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Think Alouds: SoTL Methods Series #3

Written by Sarah M. Ginsberg, Ed.D., Professor of Speech-Language Pathology at Eastern Michigan University (sginsberg@emich.edu)

Editor’s Note: This blog was originally posted on the SoTL Advocate on October 12. 2015 and is reprinted in its entirety now for its excellent fit in the current methods series which features methods for SoTL that are “new and different” to many.  — JCF

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 8.25.05 PMA common thread that runs through various cross-disciplinary SOTL research is the concerted effort made to understand what the accomplished professional is thinking when she solves a work problem so that we can use that knowledge as teachers to better prepare future professionals. That problem might be how a mathematician completes a technical calculation, or in clinical fields, it might be how the clinician arrives at a diagnosis. The value for all of us in understanding what our accomplished colleagues do in their heads when faced with a technical problem is that in identifying how the pros do it, we can uncover insights into how we should be teaching our students to think and to problem solve. This type of understanding relies on a process of collecting data while the person is actively engaged in solving a problem out loud. This type of study is often referred to as a think aloud (TA) and can yield important information to inform evidence-based educational practices

The TA method is a validated method of learning about cognitive processes by having participants verbalize their thinking in a metacognitive manner (Ericcson & Simon, 1993; Wineberg, 1991). TAs were popularized by Wineberg (1991) in his ground-breaking study that examined the differences between how academic historians processed information while reading historical texts and how students processed information regarding historical texts.  Since then, TAs have been used to study how novice thinking compares to experienced thinking in a wide variety of disciplines, including the health sciences, mathematics, and political science (Banning, 2008; Bernstein, 2010; Forsberg, Ziegert, Hult, & Fors, 2013; Wainwright & McGinnis, 2009). These types of studies are often referred to as “expert-novice” studies (Bernstein, 2010).

The process of data collection using a TA approach is quite simple and requires minimal technology and cost. Typically:

  1. Study participants are presented with the problem to be solved by the researcher and asked to solve it aloud.
  2. Specific directions are provided to participants. Prompts (e.g., “tell me how you would solve this” or “describe how you would approach this problem”) are used to elicit responses and gather additional information if a participant falls silent or struggles with the process.
  3. Participant responses are recorded for subsequent transcription and analysis.
  4. Once the TA is transcribed, the most challenging part of the process becomes the subsequent data analysis. Consistent with qualitative methodology, verbalizations may be read as a whole to determine initial emerging codes and impressions about the thought process (Creswell, 2002; Denzin & Lincoln, 2012). Using an inductive approach to identifying specific thought processes or strategies allows the researcher to move forward to developing secondary, axial coding. Themes emerge as the iterative process expands to include all participants and commonalities and differences can be appreciated.

Having recently completed a study comparing the diagnostic problem-solving of experienced speech-language pathology (SLP) clinicians compared to the problem-solving of SLP graduate students, I found that the most challenging aspect of analyzing the data was determining the level of thinking to focus on. I used studies in comparable clinical professions, such as nursing, physicians, and physical therapists to identify frameworks that might be useful to me. In determining the focus of my study, I chose to concentrate on the heuristics (thinking strategies) of my participants, to understand differences in approaches to problem solving and to create a framework that fostered comparisons to previous literature, potentially increasing the value of my findings.

For more details on the think aloud method and some outstanding examples of its use in a variety of fields, see the items included in the following references. It should be noted that a number of authors also advocate for the use of TA as a teaching method. For those unfamiliar with qualitative research methodology, several references are included here as well.

References for Additional Information on Think Alouds:

Banning, M. (2008b). The think aloud approach as an educational tool to develop and assess clinical reasoning in undergraduate students. Nurse Education Today, 28, (1), p. 8–14. doi: 10.1016/j.nedt.2007.02.001

Bernstein, J. L. (2010). Using “think-alouds” to understand variations in political thinking. Journal of Political Science Education, 6(1), p 49-69. doi:10.1080/15512160903467695

Ericcson, K. A., & Simon, H A. (1993). Protocol analysis: Verbal reports as data. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Forsberg, E., Ziegert, K., Hult, H., & Fors, U. (2013). Clinical reasoning in nursing, a think-aloud study using virtual patients-A base for innovative assessment. Nurse Education Today, http://dx.doi.org./10.1016/j.nedt.2013.07.010

Wainwright, S. F., & McGinnis, P.Q. (2009). Factors that influence the clinical decision-making of rehabilitation professionals in long-term care settings. Journal of Allied Health, 38(3), 143-51.

Wineberg, S. S. (1991) On the reading of historical texts: Notes on the breach between school and academy. American Educational Research Journal, 28(3), 495-519.

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#Collaborative Auto-ethnography: SoTL Methods Series #2

Written by: Catherine McConnell (University of Brighton), Elizabeth Marquis (McMaster University), and Lucy Mercer-Mapstone (University of Queensland) — note complete author-supplied affiliations and contact information at the end of this blog post. 

