SERT so far

Posted on  by John Hannah

August. How far we’ve come in our little boat over the last few months. I thought I’d write a little recap to describe where  that boat is anchored at the moment. It’s a good place – clear waters, open skies.

We went slow. It became a kind of central virtue of our approach. Meet regularly, keep the boat moving. But go slow. Make room for shifting direction, for reading, for writing, for reflecting, for endless, free-style discussion, for getting to know and support each other. For team-building.

This is contrary to most work in higher education which is generally characterized by speediness. No judgement here (although maybe a little). We could have easily lapsed into the more common, full-tilt rhythm of a project. And it would have also produced, no doubt, something worthwhile. But I suspect that, in the pursuit of speed, we would have been propelled onto old tried and true paths, the most direct routes between A and B. And we would have deprived ourselves of savoring what was in the moment as we went, noticing more,  gaining insight through a deliberate and leisurely pace. What that slowness did, above all, is give us time to better know each other, to trust each other, to support each other, to understand each other’s particular strengths, and to make space for all of it. It’s not revolutionary. It’s just a choice. Go slow.

So here we are – deep into our process. And I recall how we have described and conceived of the unfolding research process:

Orienting decisions – group planning, defining constraints, timelines, mandates, funding, audience, politics, scholarly stance, focus, etc. 

We spent a lot of time with this. It was the making of our boat, the making of our team. We wrote our manifesto. Had some guest lectures. Talked. A lot. We hammered out our shared purpose, our shared motivations for doing this work. We sketched, in broad strokes, what we really wanted to do. In retrospect, this was a truly essential part of our approach and I wouldn’t do it any other way. This is where we decided to go slow. And, in the end, we made some important decisions about whether we wanted to do something small as a kind of program evaluation, or if we wanted to do a full-blown research inquiry requiring ethics review and a much deeper and intensive process. It was unanimous. Full-blown research.

Design and methodology – articulating purpose, research questions, what or whom are the subjects of the inquiry, what is the methodology, what kind of data is necessary, how will it be gathered, how will we assess its validity, etc.

So, we dug in. Reading. Lots of reading. Writing, and reflection. Lots of it. And we started really exploring and using and understanding arts-based methods of inquiry to ground our SERT sessions, to facilitate our conversations and insights. We practiced this. And, through these processes, gnarly and complex,and meandering,  we arrived at our research question. We arrived at our decision to use an arts-based methodology. And we hammered out the details of a method, using collage  as our interpretive tool, as a reflective process, as a form of elicitation, and as a way of conceptualizing ideas (Butler-Kisber, 2008; 2010). And we worked out all the myriad details necessary to organize extended focus-group collage sessions, planning, recruiting participants, and administering the sessions. Gargantuan. This is when we sped the boat up just a little. AND all of this was documented in our thorough ethic review submission which was approved by Ryerson’s ethics board in early August.

Data analysis – how will data be analyzed, on what basis do we declare its legitimacy, what techniques will be used, etc.

And now we are in the midst of our data analysis – the object of our inquiry. We have invented a kind of method for comparative analysis of our collages (to be described in detail elsewhere) which we are experimenting with as I write this, tweaking here and there. And the early impressions are that something interesting is emerging about or method. And we’ve decided to simply keep going. We will tweak our focus-group collage method and begin recruiting for more sessions. And we will write-up a preliminary analysis of our insights. And sometime towards the end of the Fall semester, we will execute some sort of exhibition showcasing the participant collages and the insights we have gleaned from them. So the journey continues and soon, we will get to the final stage:  Reporting – what form will the presented results of the study take, will it be written, by whom, in what style, for whom, will there be non-verbal forms, etc.

What a team. This continues to be amazing.


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