In a very real sense, every piece of research is unique and calls for a unique methodology. We, as the researcher, have to develop it (Crotty, 1998, pp. 13-14).
Several important decisions were made leading up to the commencement of formal action research that shaped the current study. I will recount these decisions through a theoretically informed autobiography of the research methodology. Mitchell, Theron, Smith and Stuart (2011) introduced the notion of an “autobiography of the method” (p. 1) based on Miller's (1995) autobiography of the research question.
A key issue in the current study is the co-construction of meaning. Some background concerning my unfolding understanding of this issue might be helpful here in relation to my role as a Performing Arts teacher. According to Reynolds and Reeve (2002), collaboration creates an optimal learning environment where “a hallmark of students working in collaborative learning settings is the co-construction of meaning” (p. 448). My understanding of the co-construction of knowledge and meaning has significant overlap with related issues such as co-performance and co-authorship.
Around 10 years ago, I was working with our Junior Band of 6 to 8 year-olds rehearsing common songs such as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Up until that rehearsal, I hadn't thought to play along with the children on an instrument, as I was the conductor. When I tried accompanying the Junior Band on bass guitar, I found that I was able to guide the rhythm and chord changes, which helped unify the sound. After I accepted that this co-performance was more beneficial than conducting from out the front, I settled into this new role and found that we could successfully attempt a much more interesting repertoire.
Applying the same principle to our school orchestra had even more of an impact. Staff members and even parents were encouraged to play in the orchestra to model how each section could and should sound. We ended up with staff members on trumpet, saxophone, drums, bass, violin, cello, clarinet and our school principal was our conductor. The staff members would occasionally stop playing to ensure that the children were keeping up with their own parts. Regardless of how well the orchestra played, we were sending another message to the children, which was that music is fun and we choose to play because we enjoy doing so. This interaction and co-performance resonates with Vygotsky's (1978) idea that “what children can do with the assistance of others might be in some sense even more indicative of their mental development than what they can do alone” (p. 85).
Co-performance eventually became co-authorship through the biennial Short Film Festivals, which I have been staging with primary school children since 2002. At such times, I assist the children in various capacities, particularly with video and audio editing, as these elements can present a steep learning curve for young learners. I have always found that the children appreciated my overseeing of their work as an executive producer, to ensure that everything came together on the big screen at our local cinema.
The current study commenced with the constructionist view that children can participate in profound learning opportunities through the creation of artefacts that are meaningful to them. My own experiences in creating explanatory animations during a Master’s degree entitled “Animating Best Practice” (Jacobs, 2007) had taught me that the author of an explanatory animation is forced to confront and re-evaluate their own understanding of their topic during the countless pedagogical decisions which are made throughout the design process. I theorised that the participants in the current study would also achieve a deepened understanding of their chosen topics throughout the explanatory animation creation process. This working hypothesis and my full-time immersion in the primary school context for over 10 years provided a rationale to commence action research. Some important groundwork had already been conducted during the 2010 Storyboard pilot study that helped establish the scope and framework for the current study.
The 2010 Storyboard pilot study
Halfway through the 2010 school year, I had received the necessary ethics approval and was ready to commence the data collection process. This approval was granted after I had articulated the purpose of the study through a Plain language statement (Appendix B) and the requirements of the study as articulated in the Consent form (Appendix C). In 2010, the first data were collected from eighteen participants who were in Grades 5 and 6. I wanted to capture the background to the decision-making process inherent in the design task so I included directors’ commentaries as an additional source of data. This led to the creation of three video artefacts for each participant:
Prior knowledge video (1)
Completed explanatory animation
These data, however, became a pilot study. It was at the recommendation of my PhD confirmation committee in March 2011 that I collect additional data to provide more detailed evidence about the process of creating an explanatory animation. Until then, my focus was on the creation and completion of a product rather than an investigation of a process. The data collection process was re-enacted for the current study in 2011 with some important refinements:
Student reflections were to be recorded each week rather than just on the completion of the project.
The data collection process was to be augmented through the addition of other data sources to provide a weekly snapshot of each child’s progress.
The basic animation technique however, did not change from the pilot to the main study as the guidelines that I had formulated in 2010 had proven to be most useful. Yet the increased frequency of the student reflections affirmed that the process had more theoretical importance than the product. This methodological improvement also affirmed the importance of monitoring change as a key dynamic. As Vygotsky (1978) noted, “to study something historically means to study it in the process of change; that is the dialectical method’s basic demand” (p. 64).
