30 October 2017

One size does not fit all - Applying Anthropological Principals to Pedagogical Research

Blogger Jennifer Long has begun a new research project which looks at the various ways in which students' unique context and identities influence their learning experiences. Where you ask? In her new field site: the post-secondary institution where she works.

What is the purpose of the research? Dr. Long and Tanu Halim seek to better understand the educational experiences and learning preferences of mature and/or non-traditional students and how these perspectives differ depending on the instruction medium. To make matters a little more complicated, these instruction mediums include: (1) asynchronistic online learning; (2) synchronistic online learning; and (3) face-to-face in-class learning.

One of the research team's presumptions when approaching this research was that: mature students have different work-life responsibilities than traditional students entering undergraduate education after high school. That is, we assumed that there were more competing responsibilities for their time.

Why is this research important? ... We wanted to follow the money.

Earlier this year, the Government of Ontario made an announcement (May 2017) that they will begin funding research projects that explore technology-enabled learning and highlight best practices in student engagement.

This announcement follows up on past Ontario funding (in 2012 -2013) for universities and colleges that focused on developing further online learning opportunities for undergraduate students (Council of Ontario Universities, 2017). As one of the funded schools under this mandate, the W. Booth School of Engineering Practice & Technology redeveloped many of their courses as online offerings - with a particular focus on Degree Completion courses. The Degree Completion Program (DCP) is a two-year program designed for students who wish to upgrade their advanced College diploma into a Bachelor of Technology university degree. As such, this degree appeals to non-traditional students (as opposed "traditional" younger students who enter university after high school) who may be juggling work and family obligations in addition to their academic responsibilities.

The argument behind moving courses online includes the supposed ease of access to educational options for non-traditional students, for example, greater uptake and attendance if the requirement to commute to class is alleviated.

So how is this anthropology? As an anthropologist, I was struck by the unique set of circumstances this group of students brought to their learning environment. Within the McMaster student body then, this population - although connected - used the campus differently (largely at night or on the weekends for in-class courses), had less access to resources since supports are made more available for daytime students, and typically came from different backgrounds and pathways to education than more traditional students. Our goal with this research then is to challenge assumptions (non-traditional students prefer online courses) and explore these individuals' unique experiences of post-secondary education. 

Here on anthroeverywhere! we'll keep you up to date on the outcome of this research as a means to explore conducting anthropological research, everywhere including inside and outside the discipline. 

Check out this Thursday's post to learn more about the types of questions we'll ask and concerns from the ethics review board.