knows what) and part Good Samaritan (because you go out of your way to share what you know and to help others)9.

I see a course like this less in terms of people who don’t know much about something and need to develop an understanding of it and more in terms of a collection of talented and experienced folk who bring much to the course in terms of the many journeys they have taken in other terrains. My job then is one in which I do some initial mapping for you, i.e. suggest a few places (aka modules) we might go and visit, but it is also one where I want each of you to become great guides, great makers of maps.

Nuts and Bolts

The course is an amalgam of a mixed-mode10 course and a wholly online course. We will make use of three platforms11 to allow us to build a shared resource not only for your time in this course but also for courses you do subsequently:

• Learning@Griffith (L@G). This is the software called BlackBoard. I’ll mainly use this for broadcast messages, papers that are copyright and which I’ll pop onto the L@G site and any large files that we may end up working on/with.

• A course wiki12. This site runs externally to L@G, i.e. it is visible to the world. I have used this site in the past because the wiki software is much better than that which comes with BlackBoard and, more importantly, it will be easy for you to go back and check out any of the tips, tricks and ideas we develop during the course after the course is finished. I will send out an invitation to the class to join the wiki when it is tidy enough to use. You’ll need to join in order to add/edit pages. I’ll put notes on the L@G site to help you through the process if this kind of thing poses a problem for you.

• A Google+ community site to support conversations, sharing of resources and questions about the course. Using this site will allow us to organise hangouts13, either with or without me, to have conversations about the elements of the course. This site will be private, i.e. only those who sign in will be able to make use of it. It will not be visible or searchable from outside. To join this site you will need to set up a Google+ account. I’ll post notes about how to do this if you don’t already have one.

I know this will add a bit of a technical overload for some of you. I think this is no bad thing given the world in which we now all live and work. Making use of these resources I have found in other courses has encouraged teachers to explore their functionality for their own teaching purposes.

What follows is a very rough indication of the kind of direction I think we should take. Each module is intended to support your work in identifying an educational issue of importance/interest to you (a small part of the terrain we will wander in) and to do some mapping of it. The first task is to prepare what is called an annotated bibliography and use mind mapping software to map the issue in broad terms. The mind map can be a useful organiser for your writing. The second task builds on the first and you are required to write a paper on the issue you have chosen that is suitable for publication in a professional journal. I’d be keen to see you take this task through to an actual journal and try and get it published14.

Module 2 (tutorial)
Before we begin our travels into educational research we take a bit of time to think about the key ideas/issues that are currently important in Australian education and also education issues in other countries if that better suits your professional needs and interests15. The readings offer an opportunity to read a little about what lies ahead: what other intrepid explorers have done and experienced as they engaged with educational research (the Miretzky (2007) paper); a provocative, passionate piece that captures something of the challenges and tensions of being a teacher today by Mirochnik (2002); an introduction to thinking about the influence of various ‘global’ practices on and in education (Burbules & Torres, 2000; Edwards & Usher, 2008). Of course, engaging with these ideas takes us into the terrain of educational research.

Module 3 (tutorial)
With a modest taste of the terrain it is reasonable to be thinking about why am I doing this? What’s in it for me as a professional (hint: thoughts about this go into the 1st notebook). This brings to the fore a relationship that is variously known as the research or theory-practice divide. The relationship, as Bates (2002) commenting on a 2000 report on the impact of educational research argues, is complex:

It suggests that the impact of educational research on both policy and practice is often complex and indirect rather than linear and straightforward and that the methodologies employed in assessing such impact need to be similarly complex. Moreover, it would appear that this particular research supports the contention that the ways in which educational research is typically produced and utilized is a part of a complex conversation about a diversity of purposes, effects and judgements rather than a more technically oriented implementation of 'what works'.

Module 4 (workshop)
In terms of our metaphor, this is the time we head off into the jungle! It will be an opportunity to discuss your own work and to come to grips with making some sense of a ‘research paper’. A research paper is a finished product, like say, for example, an apple pie. You can taste the pie and make some judgment about how good it is but you don’t see anything of the messiness of the process, any of the compromises the cook had to make, how the ingredients were chosen, what she/he actually did and so on. So too with a paper. While you can work out something of the process that produced the paper, most papers flow with a logic that is commonly not representative of the processes that produced it16. In this module we’ll also learn to make use of some of the markers in research papers that will help work out their location in the broader terrain. We will also work through the in’s and out’s of the little map we call an annotated bibliography.