When we (Catherine, Beth, and Lucy) met at the International Summer Institute on Students as Partners in 2016 we quickly discovered that, as practitioners of student-staff partnerships, we had many shared experiences. Our discussions were fruitful in terms of giving us a sense of belonging but we felt they warranted deeper exploration. So, we embarked on a process of delving into our own experiences in the hopes of learning in the process and sharing that learning with fellow practitioners and researchers. As we worked to find a way to effectively and systematically study ourselves, we arrived at the idea of using collaborative auto-ethnography as a methodological approach.


Above: Participants at the 2016 McMaster Summer Institute on Students as Partners in Teaching and Learning, where we first developed the idea for our CAE project.


Collaborative auto-ethnography (CAE) is a research method that involves ‘a group of researchers pooling their stories to find some commonalities and differences […] to discover the meanings of the stories in relation to their sociocultural contexts’ (Chang et al, 2013, p. 17). As such, it provided a perfect, if initially somewhat unfamiliar, way to collectively explore our individual experiences in a scholarly fashion.

We have put together this blog post to explain our developing understanding of the method and process of CAE, and how we, as a group of three researchers, have used it in our recent SoTL enquiry into ‘student-staff partnership in higher education.’

CAE builds upon ‘auto-ethnography,’ which is a method that uses a researcher’s personal experience to ‘describe and critique cultural beliefs, practices, and experiences’ (Adams et al, 2015, p.1). Auto-ethnography is a deeply personal and reflective process, usually taking place in a researcher’s own context, whether that be about practice or in a certain situation. Adding the dimension of multiple ethnographies (i.e., more than one voice) presents the possibility that the method can simultaneously be collaborative, autobiographical, and ethnographic.

For our shared research, we took up the CAE method through structured reflective writing, designing a writing activity to provide a framework that would guide our individual reflections. We set ourselves a word limit of 750 words that we would write and share with each other in a private online space. This activity was modelled on a set of reflective prompts, informed by Johns’ model of structured reflection (Johns, 2000), which had been adapted by colleagues at the University of Brighton, UK (2011) and which we subsequently re-appropriated. Specifically, we:

  1. Developed a framework of prompts/questions for reflection
  2. Wrote individual reflections guided by the framework
  3. Shared and read each other’s reflections
  4. Conducted iterative thematic analysis to discover key themes

Our developed framework was a useful facilitative tool to prompt us to take an open, honest account of our personal and professional experiences, affirming Johns’ interest in ‘making explicit the knowledge we use in our practice’ (Jasper, 2013, p.86). Posing questions that follow Johns’ (ibid, p.37) format of phased cue questions (phases involve preparatory, descriptive, reflective, anticipatory, and insight questions) we focused our SoTL enquiry on identity construction, navigation and enactment in the context of student-staff partnerships.

The framework below provides an illustration of the types of questions used to prompt our personal reflections about identity in the context of student-staff partnerships. This could be easily adapted to other SoTL topics –  especially those that reflect on practice.

Framework for reflective questioning
Description of experience Phenomenon: describe in detail your partnership practice, or a specific partnership experience that seems especially noteworthy, without interpretation or judgement
Context: what were the significant background factors to this experience? Why did it take place, and what was its purpose?
Reflection What were you trying to achieve?
Why did you behave as you did?
What were the consequences of your actions for yourself and others?
How did you feel about the experience when it was happening?
To what extent did your actions realize your understanding of partnership?
What identity(s) were you consciously aware of at the time?
What identity(s) do you believe were at play during this interaction in hindsight?
If multiple, which identity was most salient? How were they interacting?
Analysis: Influencing factors

 

What factors influenced your decision-making? Some potential options to consider: Prior experiences, Societal expectations/ideologies/assumptions, Context
How was your salient identity affecting your actions?
How was the interaction between identities affecting your actions?
How was the presence of this identity(s) influencing your perceptions of those with whom you were interacting?
Analysis: Alternatives What other choices did you have?
What could be the consequences of these choices?
Learning & Action How do you feel about this experience now?
Has this experience changed your way of understanding yourself?
Did your salient identity change? If so, how and why?
In hindsight, how has is interaction/even affected your ongoing identity in partnership?
What new questions, challenges or issues has it raised?
Given the chance, what would you do differently next time?
How will you follow up on this experience in order to put your learning into practice?

Once we had written and shared our individual reflections, we found it useful to read each other’s, and write a short ‘meta-reflection’ on the writing process. This enabled us to appraise the CAE method straight after the reflective process but before we began any analysis of the transcripts. Some of our observations included:

  • The researchers felt a sense of belonging and solidarity to one another along with a communal ownership of an enquiry
  • Writing and sharing reflections caused each of us a personal realisation and provided grounds for transformation. This process was not without some discomfort, though, perhaps because there is a level of vulnerable-making involved with sharing personal reflections with colleagues
  • Sometimes the content of the reflections themselves was also unsettling or challenging, and caused discomfort in relation to an aspect of one’s own practice
  • We experienced a heightened consciousness of our own values and beliefs relating to practice, the influence these have in partnership situations, and in our expectations of others
  • We also noted a sense of excitement when reading each other’s writing inspired by the experience of sharing personal insights and aspects of our own identity that are usually implicit

While CAE proved a useful method for meaningfully exploring our research questions about our own experiences, then, it was also an exciting and sometimes uncomfortable process that supported reflective thinking and potential development of our practice as teachers and learners.

