ITTE Computing/Doing research
There is a open agenda for researching Computing as a subject and opportunities to make a difference at a pivotal stage in the development of our subject. In order to carry out research you need a research interest, a research strategy and to write for an audience. Each is considered in turn. A further section deals with supervising research students and encouraging others to write.
- 1 Research interests
- 2 Research strategies
- 3 Research writing
- 4 Peer review
- 5 Writing guides
- 6 Supervision
- 6.1 Supervising research and being supervised yourself
- 6.2 Supervision skills and benefits
- 6.3 Difficulties in research supervision
- 6.4 Student support opportunities
- 6.5 Community of researchers
- 6.6 Being a student researcher yourself
- 6.7 Further reading
- 7 Supporting an M level assignment at PGCE
- 8 Supervising: the literature
- 9 Supervising: collecting data
- 10 Supervising: writing
You may well have a personal research agenda growing out of your work with trainee teachers, your observation of schools or your own recent practice as an Computing teacher. This may well lead you into action research inquiry based on problems you face in your practice. If you want to go further and ask what are the general issues faced in research of teaching of Computing the list is endless and several lines of inquiry have been suggested in these pages. A focus group of Computing researchers identified these questions as priorities, do you agree?
- key stage 3: issues in implementing the strategy
- assessment and Computing: why is practice so poor and what can be done
- the missing link: what is the connection between key stage 3 and qualification courses?
- the three part lesson: opportunity or straightjacket?
- the place of metaphor in teaching Computing concepts
- what is subject knowledge in relation to Computing?
- is Computing an academic subject?
- why do pupils like Computing?
author: Michael Hammond
Research guides frequently distinguish between ‘positivist’ approaches and more naturalist or interpretivist approaches (Cohen and Mannion 1994). The former is rooted in an experimental approach which, put briefly, starts with a hypothesis, involves setting up experimental and control groups, designing pre and post testing and accumulating evidence to check whether a hypothesis is valid. The latter is more interested in interpretations which teachers and pupils put on teaching and learning and is more likely to explore the use of ICT in natural settings. For example, a positivist might ask does ICT have an impact on learning and design settings in which experiments in learning could take place. An interpretivist might be inclined to go into classrooms as they are and ask who thinks ICT has an impact on learning and why do they think that.
Once you have decided in which tradition you feel more comfortable you might then think about theoretical perspectives such as grounded theory (eg one view is offered by Strauss and Corbin 1998); activity theory (Center for Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research, 2004) and action research (Carr and Kemmis 1986) or more quantitative / statistical approaches (eg Muijs 2004). There is though no need to see quantitative methods as the preserve of positivist / experimental approaches.
A research approach fit for purpose
If you are in the position of being relatively new to educational research, but with a wealth of practitioner experience on which to draw, you may be well placed to carry out action research of your own. There is no single definition of action research but common to most commentators is an interest in reflecting on your practice and implementing and evaluating an innovation to address a problem or difficulty within your work. Some action research projects are strongly focused on you and your innovation (for example, does online conferencing effectively support student teachers on placement?). Some are much more focused on the constraints on practice and collective action in order to overcome these constraints.
There is a huge literature on action research and very many web sites –for example, infed.org offers a guide created by a small group of educators at www.infed.org/research/b-actres.htm. You might find practitioner guides to carrying out research useful in carrying out your research, for example, the Scottish Centre Research in Education http://www.scre.ac.uk/ produces a set of classroom guides and there are a great many books including Barton and Bartlett (2005); Hopkins (2002); and Sagor (2005). Carrying out your own action research project will, of course, help you lead student teachers in carrying out their projects. However, it is one approach amongst many. You may prefer to work within a different tradition - a more observational standing back ethnographic approach or perhaps a more interventionist approach on a grander scale.
