Research in Plain English

If we don’t understand learning,
then how can we possibly teach?
This is the phrase under the title of this blog, a statement reflecting what I see as a necessary co-condition or companion to two other strong beliefs I hold about teaching to form this trinity:

The foundation of teaching: understanding the hows, whos, whens, wheres, whys and whats of learning.

The aim of teaching: more learning for more learners.

The moral responsibility of teaching: multicultural/inclusive learning and teaching is the everyday work of everybody linked to learners and learning.  Period.

My research is moving into a second stage of studying, thinking about, gathering data related to how I build from these beliefs as a teacher of teachers.  It unfolds in the specific context of being a teacher in the company of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in a US Research 1 university who aspire to be teachers across all ranges of institutions, community settings, international locations, and in classroom formats as varied as their disciplinary and interdisciplinary interests, and with a certain knowledge that how they will practice “education” is something we are only beginning to envision today and enact in the right now.  It takes place in the course design for and weekly conduct of a “Teaching in Higher Education” course offered in the Preparing Future Faculty Program at the University of Minnesota.  It unfolds in the context of conversations with international teaching colleagues.  It takes shape as I learn new research methods while exploring a new research methodology.  It is scarey.

But I do have a head of steam about this research, about moving still further from the literary analysis meets ethnographic interview/observation analysis meets archival research and analysis practices of my graduate school training, about saying aloud that the research involves mixed methods and grounded theory for classroom research – with growing confidence that I can answer questions about that research from listeners.  An early career researcher at 54.  That’s what I want to model.  Lifewide learning when confronted with the lovely wicked problem of how to value/use teaching practices in higher education that provoke learning for all involved, that privilege learning as a common public endeavor, a necessary public good, a part of the overall cultural climate – a norm, an expectation.

So, my research is focused on

(1) building, running, testing and revising to teach again a pilot version of “Teaching in Higher Education” that cleaves to two sets of guiding principles – my own as noted above and those articulated in practice and word in the guiding principles of the University of Minnesota Preparing Future Faculty Program, while also looking a step or ten ahead of those principles to where we can and ought to be as teachers, as leaders, as visionaries with our students.

(2) within that, drawing on weekly classroom assessments to trace how/whether a more intensive focus on learning, on incorporating/modeling learning-linked uses of technology, and on providing more frequent and diverse teaching experiences impacted the course.

(3) conducting course revisions based on feedback gathered from students via surveys (past students – what do you wish we’d done now that you’re teaching in a faculty; current students – scaled and ranking questions looking back on just completed course), via a focus group with students just finishing the course (describing learning processes/barriers/enhancers in reflecting on just completed semester), and via document analysis (coding of select course documents written 3 students chosen as case studies).

My research is about making a better “Teaching in Higher Education” course based on core principles that articulate what the heck I mean by “better”, then about testing that course while also writing reflectively during the teaching of the course, then about re-visiting and revising the course based on student feedback as I prepare to teach again and repeat the cycle.  And at the end of that? Making recommendations for local practice and writing practically, theoretically, reflectively about teaching in higher education for audiences beyond home – because I want the learners who leave universities to be ready for, perceptive about, solidly and innovatively ready for making a world where pernicious wicked problems are – minimally – turned to lovely wicked problems that let us all thrive basically and creatively.

It helps being in spaces like the Writing Researcher as participant and observer and instigator.  #WResearcher.


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