Adventures on the Research Assistant Ship Part 2

What is your compass?

I would say to anyone in graduate school in Education, “you need to attend at least one TI workshop during your time here” and if you are just visiting campus, “you need to pass through these walls.” During Congress 2016, I attended one such workshop: an introduction to the teaching dossier, presented by Berenson and Kenny. That workshop made me wish that I had paid more attention to some of the activities that I had done with my students over time – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Reflexivity is an important part of growing as an instructor and an academic, something Forbes (2008) refers to as “constructing and reconstructing” the research selves. My understanding of what it means to grow as an instructor has been amplified by my discovery of SoTL at the TI.

To understand SoTL better, not just as an initiate, but also as a prospective practitioner, I had to ask myself, what is my compass? What do I use to navigate the particularities of this kind of scholar-ship? The autoethnographic lens is unavoidable as I am interpreting much of what I am learning through the lens of my foundational education experiences as a student and instructor. This takes me back to one of the questions which framed my contributions to this blog and the theme of foundations: How might understandings of SoTL inform how K-12/secondary school educators prepare students for post-secondary contexts?

Step away from the desk (for a while at least)

While I was participating in a TI activity, during orientation week (September, 2016) and I was listening to other TI staff speak about their work, I had an epiphany about one of the many reasons that SoTL exists. SoTL recognizes that students need instructors who are open to working and re-working pedagogies, because student populations are not homogeneous.

My former port-of-call, the community college

At my former work-station, a community college, some instructors usually teach within several academic programs, from undergraduate, associate degree, post-secondary certification, or teaching certification programs. That organisational structure gives instructors a sense of what students at certificate levels need for readiness in higher education programs. We often discussed what we believed students needed prior to tertiary level education. We didn’t always agree with basic matriculation. Perhaps that is why I am so interested in what SoTL offers K-12/secondary school teaching. The ways that students are learning in higher education are shaped by the foundations and if these foundations are wobbly then it makes learning in higher education more challenging for students and instructors. I am not suggesting that instructors don’t need to put in the work to help students learn in higher education and it should all be done in K-12/secondary school teaching. On the contrary, I think it is a joint effort.

SoTL provides understandings/opportunities to understand and improve teaching and learning, that overlap with some of the goals of these intermediate tertiary education programs at community college-type institutions.

Scholar-ship

However, the other aspect of SoTL that is not addressed by these intermediate tertiary education programs is the element of “scholarship.” SoTL nudges instructors into being learners and that is an important disposition in formal education contexts. As I sought to understand SoTL better and I looked at the texts which shaped the foundations of the scholarship, Boyer (1990, p. 24) struck a chord with me:

Great teachers create a common ground of intellectual commitment. They stimulate active, not passive, learning and encourage students to be critical, creative thinkers, with the capacity to go on learning after their college days are over. Further, good teaching means that faculty, as scholars, are also learners.

That concept of the teacher as a learner does not imply that instructors should come to teaching, uninformed. Boyer (1990, p. 24) adds further that “well-prepared lectures surely have a place,” but that “teaching, at its best, means not only transmitting knowledge, but transforming and extending it as well.” The implication of his argument is that when instructors are open to learning about learners, they “will be pushed in creative new directions” (Boyer, 1990).

I found that Bernstein (2000, p. 4) reinforces that idea of the instructor as learner, with the assertion that “the goal of SoTL is to have every teacher treat every course as an opportunity to learn how to create better learning environments and generate richer educational experiences.” For me, that hearkens to Dewey’s (1938) recommendations regarding the importance of creating meaningful “experiences” for learning to take place.  When instructors take an active interest in understanding how students are learning, when they recognize that they too have much to learn about their students then it becomes a matter of we are all in this together. Teachers can become allies, not distant authority figures, who are unrelatable to students. So one of the ways that SoTL can inform what K-12 educators are doing – SoTL urges instructors to become learners themselves.

