Sunday, February 8, 2015

Ethically Gray Grounds, with an aftershow featuring the work of Literature Reviews

Remember this prof?
This week has felt a bit like a slumber week in my research methods course.  I don't know if it's Old Man Winter and the snow he's dumping on us that's making me a little sleepier than usual, or if discussions on research ethics don't particularly float my boat.  I sure do understand the importance of ethics in research, but when it comes to internet research ethics (despite guidance) there seems to be an ethically gray area where depending on your Weltanschauung you might see something a bit on the lighter side of gray, or on the darker side of gray. Both this week (week 4) and next week (week 5) we are tackling issues of ethics and planning.  There is an interesting discussion brewing, so I hope that wakes me up a bit more.  It's too early for the onset of senioritis in this course (23 days into the semester, 61 left to go).

That said, this afternoon, as I was wrapping up my readings for Week 5 (I prefer to be a week ahead in readings just in case stuff hits the fan), there was sort of an educational smackdown in the articles we had for reading. This piqued my interest a bit and woke me up a bit from my educational slumber.  Hopefully more controversy will get me going ;-).  Anyway, back to the articles. First we had an article by Boote and Beile† who were writing about the short shrift that the Literature Review gets in Doctoral Dissertations and they suggest a framework for evaluating whether dissertations have a satisfactory breadth and depth.  It was an OK article, but the thing that I walked away with was a question (which I jotted down in the margins) - "how thorough is thorough?".  One person's thorough, or sufficiently in-depth, is another person's lacking - or at least it has the potential to be.  Then came Maxwell's commentary‡ on this article which really seemed to lay the smackdown on Boote & Beile.

The thing that was really useful to me is this divide that exists (apparently) over the purpose of the literature review.  Should it be a broad overview of what's been done in the field up to now? All inclusive so as to orient the reader into the new developments presented by the dissertation?  This approach would be the story so far approach used in television shows to recap major elements of past shows that have an impact on the upcoming episode.  Or, should Literature reviews be more selective?  A lot is read, but only relevant pieces of literature are discussed because they setup the current research and provide a way to frame through which to view and reference what is about to come?  Thus, in an example for me, if I am doing research into learner motivation in MOOCs, I won't discuss the entire research on MOOCs, because that also includes managerial aspects of MOOCs that would not be of value for my research, but I could look into research into motivation in non-MOOC learning contexts.

Interesting stuff!  Now I need to start reading for Week 6, and start doing some work on Discourse Analysis, a topic I am co-presenting on on 2/24. Only 2 weeks to go...and I still need to complete assignment 1.  It's not a hard assignment. Challenging a bit, yes, but hard no.  I just have issues with writing on queue. I tend to be more of a free-ranger writer.

As a side note.  One thing I read this week (in the Week 5 readings) was about the purpose of the dissertation.  I know I've written (or talked) about this before, but I still have a hard time viewing the doctoral dissertation as anything other than a culminating capstone of some sort.  Some people see it as bleeding edge research, and it might be that, but I am having a hard time seeing doctoral students being on the bleeding edge of anything. Considering how much work we have to put in to continue to learn about the field after our eventual graduation, bleeding edge doesn't seem attainable.  I suppose it all depends on how you define bleeding edge, but the way I see it my dissertation won't rock anyone's world.  It will be good and solid, and will provide new findings, but without that earth shattering AHA(!) it doesn't fulfill my criteria for what is bleeding edge.  Your thoughts?

† Boote, D., & Beile, P. (2005). Scholars before researchers: On the centrality of the dissertation literature review in research preparation. Educational Researcher, 34(6), 3-15 (freely accessible on AERA I think)

‡ Maxwell, J. A. (2006). Literature reviews of, and for, educational research: A commentary on Boote and Beile's "Scholars before Researchers". Educational Researcher, 35(9), 28-31. (Also freely accessible on AERA I think)
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