Project Information

We are three SoTL practitioners working in the area of student-staff partnership in HE across three western countries, in differing roles, and in significantly different institutional contexts. Catherine McConnell is a Senior Lecturer in a Learning and Teaching centre, focusing her work and doctoral research on student-staff partnership, at the University of Brighton in the UK. Beth Marquis is Associate Director (Research) at the central teaching and learning institute at McMaster University in Canada. Her disciplinary training is in film and cultural studies. Lucy Mercer-Mapstone is a PhD candidate and research co-fellow at the University of Queensland, Australia. She currently leads the collaborative design of a university-wide Students as Partners program that aims to embed a culture of partnership at the institution.

You can find out more about our study: Breaking Tradition Through Partnership: Navigating Identities and Dissonance in Student-Staff Partnerships in the EuroSoTL Conference Proceedings, p296.

Catherine McConnell * a, Elizabeth Marquis b, c Lucy Mercer-Mapstone

a Centre for Learning and Teaching, University of Brighton, Sussex, England. C.McConnell@brighton.ac.uk

b Arts & Science Program and MacPherson Institute, McMaster University. Hamilton, ON, Canada. beth.marquis@mcmaster.ca

c Institute for Teaching and Learning Innovation, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Brisbane, 4072, Australia, l.mercermapstone@uq.edu.au, orcid.org/0000-0001-7441-6568

*Corresponding author

 

Blog References

Adams, T. E., Linn, H. J. S. and Ellis, C. (2015). Autoethnography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Chang, H., Ngunjiri, F., & Hernandez, W. (2013). Collaborative autoethnography. London: Routledge.

Jasper, M. (2013) Beginning Reflective Practice. (2nd edition) Hampshire: Cengage Learning.

Johns, C. (2000) Becoming a Reflective Practitioner. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications.

University of Brighton. (2011). Critical Incident Analyses. Brighton: University of Brighton. 


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International Students as Partners Institute (ISaPI) 2018

Posting on behalf of Mick Healey and Beth Marquis:

The 3rd International Students as Partners Institute (ISaPI) will be held at McMaster University, Ontario, Canada (approx. 45 min south of Toronto Airport) from 11-14 June 2018. If you are interested, please put these dates in your diary. This is the week after the International Consortium of Educational Developers (ICED) conference in Atlanta. Why not come for both? Please pass this message on to any colleagues you think may be interested in ISaPI.

The overall aim of ISaPI is to build the capacity and understanding of faculty, staff, and students to develop, design, implement, and disseminate initiatives that promote the practice of students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education. Close to 200 staff/faculty and students have participated in the last two years in roughly equal numbers. Here are some comments:

“Thanks for this most challenging and rewarding experience, a very inspiring three days! We very much appreciated both the balance between systematic impetus, drawing on the community present and focusing on our own issues.”

“By far the most beneficial and enjoyable aspects … were the networking opportunities which led to collaboration and collective knowledge building. The international nature of these discussions really helped me to reconsider my assumptions about partnership.”

In 2018, staff and faculty are encouraged, where possible, to bring a student with them, or students to bring a member of staff/faculty with them to participate in one or two consecutive two-day interactive workshops:

  • Doing students as partners well: Exploring powerful in-class and extra-curricular practices
  • Being a good partner: Understanding the dynamics of power-sharing partnership practices

These are new topics, run by a new team, so previous participants are encouraged to join us again.

Teams of 4-6 faculty/staff and students (at least two of each) from an institution can apply to join a 3.5 day ‘Change Institute’ at which they’ll develop a ‘students as partners’ initiative they hope to implement in the coming year. All activities will be facilitated by a highly experienced international team of staff/faculty and students from Australia, Canada, US and UK.

One of the outcomes of the first ISaPI was the establishment of the International Journal for Students as Partners, which publishes research articles, case studies, reflective essays and opinion pieces.  It is run, like ISaPI, by an international team of faculty/staff and students. The second issue should be out next week.

For further details about this institute and for booking please go to: http://tinyurl.com/ISAPI2018

Here are some further comments from previous years’ participants:

“The inclusion of student partners was terrific and essential.  I wish we could have brought a student or two.  The time to simply plan in a context with stimulation, structure, and feedback was so valuable.”

“The best thing about the Institute was having a chance to work with students and teachers from around the world and seeing the way they do things at their universities was really enlightening.”

“Overall, I found the institute to be an eye-opening experience. As a student, it allowed me to learn from perspectives of those that I don’t often hear from (professors, educational developers, curriculum developers), and provided me with a growing sense of agency over my own education.”

 Key Dates & Deadlines

  • 1 November 2017: Registration for workshops open on a first come, first served basis.
  • 16 February 2018: Change Institute applications due (Apply Here!)
  • 2 March 2018: Change Institute teams notified of acceptance
  • 30 March 2018: Early Bird Registration deadline
  • 1 June 2018: Regular Registration deadline
  • 11-14 June 2018: Institute