Projects and bids
Educational research is time consuming and you may want to investigate collaborative approaches to research – many first time researchers are happy to attach themselves to larger projects being undertaken in their institution that are led by more established researchers. You might want to search for funding of your own, or more likely in a collaborative project of some kind. Funding will allow you to pay for research assistance and meet expenses such as transcribing tapes, travel, purchase of special equipment, attending conferences and so on. Your application may be proactive - the result of a great deal of reflection over time - or reactive there is a deadline for a new round of projects to which your institution wants you to respond. Some important sources of funding are:
- Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) (http://www.esrc.ac.uk/)
- Foundations such as Leverhulme Trust (http://www.leverhulme.org.uk), Esmée Fairbairn Foundation (http://www.esmeefairbairn.org.uk/), The Nuffield Foundation (http://www.nuffieldfoundation.org), Gatsby Foundation (http://www.gatsby.org.uk)
- Government or Government supported bodies such as DCSF, TDA, GTC, Becta. Note Becta has run a small grants scheme in the past which has supported scholarly practitioner research
- Other educational bodies such as Specialist Schools Trust
- EU funding
Nearly all sources of funding imply stiff competition – you can improve your chances of getting funding by:
- paying close attention to what the funder will and will not cover
- where possible getting formative feedback from the funder on how well your proposal fits with their brief
- getting peer feedback on your bid
- making your bid a collaborative one - here you are ideally placed to involve partner schools in your bid and produce an effective dissemination strategy.
Don’t underestimate the time involved in writing a bid and the time needed to carry out a successful project - you cannot leave it in the hands of research assistants. Remember that although you may have a well presented project proposal most bids are rejected by most organisations because of pressure on funds. Be persistent and learn from the feedback.
- Barton, D. and Bartlett, S. (2005) Practitioner Research for Teachers, Paul Chapman, London.
- Carr, W. and Kemmis, S. (1986) Becoming Critical : Education, Knowledge and Action Research, Falmer, London.
- Center for Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research (2004) Center for Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research published at http://www.edu.helsinki.fi/activity/
- Cohen, L., Mannion, L. & Morrison, K. (2000) Research Methods in Education, Routledge, London.
- Hopkins, D. (2002) A Teacher’s Guide to Classroom Research, (3rd Ed.) Buckingham, Open University Press.
- Muijs, D. (2004) Doing Quantitative Research in Education, Paul Chapman, London.
- Sagor, R. (2005) The Action Research Handbook, Sage, California.
- Strauss, A. and Corbin, J. (1998) Basics of Qualitative Research Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory, Sage Publications, London.
author: Michael Hammond
This section looks at communicating your work to public audiences. It discusses reasons for writing; opportunities for writing; challenges in writing and the process of writing. It suggests entry points into writing for academic audiences.
The best and most obvious reason is that there is something you want to communicate to your colleagues about teaching and learning with Computing. You went into teaching to make a difference and you can make a difference through your writing even if your audience is removed from you in place and time. However, you may have additional, more extrinsic, reasons for writing, for example, publication of work may help you get a permanent contract, a promotion, or help you get recognition from your colleagues. In many departments there is an expectation on you to publish as part of a contribution to the highly competitive Research Assessment Exercise.
As discussed elsewhere in this research section, Computing is a new subject and possibilities abound for carrying out and reporting original research. This may arise out of your every day teaching and observation of classrooms; your awareness of new teaching methods; or reflections on some of the literature you are reading. This may in turn lead to an empirical study and / or desk-based research, such as a review of the literature.
There are obvious constraints in carrying out and reporting on research. Higher education institutions put different priorities on research and give different levels of support and encouragement. However shortage of time affects everyone. Colleagues find different patterns for managing their time; some need extended periods for reflection others can manage regular short bursts of activity.
A key challenge in writing for a public audience is overcoming a lack of confidence and taking the risk of opening your work to public scrutiny. In starting to write about Computing you are switching roles from being a reader or user of research to being a writer or producer of research. There might be a neat parallel between your doubts and uncertainties about writing and those that your trainee teachers feel about teaching. To meet the challenge you may want to think about phasing your entry as a writer, for example setting your sights first on a professional journal or a less formal publication such as the ITTE newsletter . When it comes to writing for an academic publication you might want to start by co-authoring a paper with a more experienced colleague who can explain the conventions and the process more clearly. Another approach is to write a much shorter article, as a research note, for an academic journal.
Everyone has their own ideas about writing and the routines that work for them. Some people like to plan in a very detailed fashion, some like to structure their text as they go along, some prefer to read around a topic in great depth before writing, some go further into the literature once they have a better idea of the direction in which they are heading.
There are some general steps to take which most of us find helpful. First, rehearse your ideas before you try to commit yourself to writing an academic paper, for example discuss your research with a critical friend - someone who is positive and supportive about your efforts but prepared to point out the areas to develop. Your critical friend need not be familiar with your particular research but they should know about carrying out and reporting on educational research in general. As part of the rehearsal phase, offer to present an informal seminar to your colleagues and if appropriate invite your students to comment.
