Tag Archives: MA Thesis

Making Progress

I’m finally making progress. Since my last blog, I’ve conducted three interviews with my colleagues, asking them about their experiences with hybrid, remote, and in-person learning during the pandemic. I’m still not sure how many more interviews I want to conduct, or whether I want to expand my study by interviewing teachers from other disciplines, but I hope that as I start analyzing the data, I’ll begin drawing out important threads that will guide my future processes. 

For now, I’m feeling pretty productive, and I hope I can keep this energy up throughout the semester. The interview process has affirmed some of my prior beliefs about teaching during COVID, but a lot of what my coworkers have shared has surprised me as well, so I’m looking forward to continuing this data collection to see what other useful information I can glean. I hope to get another interview conducted this week, and maybe one or two next week before our school’s week-long fall break. I’ll be able to use that time off of work to transcribe the interviews and perhaps even start some preliminary analysis of the data.

Speaking of transcription, I’ve transcribed about three-quarters of my first interview. I think I’ll continue doing my own transcription rather than hiring someone to do it for me, because I find it useful to re-listen to the interview and then comb through it line-by-line to edit the spelling, punctuation, and grammar. It’s almost like a “pre-analysis” stage in which I’m familiarizing myself with the data and refreshing my memories of the original interview. 

Since I’m going to do the bulk of transcribing interviews myself, I need to figure out a better system. Notability—the app I’ve been using to record—is convenient because I can take notes in the app with my stylus, and when the audio plays back, the notes I took are highlighted in real time so I can see exactly what I was thinking as my interviewee was speaking. However, the app can only slow the audio down to 0.7x speed. I’m a fast typer, so if I really wanted to, I could manage to keep up, but the faster I type, the more errors appear, and the more errors appear, the more I get flustered and stop typing to go back and fix any mistakes. So, to speed up the process, I’m going to need to slow down the audio. 

My main goals for this week are going to be to get some more interviews and figure out a streamlined way to convert the audio from Notability into another format, but I’ve also started thinking about what else I can add to my thesis. The numerous news stories about workers striking and resigning in response to poor working conditions has me wondering how many educators are following suit. I’m toying with the idea of researching whether the pandemic caused teachers to leave the profession, but that might be too far out of the scope of my project because none of the teachers I’ve interviewed so far have indicated that they plan to resign or retire. 

Like many of my thesis-related ideas, I’m going to put this one on the back-burner; maybe it’ll be relevant to add to my introduction or conclusion to demonstrate that asking for teacher’s input—i.e., the entire premise of my thesis—is an important part of keeping our education system functioning.

Upended Plans and the Search for Sources

I was all ready to conduct my first interview today. I fully charged my iPad; recorded some test voice memos on Notability, my note-taking app, to make sure I’d have no tech issues; made a digital copy of my participant consent form for my interviewee to sign; and added my eight interview questions to a blank page in the app so I could take notes in real time during the interview. 

I planned out what I would say in my head, how I’d let my coworker know that—while I would be actively listening and taking notes—in an effort to remain impartial and keep the interview completely free of bias, I’d be keeping mostly quiet aside from the occasional request for additional details. In the morning, I checked in with my coworker to make sure she was still good to meet after school—and that’s when I learned she had to cancel.

So, long story short, I still haven’t conducted any interviews. I do have another interview scheduled for tomorrow, and I rescheduled that first one to next week, but I’m still left with this uncomfortable feeling that I haven’t really done anything to make progress on my thesis. The only concrete step I’ve taken is sneaking a quick picture of one of the social distancing signs in the stairwell during my morning duty in the hopes that I might use it as a multimodal component of my final product. Other than that single photograph, though, I don’t have much to show for myself.

So, in an effort to make myself feel somewhat productive, I browsed through Kean’s databases for some more sources to add to my annotated bibliography/literature review. Although I already have a decent list of references built up from Dr. Nelson’s class last semester, the topic I’m researching is one that’s happening right now, so I’m sure a lot more has been discovered about teaching during COVID since I last looked. 

As I searched for more sources, I started thinking about the research project I assigned to my students this week. They had to make a presentation about a current popular Hispanic musician, so I told them that while normally, they’d be using library databases to find reliable sources, for this project, they could just use a simple Google search to find up-to-date news articles or wiki pages. For a topic so current, I explained, it’s best to have the most recent information. 

I started to wonder if maybe I should take my own advice and branch out my search for sources: Instead of just the traditional peer-reviewed journal articles, could I also include news reports, think pieces, or blog posts by and about educators experiencing the pandemic? I’m going to keep this question in the back of my mind, but first, I’m hoping to get some interviews conducted because I think once I’ve analyzed them and pulled out some common themes and threads, they’ll help guide my research and lead me to the right sources.

