Is your research biased? Answer: Yes. (Here’s why.)

October 29, 2012

Sarah Eaton blog technology researchThis semester I am teaching a course on Research Methodology in Education. One of the topics that has come up is bias in our research

Bias is present is bascially every research study. Even though we strive to be objective — and that is part of our work, we nevertheless start with a set of values, beliefs and philosophies that shape our opinions and world view.  It is important for reasearchers to understand the biases they bring to their work and to acknowledge them.

For example, one of my biases is that I hold is that everyone is capable of learning. Not everyone is capable of earning a Ph.D. (for any number of reasons), but everyone is capable of learning something. This is one of my values and beliefs that shapes my work. If I am an honest researcher, I must declare and acknowlege that bias when I do research. It is one thing to have and acknowledge bias. It is an entirely different matter to purposely bias our research in favor of a particular outcome or do research just to prove a point.

There are two ways to approach research:

Approach #1 – Conduct research in a manner that supports your argument

The first is to start with an argument or a position and conduct research and find literature that supports your point of view.

Though some scholars might disagree, I would submit that is an undesirable starting position. The reason is that you are likely to skew either your research or your results so they fit with your argument. Forcing results to fit to a pre-determined argument may be considered unethical. For example, pharmaceutical companies that conduct drug tests in order to prove the drug is safe and refuse to release research that may contradict that starting point are harshly criticized. Such research is not considered believable because it is skewed.

Approach #2 – Start with a research question, hypothesis or topic. Conduct your research in a manner that seeks to answer a question.

The second way to approach you research is to begin with a problem you want to solve or a question you want to answer. Then, you conduct your research in a manner that seeks to answer your research question. Once you have conducted your research, your argument emerges from your data.

The data is the information that you gather that allows you develop a cogent argument to persuade others. You can gather primary data (e.g. interviews) or secondary data (e.g. literature review).

Part of a research study almost always involves a review of previous literature written on the topic you are studying. In your literature review, it is valuable to cite opposing views. Once you have considered your question or problem from a variety of angles, then you can begin to develop an argument, based on your findings. Considering a variety of viewpoints is highly desirable as it demonstrates that you are not attempting to skew your results in favor of a pre-determined outcome.

Be aware that just because you start your research with a particular question or topic, it is unwise to assume that your starting position is the correct one. Be curious, rather than dogmatic. What themes emerge from the literature that you surveyed? What surprised you? What arguments can be made? What conclusions can be drawn?

In my own research, it has happened to me that I start with a research question, problem or hypothesis and as I surveyed the literature, my hypothesis was proven to be incorrect. Be prepared for that to happen. It does not mean you are a bad researcher. Quite the contrary, it means you have allowed your hypothesis or question to be challenged and your research is driven by the data you find.

We may come to our work with a bias. But ultimately, the research needs to speak for itself. That’s what makes it credible.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


UNESCO’s free advocacy kit for promoting multilingual education

October 24, 2012

UNESCO multilingualism Sarah Elaine Eaton blogUNESCO has a number of initiatives on the go to promote multilingual, bilingual and mother-tongue education. They have come out with a new advocacy kit designed to help raise awareness about the importance of multilingual education. The toolkit is for:

  • education practitioners (teachers)
  • education specialists (learning leaders)
  • policy makers

The kit is a 109-page free, downloadable .pdf. It is very cool. Get yours here.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


Global Trends in 21st Century Education: Thinking about Technology, Teaching and Learning in the New Millennium – Speaking in Quesnel, BC

October 23, 2012

Last Friday, I was in Quesnel, British Columbia to present at the professional development day for K-12 teachers in School District 28. I was honored to be their keynote speaker, as well as do two workshops afterwards. Here is what I presented:

Keynote address – Global Trends in 21st Century Education: Thinking about Technology, Teaching and Learning in the New Millennium

This talk is based on research I have been doing since 2010 on emerging trends in education across most developed nations and what we might expect over the next 15 to 20 years. I am not a futurist by training, but there are elements of looking down the road and being able to say, “This is where we are today, and it is not impossible that this is where we are heading.”

Workshop #1 – Appreciating Innovation and Incorporating Wisdom Across the Educational Spectrum

This workshop had an educational leadership focus. We looked at how teachers with different approaches to technology can learn to work together for the benefit of students. It was a strength-based approach to working together in the digital age.

Workshop #2 – Learning the Twenty-First Century Way: Making Sense of How to Use Social Media for Classroom Learning and Student Engagement

In this workshop, I shared how I incorporated Twitter into one of my university level classes. Then we had some hands-on time in the lab and teachers got set up with their first Twitter account.