At this point I reconceptualised how the conceptual consolidation of each participant related to existing theoretical models. The children had already been guided by my own definition of a concept being “a system containing variables” so I began to explore the system qualities of concepts. Davydov (1990) was a primary source for this:
The objective connection between the universal and the isolated (the integral and the distinct) emerges as the specific content of a theoretical concept. Such a concept, in contrast to an empirical one, does not find something identical in every particular object in a class, but traces the interconnection of particular objects within the whole, within the system in its formation (p. 119 original emphasis).
Action research was an obvious methodological choice, as I wanted to investigate conceptual change in the child participants’ understanding of conceptual topics through the explanatory animation creation process.
Practitioner action research
Anderson, Herr and Nihlen’s (1994) book on practitioner action research was titled Studying your own school. However Eikeland (2012) is cautionary about de-emphasising the practitioner orientation as a mere checklist for place of employment:
Native, practitioner research opens the door for praxis research although it is often reduced (at least terminologically) to the implementation of conventional research by practitioners and insiders in work-places and organisations (p. 41, original emphasis).
For Eikeland, practitioner action research should be primarily concerned with generating new praxis. According to Somekh and Lewin (2005), “praxis refers to the process of embedding the development of theory in practical action” (p. 347). Although conceptual consolidation provided the theoretical interest in the current study, animation praxis was also an important issue because this provided the context for the case study. My empirical space was the Victorian government primary school sector and my local setting was the inner Melbourne school in which I worked. The theoretical and practical aspects of the current study were embedded in the children’s animation creation task.
Action research gives full consideration of the context, setting and proximity of all stakeholders, but the hallmark of action research is change. Anderson, Herr and Nihlen (2007), “the most powerful action research studies are those in which the practitioners recount a spiralling change in their own and their participants’ understandings” (p. 42). The cumulative nature of the children’s voice-over scripts was a design choice to capture such instances of spiralling change due to the way that each version of these scripts was left unchanged as a date-based file. As the Storyboard sessions occurred on a weekly basis over a seventeen-week period, the children and I were also making regular reflections that provided further instances of spiralling change. As the researcher, my task was to document and explain these changes as a case study.
Explanatory case study
Norris and Walker (2005) have noted that case studies are an appropriate way to delineate research for naturalistic inquiry because of the importance of context. Yin (2009) has further divided case studies into categories such as descriptive, exploratory and explanatory. From my experiences during the 2010 Storyboard trial, I had already seen how primary school children could deepen their conceptual understanding through the explanatory animation creation task. It was now my job as a researcher to explain how and why this occurs. This provided a rationale to design the current study as an explanatory case study.
Schramm (1971) noted that all case studies share some commonality as they attempt to “illuminate a decision or set of decisions: why they were taken, how they were implemented, and with what result” (p. 6). The research question for the current study asked “In what ways...” which is tantamount to asking both how and why questions. Yin (2014) recommends using an explanatory case study when researching such questions as they involve “operational links needing to be traced over time, rather than mere frequency or incidence” (p. 10). The current study is also a collective case study (Stake, 1995) as each of the children worked on different topics. Their conceptual journeys provided collective insights into the nature of the explanatory animation creation task.
The case study method has been utilised in a plethora of different contexts ranging from the observation of pre-existing phenomena to examples where the researcher makes a deliberate intervention. This might best be conceptualised on a continuum of involvement between observation and intervention as there are differing views about the nature and role of the educational researcher. On one end of the continuum, researchers such as Burns (1997) advocate that the role of the researcher is “to observe social processes as they occur naturally without the intervention of researchers” (p. 301). At the other end of this continuum is practitioner action research such as Vincent (2004) who worked with primary school children who create multimodal texts. Vincent explained his role in that process as a deliberate intervention where he placed himself “in the system” (p. 77) to gain a close proximity to the phenomena under investigation.
In the current study, the mutual co-construction of data created a dynamic that is even further along this continuum due to the issue of co-authorship. Barab and Squire (2004) have also discussed this continuum of involvement and noted that the use of interventions are “opportunities to examine core theoretical issues and explore learning” (p. 10). When working with the eight children throughout the explanatory animation creation process in the current study, it was precisely these interventions that surfaced the evidence of change, or the perceived need for change for each of children’s understanding of their topic. Some further background is required here about the logistical choices made prior to commencing the data collection process.
