Summer course – Research Methodology in Education

June 19, 2017

I am pleased to be teaching Research Methodology in Education this summer for our Master of Education students. This is an online course offered from July 4 to August 16, 2017.

Course description

This first course in educational research methodologies provides the background necessary to make intelligent decisions around the kinds of research questions that might be asked and the sort(s) of insights and answers particular methods can provide.

Learner outcomes

Throughout the course of study students will be able to:

  • Identify viable and interesting research questions, both in their own potential research endeavours and in the work of published academics
  • Identify, compare and critique a variety of educational research methodologies based on their primary assumptions and methods
  • Evaluate the relevance of educational research methodologies with special consideration being given to stated research questions and the knowledge being sought
  • Differentiate between the central tenets of qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis strategies with special consideration being given to the strengths, weaknesses and relevance of each in education
  • Assess the validity of a variety of research methods, both qualitative and quantitative, commonly used in education
  • Examine and interrogate the relationships between research questions, research methods and interpretation of findings in educational studies
  • Demonstrate a critical understanding of ethical issues in educational research, particularly with regard to the use of human participants
  • Formulate and evaluate their own preliminary research questions in response to both their research interests and professional context
  • Understand how action research applies to educational settings and contexts

Required readings

Creswell, J. W. (2014).  Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (4th ed).  Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Hendricks, C. (2016). Improving schools through Action Research: A reflective practice approach (4th ed.), Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Here’s a copy of the course outline: EDER_603.21_Su2017_Eaton_approved

This marks the tenth time I have taught this course online. I love working with students to help them gain a strong foundation in research methodology. I can’t wait to get started with this year’s group!

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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

 

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Writing Educational Research (EDER 603.23)

May 11, 2017

U of C logo - 2015I am feeling energized! This spring, I get to teach one of my all-time favourite courses: Writing Educational Research (EDER 603.23). I’ll be working with Master of Education (M.Ed.) students to help them craft a term paper into a manuscript for publication.

Why do I love this course? Because it generates results! Some of the students who take this course really do end up getting their work published in peer-reviewed journals, conference proceedings, books and professional publications. Here are some real-life examples of students who have taken this course with me and have published their work:

There are additional students who have written to me to tell me they have manuscripts in progress. I really love to see authentic, real-world outcomes from student learning and these are some fabulous examples.

Course description

Here is the official description of the course:

This course will focus on examining and developing the skills associated with crafting an academic report and discussion on research data. Topics include genres and purposes of academic writing, as well as venues for presentation and publication. An academic paper is more than a compilation of relevant literature, attending information and a conclusion.

An acceptable paper, whether intended for an academic or a professional audience, and whether a report of findings or a theoretical-philosophical argument, takes a clearly defined idea, situates it in the current literature, and supports it with a well-structured discussion. The principal intentions of this course are to introduce students to the various structures of academic and professional papers and to provide support in their efforts to craft, present and potentially publish their written work.

A traditional approach to writing educational research involves first learning about writing, then learning to write. Learners first study sample texts, analyzing them and then dissecting them, examining their structure, argument and style. The next step often involves producing an original piece of writing that mimics the style, tone and structure of the sample text. The final step is to integrate elements of the student’s own voice and style with elements of the texts they have previously studied. The rationale behind this approach is that the student must first learn what counts as excellent writing by learning about writing. Only then are they prepared to write themselves.

This course takes a non-traditional approach to learning to write about research for scholarly or professional purposes. Students will focus on writing, offering feedback to peers, revising, and incorporating feedback.

Students take on three key roles during this course:

  1. Writer – Crafting an original work intended for sharing in a public forum.
  2. Reviewer – Developing your skills offering substantive and supportive feedback to peers to help them improve their writing so that they, too, are successful in sharing their work in a public forum.
  3. Reviser – Learning to consider and incorporate peer feedback thoughtfully. As scholars and professionals, we recognize that our work is stronger when we incorporate revisions from trusted colleagues whose intention is to help us succeed.

Check out a copy of the course outline here:

EDER_603.23_L09_Eaton_SP2017 – approved

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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


7 Ways to Celebrate the End of the Semester

April 12, 2017

hands hope sunCongratulations! You have made it to the end of another semester in one piece. You deserve to catch your breath and celebrate. Here are some ways to do just that:

1. Thank your loved ones. They have put up with your grumpiness, your tantrums and your anxiety all term. They’ve done chores for you that you should have been doing yourself, but turned a blind eye to because of school work. They’ve listened to you, given you advice or bitten their tongue to refrain from giving you too much advice. Seriously, they deserve some appreciation. Show your love with some flowers, a nice dinner out or some other special thank you for the loved ones who have been there for you all term.

