Journal Entries: Windows into SERT

More than just sharing our research results, we want to invite you in to the SERT experience – here we’ve reposted some of our favourite journal entries from our collaborative blog. We use our private blog for ongoing reflection, homework, and capturing the project as it unfolds in real time. Take a look around.

uncertain waters

It’s April 2nd, SERT is two short months from completing our project and term as a team, and yet it’s likely we won’t see each other in person through any of that time.

Where are we now?

This is the waiting part. Poised and ready to deploy, we await word from the ethics board, and it gives us time to discuss, reflect, collect our thoughts and remind ourselves of the good reasons for doing this work. So, where are we?

NOVA Activity: What is “Student Engagement”

The exercise helps illuminate the biases or perspectives the researcher brings to their participants’ stories and that cannot be separate from interpretation – and neither should they be. It’s also a great activity to practice sharing perspectives on the same thing as it illuminates the ways a group is thinking similarly, differently, and creates a space for new ideas and connections to emerge, new ways of describing or illustrating a thing to be made.

Research and Ethics

Heading into my second week as a research assistant with SERT I’m feeling pretty good! Over the weekend we were told to look up the TRI Council Policy and complete modules meant to better familiarize ourselves with its information. Some of the policy’s guidelines for ethical conduct of research seem fairly obvious, like “respect for persons” and “concern for human welfare” but put into practice it’s a lot more nuanced than it seems. Our discussion during our SERT meeting revealed that the question of ethical research is far more nuanced than it seems.

Does Curation Make Us Less Critical?

After reading the article titled Curation as Storytelling, I learned the role that curating plays in influencing and affecting independent thought. The article presented many intriguing ideas one of which deems curators as playing an integral part in the economy and knowledge production. Before reading this article, I always considered the practice of curating as limited to artistic forms.

A new angle on desirability: desire lines

You’ve seen them – the well-worn footpaths through stretches of grassy fields, or openings in fence-rows where folks have pushed through in shortcut, or trails made visible in the flattened undergrowth through thick forests. It’s evidence of people’s movements, visible feedback about peoples’ route choices through space that violate the designed options presented before them.

Use of Audio Recordings

“What are the ethical considerations of recording a subject for an interview?” is a needed conversation to be had, but not really the same as having our participants respond to the single prompt we give them in this study. However, using Audio Diaries for research has a lot of overlap methodologically with our approach. In studies using audio diaries, subjects are instructed to verbalize reflections that would usually take on a written format typically. We essentially are requesting students to do one audio diary focused on the topic of engagement and desirability.

Elicitation Techniques

As I read through MJs post I began to really consider the importance of active listening and how important it is to allow others to really express themselves and not interrupt them while they work through their thoughts . Like MJ mentions something I also find difficult is not filling that ‘awkward silence’ with something. I think something I have to work on especially as we work towards the interviews is allowing there to be silence as others take their time expressing themselves.

What is “the Student Experience?”

When we were asked to draw the student experience on our first day, my brain jumped to my own student experience — squiggly lines, swirly eyes, maybe a splash of flames. The student experience is trickier to capture. As Daniel points out, we can’t help but have our own experiences shape our ideas about the experience. We grow up with specific narratives about the student experience from our parents, our teachers, our televisions (e.g. what it means/what it’s like to be a university student, a student in Toronto, a Ryerson student, etc.).These stories impact how we understand and frame our own stories.

Long Distance Calls

Although podcasts and radio shows are becoming increasingly popular as a narrative device few researchers have explored the potential of audio recordings to reveal something meaningful about the human experience. Even more rare in research, the idea of voicing your experiences over the phone in a payphone to nobody in particular. It seems likely that people might mistakenly use a broken payphone to place a call, but I would venture to guess lots of folks haven’t considered using a telephone booth as a portal to record their experiences.

Two green cartoon people in conversation - one sitting on the ground, with ... coming from a speech bubble - they look up towards the second person, where !!! comes from their speech bubble.

Reflections on the first SERT Meeting

Much like the marshmallow challenge, this task naturally revealed deeper truths than it’s initial instruction implied. Off the bat, I considered the appeal for objectivity. How could I not infuse my own experience into the general student experience? Could anyone? As students we have individual viewpoints but some things remain the same.

SERT Pitch: Whats Next?

Reflecting back on the focus groups, on our methodology, and these past few months, I think that our method thus far, has definitely allowed for narratives to emerge from all of our participants. Arts based research is a creative and critical form of doing research, of inquiring and accessing knowledge and it has enabled our participants to actively participate in our research.

“Art Extending Knowledge”

Last week SERT was challenged to write about what narrative analysis meant to us. Speaking for myself, I discovered that narrative analysis was subjective in many ways. It was subjective to the storyteller and the audience. My argument was that as researchers we should not put words into our participants mouths but rather provide them with space to use their voice. This provided space for a debate in one of our meetings.

SERT so far

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.

So What?

The student experience varies. There is not one concrete type of experience. Numerous factors play into the well-being of students. The student experience is influenced by senses of belonging, programs, user experience, commute time, familial responsibilities. To some degree, every student experiences some sort of a violation of expectations.

Boat # 2

Imagine you have been granted a four-month, all-hassles-taken-care-of opportunity to travel. You arrive at the harbor, where the trip, an ocean-going trip, will begin, and where you will choose between two boats. Boat # 1 will maintain a strict and well worked out itinerary, following a route popularized and perfected by hundreds of travelers before you, reviewed and curated so that every detail and contingency of the trip is managed. You can be guaranteed, in this boat, to be treated to comfort and predictability, and satisfaction. Boat # 2, on the other hand, makes no such promise.

Interpreting People’s Stories

I’ve been thinking a lot about how our third party analysis of the collages is even valuable information for us to consider in terms of research. John brought it up during one of our meetings last week and I have been considering it myself. The intention of the collages are for the participants to create using art as their medium to tell their story. If we are interpreting the collages without considering their story/intention, aren’t we just making things up?

What have I learned?

In our participant experiences, I feel as if the SERT team has learned much about the similarities that existed among all the differences within Ryersons student body. Many participants shared different stories that centered similar themes around struggle, identity, resilience and more. It was interesting to listen and see how these themes manifested differently in each story. One thing that that all participants shared in common was that always seemed to be a turning point. Whether it be a shift in spiritual beliefs, or a shift in a program and school. Each story had a turning point which played as a pivotal moment of deeper connection to self and surroundings.

boundary/balance in arts-based research

our last sert session provoked a lot of interesting thoughts and internal dialogue about the boundaries and constraints in arts/narrative-based research. its exciting to think about the future and the power that narrative research holds, because in a way, it means that, in the future, there were will be an increase of nuanced, critical, and relevant knowledge that accurately represents lived experiences. the validity of lived experiences being recorded and explored as a way to transform as opposed to further oppress makes me very hopeful about the discourse around research and what that means for communities who have been violated by this historically colonial/western practice.

“Everything Starts with a Jam Session”: Grounding our Teamwork

Although sometimes it happens naturally, in an “emergent” way if you will, it’s sometimes helpful to set ground “rules” from the beginning of a new project or team. Rules is a funny word. Maybe I’d prefer agreement? Or… feelings? That’s where my head is at lately. So, setting ground feelings. Some things we agree upon as a team that are important to us, so we can work together and make great things.