Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Reflexivity & Technology: Who Am I?

I am a techie. 

I wasn't always that way, but as I've gotten older, I've seen so many ways that technology has helped me work more productively. 

I think my love of technology really started in 2008. I had been teaching fifth grade for three years while my husband was in law school, and he accepted a one-year federal clerkship in Montgomery, AL. We decided to leave Atlanta for a year to move to Montgomery, and I decided to spend the year finishing my master's degree from Michigan State through online classes and by Skyping in to live classes. I spent most of my time at my computer working on coursework, and since we didn't know many people in Alabama, I relied on technology to stay connected to teaching and other educators. It was during this year that I started participating in #edchat and other chats on Twitter, and I started reading and following a lot of teaching blogs. I connected with many other tech-savvy educators, and I saw a lot of potential for teacher learning through online collaboration since I was experiencing that myself. 

For a long time, I was a lurker in these online conversations and blogs. But over time, as I became more comfortable with the tools and had more confidence in myself, I began to participate. I started my own blog and networked with many other teachers more formally. We've had several meet-ups, and these teacher bloggers have been some of the most inspiring and motivating teachers I've encountered. I find that I learn much, much more through them than I typically do through my school-sponsored professional learning opportunities. It's because of these experiences that I want to study teacher bloggers for my dissertation research. I want to explore how their online experiences impact their classroom experiences and their feelings of self-efficacy. I also want to see if there's a difference in the self-efficacy beliefs of bloggers vs. lurkers -- those who read the blogs, but don't comment or write anything of their own. My experiences of being isolated for a year in Alabama and transitioning from a lurker to a blogger really changed my understanding of technology's potential, and it's a focal point of my research interests. 

As I was going through this week's class readings, I was struck by a couple of issues. First, I do think there is a point where we experience "information overload," and that point can change from day to day or topic to topic. I love using sites like Twitter, but I feel like I can only take them in small doses because there is so much available. And while I can focus my attention on the thought leaders around a particular topic, I'm not sure that will help me build relationships for future collaboration opportunities. I have to widen the net to find others who share my interests but who might not be at the forefront of the field yet. That's a tough issue to balance, and I'm not sure that I've figured that out yet.

The second thing that struck me were the ethical issues raised by online collaboration and document sharing. My whole life is in the cloud now. Between my Dropbox, Google Drive, and Evernote accounts, I'm completely beholden to having my work saved in those spaces so that I can move seamlessly between devices. The cloud poses some definite downsides. Last year, for example, Dropbox had a security breach, and they reset all of my file sharing links without telling me they were doing that -- not fun for my collaborators! But overall, the cloud makes me much more efficient and productive on-the-go. It seems like qualitative researchers will need to accept that as a reality of modern research practices and develop some guidelines for ethics that embrace that fact. I like that I'm entering the field at a time when there's still a lot of dialogue about that.

I'm a long-time Evernote user, but I do have a question for Dr. Britt: is it better to organize by tags or by notebooks? 

I've heard conflicting perspectives on this. One hardcore Evernote user that I know insists that it's a waste of time to create notebooks because you can locate everything you need through good use of tags. Others say you should segment out different topics through notebooks but still tag individual notes. None of the people I've discussed this with have been researchers, however, so I'd like to hear another perspective.

Wow! My thoughts this week really meandered. Thanks for sticking with me through this -- lots to process. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Decisions, Decisions...

When it comes to using technology for qualitative research, I'm sold. I'm an early adopter of so many tools as it is, and there are many areas of my life where technology has made my work more efficient. It seems obvious that I would integrate technology as much as possible in my research. But when it comes to making decisions about the tools to use to start my qualitative research and data analysis, I feel like I'm car shopping. Do I go with ATLAS.ti or NVivo? Should I test drive both? Will they both get me where I need to go? Should I just commit to one now and roll with it?

