methodology reflection research

#Research Update 54: No more excuses

(Caution – this is very rambly and introspective and I think I largely used this to tease out some ideas that seem quite obvious in hindsight. You can pretty safely skip this post, even if you sometimes find my other ones interesting)

A couple more months have passed since I went through my confirmation and while I’ve been letting ideas percolate and I’ve been developing plans, it feels like there hasn’t been enough pixels put to e-paper

I caught up with Peter, who continues to assure me that I’m not aiming too high, and he said a few times that more than anything else, I need to be taking notes about everything. That was one thing that I was using this blog for and it is the thing that I am returning to.

I actually like writing and I don’t feel like I get to do enough of it in my day-to-day – or at least I should say, I don’t get to do enough satisfying writing. Emails written and instruction/process writing has skyrocketed as I slowly get my head around the challenges of a shared management role in a Higher Education institution. In those cases (other than instructions and processes), a lot of what I’m writing still feels like it is wrong because the landscape is changing so quickly that it is incredibly difficult to have the context and rationale of many of the things I’m responding to. I am quickly – though not quickly enough – learning that I’m not in a position to raise questions about decisions made at an executive level and I need to get on with just implementing them. Which is ironic I guess because I feel as though many of the calls that I have been making are similarly questioned by my team members and I know how frustrating that is. (Because I have the full context perhaps and they don’t? Who knows – that does at least seem to be one thing I can try to do better anyway)

The apparent binary between rational factors and emotional factors in decision making and activities at all levels is definitely something I had never given enough thought to before. Both types of factors are valid and need to be addressed, working with the emotional is a lot harder though. I feel as though I have touched on this a little in the Lit Review as far as teachers/academics goes but have greatly underestimated its impact across the educational ecosystem. I do suspect that this ecosystem is relatively unique in terms of workplaces and that people accustomed to working in “normal” work environments frequently don’t make allowances for it when they try to apply typical change management strategies and tools. It feels as though I have already seen it bewilder and crush the spirits of more than a few sensible and good people. It is probably both a strength and a weakness of Higher Education and I guess I need to find some way to explore and explain it in my research. I keep coming back to the Brew, Boud, Lucas & Crawford article from 2017 about “Responding to university policies and initiatives: the role of reflexivity in the mid-career academic” as something that both shocks and enlightens me about aspects of university culture. This culture seeps through all areas of the institution.

Coming back to methodology, one of my big concerns as I work out how to do the first round of interviews with Key Informants (approx 12 across edvisor and manager roles – maybe some teacher??) has been how to find a reflective sample of Australia’s Higher Ed landscape. In broad brushstrokes, we have city and regional/rural universities, “elite” research institutions (the Group of Eight), technology oriented universities, younger research focussed ones and a large set of ‘others’ that are often considered by learners as having more of a career-gaining purpose (though quality research is also done in these ones). Some institutions are financially well-off and others struggle for survival – which could both make them more open to innovation and teaching and learning support offered by edvisors as well as less able to pay for it. Culturally, the ‘elite’ universities – and particularly the academics within (to apply a ridiculously broad brush) might have much more restrictive internal hierarchies and cultures that downplay teaching support from ‘non-academics’ – or even teaching over all.

So how to allow for all of these factors (and so many more) in choosing which institutions to focus on in a logistically feasible study. Peter’s feeling – which surprised me but kind of makes sense – was that these distinctions fade away somewhat if I ultimately aim to gather rich data from all the Australian universities. All 40-43 of them (depending on the inclusion of private and international unis with Australian campuses).

In a separate writing practice I like to write ridiculously unfilmable science fiction and horror scripts. I used to write like a producer, only including the things that I thought were actually doable (not that I have the experience to know what that is any more). After a while though, I realised that this seriously stunted the enjoyment that I got from telling crazy stories and I decided that the first drafts needed to have everything and I could leave the problems of actually realising them as someone else’s problem. This feels a little bit like that in some ways and maybe it’s a terrible analogy as none of the scripts have ever been made but at the same time, it seems increasingly like the only way I am going to really learn what it is to be a researcher is to aim too high and then let reality whittle that down into something achievable.

So I guess I’m aiming to explore the relationships between edvisors, academics and management in all Australian Higher Ed institutions, in some way.

The key informant interviews are still as much about working out how to do this substantive piece of research and the different avenues that I might need to follow in order to get access to institutional data. Given that every institution is different, I guess I can only hope to get indicative insights into how this might be done rather than definitive information.

Any way I cut it, I need to actually be doing it to learn about this rather than trying to work out the perfect fully-formed solution in my head before I go and do it. Which will be a challenge but one not unlike my current new work role.

This has been my TED talk, thanks for listening. (It was really just about committing to some ideas I now realise and there is no better way to do this than have to commit them to screen.)