Just when I thought I couldn't jam another thing into my already busy professional life, up pops the Training Day for the PLICT Research Grants. I'd actually been really looking forward to this since I'd received my e-mail telling me that my proposal for action research into the use of Web 2.0 tools to build teacher eportfolios. I thought I had a pretty well thought proposal but I approached the day with an open perspective. If I had to refine or change my driving question because of the research methodology involved, then I was ready for that. It was also really great that we were hearing from Dr. Trudy Sweeney, an experienced DECS educator who is now working with pre-service teachers at Flinders University and is a researcher herself. She spoke at my school on Wednesday and challenged our IWB teachers to keep working to using their new tools in innovative ways. She talked about the differences between traditional academic research where the researcher is completely impartial and detached and the model we will be following which is the action research model where we are actively encouraged to be part of the mix. Trudy talked about the process being cyclical in nature and to keep in mind the fact that due to the short timeline involved, there may only be two cycles completed with the final conclusions still depending somewhat on a further investment of time and money. Trudy stated that she believed that teachers are in the best place to make these changes using what is basically inquiry leaning. In the end the report basically just has to be, "How many cycles did you go through and what were the defining moments?"
Dean Clark also talked through the trials and tribulations of past projects. In the past, theory and rationale have not been very clear - without it, the project gains may not be transferable. Action research is about “describing” the significant events – documenting it as “journaling” is a good way to go. Bureaucrats are interested in the numbers. In the research project you don’t have to “prove” a theory and provide supporting evidence and the impacts cannot be measured in numerical data but in broad descriptions. With that in mind, I revisited my initial driving question several times throughout the day trying to distill it so that was researchable and manageable. I started with "Can teacher e-Portfolios be constructed and maintained using Web 2.0 technologies?" but as I went through the day I realised that was just a question that was just personal in terms of what I could produce. If I left it at that, it would be just a project while the purpose here is research project.
I then got a bit carried away and this was my next mutation:- "Can teacher e-Portfolios facilitate the documentation of and reflection on lifelong learning as education professionals?"
That was very big picture and totally impossible to do in the timeframe using my meager research skills so it had to be simpler, a lot simpler. So, after discussing it with Trudy at the end of the day, I've decided it has to be:- "Are teacher e-Portfolios sustainable?" Then all I have to do is use my focus group as test runs and document their initial progress and thoughts and feelings towards the future. If the e-Portfolios fall flat because they lack purpose or are difficult to maintain, well, that's one answer. And if they flourish and the teachers want to build on their start, that tells a different story. There is also the possibility that purpose will drive the success or failure of these things so there could be mixed results.
The whole research recipient group met in a roundtable and it was great to hear from the various planned projects - using an IWB in a preschool setting, one on podcasting, digital photography to document a school project, using wikis in a senior college, ICT's in Maths, ICT's for high order thinking and a couple of e-Portfolio projects (for students). We had a preview of Centra as a possible way for meeting virtually as it is free for the DECS system although for the purposes of this project, I think using Skype would be just as good and way easier to use as you don't really need training to use it. We had a look at the Moodle set up for this with everyone's project getting a Moodle based wiki in there (ironically, I'd probably only use that walled garden wiki to post a link to the web based wiki I intend to use!) My login wasn't working (forgotten it since I last used a DECS Moodle in November last year) and I don't like adding to forums under someone else's name. Not sure how useful these tools will be - but putting together work in that sheltered environment is a bit strange because the potential support group is so small. I really think that the open web edublogosphere helped shape my original research grant application so I'd want to leave it open to that potential audience. Anyway, the next step is to firmly map out my timelines and meet with my group of volunteers to see what they already assume about e-Portfolios. And start reading..... a lot of Dr. Helen Barrett coming up.