The Product of Learning

My semester is coming together well. I’m particularly pleased with the research methodology class. The group seems to be very tight, and they seem to be getting it. In the past when I’ve felt this way, it’s because the class was completing an unusually high number of excellent papers. I realized this week that that wasn’t the case here. Most of the papers are decent, but probably fewer than normal are excellent. So why do I think they’re getting it. Am I merely settling for adequacy instead of excellence. I don’t think so. Rather I realized that the product of the course is not primarily the final paper. The product is hard to articulate, but it involves an understanding of the different facets of a research project (literature survey, data collection, data analysis, drawing conclusions), an appreciation of the problems posed by each of these facets, an appreciation for ill-structured problem solving, in short an understanding of what real research is (dare I say, real life?). I want to suggest that these are learnable regardless of how bright one is (within the domain of our students) or how well one’s research project turns out. Indeed, it may be that those that learn the best are those that ran into a real world problem that resulted in a less than excellent final paper. (A great deal of the outcome is based on chance; for example, the ability to find the right data set.) Here are some quotations from blog posts in the class last week that to me, at least, demonstrate that the authors got it. (You can find the complete posts on the course website.):

When professors used to say that you can usually see a difference between the approach freshman take on a class, to that the upperclassman take on a class, I could see where they were coming from, however, it was not until this class that I fully understood what they meant. As a freshman, I would learn the material and do the assignments as specified. There were very few assignments like this one that made me spend more time thinking then writing. I am by no means saying I had easy classes or bad teachers; I’ve learned a lot over the past two and a half years. It was just a different approach I had taken to the classes. However, it was not until this class, where it was up to me to meet the deadlines, and up to me to plan out the project with an unspecified topic, that I got a glimpse of the real world. No one is going to be out there handing you the problem and how to find the solution. In this project in particular, I saw that most of the trouble lies in finding out what the problem is and then determining what it all means. I had no problem putting data into Eviews, running regressions and tests, and telling what the tests meant, but when it actually came down to interpreting results for myself, without a book telling me what to do, it came down to thinking ‘outside the box.’ This cliche used all the time, was put into full practice in this assignment. Thanks!

So I’ve just finished my powerpoint for my presentation Monday. In going through it, I found holes in my research, and trying to explain it to myself in a way that I could explain it to others has helped my understand my topic more fully. I apologize in advance for the complexity of my topic. If I’d have only known…

Now that I’ve finished my Spanish presentation, I’m going to sit here and think about what causes my variables [i.e. statistical results] to be bad. I figure if I do nothing but think I might get somewhere. I might even draw some graphs on the board, I figure if Nash did it on hard topics, maybe I can figure out some easy ones.

here is my “Carl Post” for what I’ve learned in this class this semester:
1. Research, Research, Research! I was lazy when it came to really researching my topic early in the semester. This came back to bite me when I had to write my literature review and prepare my presentation. It’s hard to introduce a topic when you have very few facts other than your basic knowledge of “it does exist.” I was also too narrow when it came to my research. I read articles only about the wage difference in self-employment, when I should have read articles that were also about the wage-difference in general. This would have helped introducing my topic during my presentation.
2. It’s a good idea to have a firm idea of what you’re studying before you study it. Through out this enitre semester, I kept learning about my topic as I was doing it. Further, my research topic, hypothesis, research questions, results, etc. only became absolutely clear at the end of the semester when I had everything done. Basically, I really understood what I was doing after I completed my regressions. If I had figured out everything before, it would’ve saved me some stress and frantic conversations with some fellow classmates.
3. Instead of stressing out about something, talk to Dr. Greenlaw. Through out the semester I learned that the best way to dodge sleepless nights and stressed out days was to just ask for help.
4. Your classmates are your biggest supporters. I honestly felt so much better though out the semester knowing that everybody in the class was in the same boat as me at times. From “I have no idea what my topic is and I have to turn in my first assignment next class” to “I can’t find data” to “I spent so many hours entering data into e-views I can’t see straight anymore” to finally “I’m officially sick of my topic” it made me feel better hearing that all of us were going through the same struggles.

What I’ve learned This Semester:
1. Think, think, think, then read, read, read. Think about what you want to research, go over it, think about if there would be available data on the subject and then check previous studies. Read as much as you can, it can only improve your research and help you to understand your limits and goals. The more I read the more I wanted to alter my topic slightly and the more I read the more I learned on the subject.
2. Find data, and then find it again and again and again. First make sure you can find adequate data for you topic early on. Second once you’ve found data don’t just say okay looks good I’ll start regressions in a month or so. You may need to switch up your variables a few times and you don’t want to be doing this last minute. Find data think about it, run a regression, and change what needs to be changed.
3. Don’t be discouraged by not so great regression results. Your classmates are in the same boat. Just try your best to improve them, and in the end if you can’t do your best to explain why they suck.
4. It feels good to see the end. I saw Professor Greenlaw today and he asked me how I was feeling, I didn’t get it at first (I can be slow at times) but he was referring to the fact that my research project is almost over. The end of the tunnel is near, maybe I’m a pessimist or I’ve just been so focused on finishing my draft and working on other classes’ assignments that I haven’t sat back and realized how much we’ve all accomplished this semester. We should all feel proud and most of all relieved that the end is near and we’ve made it!

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One Response to The Product of Learning

  1. Pingback: Pedablogy: Musings on the Art & Craft of Teaching » Blog Archive » More on why the most important parts of education may not be quantifiable

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