Building a dossier; not research for research’s sake

The concept of the dossier has made me reflect on past practices, past mistakes, and the implications for future teaching practice. That is why I wish I had paid some more attention to the specifics of my practice over the years, and not just gone through the motions of talking about triumphs and failures in water-cooler conversations with my colleagues, or rote professional development day lamentations or applause. Not so much for a portfolio in order to market oneself, but so that I could apply an inquiry approach to my teaching practice, from a consideration of evidence gathered over time. I find a strange convergence between the idea of the dossier and how I see SoTL urging instructors to become scholars. SoTL could invite instructors (secondary school, community college, higher education) to think of teaching practice as a dossier in progress – a professional space where one can harness expertise, articulate what constitutes good practice, but continue to probe and investigate teaching and learning.

SoTL could inform how K-12/secondary school and community college instructors see themselves as scholars and learners, poised to add to the discussions in educational research. No doubt that it is happening already, in blogs and other formal and informal publications. Yet, because SoTL points to research that is not just for the sake of a research portfolio, but evidence about what is actually going on in the “classroom,” SoTL takes time to think about learners’ needs. It opens doors for instructors to build compassion for students, not as a case of, you need to perform, get good grades, graduate, so that the institution has good records that it is meeting its goals, but more of a question of how can I help you to meet your learning goals. Boose & Hutchings (2016, p. 7) convey some of that sentiment when they assert that “the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning asks for a kind of care and attention that requires time.”

The compass

Student success has been my compass. However, I have a tendency to measure that success by student pass rates, on external exams. I should know otherwise, that success is not always about that final exam grade, or the numbers that graduate on time, but sometimes that random email from a past student, reflecting on the strengths of time at the institution, valued even more in retrospect; or the student who continues to be involved in theatrical productions even though he pursued a career far removed from literary studies; or the student who reconnects because she has continued an avid reading life and wants to share something; or ultimately the student who comes back to say, the foundations at the community college, really prepared me for university. These encounters, that fill me with joy, tell me I never want to stop teaching, just as I never want to stop learning, because there is soul in it all.

From where I’m looking, SoTL opens the possibilities for soul teaching and learning.

Disclaimer: The concept of a teaching dossier is more complex than is suggested here. For further information about dossiers see:

http://ucalgary.ca/taylorinstitute/teaching-development/teaching-philosophies-and-dossiers

http://www.ucalgary.ca/taylorinstitute/teaching-community/node/228

http://ucalgary.ca/taylorinstitute/events-workshops/gstd-creating-your-teaching-dossier

References

Bernstein, D. (2010). Finding your place in the scholarship of teaching and learning. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 4(2). doi: https://doi.org/10.20429/ijsotl.2010.040204

Boose, D. L., & Hutchings, P. (2016). The scholarship of teaching and learning as a subversive activity. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 4(1). doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.20343/teachlearninqu.4.1.6

Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Macmillan.

Forbes, J. (2008). Reflexivity in professional doctoral research. Reflective Practice, 9(4), 449-460. doi: 10.1080/14623940802431523

Congratulations, Galicia!

A HUGE congratulations to Galicia on completing her guide on cognitive development!! As Nancy stated on the TI email, “[The] idea is that the more we know about how our students think about knowledge (what it is and who has it), the better equipped we are to help them learn, to recognize where and why they struggle, and to identify ways of helping them move through struggle toward greater understanding.  This is the fundamental idea of the research on students’ cognitive development.”

Read the Guide on the TI website here:  http://www.ucalgary.ca/taylorinstitute/guides/cognitive-development.

Excellent job, Galicia!

 

Adventures on the Research Assistant Ship Part 1

Discovering SoTL at the TI

This is a quick summary of some of the tasks and activities I have been a part of since I began my RA stint at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning (TI) in November, 2015. I use an autoethnographic lens as described by Wall (2006) – auto, because I am using reflexivity to understand my new environment; ethno, because I am learning about a new culture and new ways of thinking; and graphy, because I am using this writing as inquiry. Although this is an informal inquiry, I am curious about where my developing understandings will take me.

