All posts by M.E. O’Neill

Solving Dilemmas and Creating More Questions

After last class, I have a clearer idea of how to proceed with my thesis. I was struggling to decide between being creative or conducting an academic study, but after talking it over with my group members, I realized I can combine both approaches by inserting the occasional creative vignette about life as a teacher among the findings from my more rigorous research. I still want the focus of the project to be based in more traditional research practices, but knowing that I have the option to use some of my creative writing skills makes it a lot easier for me to move forward without having to worry about totally abandoning the work I completed over the summer retreat. 

Since I do want my phenomenological research to be the focus, I need to get my interviews conducted as soon as possible so I can start writing up the results. I figure I can always nix the creative vignettes if I run out of time or motivation to write them, but the study won’t work if I don’t give myself the time to thoroughly interview other teachers and then carefully comb over the data they provide. So, my goal for this week is to compose a set of open-ended questions that ask educators to recall the experience of working during the pandemic and attempting to instruct students virtually, in a hybrid setting, and fully in-person. 

To do this, I’ll need to review some of the readings from Dr. Nelson’s research and methods course so I can refresh my memory on how to construct useful and unbiased research questions. I also should look up some studies similar to the one I plan to conduct that I can use as a model for crafting my own data-collection instrument. Our research workshop in the library introduced me to the citation management system EndNote, so I definitely want to explore this tool as a way to organize any valuable sources I discover.

By next class, I hope to have all of my questions drafted and be ready to review them with my group members. I’ll also then be able to determine whether the specific research I’m conducting will require IRB approval. It’s a little nerve-wracking to be taking these first few steps towards completing such an ambitious project, but I’m excited and hopeful that by this time next year, I’ll have a substantial thesis that I can be proud of.

Decisions, Decisions… Should I Be Creative, or Stick with Tradition?

I’m a pretty indecisive person, so while I have some idea of the topic I’d like to explore for my thesis, I haven’t yet been able to fully commit. So, I’m going to use this blog to work through some of my thoughts and internal conflicts surrounding the thesis process, and hopefully I can finally settle on a single path to reach my goals. 

My first idea came to me during Dr. Nelson’s research and methods class, when I wrote my final research proposal on conducting a phenomenological study to discover how educators experienced the COVID-19 pandemic. I chose this topic because it’s current, relevant, important, and close to my heart (since I myself am an educator currently experiencing this pandemic). So far, I have a substantial annotated bibliography and literature review covering topics such as hybrid and remote learning, which were obviously pretty prevalent last year when schools had to shut down to slow the spread. 

Here’s the concept map I created to go along with my literature review.

If I choose to continue pursuing this topic, this semester would be the time to start interviewing other teachers about how they experienced this pandemic. I would have to come up with a list of open-ended questions asking educators to share how hybrid, remote, and in-person learning during the time of COVID affected them. I’d probably need to get permission from my district to interview my colleagues, and I’d also have to look into whether a study like this would require IRB approval. 

By the end of the semester, my hope would be to complete interviews with anywhere from one to ten teachers and then analyze their responses to find common themes or experiences. Throughout this process, I would also continually search for scholarly research to support my findings, which I’d then add to my literature review. Then, in the spring, I’d be ready to write a comprehensive narrative about how high school teachers experienced hybrid and remote learning during the pandemic.

My other idea (which at this point, I’m kind of leaning away from) is to continue the memoir I started writing during this summer’s Writer’s Retreat. During those intensive two weeks of writing, I composed three vignettes exploring my experiences as a first year teacher in the 2019-2020 school year. I got some positive feedback from my classmates, so I know it’s a project worth pursuing, but I’m a little hesitant to take a deeper dive into the complex emotions that surround my experiences with teaching. I’m also wary of writing honestly about events that involve teachers, students, and staff at the school where I’m still currently employed as a non-tenured teacher. 

However, if I did choose to pursue this project, I’d have to draft an outline of my memoir, deciding which events from my teaching career are worth including. To do this, I’d look back through old emails, Google Classroom posts, schedules, lesson plans, etc., to create a timeline of my teaching and to help me recall specific events. Hopefully, by the end of the semester, I’d have the entire narrative plotted out as well as a few more vignettes written. 

At this point, I’m leaning heavily towards the more “traditional,” research-based route of conducting a phenomenology rather than writing a more “creative” memoir. When searching for master’s programs, I consciously sought out M.A. programs rather than M.F.A ones, so I really do want to push myself out of my comfort zone by attempting to conduct “academic” research that will require me to get out into the field, collect data, conduct interviews, etc. 

I also kind of doubt I’d ever be able to write a memoir that I’m happy with in just two semesters, especially because the story of my teaching career still doesn’t feel like it has a “resolution” (since I’m still in the midst of teaching during a pandemic and probably still will be by the time I finish this program). On the other hand, the phenomenology seems feasible to finish on time since I already created so many materials in Dr. Nelson’s class last semester. Right now, the pros of writing a phenomenology seem to be outweighing those of writing a memoir, but I still wanted to share my thoughts about both ideas in case anyone has any advice that might help me feel more confident in my decision.