Module 5
By now you’ll have a much clearer sense of the little piece of the terrain that has drawn your interest. We will take some time to share your work towards the professional journal article you have been working on. We will also have a look at a selection of professional journal articles and use them to work on how to structure and write one of these.

Module 6
In terms of our metaphor, this might be the gathering at the water hole. A time and place to step back, look back over your notebooks, your map making and your journey overall.

Your notebooks.
Not wishing to labor the point but these will be your source for everything. The more you put in the better they will be and the easier it will be to do good maps!

You and your colleagues in the course.
To emphasise again, you each bring a unique set of talents, experience and know-how to the course. So, collectively, there is an important resource in all of you. Important that you don’t waste it.

There are resources on the L@G17 site associated with each module. I’ve put up some resources or links to them, depending upon how the journey goes I may want to add or subtract the odd reading. I’ll also put up an EndNote library18 with all of the references (and then some) for this course. If you are not familiar with EndNote then have a look at the GU library resources. The software is free for you as a GU student to download and use. It is well worth the time spent in learning to use it. We will talk about the use of bibliographic software during the course.

Digital habits.
As you no doubt have noticed the world has increasingly taken on a broad range of resources which locate, produce, analyse and disseminate anything that can be rendered into a digital format. There is much that might be said here in terms of the sheer volume of information that is now being generated, much of it by computers. How you think about this, make sense of it and develop approaches to this rapidly shifting scape will be an ongoing professional concern. For this course, we will try and think through some of these issues in terms of the tasks you have in front of you. Given the current and growing reliance on digital data sets of research in education and all of the other disciplines, it is therefore useful to think about your journey in terms of the support or help you can get from a computer to support your travels. This will mean that in order to work in the terrain of educational research you will need to develop, along with your notebook habits, particular ways of making good use of various digital sources and the software to access and manage them. Some of you will undoubtedly have a range of digital habits and I don’t want to add to them unnecessarily. Delegating work for a computer to do for you is not the simple matter that most assume it to be. I’d encourage you to apply a couple of simple tests when considering making use of a computer19 to do work for you:

• is this making my life/work easier/simpler?

There is always a cost in learning something new. That has to be offset against the convenience/labor saved by having a computer do work for you.

• do I have to develop any complementary skills when I have a computer do work for me?

This is a trickier test. A simple example might illustrate the problem. When you use a calculator it is possible to make large mistakes if you don’t have approximation skills, i.e. the answer ought to be roughly 1,000. Then when the answer comes out at 7.3 you know something is wrong. This test is particularly important when you have a computer do complex calculations for you as often occurs when you use a computer model. It’s also true of having a computer spell check your work or do searches for you!

In a course of this duration it will often be impractical to examine each and every piece of software you make use of but it is crucially important you maintain a sensibility about this issue as we make more and more use of computers to do things for us.

There will be a list of suggested digital resources and habits on the course wiki.

The other point that also needs to be made is that using computers to do things does not mean simply doing them more efficiently or faster although this is always an important consideration. When you use a computer to do something, the way you do that ‘thing’ changes. This applies as much to searching a research database for articles to actually doing research. In some fields this influence is more apparent than in others but in all fields now, the change in what it means to do research in a field is altering.


Bates, R. (2002). The impact of educational research: alternative methodologies and conclusions. Research Papers in Education, 17(4), 403-408. doi: 10.1080/0267152022000031379
Burbules, N. C., & Torres, C. A. (2000). Globalization and Education: An introduction. In N. C. Burbules & C. A. Torres (Eds.), Globalization and Education: Critical Perspectives (pp. 1-25). New York; London: Routledge.
Edwards, R., & Usher, R. (2008). Globalisation, pedagogy and curriculum (2nd ed., pp. 53-77). London: Routledge.
Hardagon, A., & Sutton, R. I. (2000). Building an Innovation Factory. Harvard Business Review, 78(3), 157-166.
Miretzky, D. (2007). A View of Research From Practice: Voices of Teachers. Theory Into Practice, 46(4), 272-280. doi: 10.1080/00405840701593857
Mirochnik, E. (2002). Celebration. The possibilities of passion. In E. Mirochnik & D. C. Sherman (Eds.), Passion and Pedagogy: relation, creation and transformation in teaching (pp. 7-36). New York: Peter Lang.

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