2. Thank your classmates. Was there a classmate who really supported you this term? Was there a fellow student who listened when you needed a shoulder to cry on? Or someone who gave you awesome feedback on your work? Learning is not a solitary endeavour. Send your classmate a note of appreciation and tell them how much he or she means to you.

3. Book some self-care. Whether it is a massage, a chiropractic treatment, or a spa day, plan on rejuvenating your health and well-being. Book your wellness appointment today.

4. Go outside! You’ve likely been glued to your computer screen for weeks now, as you wrap up your final papers and projects. Go for a walk. Do some work in the garden. Just go outside and listen to the birds chirp. It’s time to expand your world beyond your own little work space again.

5. Re-connect with friends. Have you been ignoring your friends all term because of school work? Have you declined invitations or backed out of social engagements at the last minute because you’ve had too much work to do or just felt too stressed out? Your friends are waiting for you! Send your favourite pals a text or an e-mail today to make plans to get together.

6. Take a bath. There’s nothing like a hot, soothing bath to wash away the stress of a semester. Use bubbles, candles, music or whatever will help you relax. Take some to soak in the success of having completed another term.

7. Prepare a healthy meal. Have you been eating food out of boxes and cans these past few weeks, as you madly finish up projects? If so, your body is probably crying for some fresh vegetables and fruit. Why not take the time to prepare your favourite meal? Even better, make supper for your family or friends to thank them for supporting you.

These are just a few suggestions to celebrate the end of your semester. You probably have some ideas of your own. The important point here is to actually take the time to pause and celebrate your achievement. By completing another semester, you have reached another milestone towards your goals. Taking time to celebrate along the way is important and helps you to remember why you are doing all this.

Related post: 5 Ways to Show Teachers Appreciation http://wp.me/pNAh3-a5

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This blog has had over 1.6 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


“Math Wrath”: Are parents pushing for a return to tradition?

January 13, 2014

Recently, Canada’s national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, published, “Math wrath: Parents and teachers demanding a return to basic skills.” The article talks about a movement by some Canadian educators and parents to put greater emphasis on developing concrete math skills such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division and less focus on discovery and creative strategies.

I find myself fascinated by this debate. I have long wondered about “creative strategies” in education. At the very beginning of my teaching career I took the Gregorc learning styles test. I came out perfectly balanced between all four quadrants: concrete, abstract, random and sequential. Apparently, that’s not particularly common. What it means though is that I can see and appreciate a variety of different learning styles.

Over the past 20 years or so (about the length of my teaching career), I have noted a distinct shift away from concrete sequential learning. Order, logic, learning to follow directions and getting facts seem to have diminished in value, while experimentation, risk taking, using intuition, problem-solving, learning to work in teams and focusing on this issues at hand all seem to fit with the creative learning strategies that have become popular in recent decades.

There has been a notable shift away from valuing sequential learning, structure, learning to follow precise directions and memorizing. In decades past, educational structures and systems may have favoured the concrete sequential learner. Today’s educational systems favour a more random or exploratory approach.

The debate has become almost vicious in some educational circles. Those who favor teaching methods that are concrete and sequential have been poo-poo’ed or dismissed by colleagues who insist vehemently on the random nouveau. I have known colleagues who have been quietly yet unapologetically exited from their teaching jobs because they continue to insist that their students follow directions, do activities in a particular order or memorize.

I worry a bit about the defiant horror expressed by some educational experts and parents at the idea of memorizing. While I agree that rote learning may not employ the highest levels of our cognition, memorization has its place. Learning to say, “Please” and “Thank you” are largely memorized behaviours. Learning to stop at a red light and drive on a green light is also a memorized response. Memorizing how to do CPR could save someone’s life.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I believe that we need to go back to the days of corporal punishment for an incorrect answer based on memorization. What has always puzzled me though, is how quickly methodological fashions change in education. When a new way of learning or teaching is introduced, old ways seem to be immediately, unequivocally and vehemently dismissed. Really good teachers whose background are more traditional than fashionable are thrown out along with their teaching methods.

Do we need to take a step back and look at models that integrate and value a variety of approaches? Would it be wise to hesitate… just a little bit… before we denounce traditional methods as being heinous and abhorrent, with only newer and more fashionable ones as being worthy?

I wonder if the obsessive focus on creativity, exploration and problem-solving might be doing some harm that we can not yet predict? Perhaps a small dose of memorization, learning to follow specific directions and learning systematically might be helpful?

Personally, I give both children and adults more credit than some educators or policy makers who insist on a singular approach to learning, regardless of whether it is systematic memorization or exploratory problem-solving. Being the utterly complex and capable creatures humans are, surely we can cope with both memorization and developing creativity simultaneously?