I'm planning to do a mixed methods study for dissertation, and I'd ultimately like to become proficient in both qualitative and quantitative methods. I want a tool that will give me that flexibility. I'm tempted to go with ATLAS.ti since that's what we're using in this course, but I'm nervous to do so after the warning in the Silver and Lewins text that "caution[s] against choosing a package simply because it is the one you have the 'easiest' (e.g. immediate or free) access to" (2014, p. 22). Am I choosing it just because it's available? At the same time, it seems silly to reject it without knowing the real differences between the two programs. By the accounts that I've heard so far, both of these CAQDAS packages do essentially the same things, so if I could customize either one to fit my needs, does it even really matter? I'd hate to make my life unnecessarily difficult by going in a different direction if it's not going to make much of a difference. Is it even possible to make the "wrong" decision here? And would I even know what I was missing if I did?

I was also very interested in the Jackson (2014) paper about how QDAS fits into our ideas of transparency. As a tech-y person, I suspect that I could go on and on in my dissertation about how I'll ultimately use my QDAS tools. At the same time, however, I wonder if my dissertation would be the right place to do that. In my experiences with blogging about technology for my classroom and coaching other teachers in using technology, I find that most people just want to know the most basic details about tech tools. There's a weird stigma around technology where people often make it seem scarier and more overwhelming than it should be, and they hole up in a way that they wouldn't necessarily do if they were learning about any other topic. For some people, technology is scary and uncomfortable, and I would worry about alienating my readers too much by going into the finer details of how I use the QDAS. At the same time, transparency is something I really value, so I'm wondering if the descriptions of how QDAS influences the researcher needs to be contained in the final product itself. Could it, for example, exist elsewhere such as a publicly available blog? I could easily imagine myself blogging my way through the decision-making process, exposing how I'm using the tools for those who are genuinely curious, without alienating the less QDAS-familiar readers of my research. Is that a reasonable middle-ground as a qualitative (or mixed-methods!) researcher?

These are the things I'm considering as I prepare for this week's class.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Networked Teacher: A Study of Teacher-Bloggers

The nature of teacher professional development is changing. What was once limited to in-services, conferences, and workshops has now become something unbound by time, budgets, or geography. The increased accessibility of the Internet through smartphones, tablets, and other computing devices has caused an explosion of social networking opportunities, and sites such as Pinterest's education category show that some teachers are taking full advantage of this shift to innovate, improve, and share effective practices from their own classrooms. 

©  | Dreamstime Stock Photos

I am designing a mixed-methods study to explore elementary teachers' perceptions of how blogging affects their self-efficacy beliefs. My research will explore the following questions:

1. What are teachers' perceptions of and experiences with blogging about their classrooms?
2. What are teachers' perceptions of and experiences with reading blogs about other teachers' classrooms?
3. What impact, if any, does blog participation have on teachers' self-efficacy beliefs? Is there any difference between the efficacy beliefs of those who blog versus those who read blogs without creating any content of their own?

Phase one of my study will include a mostly quantitative survey using modified self-efficacy scales and professional learning communities scales. From there, participants will have the ability to opt-in to the qualitative phase of my study.

Phase two will consist of qualitative interviews of teacher bloggers (content producers) and teachers who do not blog but read other teachers' blogs (content consumers). Through these interviews, I hope to gain a better understanding of how teachers use blogs for professional growth and how their blogging practices as readers and/or writers affect them in the classroom.

I'm still in the very early stages of designing this study, but I welcome comments. If you are here visiting from my teaching blog, Eberopolis: Teaching Reading and Writing with Technology, welcome! Many of my posts -- at least in the short term -- will be done for course assignments, but I will try not to bore you. Your amazing insights as teacher-bloggers inspired me to pursue this study, so jump right in! And for my classmates and instructor, I'm looking forward to taking this research journey with you. I'm a technology-lover at heart, so I'm excited to find new ways to marry my love for technology tools with my research. Given my dissertation topic and other interests, a course on Digital Technologies & Qualitative Research sounded like a natural fit for me.

Thanks for reading!

[This post was written in response to Reflexive Practice Prompt 1.1 in Digital Tools for Qualitative Research (Paulus, Lester, & Dempster, 2014).]