On being researched

Survey noteI research people. Mostly in classrooms and schools, but I’ve also done my fair share of interviews in coffee shops. This research has focused on writing and the teaching of writing and professional development and technology and departments and communities. All of it has required the cooperation of the individuals involved. They agreed to be observed, videotaped, audio recorded, photographed, interviewed, and — eventually — written about for the public. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do the research that I do. And without people willing to say “yes” to participating, science wouldn’t happen.

At one point it finally occurred to me and a colleague to ask these teachers we were working with, “What’s it like to be researched?” (This ah-ha happened far later in my research process than I’d like to admit, btw.) Though when my colleague and I started looking for other people who had written about this question, (because that’s what doctoral students do, see who has already written about the stuff we’re interested in) we were surprised that there wasn’t a whole lot out there. So we thought, “Hey, we can write about it!” Which also meant, of course, asking our teachers what they experienced. So we wrote, and the article was published by the awesome journal.

Some answers
I say “some answers” because solid research rarely purports to have “all the answers.” For our research, teachers’ broad answer to the question “What’s it like to be researched?” was “Good, if I trust you.”

Some specifics: when participating in research, teachers

    • valued trust, respect, and a philosophical alignment with the researcher,
    • were more reflective during research, both in the midst of teaching and afterwards, and
    • felt they were contributing to important scholarly conversations about teaching and learning.

Important to note is when teachers felt like their teaching philosophy didn’t align with a researcher, they resisted the research. What does that mean? A hypothetical: Say a researcher, Jane, comes into Annabeth’s (one teacher from the article) classroom. Jane didn’t think Annabeth’s students could really do the work. Those expectations will affect the students, as the Pygmalion Effect has repeatedly shown. Annabeth objected to Jane’s deficit view of her students and resisted Jane’s visits and research. While neither of the teachers in this article sabotaged the research — they’re professionals, after all — the quality of the research could likely have been affected. Building relationships matters, trust matters, respect matters. (Um, duh? But I find myself having to say a lot of ‘duh’ stuff right now, so why not this?)

What’s it all mean?
Findings from research like this (not just about bacon) definitely influence my life and the choices that I make. As a researcher, I’ll continue to work hard to build trust with people — teachers, students, anyone — who agrees to participate in my research. As a parent of school-age children, I’ll support my children’s teachers if they participate in research — as long as they feel confident in the research! And, as a voter, I’ll support the research process as practiced by the scholarly community.

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