New ed. researchers and how you can help

There is an undergraduate student in our physics teaching program who wants to do his undergraduate thesis around using video analysis for physics labs. I am not supervising this research, but the student has come to me for some guidance.

This is how the student describes his work in an email to me:

The research I am doing involves using Logger Pro software to analyze motion videos for physics labs. The main goals of this research can be divided into three areas.

  • Create 2-3 labs involving logger pro that can be used at the high school level, but with room for adjustments to be adapted for other levels.
  • Design a questionnaire to be given to two classes; one that is using the logger pro software in their labs versus one that is undergoing the “traditional” physics instruction without logger pro.
  • Create a comprehensive instructional guide for others to use logger pro in their own classrooms (for students and teachers).

For the most part, I feel like I can handle making the labs and the instructional guide, but I could use some guidance for the questionnaire. I also need some help in how I should put this together to make it look more like a legitimate research project than a mess of ideas put together.

Based on my experience working with graduate students on their Masters theses, I am not surprised to see new education researchers wanting to jump to developing, implementing, and testing curriculum. I am also not surprised that faculty–at least those who are not trained in education research–would encourage students to go this route. To many, it seems like the “science-y” thing to do–develop a product, run an experiment, take quantitative data, and compare outcomes.

My responsibility, as I see it, is to help new researchers do research that (1) contributes to the knowledge base on teaching and learning AND (2) helps them develop important skill for teaching. The balance between these two goals is dependent on the project and the student. What I don’t want them doing is re-inventing wheels and run wheel races. We don’t need more of that.

So the two things I would love to hear about from everyone is the following:

(1) What curriculum do you use or have you developed that for video analysis? And can you share it with me? What pedagogical philosophies or strategies encapsulate your use of video analysis? How does this fit within the bigger picture of your course?

(2) From the practitioner side, what questions, concerns, and issues do you have about video analysis? What questions could an education researcher pursue that would contribute to your practice or to your understanding of the teaching and learning you do with video analysis?

9 thoughts on “New ed. researchers and how you can help

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  1. I don’t understand the connection between the questionnaire and the video analysis. In fact I don’t really see how what he is doing is video analysis at all. What research questions is he looking to answer? How does the questionnaire help with that? How could video analysis help address his research questions?

    1. Hey Luke,

      It’s not “video analysis” as a research tool, but a pedagogy-using or taking video of physical situations and then having students analyze them. Second, these undergrads have had no courses about education research, exposure to research groups, or mentoring at all in education research. It’s like the first day you walked into Maryland. His email is to say, “Hey I’m interested in video analysis, and I think I’d like to develop some curriculum with it. Someone told me I need to write a questionnaire, but I have no idea what this means.” I agree its all about research questions. My goal is to help him develop a research question, and I am hoping others can chime in to help hone our sense of what areas within the “topic” of video analysis might be productive for his inquiry.

  2. If you’re looking for examples of labs using video analysis almost every lab for Physics 1301W at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities used some kind of video analysis. I don’t have my old lab manual nearby, but a little Googling lead me here: which looks like it contains all of the lab manuals plus instructor guides. I’m sure it wouldn’t be too hard to adapt some of those labs to a high school level.

  3. Hi Brian. That’s a really interesting observation about new education researchers wanting to jump to developing, implementing, and testing curriculum. I changed my focus to physics education research after completing my particle physics PhD and it was a real challenge to formulate research questions that couldn’t be summed up by “developing, implementing, and testing curriculum”.

    1. There’s certainly nothing wrong with curriculum development, implementation, and evaluation. It’s important, and can certainly constitute good research. It’s just not a generative place to begin, I think. I try to use the analogy that Verizon develops phones, and they collect data about how good their phones are, and they compare their phones to other phones. They run tests, collect quantitative data, and make comparisons, but that doesn’t make it scientific research. It’s not to say that developing new cell phone technology couldn’t be research, or developing new algoritms or instruments that make such comparisons possible couldn’t be research, or that using such data to understand how local geographic features influence reception couldn’t be research.

      1. Interesting. When someone invents something, then checks to find out if (or how well) it works, I would call that engineering, not science. David Labaree discusses this tendency to jump into inventing in The Trouble With Ed Schools. He manages to be both sympathetic to and thoroughly critical of the state of educational research — might be a useful resource for the student (for that matter, I’d love to hear opinions from either of you).

  4. Your comment “What I don’t want them doing is re-inventing wheels and run wheel races. We don’t need more of that.” is similar to the point that Slater, Slater and Bailey try to make in “Discipline-Based Education Research: A Scientist’s Guide” (also in “Conducting Astronomy Education Research: A Primer” which is essentially the same book). They refer to this as action research: projects that are not adding anything new, really, to PER but it can be worth doing for an instructor who is trying to be reflective about his own teaching.

    1. I hear you. I still don’t think action research should ever be a wheel race of different lesson plans or curriculum. I think the best things that teachers can do is still investigate how, why, and under what conditions different kinds of learning takes place. For action research, I hope to help teachers investigate something about their own students’ thinking or learning, with the hope that this will nudge them toward thinking about how they might make better instructional decisions based on how and what their students are thinking. Action-research is smaller in scope, in the sense that the knowledge gained is contributing to the knowledge base of the teacher (rather than an entire community), but it is not different in purpose. The kinds of knowledge we are hoping to develop is not about WHAT works but about why and how it works.

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