It’s the drastic swings of the policy pendulum that should worry us. The unflinching insistence that exploratory methods are the only legitimate or credible ways of learning should make us nervous. Polarized and uncompromising opinions on the singular “best” way to learn should be considered suspect.

There is almost always more than one “right” way to learn.

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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


How to love your job as a contract teacher

January 2, 2014

2014 marks my 20th year teaching at post-secondary institutions. I have spent the past two decades of my teaching career as a part-time contract instructor, also known as a “sessional” in Canada, or an “adjunct” in the United States.

Here are some things I’ve learned over the past twenty years:

1. Know your “why”.

hands hope sunI have friends and colleagues who have been contract teachers for a long time. Some become bitter and jaded because they do not get hired into full-time and permanent positions. If you want a full-time position, then you need to be prepared to do whatever it takes to get one. That may mean moving to a new city, region or even a different country to get it. If you aren’t willing to do that, then don’t get grumpy about being a part-time teacher. Understand that you are putting staying in your current location above getting a permanent job. If you are very lucky, eventually you may get hired on full-time, but there are no guarantees. It comes with the territory.

Like a potted plant, each of us has an ideal set of conditions in which we blossom. For me, the idea of going into an office at the same time every day for the rest of my life makes my heart wilt. I have learned that I serve my institutions, my clients and my students better when I honour that part of my character that thrives in an environment of flexibility, independence and variety.

Knowing why you accept part-time contract teaching jobs helps you stay positive. Once you know your why, you can stand in your truth about what is important to you and what you need to thrive.

2. Have more than one gig at all times.

As much as you may love the department or institution you work for, there may be semesters when there are no classes for you to teach. The reasons for this may vary. For me, these have included lower departmental enrolments, insufficient enrollment in a particular course, departmental commitments to give jobs to visiting professors or scholars, or jobs going to other contract teachers with more years of service.

For me, a combination of teaching, consulting, researching, and freelance work has proven successful. I don’t do as much freelance work as I did in the early years. My career has evolved to the point where I do organizational consulting. The difference is that in freelance work you have a clear set of deliverables due by a particular date. In consulting, the work is often more iterative, strategic and adaptive. The deliverables are not always clear, but the results can be documented or measured.

Whether the work involves a clear set of deliverables (freelancing) or the ability to work iteratively with a client to change processes or systems (consulting) or teaching a group of students, I have learned that having more than one gig ensures I can pay the bills every month.

When you aim to always have more than one gig, you build your own safety net. This builds your confidence and assertiveness as a professional. If there’s a semester when there are no teaching opportunities, you can redirect your energy to another element of your career for a while.

3. Don’t take it personally if there is no course for you to teach.

If you look at the list above, you’ll see that all the examples I shared had nothing to do with me personally or my job performance. They are all factors outside my control. Having a semester when there are zero courses for me to teach has been rare. But there have been times when I have been offered only one course. Either way, I don’t take it personally.

It is naive to assume that just because you had three courses last semester that you will have the same number of classes next term. I have found that having high expectations around the number or type of my teaching assignments causes unnecessary stress. In the early years, I became frustrated or angry when I received fewer teaching opportunities than I had the semester before. I have learned that there are many variables, most of which are outside my control. There are no guarantees… and that’s not your fault.

4. Unofficial seniority is a reality.

In some teaching environments, seniority is a reality among full-time or tenured staff. Those with the most seniority can cherry pick their assignments.

In most of the part-time, sessional or contract teaching contexts I have worked in, seniority does not exist. At least, not on paper. In reality though, department heads and managers often use an informal or unofficial system of seniority that is not written down anywhere. Those who have been teaching the longest are often first in line for contract teaching assignments.

Such “unofficial” systems come with the territory. Understand that these undocumented systems do not exist only at your institution. They exist everywhere. Being resentful of them doesn’t change them. You can spend your time protesting unofficial seniority or other undocumented systems that make up the culture of educational institutions, or you can understand that it is an unspoken reality of the profession and go about creating your career anyway. Learn to live with the informal or implicit culture of your school or organization.

5. Develop a tolerance for uncertainty.

Contract teachers never know from one semester to the next what their teaching assignments will be, or even if there will be a job next term. If you can’t cope with that, you may want to think hard about whether this professional situation is really for you.

I have learned that I have a fairly high tolerance for uncertainty in my work life. Because I aim to have at least three gigs at any given time, that adds stability to my life, and I have learned that a contract teacher needs to develop resilience and a tolerance for professional uncertainty. If you need a steady pay cheque to stay sane, contract teaching may not be for you.

