Yesterday I had a meeting with my supervisor to discuss the assignments I’m going to run as part of the first objective of my PhD. Together with a systematic review and a survey, I was interested in using student and staff participation in a social network to derive additional data that would help me form a baseline understanding of their attitudes and skills around teaching and learning practice, as well as establish the level of digital and information literacy within the department.
After joining the SAFRI programme, I incorporated the social network idea into my SAFRI project, but unconsciously ended up with a different agenda. Instead of using the network to highlight potential problem areas and the challenges of teaching with technology, it morphed into me trying to demonstrate the effectiveness of using a social network to facilitate reflective practice. In hindsight, it’s clear that the 2 projects were at odds with one another, and the objectives were definitely not aligned.
When my supervisor pointed out that there was inconsistency in the 2 projects I really struggled to accept it. I was adamant that my methods were fine and she suggested that I hand over facilitation of the assignments within the network to other staff who didn’t have such a high personal stake in the success of the project, and I strongly disagreed. I found several reasons to explain why I had to be the person to run it, the strongest of which was that “…no-one else will try as hard as I will to make sure it works”. Which kind of made her point.
When I went away and thought about our conversation I reviewed my objectives for the 2 projects, and then it was clear that they really were 2 different projects. One was suggesting that this would be a useful tool to describe the current state of affairs, which I know will be less than ideal. The other was intent on proving that the network would be a positive tool, rather than describing what would happen if we just incorporated one into the department.
After the painful realisation that I’d let my personal desire for this project to succeed override my objectivity as a researcher, I agreed to let others lead the social network assignments, with guidance from me. This will greatly reduce the impact of researcher bias, as well as synchronise the objectives of the 2 projects. As it stands now, it will more accurately describe the state of the department in terms of attitudes and skills around teaching and learning, and the levels of digital and information literacy, which will give me valuable data that will inform the next objectives of my study.
This was a great learning experience for me, and a warning of the dangers of getting too close to one’s project. There are some situations where the researcher can be an integral part of the project, but this experience has shown me when it would be detrimental to the process.