Your next step may be to take your ideas to a conference, for example the ITTE research conference, usually held in Cambridge in January, or the ITTE annual conference, usually held in July (http://www.itte.org.uk/index.php?id=13). Do not wait until the research is polished. Your audience will be interested in having a few issues and dilemmas clearly spelt out – avoid long, detailed descriptions which will lose your listeners. Following feedback you will want to re draft your paper. Writing involves repeated revision as you come to see how you can express more clearly or realise other avenues on which to report.
A particularly important step to take is to consider the particular journal in which to publish (see the journals listed on this site in the section refereed academic research). Read the aims of the journal very closely and spend some time looking at back issues, in particular search for papers on similar themes to your own. Most articles will follow a broadly similar format: abstract, introduction, methodology, results, discussion. Many first time writers and readers of academic research are struck by the importance given to literature review and extensive referencing. This can result in pedantry, particularly when a host of names are brought in to seek support for what seems obvious. However, referencing allows the reader to see where your work fits into a body of knowledge. This really is central; your audience is interested in the big picture and the implications of your work for the research field, not the immediate recommendations for practice in your institution.
A second feature which strikes many new academics is the attention given to methodology and theoretical perspective. In contrast, books and papers aimed at practitioners rarely deal in detail with how the data was collected and methods of interpretation but this is a crucial part of academic writing. A third striking feature of academic articles is the conciseness of the writing, the author is often distilling findings from a much larger body of work.
As you work and re work your paper for an academic journal you will eventually reach saturation point. You can certainly develop your paper further but in doing so you realise you stand to lose as much as you gain. Get feedback on your final draft, get it proof read and send it off.
You may as a writer on Computing be satisfied in publishing your work on your own web, or in practitioner journals or more ambitiously in a book aimed at teachers of Computing. However, there is a special status in many universities in publishing in academic journals as papers are seen as validated by peer review and contributing to a body of established thinking about your subject. Peer reviews are there to ensure rigour and reviewers are giving up their time as a contribution to the research community. Good advice is to step back from whatever preconceptions you have about the peer review process, and, whether accepted or rejected, reflect on the feedback and move on.
The journal editor will decide on the basis of reviewer comments to accept, reject or ask you to amend your paper. Outright acceptance is very gratifying but relatively rare and leaves you nothing more to do but to wait for the proofs of your article and bask in your new status as an established contributor to the academic community. It is more usual that you will be asked to make minor or major amendments to your paper. If the amendments are significant there may be no guarantee of publication at the end.
New authors sometimes feel they have to act on all the suggestions reviewers make for change. This is not the case. If you want to stick by your original position explain why you have done so to the editor. Inevitably your paper maybe rejected - many are and all academics have suffered rejection at some time. Rejection may leave you angry and suspicious of the process. Take time to reflect on the reasons for rejection. If you still have faith in your paper send it elsewhere - once having tailored it to fit the aims of another journal. Otherwise put the paper to one side; when you are ready you will return to the ideas contained in it and you may want to re work it some day.
Embarking on academic research is an uncertain enterprise. Like most things you do, you will get better with time, that is providing you receive the right support. The profession needs writers - stick with it.
There are several guides to writing up research. A very clear recent book is:
- Wellington, J. (2004) Getting Published: a guide for lecturers and publishers Routledge, London.
Good books on the process of academic writing include:
- Becker, H. (1980) Writing for Social Scientists, Chicago, Chicago University Press
- Woods, P. (1999) Successful Writing for Qualitative Research, Routledge, London.
For more technical guides to writing try:
- Cuba, L. and Cooking, J. (1994) How to Write about the Social Sciences, Longman, London.
There are in addition a large number of sites offering support for writing for publication.
author: Michael Hammond
Supervising research and being supervised yourself
One aspect of your role as tutor in a higher education institution (HEI) is teaching and supervising higher degree research students. As with taking on the role of PGCE tutor in the first place this presents both opportunities and challenges. This section looks at supervising research students, particularly those at doctorate level, but much will be relevant to the supervision of students at Masters degree level. It covers:
- Supervision skills and benefits
- Difficulties in research supervision
- Student support opportunities
- Further reading
A further section looks at issues to consider in registering for a research degree and the process of being supervised yourself.
