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H809: Week 6 - Audiences

March 2009

I am busy catching up on my H809 work. There were two themes this week: 'Audiences' and 'Ethics'. I will do a blog post for each.

I enjoyed the section on audiences for the way that I found myself reflecting on why I was taking this course and why I was interested in research. We were given a podcast to listen to in which Eileen Scanlon, Cindy Kerawalla and Chris Jones discussed issues related to researching and reporting for different audiences. Even if you aren't enrolled on H809, you can access the course podcast feed here.

Part of the conversation focused on funding bodies for research and the impact they have on the way research is carried out. The other main topic was the communication of research finding to different audiences. The academic community, policy-makers, practitioners and the media were specifically mentioned as was the difference between presenting at conferences to in writing.

Because of my current work, I feel I have had a reasonable amount of exposure to some of these issues. However, it struck me quite how stark the contrast was to research in mathematics. In mathematics, even applied mathematics, research is pretty cut and dried in terms of what you are trying to do: you prove new and interesting things and communicate those results through journal papers.

The world of education is far more complex. This is partly because of the question of how research relates to educational decision-making. Does research need to justify itself in terms of it ability to improve educational decision-making? Insights for which there is only partial or anecdotal evidence may be more useful in practice than more limited findings for which there there is a more thorough evidence base, but the world of research heavily stresses the latter. There is also the sometimes slightly awkward role played by research in justifying policy as much as informing it.

Matters are further complicated by the fact that many educational researchers have a dual role that also involves contributing to educational decision-making, with the line between the two not always clear. There is the issue too of educational 'experiments' and the development of educational software and web applications. Although research may be performed in conjunction with these, you are nonetheless generally attempting to improve learning through such experimentation or development rather than engaging totally objectively in the activity.

So if you are interested in research, you have to make decisions related to where you sit with all of this and how this fits into your career. Almost conspicuous by its lack of mention was the importance of journal papers as an academic currency and the role they play in establishing what career options are available.

For me, I think a large part of my insatiable curiosity comes from the teaching I once did and my failure to find useful guidance through the decision-making process involved in that. I went on a mixture of gut instinct, experimentation and trying to imagine myself as a student. However, in doing this, I was also sure that I must have often been constantly reinventing the wheel. My interest in educational technology specifically is because technology can make new things possible and help teaching and learning scale. The separation though is odd one though, as it is difficult to look at education non-holistically, something I actually found tough when trying to choose what to do for my project.