MET: Research Methods and Autobiographies

I have just begun my latest course, ETEC 531, and I realised that I hadn’t posted a reflection on my last semester! Canadian summer saw me enrolled in ETEC 500, a newly revamped course on Research Methods being run by Leah McFaden. The course content was certainly going to have a different style of learning to my first MET term and I was looking forward to see what this entailed. The central focus looked at the questions ‘But what do we really mean by ‘research’? How does research contribute to the field of educational technology? And in particular, as educators, practitioners and developers-designers, why should you care about research?’ and then offered its participants practical case studies and assignments relating to research analysis and methods we had learned. I can say upfront that I was pleasantly surprised and highly enjoyed the course, which managed to escape what we usually expect from theoretically based content. What was particularly great was that the application of the theory that we learned was followed with structured brainstorming and engagement with problems or issues in educational technologies that was of interest to us as individual researchers. This made sure that the content wasn’t abstract, but rather contextualized and useful!

After introducing ourselves in the forum and developing a small concept map of areas we were interested in researching, we began the course with the basics, defining terminology and looking at research practices, before moving on to how to search for resources on online databases and make use of referencing and citation assistants such as Refworks as well as having discussions on academic integrity in this field. The first few weeks were really fun for me and I enjoyed the content immensely as we began to work our way through the textbook by Suter, called Introduction to educational research: A critical thinking approach (2012). This book was a cornerstone of the course and tackled dense topics with a conversational approach that was easy to relate to and navigate, which was fantastic for someone who usually despises statistics and all things numbers. Whilst we were doing our readings, assignments and weekly discussions the course also requested that we use an online platform called Peerwise. The course made clever use of this tool, encouraging us to internalize what we had learned by developing questions about our content that our peers could answer and give us feedback on as well as answering questions designed by others. In doing so, I was challenged to think about what I had learned each week in a creative way that asked me to use my understandings to teach others, and to test my understanding by answering questions developed by my peers.

We soon progressed to learning the distinctions between qualitative, quantitative, action and mixed methods research, as well as the diversity of research methods in the field of education and educational technologies. Following this we moved onto one of my favourite modules in this course: Research Ethics. For this section we did some readings but were also required to partake in the online CORE tutorial, which is a certificate course to train you in Canadian laws and how to navigate Canadian research ethics boards and applications. This was a well designed online tutorial course, which began with case studies and then introduced participants to the processes of application, review and revision of research projects to ethics boards in Canada. Each module would have case studies and examples, small reading sections and then would end with a short multiple choice quiz – which did not necessarily mean it was easy to pass each sections as the terminology was detailed and the details minute. It was interesting and engaging and I flew through it in my evening hours over a few days. After this, we delved back into theory, swimming through topics like research terminology, research design, key concepts, data collection and analysis, bias, critiques and statistics.

We were now nearing the end of our course, equipped with new research knowledge and skills and were tasked with our final assignment. This entailed putting together a research analysis and critique of a published research study of our choice, following the guidelines provided by Suter in his textbook. These would be reviewed by a peer and revised before final submission, and we would also be responsible for peer reviewing another participants work which was randomly assigned to us. I chose to continue working in the sphere of conservation education and media and selected an article called Using Social Media to Strengthen Public Awareness of Wildlife Conservation (2018), published in the journal Ocean and Coastal Management. Since there is a recent trend in conservation education research to consider public news media as a source of information that can influence and increase a reader’s knowledge of biological conservation, environmental management and species protection, I thought it would be an interesting topic. The published article interrogated whether and how social media can strengthen public awareness of wildlife conservation to support or reject the idea that social media platforms could enable engagement or provide information about conservation efforts to individuals not directly involved with conservation practices or efforts. The researchers stated that social media can enhance wildlife conservation and management efforts by heightening public awareness, but that the influence of media content and quality in relation to these efforts is poorly understood. To support this claim, they focussed on media releases reporting on three separate instances in which the endangered Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins strayed into freshwater systems in the Pearl River Delta in China, seeking to understand what influences readership counts and what public opinions toward these conservation efforts are.

My analysis then provided an overview of the purpose of the study in context, a description of its methodology and an evaluation of its conclusions with specific attention to alternative explanations provided as well as it’s generalizability. It was interesting work and an interesting read and I ended up concluding that with increasing needs to attract public engagement with biological conservation, education to enhance confidence and skills in this area is needed but must be done in a way that benefits rather than complicates conservation efforts. When social or news media is used to undertake this education, it is necessary to analyse the most effective strategies that constructively build knowledge and participation as they have the potential to increase human disturbance of environments when conservation knowledge attracts concern without context. Whilst it may not be a ‘great idea’ project, nor have findings that can be generalized, this study on the endangered Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins straying into freshwater systems in the Pearl River Delta in China does well in contributing to this field and ongoing discussion, providing a suggested framework for trials in conservation media efforts and useful recommendations for further research.

Overall then, I must admit I did find some sections of ETEC 500, especially the technical terminology and theoretical distinctions of research, a little more challenging than the course content I am used to engaging with in social sciences and education. This was not a bad thing however, and the learning curve really helped me to pinpoint an area of academic work which I need to strengthen a little and then gave me the tools to do so. I can understand why this is a required course for the MET degree, as it provided valuable tools and insights into the methods for interpreting and understanding research and findings. This is useful to those doing their own research or those reading articles, academic or otherwise. Whilst only my second course in the program, it was well designed and made great use of our online platforms with a supportive and interactive instructor who was present and ready to help at every step along the way. Thanks, Leah! Statistics and I are on way better terms than we were before this course.

I had a week or two off from studying and have now begun my third course in the MET at UBC. I am enrolled in ETEC 531, Curriculum Issues in Cultural and New Media, which has seen me reunited with instructor Lori Macintosh from my first course in the MET. I’ll recap this course properly and explain at the end of the semester but for now, I thought I’d share my first assignment with you which was a small video project asking us to do a self-reflection and mini biography on whether we consider ourselves artists, technologists, craftspeople or scientists in relation to our current and past work in media education. I’m really thrilled to be involved in media creation processes again and am now going to return to working on a media studies guide and upcoming media project that will be due over the course of the next 6 weeks. Stay tuned for more posts in the near future and other fun media projects like the one below.