I really enjoyed my time in Quesnel, a small city of 10,000 people where the pulp mill is a major employer and residents are concerned about the land slippage into the Fraser River that is affecting homes and roadways.

I always find that I learn a lot from taxi drivers when I go somewhere to speak and Quesnel was no exception. The cab driver who picked me up at 7:15 a.m. to take me over to the high school told me that his fares so far that morning had included a round-trip drug run and that poverty was a major issue in the community.

Stories like that were countered by the one told to me by Mike Adams, the principal at Correlieu Secondary School, where our PD day was held. He told me that the young man who got the sound system set up for the day had essentially been abandoned by his parents as a teenager. Instead of turning to drugs, he was surrounded by friends, teachers and administrators who wanted to help. As a result, he was on the football team, in the band and part of the school musical. He turned his life around thanks to the strong sense of community and support he found.

Thank you gift from Quesnel, BC - keynote speaker, Sarah Elaine EatonThanks to Lisa Kishkan, who organized the whole PD day for the teachers, including the other workshops that included sessions on intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation; the art of Pysanky (Ukrainian Easter Eggs); and the aboriginal medicine wheel. I really enjoyed my time in Quesnel and as always, I think I learned as much as I shared.

I am excited to try the “birch syrup” that the teachers gave to me as a thank you gift at the end of the day. And I love coffee and I’ll enjoy the new coffee mug that will always remind me of the trip. Thank you to the educators of Quesnel for the great work you do.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


The 50 Top Leadership Blogs to Watch in 2013

October 22, 2012

Top 50 Leadership Blog to Watch in 2013A friend just sent me a message to say, “Did you know you are on this list?” I went to check out Evan Carmichael’s blog and sure enough, there I am, #29 out of 50.

Considering Dale Carnegie, Robin Sharma and Franklin Covey are in the top 10, I’m especially honoured to be in the top 20. I am not sure how Evan chose his Top 50 Leadership Blogs to Watch in 2013, but I can say that it was a real treat to the beginning of the week to find out I was on his list. I am going to check out the other leadership blogs he mentions. No doubt I’ll subscribe to at least a few of them.

Sometimes people say to me, “I don’t get blogging. Why do you do it?” My answer is that I blog for the same reasons I would engage in a hallway conversation or water cooler chat if I worked in a traditional office: to connect, to share ideas and stories. For me, blogging is a way to reach out to others and engage in dialogue about what matters deeply to me.

Thank you, Evan, for this honour. You’ve got me thinking about what leadership topics I’ll be blogging about in 2013!

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


5 Tips to make writing easier

October 4, 2012

This past spring I taught a course on Writing Educational Research to a group of Master’s students, most of whom taught English as an Additional Language as their job. I was surprised how many of them loathed writing. One student said that she was reluctant to teach writing in her EAL courses because it felt like forcing a traumatic experience on them.

Over the course of the six-weeks we learned together, we came up with some strategies that they could use for themselves, and also use with their students. Here they are:

1. Write every day. Saying, “I’m going to write my essay on the weekend,” can turn the weekend into a time of torture instead of a time to relax and recharge your batteries. Instead, commit to writing 30 minutes per day. This helps build the writing habit.

2. Choose a time of the day when you feel fresh and creative.  For me, that time is often first thing in the morning. By mid-afternoon I am crashing and after supper my brain seems capable of basic life support only. In the morning is when I feel both creative and clear-headed.

3. Work with a writing partner. Choose someone you get along with and like to work with. Arrange a time to work together to review each other’s writing, make suggestions and do some peer editing. The point of working together is to try to help each other, not to nit pick. Set some ground rules and focus on the positive.

4. Let go. Some students said they hated writing because they couldn’t tolerate being criticized or being asked to revise their writing. They became very emotionally attached to their writing right away. What if the purpose of writing was to share it? And share it in the best form possible? If we start with that idea, then we might become less emotionally tethered to the writing… You can still be proud of your work without having a  Gollum-like attachment to it.

5. Edit and revise. It is said that Mozart never revised his music. He sat down, wrote it and was done. Unfortunately, most of us are not Mozart. I recently submitted the second revision of an article I submitted to a peer-reviewed academic journal. It was “accepted with minor revisions” when I first submitted it. That was almost six months ago. I made the changes the reviewers requested and re-submitted it. Then recently, the editor came back to me with a few more minor changes. He was right in asking me to change a few more things. I had forgotten to add in some citations, which are important in journal articles. I made the changes and sent the manuscript back again. I had been so close to the work, I could no longer see the errors. Working with editors, reviewers and instructors is really a chance to make your writing better.

Writing seems to be very easy for some people and very painful for others. These strategies may help a few reluctant writers and ease their stress so writing does not seem so daunting.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


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