I started my career in educational field as a computer sciences lecturer in a Chinese university ten years ago, without any specialized and professional training on teaching. I got no clue how complex and interwoven teaching and learning process was, not to speak of educational research. With the initial thoughts of combining computer-assisted analyses with students’ learning, I entered my Ph.D. program in Learning Technologies in the University of Minnesota one and a half years ago. Although it was still a little difficult for me to see a full picture of this mixed, multilayered, the tip of iceberg is disclosed for me gradually as my academic journey goes on.
Education itself is a complexity where all organisms have a dynamic relationship among each other, and have a complicated relationship with the environment. As my Ph.D. journey goes on, I have transferred from a beginning learner feeling overwhelmed and uncertain of these complex organisms to a novice educational researcher peeling the first layer of this complexity. I have realized that this complicated system is composed with education theories, research methodologies, and real experiences of learners, educators and researchers, and so on. More importantly, the real experience that teachers and students, or instructors and learners encounter has the paramount importance and influence on educational research.
As I studied several research methods courses in my department, I was afforded with different methodologies, such as qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods; I was disclosed with different paradigms, such as positivist, post-positivist, interpretive, critical, and postmodern paradigms. The coursework was all intensive and overwhelming, but as I began to design and conduct research, I could see the different facets of educational research that I had read and learned and could apply them into my study.
Merging these methods and paradigms with my previous knowledge and experience, I am currently interested in the connections and interactions students and instructors have experienced in online learning process. My current research centers on emerging learning technologies and online social learning. Especially, I focus on adopting mixed-methods to explore students’ online learning process and to examine instructor’s applications of TPACK in online teaching practices. Primary research methods may include using quantitative and statistic methods to analyze online postings/comments, using social networking analysis to examine the networked relationship among online students and between student and instructor, and using qualitative methods (interview and observation) to examine instructor’s TPACK applications from both the instructor’s side and the students’ side. With quantitative and statistic methods, I may get a picture of how students and instructor interact with each other online; while with qualitative methods, I may get a deeper perspective of why they behave in that way. In addition, since I usually see the world in a philosophical way, I am interested in how to apply phenomenology into online educational research. Although at this point I am not very sure how to fully manifest and integrate it into my study, I think phenomenological research method aligns well with what instructional designers and educational technology researchers do in the field.
My potential audiences may be the person who wants to analyze, design, develop, implement and evaluate process and tools to enhance learning, such as educational technologists, learning analysts, online instructors, and instructional designers, etc.
I enter this field with the desire to become an independent educational researcher and a freelance online educator. Now my own identity as an educational researcher is only beginning to take shape and I do not know yet what the final exact result will look like. What I have learned through my PhD journey so far is that I should be willing to open up myself to any research possibilities and potentials.
– 02.01.2015 at a sunny afternoon in Magrath library