Supervision skills and benefits
Good advice is to start with a positive attitude to the process; supervision can be one of the most stimulating and enjoyable aspects of teaching in higher education. It gives you the opportunity to go into your subject in greater depth and perhaps to share aspects of your own research and to see the work you have carried out through the eyes of another. There is an altruistic satisfaction in helping another person get started on their research and achieve something with your critical support which they could not do otherwise. Supervision can add variety to your work, may form part of your job description and any enthusiasm you show for research supervision will usually be recognised by others.
Before looking at the difficulties in research supervision remind yourself of the generic skills you bring: an ability to listen, experience in, and by now an almost instinctive feel for, the importance of planning, setting realistic manageable tasks, recording progress and balancing praise with constructive criticism. Your own experiences of academic study will also help you carry out your role.
Difficulties in research supervision
As with any new role you take on you will experience a range of challenges and difficulties, for example:
- You feel you don’t have enough experience of the subject area
- You out feel out of your depth academically
- You lack experience of the specific approach your student wants to follow.
Sensible advice here is to take advantage of whatever training opportunities your institution and your department offers. Many departments will have mentoring arrangements or opportunities to co-supervise a student with a more experienced colleague.
In working with students state clearly what support and help you can offer but be open about your lack of experience. You may be supervising a student even if you lack a doctorate or Masters degree of your own, your student will judge you on the support you offer them, not on your academic career. If you lack the background to address specific concerns then put your student in contact with colleagues who can advise or point them to relevant literature – this is standard practice in most departments.
Student attitudes and behaviour
You may experience a range of further difficulties from aspects of your students’ attitudes and behaviour, eg.
- Your student seems unaware of what is expected of a dissertation
- Your student has specific language difficulties
- Your student seems to have poor writing skills
- Your student has writer’s block
- Your student expects too much of you and wants you to do it for them
- Your student does not seem to want your help or input at all
Good generic advice is to set out your expectations clearly, for example, how often you will meet for supervision, at what times, how long you can spend on reading and commenting on drafts and the level of detail you are prepared to go into. Make a record of what is discussed at each meeting and encourage your student to set a target for the next meeting. If you have worries over your student’s progress try to understand the difficulties and set realistic goals to overcome them. For example, the student who is overwhelmed by carrying out a literature survey might find it easier to get started by carrying out a critique of a single paper.
Refining research targets
Many students start with over ambitious targets for their research (eg the influence of ICT on teaching and learning) and can be encouraged to focus down (eg a case study of adoption of ICT in a single department). Here the discipline of writing out a research proposal complete with timetable for each phase of the research and carrying out a pilot study can be very helpful.
Expectations at higher degree level
Students may have a very incomplete idea of what is expected at doctorate or masters level; refer them to departmental guidelines. Try to exemplify key statements and encourage students to read dissertations others have done. However, avoid making predictions concerning how your students will be marked – at Masters level grades need to be moderated by an exam board and a doctoral candidate faces examination by an internal and external examiner. You are not in a position to predict with certainty the decisions made by these colleagues.
Student support opportunities
Student training and support
Make sure your student is taking advantage both of optional and compulsory research training courses offered by the department or faculty. Take advantage of wider support systems in your university, for example, ICT services for courses and guides to say SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) or qualitative data analysis software, language support departments particularly valuable for students with English as a foreign language and whatever generic study skills courses offered by graduate studies department or the students union.
Community of researchers
A key support for you and your student is the community of researchers in your institution. You will be helped considerably if there is a team of Computing researchers in your department sharing ideas and communicating within an informal and formal seminar programme. There might be a wider programme of support and events open to researchers in the department as a whole. If you and your student feel quite isolated in your interests within the department you can compensate to some extent by organising events with another institution and carrying out informal exchange with colleagues.
Research conferences and organisations
No matter the strengths and weaknesses of your department you will want to encourage research students to attend conferences, such as ITTE’s research and conference events. More generally, British Educational Research Association (BERA) offers conferences and support for new researchers in education. A good focus for many students is to present a paper – you can help by offering to present a joint paper first time around.
Being a student researcher yourself
If you do not have a research degree yourself, and you want to carry out your own research into teaching and learning with ICT, you will probably benefit from registering for a taught Masters course leading to supervised doctorate research.
In registering for a Masters programme key considerations to weigh up will probably be:
- distance you need to travel to attend the institution (though if you are comfortable with a distance learning approach, albeit with some face to face events, this may be less of an issue);
- the reputation of the programme (for example, do you know colleagues who have followed the programme in the past who could pass on their experiences?);
- and appropriateness for your needs (for example, a local HEI might provide very good general programmes but offer very little on teaching and learning ICT).
