This is a reflection on a specific MICER17 conference session; for an overview of the conference, start reading here.
Drilling down into data collection methods more was Graham Scott, talking about interviews for data collection. Many useful do’s and don’ts were shared, such as the importance of interviewing in a neutral distraction-free environment, without a strong power imbalance between the interviewer and interviewee. Lecturers interviewing their students, and vice versa, were both problematic!
The importance of testing out your data collection was re-iterated (an emergent theme for this conference) . Pilot your interview on a single participant, as you may discover whole questions and subject areas that deserve an entry in your rota. The idea of open questions to prompt discussion in focus groups was also raised, with interviewees provided with lists of prompt questions to speed up dry spells. It also helps speed up transcription of group conversation if the mediator addresses people by name!
Our table picked as a group to interview, those students who don’t turn up for lectures. Conversation largely focused around getting people to engage with the interview itself, with the possibility of telephone interview or even instant messaging. Telephone interviews are both hindered and helped by the lack of body language, either in reading student emotions or in avoiding prejudicing the conversation with body language of your own.
Some other takeaways from this session were references: Firstly, a paper from Graham exploring the motivations to share educational practice, in biology educators. Why do we bother publishing, or talking, or attending conferences?
Secondly, a look at barriers to the adoption of fieldwork, where teachers were given a presentation of exemplar good practice, followed by a single question: “Why won’t this work in your context?” It’s something of a personal weakness (using my local context as a reason not to trust education research findings) so I imagine some of the findings will dovetail nicely with Terry McGlynn’s outstanding blog piece from last year, Education research denialism in STEM faculty. We are all in the thrall of pragmatic teaching factors, but perhaps part of the reason we get stuck in a loop of “can’t fix the leak, too busy bailing” is because we just don’t trust the sealant?
For a far more elegant summary of the talk, Dr Kristy Turner was also at the conference and sketched several of the talks; her tweet is embedded below with permission, gratefully received!