Perhaps one might ask, why chronicle these activities? Some of them were team tasks and some were individual tasks, but they always involved dialoguing with others and I have found this invaluable. Towards the end of 2015, as I became more and more immersed in my graduate research at the Werklund School of Education, I found that TI tasks were complimentary to my developing understandings of educational practice. I noted how they were very different from roles and responsibilities I have had in my past teaching experience, in the West Indian education system. Being new to Canada, Calgary, and the education system here, these tasks have been a most welcome way of being initiated into the educational philosophies and principles of practice at work, in the University culture here. Seeing how the TI makes student learning a priority, in every single activity, is fascinating to me. In a way, it may have shaped my graduate research.

Task table

In December of 2015, my research topic was big, way too big. I wanted to interrogate everything about teaching English Literature in the secondary school context. I found myself involved in TI tasks which were not directly related to my graduate research topic and yet they led me to understand my topic with some clarity because they kept student learning at the center of attention. Students, the raison d’etre for my teaching practice, their experiences, became the focus of my research topic. Somehow, by being exposed to this student-focused philosophy at the TI, it alerted me to shortcomings in my teaching practice. I found myself asking, how well do we know how students are experiencing these tried and tested methods which educational research has supposedly given a stamp of approval? How can we assert that what was successful 20 years ago, 20 months ago, or 20 weeks ago, will be relevant for our current and future students?

The more I became acquainted with the educational philosophy driving SoTL and the core values propelling the educational development work at the TI, the more I began to understand Felten, “the first principle of SoTL, of course, is inquiry focused on student learning” (2013, p. 122). Although my most recent teaching experience at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College was predominantly in the immediate post-secondary environment (some of it would correspond to the K-12 system here), and some of it would not fall under SoTL contexts, I found myself evaluating my practice with a new lens, using SoTL. Felten further stated that “learning should be understood broadly to include not only disciplinary knowledge or skill development, but also the cultivation of attitudes or habits that connect to learning” (2013, p. 122). It is easy to agree with that because literature, language, and communications studies teaching often looks outside of formal examinations for real world content, and attends to the affective domains of learning in a very intimate way. Felten’s article made me reflect on my past work in curriculum development and the consensus among my peers and colleagues, that learning is multidimensional. However, I am not quite satisfied with that consensus. I would like to probe it a bit. In that frame, the question propelling this series of reflections on what SoTL means is this: How might understandings of SoTL inform what K-12 educators are doing to better prepare students for post-secondary contexts?

Duncan (2004) stated that “an important assumption held by autoethnographers and qualitative researchers in general is that reality is neither fixed nor entirely external but is created by, and moves with, the changing perceptions and beliefs of the viewer” (p. 4).  Although part of me wanted to silence my previous work in curriculum development with my internal declaration that “this is a very different context,” I could not ignore the curriculum related questions which SoTL philosophies raise. How can we help our students (secondary) become competent to handle what the post-secondary context demands? Part two of “Adventures on the Research Assistant Ship” will look at some of the concepts which have been intermittently interrupting my other research interrogations: SoTL and its the implications for learning in the secondary school context.

 

References

Duncan, M. (2004). Autoethnography: Critical appreciation of an emerging art. International Journal of Qualitative Methods3(4), Article 3. Retrieved August 10, 2016, from http://www.ualberta.ca/~iiqm/backissues/3_4/pdf/duncan.pdf

Felten, P. (2013). Principles of good practice in SoTL. Teaching & Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 1(1), 121-125. doi:10.2979/teachlearninqu.1.1.121

Wall, S. (2006). An autoethnography on learning about autoethnography. International Journal of Qualitative Methods5(2), 146-160.

Lunch & Learn #3: Navigating Your Work at the TI

At the TI Research Associate Program’s third Lunch & Learn, we discussed navigating work at the TI. Our session began by acknowledging that regardless of our roles, we all operate within the context of the TI as a workplace. Therefore, we all: 1) contribute to achieving the TI’s overall vision “to lead a community of innovation, research and excellence in post-secondary teaching and learning” (Taylor Institute, 2015:7); 2) operate using the TI’s guiding principles (transparency, flexibility, and collaboration); and 3) support the TI’s educational development and scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) initiatives while reflecting on our practices with a commitment to continuous improvement.