Scheduling Interviews and Pondering Lit Reviews

In a shocking turn of events, I continued procrastinating my thesis work this week. Despite my high hopes for a productive week, I still haven’t conducted any interviews. To be fair, things have been crazy busy at my school, with spirit week, faculty meetings, testing, and observations all making it difficult for me to sit down with my colleagues. However, I did manage to set some dates and times for interviews next week, so my next blog should have a little more to offer than this one in terms of progress.

Since I haven’t been able to sit down and start the interview process, I’ve been thinking a lot about what my final product might look like. Specifically, after reviewing the slides from last week’s class, I’m trying to decide the best way to go about crafting a strong literature review. From what Dr. Zamora has mentioned in class, it seems like the requirements for that document are less strict than the ones Dr. Nelson imposed. Although I think I’m in the minority here, I actually like the idea of writing a more “traditional” literature review like the one I made in our research and methods class. I was happy with the density and flow of that final paper, so I’m wondering if I can continue building on that same document. 

I realize that even if it’s possible for me to create this type of literature review, I might come to regret that choice later when everyone else is writing more annotated bibliography-esque lit reviews, and I’m attempting to organize my sources into a structured, cohesive research paper. But for now, I’m thinking that I want my thesis to feel as much like “real” research as it possibly can. (I’m putting “real” in quotes because of course research is still valuable and worthwhile even if it doesn’t have a “traditional” literature review).

I’ve also been thinking about what I want my final product to look like. Although a common theme of my blogs has been wanting to stick with traditional research methods, I don’t know if I’d be happy with a final product that’s just plain text on paper. I’m toying with the idea of adding some multimedia components, like pictures of the social distancing signs in our school, screenshots of Google Classroom setups, audio of teacher interviews, or hyperlinks to relevant articles/videos. 

However, I’m a little wary of including these types of media because I want all portions of the study to remain anonymous. Although I think it would really enhance my project to include those elements, I don’t want to risk revealing the identity of my school, students, or coworkers. I’m going to put this idea on the back-burner for now, and in the meantime, I might take a few pictures of some of the COVID-related changes to my school, knowing that I might have to scrap them later. It does feel a little premature to be thinking of my final presentation of the thesis when I haven’t even started writing it, but—to steal a term from last week’s TRIZ activity—I’ve always been pretty good at “productive procrastination.”

Procrastination and the Interview Process

This week hasn’t been as productive as I’d have liked. Now that I’ve settled on a firm idea for my project, I need to actually start working toward its completion. To do that, I’m going to interview teachers using the open ended questions I drafted and—with the help of my classmates—finalized last week. I plan to use an app called Notability to record audio of the interviews and to take notes while I listen. In addition, I searched online for examples of waivers that my participants can sign to demonstrate they understand the nature of the study and agree to have their words used in my final product. My own consent form is all typed out and ready to be printed, and I’ve already got at least one coworker who’s agreed to participate in my research. However, for whatever reason, I’m still hesitating to start the interview process.

I’m kind of a chronic procrastinator, and that bad habit coupled with transitioning to being back to work full time is making it difficult for me to make real progress on my thesis. I think part of my reluctance to start the interview process comes from the fact that I’ve never really conducted serious interviews like this before. Sure, I’ve commiserated with my colleagues about the stresses of distance learning and hybrid instruction, but I know it’s going to be really tough for me to take a step back and be completely unbiased as I question my coworkers about experiences that I went through last year and am currently going through this fall. I’m still trying to process my mixed emotions on teaching through COVID, so being neutral during these interviews is definitely going to be tough. 

I’m also starting to question exactly how wide of a net I want to cast as I search for candidates for my study. So far, everyone I’m planning to ask teaches in the same department (since it’s the department I work in and therefore the most easily accessible). As a result, I’m wondering whether the results of my study will end up being too narrow; maybe I should reach out to some colleagues from other departments, grade levels, or even schools so I can get a more general sense of how all educators experienced the pandemic. 

On the other hand, it might be more manageable for me as a researcher to keep the study more narrow and focused. Getting multiple interviews from teachers in the same department might also yield valuable data about how the pandemic affected specific subjects. For example, as a foreign language teacher, I’ve been wondering how other instructors in my department handled speaking and listening activities when schools were forced to go all remote and opportunities for students to practice the language with their classmates became scarce. 

I know that if I spend too long debating the pros and cons of expanding my study to include educators from various content areas, I’ll take even longer to start the interview process. So, I think my best option is to take it one step at a time and just start interviewing the teachers that I know I want to include in my study. After that, I can review the data and see whether there are still any gaps that instructors who teach different subjects might be able to fill. My next goal, then, will be to touch base with my colleagues to find more willing participants and to set up possible interview times. Here’s hoping I can quit procrastinating and be a bit more productive next week!

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.