by Joy Alexander, communications lecturer, Engineering, CPUT
Context: D. Ed. data collection
Rationale: The opportunity to collect data from a representative sample of final year teacher education students at the end of their B.Ed. program is always challenging. Their main focus at this stage is primarily to ‘wrap up’ their last associations with their studies and ‘get ready’ for their teaching. Attending to the data collection request of a researcher who might require them to complete a pencil-and-paper questionnaire is characteristically not on their ‘to do’ lists, especially if it involves an hour of their busy academic program. However, they made the sacrifice more eagerly when they learned that their participation would alternatively involve clicker technology, something they had heard of and were eager to experience as novice teachers.
Process: While my one rationale for using clickers was to draw the interest of the students to my research by offering them an exciting clicker experience, another rationale was that it could enhance the other facets of my data collection session. It would be possible to complete questions with fixed responses and conduct a focus group discussion on these selections at the same time. Before the average group of 30 students made their selections from the fixed responses for each of my 10 questions, I facilitated a short (2-3 minute) focus group discussion about each question in order to ensure that there was a shared understanding about the question and the fixed responses. I speedily recorded their key words on sheets of newsprint, which served as a visually semantic reference from which they could make a well-thought through fixed-response selection. (An audio recording was also made.) After that students voted. I then asked them to expand on most of the results of each question before proceeding with the subsequent ones. This latter facet of unpacking the reasons for these voting trends is a central focus of my thesis which received the attention it required.
Research impact: Using clickers to get instant results from students and share it with them immediately as part of a bigger data collection plan was gratifying. The students were noticeably eager to see the results after voting – they got a glimpse of their four-year teacher education experiences, expressed anonymously. I gained a vast set of quantifiable and qualitative data. The instant results lead sufficiently into a deeper discussion which was largely due to the trust already established from previous professional relations between myself and the students.
My feedback: As with any research there are ‘highs and lows’. The ‘low’, for me, is when I notoriously struggle with data collection. My D.Ed. research has not been the exception to this personal rule. After weeks of designing multiple configurations of a terribly boring pencil-and-paper questionnaire and painfully thinking about accessing a few data collection sessions, my supervisor and I began to think about more innovative and current ways of accessing and managing data needed for my research. We decided that I should pursue clickers. This was certainly the turning point in my research. It gave me a reliable data corpus that I could extrapolate immediately (and later) and subsequently manage the analysis, presentation and discussion more easily.
However, the combination of using clicker technology together with a digital audio recorder, sheets of newsprint and a focus group discussion in one 90 minute session with an average of 30 students, must not be underestimated. It is labour intensive. I was fortunate to have the help of a colleague from Fundani. She prepared the power point presentation for the clickers; set up all the technology; and spontaneously assisted me with audio recordings and other collegial considerateness. I am enthusiastic about pursuing and refining this methodology which I modestly attempted at CPUT (Mowbray Campus) as a novice researcher towards the end of 2011.