To model the TI’s message of reflection, I will use the example I outlined during our session, Rolfe’s framework for reflective practice (Rolfe, Freshwater, & Jasper, 2001):

Level 1: “What?”

  • What happened? We had a lot of material to cover! We followed-up on the Academic Blogging Roundtable, voiced a call-out for TA Orientation (Fall 2016) volunteers, contextualized the TI as our workplace, outlined strategies for working with educational development and SoTL research, experimented with Bernice’s project management task sheet on Excel, and considered the gains of cultivating a reflective practice in your role(s).
  • As a facilitator, what was I trying to achieve? What did I expect? I went into the session knowing that many of the terms I was going to use are regularly reflected on and problematized by educational development and SoTL practitioners (especially by those who  coined the terms/concepts!) At the beginning of our session, I communicated this with the RAs with the intention of putting our subject (the TI as a workplace) to the center or our attention and discussion. This approach was modeled off of Parker Palmer’s “The Community of Truth” (Palmer, 1998: 102), as kindly recommended to me by one of our RAs doing a PhD in Education. To provide us some additional structure, each section had five elements: 1) “Who does [SoTL]?”; 2) “How do they do [SoTL] and what questions do they ask of themselves and their work?”; 3) “What kinds of resources and expertise does the TI offer?”; 4) “What are important external resources?”; 5) a discussion question.
  • What was our response? We had a very detailed discussion! As our subject became more nuanced and complex, so did the RAs contributions.

Level 2: “So what?”

  • Why does it matter? I hope this session made the structure, organization, and operations of the TI more discernible for the RAs. All the concentration and thought RAs put into the session represent their deep commitment to their work and learning. As we learn more about what we do in our work role(s), we are also learning about how we work and why certain topics/questions/activities are so important to us. I hope that as we continue to discover more about teaching and learning in higher education in our work at the TI, such pieces will continue to take shape in our aspirations for ourselves and higher education more broadly.

Level 3: “Now What?”

  • What am I going to do from now on? If I could do this session again, I would: 1) conduct it earlier in the Program curriculum than L&L #3; 2) reuse Palmer’s approach; 3) focus the content on educational development/SoTL work and practicing reflection, and assign a different L&L to project management/research tools; 4) invite TI staff/faculty member to be a guest speaker on one of the topics.

Bibliography

Educational Development Unit. (2015). Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, Educational Development Unit: Strategic Plan, 2015-2018. Calgary, AB.

Palmer, P. (1998). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., & Jasper, M. (2001). Critical reflection for nursing and the helping professions: A user’s guide. New York: Palgrave MacMillian.

How to conduct Thematic Analysis for SoTL Research

As researchers in the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning, there will invariably come a time when qualitative analysis will need to be conducted. For many researchers with a more quantitative background, or for those just starting in their academic career, “qualitative analysis” may be very new. This problem is exacerbated by the different forms of qualitative analysis offered. Anyone may pick up a book on interpretative phenomenological analysis, read the title and requirements of IPA, and then decide “maybe qualitative analysis isn’t for me”. However, there is an option available for researchers new to the field that is easy to understand, has a clear set of guidelines, and can be conducted on near any form of data. This is called “Thematic Analysis”.

Thematic analysis is a method of qualitative analysis that serves to identify, analyze, and report patterns (themes) within the data. It is useful as generally the first form of qualitative analysis that researchers learn. For anyone who knows programming, think of thematic analysis as the Python (or HTML) of qualitative research methods. For those with a less tech knowledge, thematic analysis is to qualitative analysis as cooking an egg is to becoming a chef. The next sections of this blog will discuss some pros and cons of this method, and then go straight into the 6 steps of conducting thematic analysis. It will end with some additional sources should you be interested in learning more.

