In any given week, University of North Georgia (UNG) faculty will attend meetings on such a range of topics that our neural cortex becomes a bit like pudding. By Friday of last week, I wanted a way to redeem the meeting-pudding with which I found my mind filled. The way I chose to do so is by acknowledging the ever-apparent commonality between all meetings; they are all about trying to improve the University. I saw a sub-theme of the scholarship of teaching and learning. It is no surprise; we are under pressure to improve our teaching and our research, simultaneously. It made sense why my thoughts would go there. If you are lucky enough to work in a department with resources and structural systems dedicated to research, this is an easier task to accomplish. For the majority of faculty at UNG, however, we must find the way to make our little domain in this teaching machine also produce research.
Two options exist, the first is break the machine. That is, drop your responsibilities to teaching and service, for a while or indefinitely, if convenient. Making this easier choice would be the incorrect thing to do. For the committed educator, a system where research is supported by teaching, and vice-versa, is the only choice.
The second – and correct – option is to develop a mechanism that attaches a second gear to your place in the machine. This option is vastly preferable to the first. After all, UNG’s goal is to produce quality people. There is no doubt; we are primarily a teaching institution. If our students are not achieving at their highest, we have become irrelevant in our profession.
How I am fighting to be successful with the second option research project?
First things first. Learn.
I’m relatively new to this type of research. So, I keep finding new information that helps me rethink what I am doing. Here are two selected articles that are guiding me in choosing research methods in general and in the writing of a qualitative case-study specifically.
Using Constructivist Case Study Methodology to Understand Community Development Processes: Proposed Methodological Questions to Guide the Research Process is a little thick on the tongue, but the article’s premise is a decision tree about how we chose research models and how to frame research projects. I copied the questions almost word for word and systematically have been working through them on each research topic. The first author, Laucker, is actually a student, and Paterson and Krupa are her advisors. As a teacher education professor, I’m always impressed with explicit modeling of scholarship in the classroom.
Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research by Bent Flyvbjerg, helped shape my thoughts around how case-study approaches would work best as a starting place in my independent research at UNG. It also dispelled some nasty concepts that were holdovers from my PhD training in the biomedical sciences. A light went off after reading this, and I recognized that my role in scholarship is one of empowerment. Using a co-written case-study approach is empowering to our students and makes for a more dynamic expression of classroom teaching. I think almost all faculty have at least one student who is causing them to excel in teaching practices, or who are asking tough questions in class. Work with them and make something bigger from that interaction. More about this idea in Step 3.
Organize your time appropriately. , so focus on the crucial tasks of making your teaching process a research process. I have dedicated times in my busy weekly schedule when nothing, except my spouse, is allowed to interrupt. Email and text notifications are turned off. The door is closed. A timer is set. I have only one item on my agenda and I will focus on that one item. When something comes to mind as I work, it gets jotted down for later. If planning isn’t your strong suit, I highly recommend Textbook & Academic Authors Association’s blog to help focus your productivity. A great recent topic by Noelle Sterne covers 6 techniques to jumpstart writing efficiency and productivity.
Pick people you think you can work with. Don’t know who that is? Experiment with different people. Tell them the writing relationship is on a probationary period. If your partnership goals haven’t been met by a mutually agreed upon time, it is worth considering forming a different partnership. There are some faculty and students who I have greatly enjoyed talking with, we have similar research interests, but we can’t seem to accomplish anything together. There are no hard feelings; some work habits don’t mesh. No worries. Keep building those partnerships.
In your scholarship, don’t forget that Center for Teaching, Learning, and Leadership (CTLL) is on your side. Everything from helping you form a writing group to working on copyright issues is within their expertise. A quick recommendation from the CTLL blog: Diana Edelman did a piece about the Benefits of Faculty Writing Groups that is well worth considering. CTLL also offers Write@UNG, a faculty development program which focuses on research and writing skills, led by Michael Rifenburg. Check out his blog.
What is most important to remember is that we are all in this together. Every faculty and staff member wants to improve the University. If they didn’t, I’m sure that they can find adequate replacement salary elsewhere. Work as a team and continue to share your passion for teaching. When we are actively engaged in the scholarship of teaching, our students benefit. Make the most of your opportunities.