Before making a final decision contact course coordinators directly and discuss your needs and interests with them. Of course, cost is another key consideration and if you are based in an HEI you will almost automatically decide to register for a course in your own institution as long as you are not being charged fees.
In registering for doctorate supervision (the first step here is generally being registered for an MPhil) you will face a similar set of considerations: distance you need to travel to attend the institution; the reputation both of taught research methods courses and your proposed supervisor; and appropriateness for research into ICT. In many cases research students often choose an institution before choosing a supervisor and there are clearly good reasons for doing so. However you might want to be more selective and approach a colleague whose work you know, this will be easier if you can make face to face contact, for example at an ITTE or other conference event, or perhaps have taken part in debates on discussion forums together.
There have been past plans to prepare a registry of interests within the ICT research community, look out for future developments here. Academic background is of course an important but only one factor in choosing your supervisor. You can access academic knowledge through journals and conferences, your priority is for an approachable 'critical friend' providing you with reliable support and encouragement. Discuss your needs and interest thoroughly with your proposed supervisor and work on a detailed research proposal before registering. This proposal will not only help you narrow down your research question but communicate your background and interests to your supervisor.
It is easy to see being supervised as the mirror image of the advice for supervising discussed earlier. Set out the ground rules: when are you going to meet; for how long; what feedback do you expect.? Make your own record of meetings and set achievable targets at the end of each meeting. Write as you go along and spend time looking at other theses. Try to understand the conventions – you do not need to follow these conventions blindly but you do need to know what they are and to explain why you are not following some. Take advantage of wider support in the institution, attend seminars and suggest to your supervisor that you might co-present work at conferences when appropriate. Good luck!
To look further at the issues raised in this brief introduction go to:
- Delamont, S., Atkinson, P. and Parry, O. (1997) Supervising the PhD, Open University Press, Buckingham. (This is particularly helpful in raising some of the difficulties you may encounter and in reviewing the examination process).
There are several guides to carrying out doctorate research including:
- Phillips, E. and Pugh, D. (2004) How to get a PhD, Open University Press, Buckingham.
A well used research guide is:
- Bell, J. (1987) Doing Your Research Project: A Guide for First-time Researchers in Education and Social Science, Open University Press, Buckingham, particularly as a guide for work at Masters level.
If you find these guides a little too formulaic then look at:
- Salmon, P. (1992) Achieving a PhD, Trentham Books, Stoke on Trent. (This highlights that research emerges from a personal commitment.)
author: Michael Hammond
Supporting an M level assignment at PGCE
If you have a whole class you are supporting in an M level assignment offer them a clear structure and provide guidance in a booklet form or online. For example, many courses will set action research projects (though in practice this may stop at reconnaissance of opportunities and some very limited innovations) or mini curriculum investigations. Explain the stages you want students to go through; set deadlines for each stage; suggest word lengths for each stage. Let them know you are flexible (assuming you are of course) but giving them a framework often makes it easier for the student rather than more restrictive.
You may well want to restrict the number of topics and to provide back up readings of web references for them. The key for the student is turning a general interest into a set of questions to investigate and a strategy for doing this. For example, here are two topics with questions and sub questions which students have identified and a broad strategy suggested for addressing them.
Topic: interactive white boards (IWB)
Question: How can they be used more effectively?
Sub questions: what is more effective; how are they used already; how do children respond to them
Strategy: survey of literature and practice in school
Question: How can I be more creative in my teaching?
Sub questions: What is creativity; what models of creativity might I try to develop; how do pupils respond to more creative approaches
Strategy: action research
Both these examples could become more manageable investigations if they were narrowed down further, for example 'How can I be more creative in my teaching of 6th form students?' or 'How can they be used more effectively with my Y7 class?'.
No matter what the style of assignment it will need to include something about the literature which we turn to on Supervising:the literature.
author: Michael Hammond
Supervising: the literature
There is a vast amount of literature on teaching and learning – much more than students probably ever thought – but much less on teaching Computing as a subject. They will need to use literature creatively. For example, some of the literature may be about teaching a different subject but is still relevant – though the student researcher should tell us why it is:
"this study is about science teaching, however, the points they make about practical experiments relate to my experiences of teaching ICT because ICT is a similarly practical subject…."
