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Reading Reflection

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I found Randy Bass’ description of the difference between a “problem” in typical research and a “problem” in one’s teaching very thought provoking. I had never thought of the difference in those terms before but it clearly defines how I view my teaching questions. One of the biggest frustrations I come across in my teaching is trying to teach students how to think and process information to use it in a meaningful way, as opposed to memorizing some facts and regurgitating their “knowledge”. This frustration has definitely been viewed and expressed as a problem that needed to be fixed; a deficit in student’s ability to do it and in my ability to teach them how. My current broad research problem focuses on this frustration by wanting to examine how to improve student’s critical thinking abilities before they graduate.  

More specifically, my original research question is, “can using scientific journal style laboratory reports could be a method to improve students’ critical thinking abilities?”. This is most definitely a “what works” type of question based on Pat Hutchings article; I am hoping to determine the effectiveness of a specific assignment on a student skill. I have played a large role in my college’s assessment process and found it interesting that Hutchings discussed the similar relationship between “what works” questions and the assessment movement. This may explain why the “what works” questions are the easiest type of question for me to ask. However, as I try to think of this as less of a problem to be fixed and more as a research question I am realizing a “what is” question would be more beneficial to student learning. Instead of examining if a single assignment type or pedagogy can influence critical thinking we really need to understand why some students are successful critical thinkers while others are not, what motivates some students to think and process information and others to just take everything at face value. While much broader in scope and likely more difficult to study with any one methodology (as discussed in the articles), I think answers to these questions would be more beneficial to student learning in the long run.    

My largest concerns as I look to tackle this research problem ties to the discussion in the articles about using multiple methodologies because of the complexity of teaching and learning. My background in scientific research has prepared me well for very quantitative methodologies such as pre/post-tests where statistical analysis can be completed. However I do not feel comfortable with more qualitative methodologies although I know that they can provide important, necessary insights. I hope that by participating in this program I become more comfortable with other research methodologies that will allow me to design more insightful studies. 

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