Pros & Cons of Thematic Analysis

Pros:

1. Flexibility. Thematic analysis can be done on almost anything. Whether the data set you have is interviews, documents, news items, or speeches, the process is still the same. This is incredibly useful for SoTL researchers as our data can and does come from anywhere. This flexibility also applies to philosophical underpin. In qualitative analysis, researchers commonly state what philosophy (constructivism, essentialism, etc.) they take prior to conducting research. Certain forms of qualitative analysis are situated within a philosophy that the researcher may not subscribe to. Thankfully, the structure of thematic analysis allows for different philosophical paradigm to be used.

2. Learning curve. Thematic analysis is also easy to learn. This is useful given the diverse education level and knowledge background of SoTL researchers. Academics who study SoTL come from different fields of academia. these different skill levels demand a form of analysis that lets them jump in without too much formal training. Conducting another form of analysis, like grounded theory or discourse analysis can be quite daunting and turn others off from qualitative analysis.

Cons:

1. Reliability. The flexibility associated with thematic analysis is actually a double-edged sword. Because thematic analysis is less structured, individuals may be stuck with too many sources and no real way to synthesize it all appropriately. Trying to conduct thematic analysis with multiple data types (interviews, documents) means individuals may come to the issue of which item or theme to focus on. Furthermore, this flexibility means individuals conducting thematic analysis with the same data may come to wildly different results. This is a broader issue with qualitative analysis in general, but the flexibility of thematic analysis exacerbates these concerns.

2. Prestige. Thematic analysis, unlike other forms of qualitative analysis is not tied to a philosophical paradigm. This also comes at the cost of being less popular – what Braun & Clarke describes as “kudos” – than other forms of analysis such as grounded theory or discourse analysis. Thus, other researchers may not particularly know of “thematic analysis” even if they’ve inadvertently done it themselves. Furthermore, the prestige of a form of analysis can sometimes be used to lend credence to the work conducted. However, this is an outcome of ‘methodolatry’ – a commitment to method rather than the topic or research question (Holloway & Todres, 2003). The hope is that as different forms of qualitative analysis are better understood, individuals will not succumb to this heuristic.

6 Steps to conducting thematic analysis

Presented here are the 6 steps to conducting thematic analysis. Note however that these are merely guidelines. The key to conducting good qualitative analysis  is not following a step-by-step guide but maintaining an analytical mindset while doing so. Having a strong analytical mindset throughout the process will lead to the best results, whether or not you follow the process exactly.

  1. Familiarization with data

Familiarization requires immersion into the data. Repeated readings are recommended. The researcher must actively search for meaning, patterns, and other possible items of interest. Note taking, in the form of a notepad, sticky notes, or journal, is also necessary. Braun & Clarke (2006) recommend that, at this stage, the researcher should try and generate an initial list of ideas about what is in the data and what is interesting.

  1. Generation of initial codes

Codes identify data features (e.g. descriptors, patterns) of interest to the research question. Researchers must systematically work through the entire data set, giving full & equal attention to each data item and extracting codes. Advice include code as many themes as possible, code inclusively (include some context), and allow data items to be coded more than once when relevant.

  1. Searching for themes

This phase requires the researcher to summarize the different codes into overarching themes, connecting the themes with the purpose to create a thematic map of the data. A thematic map contains both themes and subthemes with an outlined depiction of each themes’ relations to each other.

  1. Reviewing themes

This phase involves a refinement of the themes over a two-part process. In part 1, researchers must review the data extracts, reading for the proposed themes. If the proposed themes are ill-fitting, an editing of the thematic map may be necessary. In part 2, researchers must consider the validity of individual themes in relation to the data set. This includes determining whether themes “work” within the data set and whether additional codes are found with the themes in mind.

  1. Defining and naming themes

This phase involves creating the final thematic map. This map requires an explanation of each theme and how each theme addresses the research question. Sub themes are also included and explanations are required for these as well. The end purpose is a clear definition of what the themes are and how they differentiate.

  1. Producing the report

The final phase involves producing the report of the analysis process. Recommendations include ensuring the report is concise, coherent, logical, non-repetitive, and interesting. Evidence in the form of data extracts are generally used to further elucidate points.

