This blog post is very different to ones I have written previously on this site. In those I have blogged on experiences in a Masters in Digital Education at Edinburgh University. This post is not just about the Masters; it is part of it, an assignment within an edX MOOC (Introduction to Social Research Methods) considering potential research topics for a dissertation. These are my thoughts so far on choosing a topic; the more I learn of research methodology, the more I see the gaps in my thinking. I trust that writing here helps with those.
What kind of topic am I interested in researching? I am interested in psychology of learning within digital contexts, in the area of meta-learning. As well as learning about subject content, we all also learn through how content is delivered. Meta-learning involves becoming aware of the latter aspect of learning, understanding it and adjusting it if needed. If learners are unaware of this and learning content is delivered in a top-down way, then they may also learn that acquiring knowledge is a passive activity and not to be questioned. Alternatively, collaborative learning can cause the opposite effect.
Yet I have seen how digital contexts that should encourage collaborative learning actually do the opposite. Facebook discussions can cause the positions of people with differing perspectives to close in rather than open up. On the other hand, creating entries for Wikipedia brings people together to create a shared story, and having different positions involved in creating them actually enriches this.
What initial research questions might be starting to emerge? I am interested in the area of interfaith training and in digital tools to help with that. If the aim is for those of different (and no) faiths to understand and respect each other better, can some digital tools do that better than others? What makes the difference? Should the meta-learning aspect be specifically discussed or do learners learn inherently just by using them?
What am I interested in researching – people, groups, communities, documents, images, organisations? My interest is in people and groups, although constraints come due to my working context. Digital training tools are only starting to be used in my work for interfaith learning so numbers of people and groups are still small. It is likely to stay a small part of the project for a while, with most of the learning coming from face-to-face interaction.
Do I have any initial ideas for the kinds of methods that might help to gather useful knowledge in this area of interest? Since amount of data is likely to be small, this points towards a qualitative approach, considering the quality of experience of using digital rather than a quantitative approach, counting or measuring large numbers in order to establish patterns. A survey or interview approach could be adopted using open ended questions to explore patterns.
What initial questions do I have about those methods? What don’t I understand yet? My initial questions are around where data is to be sourced from. The digital aspect of the project is at an early stage so it does not exist yet. Possibilities I see at this stage are either to wait until there is more data or to focus on research methods based on a qualitative approach, such as interview and survey.
Do I perceive any potential challenges in my initial ideas? Yes, I see challenges in the area of timing, that the issues to address in a dissertation may not be apparent yet and that data with which to address them may not be enough yet.