Other literature is general. For example, there is a great deal about interactive white boards (IWB) but very little about using the IWB in teaching ICT. It is fine for ICT students to use this literature, but look to see if they are missing something about the context in which we teach ICT. Again, some of the literature may relate to primary schools, some to higher education. They may want to draw on this work, for example Higher Education has probably been in the forefront of developing VLEs as lecturers often deal with very large classes (200 students or more) and many students who cannot physically attend campus. They will need to assess the relevance of these accounts to supporting smaller classes of pupils learning ICT in secondary schools.
There are different types of literature which carry a different status. For example, academic journals and professional resources, and what we often call ‘grey literature’, such as online reports on particular projects. They should be able to identify where the sources they use belong and to reflect on the authorship of articles – do authors have a special position which means they are likely to stress the benefits more than the drawbacks of a particular approach?
Writing about what literature tells us is an art. Your students’ job is to describe briefly what the author has said, to indicate what kind of study was carried out and comment on what was said. For example, here one student summarises a comment from an article she had read:
"Glover and Miller (2004) in a study of science and MFL teachers, identify three stages in the use of IWB (or IAWs as they called them at the time): the first to support everyday classroom teaching; the second to stimulate interactivity with the class; the third is to use the IWB to present the lesson in new ways. "
This student has summarised a longer point quite succinctly and provided a comment on it. As the student reads more articles they may want to organise their review around themes. For example, this student introduces her review of VLEs and highlights that she will write about opportunities, difficulties and conclusions:
"In this first section I will report on what has been said about the advantages of VLEs and the opportunities they offer both teachers and students. These cover issues such as storage, interaction and assessment. In the second section I will look at the difficulties teachers and students have with VLEs and these cover technical access and preferred styles of teaching and learning. Finally, I will summarise the two sections and argue that VLEs seem to have a limited but important potential for ICT departments."
In reviewing articles students may want to quote key phrases or particularly striking ideas. They should use quotes selectively and not leave them to stand alone, in other words: Quote - Explain – Critique. This student gives the quote, explains its importance and offers a view of her own:
"Loveless (2007, p 1) argues 'creativity can be regarded as not only a quality found in exceptional individuals, but also as an essential life skill through which people can develop their potential to use their imagination to express themselves, and make original and valued choices in their lives.'
This shows that creativity is a much wider concept than making or performing art. A difficulty, however, is that creativity has become so wide a concept that it could cover almost any context in which learners are engaged in learning."
As students carry out reading, they should look for similarity and difference between what different writers have said. Key phrases for bringing together themes in the research are:
- A consistent theme of the papers is that …
- An often reported difficulty is …
- Those arguing against (VLEs) often suggest that …
- Implications for classroom use of (VLEs) seem to be…
- The case for (formative assessment) clearly rests on…
Students might also report on the extent of literature and some of the difficulties encountered in getting hold of articles. For example, this student discussed problems in the literature on VLEs:
"As the use of VLEs in school, and their use in the teaching of ICT in particular, is a relatively new field there has not been a lot of literature to access. There does not seem a great deal of consistency in the findings and much of the work has been carried out by enthusiasts and we must be cautious in accepting the findings."
In addition to literature your assignment will often ask the student teacher to carry out some data collection.
author: Michael Hammond
Supervising: collecting data
Collecting empirical data: Interviews, survey and questionnaire
Many assignments give students opportunities to find out what is happening in their school(s). This gives an opportunity to contrast what the literature is saying with what teachers and pupils are saying about a topic. This is really important; the literature is often general or talking about contexts with which students are not familiar. No-one knows your student’s school, classes, pupils as well as your student and the teachers who teach there.
Collecting data may involve questionnaire survey, interviews, observations, all of which are covered in research methods books. The key here is to keep the investigation small scale – the study does not need to be representative of the school but should show awareness of, and explain sampling strategies. In many cases talking to all ICT teachers in a school is quite feasible and the focus for the investigation might be the department or, more narrowly, teaching at a particular key stage. Students should make sure all references to school, teachers and pupils are anonymised in their reporting and to keep anything told to them confidential. In their reporting the student will need to say how they collected the data – a chat rather than formal interview is fine but say it, then what they did with their data. In this example a student teacher is looking at creativity in ‘Blackberry’ school:
“While working in Blackberry school I spoke with three teachers in my department, one with a lot of experience of working in the school and two who were relatively new to teaching. I carried half hour semi structured interviews with each about creativity in ICT lessons. I asked what they they thought creativity meant; how it was best developed and the difficulties they had experience in developing creativity. I made notes of each interview and looked for consistency and contrast within these notes.