6. Your finances are your responsibility.

Contract teachers are more like entrepreneurs than employees. Entrepreneurs learn not to depend on a boss, a company or an organization for a regular pay cheque. I have often heard new entrepreneurs told, “If you are not making money, you don’t have a business. You have a hobby.”

Part-time teaching can be one element of a successful career in education. It may not be the only element and if it doesn’t pay all your bills, it probably should not be the only element. Entrepreneurs, freelancers and contract teachers all need to have a firm grasp of reality when it comes to finances. If teaching does not pay the bills, then find something to supplement your income that will. It may be editing, writing or whatever. You may love teaching, but passion does not pay the mortgage. Learn to think like an entrepreneur and hunt out new contracts, new clients and whatever it takes for you to have a career, not a hobby.

It’s not up to your school or your department head to ensure you can pay your bills. It’s up to you. In fact, if you choose a career as a contract teacher (and it is important to recognize that you have indeed made a choice on some level) then not only do you need enough income to cover your expenses every month, you also need to put a little bit away every month for those times when you may not have a teaching assignment.

7. Courses do not equal a career.

If you spend your years as a contract teacher whining about not having job security or a pension, you can end up marinating in self-created misery that can mutate into lifelong jaded bitterness.

I love the work I do. I deeply enjoy working with my students. I am surrounded by brilliant colleagues who care deeply about learning. I eagerly embrace the chance to do consulting work with organizations focused on education, training or social development. Every contract provides an unparalleled opportunity to work with new people, each of whom is committed in some way or another to lifelong learning.

My work has spanned a variety of sectors including education, non-profit and government. Some of my full-time colleagues see that as haphazard or unfocused. But not me. I am crystal clear on what my purpose is. What drives me has a singular focus: To improve the human condition.

While I may work independently, I relish the thought that I am not alone in what I do. There are hundreds of thousands of us — maybe even millions of us — around the globe who teach part time, on contract, without job security, pensions or a regular pay cheque because when we get right down to it, we love teaching and we believe in education. The bottom line for any social entrepreneur or contract teacher is simple: The work we do matters. The work we do individually —  our daily practice of teaching, researching, consulting, freelancing and all our other educational work — contributes to a collective global commitment to improve the human condition.

As harsh as it may seem, when you are a contract teacher, you are not in control of the courses you are offered to teach. But you are still in control of your career. How you use your skills, talents and expertise is ultimately up to you. Whether it’s teaching, researching, consulting or freelancing, understand what drives you, what matters deeply to you and what you need not just to survive, but to thrive as a professional.

When you look back in twenty years (or more) what will matter more, the courses you have taught or the career you have cultivated?

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This blog has had over 1.6 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


How to use Scribd to publish your own documents online: A free, downloadable, step-by-step guide

September 2, 2013

With a new school year about to start, a great online tool for teachers and students to know about is Scribd. This online service lets you publish all kinds of documents, including:

  • Resources (like the guide I am sharing with you in this post)
  • Slide presentations
  • Digitally created books
  • Basically any document you can save in Word or .pdf format.

Here’s a preview, step-by-step, “how to” guide for you:

View this document on Scribd

To download a free copy, click on the download icon next to the word “Scribd” at the bottom of the frame. (It looks like an arrow pointing downwards.)

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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.


Why “as cited in” should be avoided in academic writing

May 21, 2013

For my graduate students… and other readers:

When you are referencing others’ work in our course, whehter it is on the discussion board, in your presentation or in your final paper, I urge you to find the primary sources for your citations.

I will be upfront about this and say that I am not at all a fan of citing a work that somone else has cited. Please find the original reference yourself and cite that instead.

The reason for this is three-fold:

  1. You want to be sure that the “original” author actually exists. As heinous as it may seem, people have been known to fabricate references.
  2. More common is that a researcher will mis-quote an author or take someone’s work out of context. By going back to the original source, you have the opportunity to verify for yourself what the original author was trying to say.
  3. “As cited in…” can be an indicator of either a lazy or disinterested scholar who does not care enough to find and cite original authors. I do not think this is the case with anyone in our course, but it is not uncommon for other scholars to dismiss the credibility of a researcher who does not take the time to find primary sources.

Earlier this year, I conducted an informal in-class experiment with a Master’s level class at the U of C. I challenged them to find the original version of Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs”. To their surprise, they found that the pyramid that has become an iconic representation of Maslow’s hierarchy is nowhere to be found in his original work. (You can read about it here: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: Is the pyramid a hoax?  http://wp.me/pNAh3-1rU)

I tell my students, “My point to you is this: Please cite only primary sources in our course. Avoid using ‘as cited in…’ or similar strategies. If you can’t find an original source, don’t cite it.”

The only exception to this would be original works of extreme rarity which are almost impossible to source without physically visiting historical archives.

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