Conclusion

The information in these 6 steps provide the key points for conducting thematic analysis. For a more thorough explanation of the method, see Braun & Clarke (2006). More detailed information about qualitative analysis in general is available through the book Successful Qualitative Research: A Practical Guide for Beginners (Braun & Clarke, 2001).

References

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2001). Successful qualitative research: A practical guide for beginners.       Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101.

Holloway, I., & Todres, L. (2003). The status of method: flexibility, consistency and coherence. Qualitative Research, 3(3), 345-357.

Academic Blogging Roundtable

Today we met in casual roundtable to discuss academic blogging as a pursuit in the TI RA Program. During our first literature search, we determined that there are many resources out there on writing blog (key reasons [writing practice, personal interests/hobby, research journaling, etc.], style [blogs are more conversational than formal], and formatting [headings, length, images, etc.]. However, very little literature (casual or scholarly) exists on the potential applications and impact of academic blogging as a professional development tool in a higher education context.  From our discussion we determined that such a literature gap creates both dilemmas and possibilities. On the one hand, there are no rules! We can experiment with what works for us, reflect on it, and create our own guidelines and metrics for success. On the other hand, oh no, there are no rules! If there are no guidelines or metrics already in existence how do we know what we are doing is impactful, helpful, or successful?

Currently, our answer is to (once again) fall back on our program priorities: 1) creating RA community and communication; 2) developing RA capacity (knowledge, skills, and abilities); 3) empowering RA learning and success. At this time, RAs desire structure and direction, and I wish to give them freedom and flexibility. To strike a balance between these two, we have created the following plan:

  • All RAs will have their own pages for them to add/post on as they so desire. They are free to experiment with form, content, language, images, media, and genres however they wish.
  • All RAs will have “Editor” access so they can create/curate this content as they like. I will keep my role as website administrator.
  • We will meet once every two weeks for dedicated writing time. This is a casual space where RAs can come/go as they wish, and commit to putting one hour exclusively towards the blog.*
  • I will keep working on a short scholarship-informed academic blogging guide.

*EDIT: As I mentioned in the meeting, I am concerned at the amount of time in total this would take away from RA’s normal duties. I will follow up with RA supervisors before booking anything official. 

Lunch & Learn #2: Mapping RA Development

Overview

IMG_3325

This was the first (and messiest) whiteboard we created together. All misspellings are mine.

On July 12, our Lunch & Learn focused on mapping RA’s development – the knowledge, skills, or abilities transferable across academic and workplace contexts that RAs bring to and gain from their roles. After a brief overview of the definitions and examples from the tip-sheet, Identifying RA Knowledge Skills Abilities, we applied our reflective and critical efforts to this Worksheet – Mapping Your Development. However, after 10 minutes it was clear that RAs wanted to push the content and processes of this material even further. As everyone shared many questions and anecdotes, I took a whiteboard and mapped out what the landscape of “transferable” knowledge/skills/abilities might look like as we were talking. It was messy and scribbly process, but Tiffany was a great sport as we questioned, critiqued, unpacked, and evaluated her graduate and RA work as our common example! After reviewing our work, everyone grabbed their own whiteboards and engaged in the exercise for themselves. I went around the room offering any help I could, and made note of the guiding questions each RA found helpful for in their individual positions. In the last 15 minutes, everyone shared their work with the group, gave each other feedback on other ways to think about their points, or mentioned a knowledge, skill, or ability they had forgotten to write down.

Our Final Mapping Process

The final product of our mapping process was as follows:

  1. Draw a line across the middle of the whiteboard. Next, draw a large square in the middle of that line.
  2. Label the top half of the whiteboard “Grad school” or “Academics”, and the bottom half “RA” or “TI”. In the top right-hand corner, draw a box labeled “No”. This section helps you distinguish what you are doing from what you are not, e.g.: one RA is looking at theories of gender representation using the works of Erving Goffmann, but is not looking at the works of Judith Butler. Writing “Butler” in the “No” section therefore prompted them to think about what makes Goffmann ideal for their project.
  3. Use the following guiding questions to fill in your “Academics and “RA” sections: What am I studying and working on now? What theories and methods am I using to collect, organize, and analyze data? Where (and when) does the data come from? Which courses have been the most exciting for me? If I was pursue an MA or PhD, what would I study? Further questions and insights will arise in this process. The most important thing is that you write down all points that come to mind even if they don’t make sense or seem to connect to anything else. Add or edit anything in the “No” section as you go.
  4. Step back from the board, look at everything you have written, and ask yourself the following guiding questions: What stands out as most important? What are common titles, verbs, or pursuits? Write all common points in the center box, and reflect on it as a small representation of your many transferable knowledge, skills, and abilities in your current academic and RA roles.