Regarding the first, each teacher put a different meaning onto creativity. One associated it very much with being practical and being ‘arty’. He felt “most of the creativity gets done in Drama and Art”. The other two teachers referred to an in-service event they had attended and saw it as much more about pupils making choices in their learning. They contrasted creative approaches with rote learning. They were worried about the lack of creativity in some classes. One said “the coursework should be creative but very often it is jumping through hoops, we need to look at that”. I could see that there was a difference in teachers’ understanding of creativity and I need to explore this further…. “
In the same way if they have spoken to pupils tell us who they spoke to? Where did they speak to them? What did they find out? Respect confidentiality and do not engage in discussions of individual teachers. This student carried out a discussion on assessment:
“I set up a short focus group with five pupils from my class. They were Y8 s (three boys and two girls) and represented a range of ability. I asked them what they saw as the value of assessment in ICT, what types of assessment they found useful, what worries they had about assessment; and what suggestions they had for me to develop assessment practice with them. This was a half hour open ended discussion. I made notes about the meeting and looked for consistency and contrast in these opinions. There was a much greater consensus between pupils, given this was a focus group rather than a set of individual interviews. On the first, they felt that the value of assessment was that it should let you know ‘how well you are doing’. However in practice they felt …”
If students are carrying out observations make sure they have thought about a ‘protocol' to record their observations (e.g. at a minimum three columns time, teacher activity, pupil activity) and have a clear question in mind before they start.
Summarising what they have found out
Different students have done this in different ways. Some have made a contrast between different sources of information as they have gone along, some have tended to do this at the end. Some find a table format very useful. For example, a student might create a table in which to summarise findings from the literature and from the teachers and pupils to whom they had spoken. This would make opportunities for triangulation and comparison of different sources more explicit.
author: Michael Hammond
Writing: Do’s and Do not’s
In no particular order here are some do’s and do not’s in use in one partnership
- Do write in full, do not use contractions. Write it is not rather than it isn’t; it cannot rather than it can’t, I will rather than I’ll; do not rather than don’t.
- Do reference properly. You are an information specialist and understand how consistent referencing of material is important including full referencing for web resources. You should ensure your referencing and bibliography follow the Harvard Referencing style. For examples go to the library page at:
- Do reflect on what you quote, explain why the point the author is making is important for you, but be prepared to critique it.
- Do use your introduction to clearly outline what the problem is you are addressing and stick to it. Do not begin by talking about IWBs and end up talking about assessment.
- Do organise your text into paragraphs (group of sentences with a common theme, think about a minimum of 4 sentences to a paragraph.) Be consistent, break each paragraph with a double line break. Do not put lots of text together without a paragraph or be inconsistent with your breaking.
- Do look at the model assignments from last year; identify what makes them Masters Level.
- Do write in the first person where this fits naturally. For example, “this study is going to look at pupil behaviour in a Year 9 Computing lesson. I am interested in behaviour in Year 9 as I have observed so far that this is the year group that is most challenging of authority and teacher instructions.” Do not use convoluted constructions such as “in the opinion of the researcher…”
- Do get someone to proof read your work and ask them to check your apostrophes, punctuation, spelling and typos. You cannot proof read your own work properly. Do not hand your assignment in before someone has done this for you. Check your use of it’s (it is), its (possessive); students (they); a student’s (his / her); students’ (their).
- Do read through your text for meaning. Use short sentences where you can and keep it simple. Avoid clumsy or redundant phrases. For example, this is long winded and clumsy:
Open ended questioning within a class environment would allow the teacher to find out and collect evidence for what pupils know and understand about a topic and, more than this, allows for pupils’ misconceptions to be made clear to everyone and to be highlighted by the teacher asking the questions.
The same idea is expressed more clearly as:
Open ended questioning allows the teacher to find out what pupils know. Moreover it can give insight into pupils’ misconceptions.
- Do attend any special writing sessions, do not underestimate what is involved
- Do be creative in your use of literature, do not ignore literature if it is not specifically about ICT.
- Do ‘buddy up’ with someone on the course, read each other’s work and offer feedback, do not keep your writing to yourself.
- Do put it in your own words (unless you are quoting), do not copy from an article and not acknowledge it. Do not think plagiarism will go unnoticed.
author: Michael Hammond