Surprises

The first surprise was that this Lunch & Learn took an intense and exciting direction I had not planned. However, I was so thrilled at the hard work the RAs put into their tasks that I’m grateful for the detour. They were completely fearless, bold, and open!

Individual RAs also reported surprises regarding how they think about their work, e.g:

  • One RA realized she was a coach (in interest and in job title) in both her academic program and RA positions
  • One RA reflected on his interests in cosmology as abstractly reminiscent of institutional organization and campus outreach programs
  • One RA was excited to see his MA research align with his ongoing interests in educational development and user experiences of educational technology

Gallery

 

 

Lunch & Learn #1: Program Launch

The TI Research Associate Program officially launched on Tuesday June 21, 2016 at our very first Lunch & Learn! We began with a family-style lunch, and then introduced ourselves and the Program by saying our name, who we work with, and what we study in our home disciplines.

Lunch and Learn #1 FINAL_Page_04

“Lunch & Learn: Introductions” PowerPoint by Rachel Braun, 2016.

Next, we did a brief reflection activity asking: Imagine you get an email saying you have been selected to apply/interview for your biggest aspiration today! How would you use your current RA role at the TI to evidence your knowledge and capabilities? Once everyone had put their reflections on paper, I provided a brief overview of the Program’s priorities and current activities. This prompted much discussion, and acted as a springboard to our brainstorming activity.

In seeking to understand what makes a meaningful RA experience, I wanted to tap into what is important to RAs. To do this, we played “Brainstorming Basketball” to generate ideas and feedback about what RAs would like to gain from the Program and their roles at the TI in general. Participants were divided into three teams and three tables (“courts”). Each court had a stack of paper, and a question: How can we help you with…

  • …being part of the TI community?
  • …developing your knowledge, skills, and abilities?
  • …evidencing your experiences to future employers or educators?

    All the “basketballs” collected at the end of the Lunch & Learn. Photo by Rachel Braun, 2016.

    All the “basketballs” collected at the end of the Lunch & Learn. Photo by Rachel Braun, 2016.

At “GO!”, each team had 3 minutes to jot down as many answers to the questions as they could. At the end of three minutes, each team stood up, crumpled each individual piece of paper into a ball, and threw it into the “net” at the front of the room. Each ball successfully shot into the net counted as one point. At the end of each round, we tallied scores. Then, each team moved over 1 court and repeated this process until everyone had answered all three questions. At the end of the game, the team with the highest score received a prize. I collected all the “basketballs”, listed and summarized them in a report, and presented the results to TI staff and faculty at our monthly meeting.

All questions had three elements that RAs continuously referred to: publishing, increased and diversified collaboration with TI staff, and online presence.

  1. Publishing. RAs would like to learn how to go about academic publishing, collaborate with TI staff/faculty in publishing an article, and/or learn how to turn their work into independent publications/conference presentations.
  2. Increased/diversified collaboration with TI staff/projects. RAs would like to be included in TI events, and work with a variety of TI faculty/staff. RAs would also like to collaborate with each other both formally and informally.
  3. Online presence. RAs would like to have a formal online space to showcase their work and accomplishments both within and beyond the TI.

In light of this feedback, I am very excited to say that our first Lunch & Learn was a success! Everyone was friendly, energetic, and productive. Going forward, I seek to address as much of their feedback as possible, and collaborate with TI staff/faculty to consider what this feedback could look like in specific projects and broader TI initiatives and activities.