Selecting the eight participants
As my usual teaching role involved every child in the school coming to our scheduled music classes each week, an initial invitation to be involved in the project was extended to every Grade 5 and 6 child informally during an open classroom discussion. Interested children were then encouraged to register their interest with me at that time or to see me privately to discuss their ideas for an animation topic. There were more applicants than positions for this project, so I used the following criteria to select the participants:
Each child’s choice of topic must be rich with learning potential, as the children were encouraged to choose conceptual topics (i.e., topics that require explanation). The suitability of each topic was determined through individual discussions between each child and myself.
Each child’s classroom teacher must confirm that they are up-to-date with classroom work and will therefore not suffer adversely from missing regular classroom activities.
Parental consent must be given.
I notified each successful participant personally so that I could gauge their enthusiasm to ensure that they were willing to commit to the project. The final eight children chose to investigate the following topics:
As the 8 child participants were promised anonymity for their participation throughout the current study, I have assigned pseudonyms for each child. Some utilise rhyme such as “Stadium design” (Ryan) but most use names that share some letters with their topics such as “Electromagnetic fields” (Magnus), “Molecular naming conventions” (Molly), “How does hair grow?” (Harriet) and “Stringed instruments” (Ingrid). The rest of the children’s pseudonyms were formed through association such as “Solar cell efficiency” (Sunny) or more cryptic names such as “Satellites” (Neil Armstrong) and “Sol Feige” (Maria from The Sound of Music).
Selecting the animation platform
Microsoft PowerPoint (2) was chosen as a suitable animation platform because it was already installed on all of the school computers and the children were already familiar with it. The idea of using PowerPoint to generate the imagery evolved from observing some Grade 5 boys working with this software for our Short Film Festival in 2006. The boys had discovered that by using the “Insert duplicate slide” function they could then make slight adjustments to the position of any objects in the new slide by using combinations of various auto shapes like basic rectangles, circles and so on.
By quickly pressing page down they could animate their graphics at the rate of their button presses. The crude method of manual manipulation used by these boys allowed for longer and ultimately more elaborate sequences. I showed these same boys how PowerPoint can save each slide (frame) separately in various graphics formats such as GIF, JPG and PNG. Because each slide is named sequentially, they can easily be imported and assembled using video editing software. The timing can then be controlled to produce the desired result when these multiple representations are rendered as a stand-alone video file.
Waldrip and Prain (2013) have noted how the creation of multiple representations is important for students if they are to develop conceptual understanding. They have accompanied this assumption with a challenge for teachers to encourage “sequences of representational refinements without unnecessary duplication” (Waldrip & Prain, 2013, p. 25). The “Insert duplicate slide” method satisfies Waldrip and Prain’s guideline about minimising effort, as the duplication is an efficient digital process rather than a laborious manual task. Hoban, Nielsen and Carceller (2010) described sequences of representations as a “semiotic chain” (p. 437) because meaning is infused into the representations, but also into the arrangement of the representations.
The animation sessions
The animation sessions were held during one of my regular, allocated breaks on Thursday afternoons between 2:30 and 3:30 pm in my main teaching room (i.e., the Music room). The eight children were from various Grade 5 and 6 classes so their other classmates were with their usual classroom teachers during these sessions. There were a total of seventeen one-hour sessions.
We used a range of computers but I tried to provide the same machines to each child every week to avoid disruption, as many of the computers were not networked. The eight participants used three desktop PCs, three laptop PCs, one iMac (running as a PC using boot camp) and one MacBook. The wide variety of technology used was not a deliberate attempt to examine the affordances of different platforms but a practical constraint based on what was readily and consistently available in the Music room.
During the first session, I introduced the animation project to the participants by showing the participants some examples of explanatory animations that I had created. These animation examples were viewed to make the point that explanatory animations should be as short as possible, generally not exceeding one or two minutes. These examples encouraged the participants to refine their topics to become quite specific to reduce the demands placed on cognitive load for the subsequent viewers of the completed animations. I moved around the classroom much like any teacher would in a normal classroom setting, but the small class size of eight participants allowed for more extended interactions.
Multimodal data was generated throughout the project, starting with the first session where each child created their own folder. My contribution of ideas to assist the children was both necessary and problematic as it was imperative that I should distinguish my contributions from that of the participants. The only direct contributions that I made (i.e., making changes or contributing imagery outside of the case study sessions) were done in the final days of the project to enable us to complete the final animations in time for the debriefing session. Whenever I amended a child’s PowerPoint file outside a session, I saved the amended file as a new name so we could easily undo my contribution if necessary. For example “Stringed instruments 081211.ppt” became “Stringed instruments 081211b.ppt” (b for Brendan). Each week I created a new folder on my own computer called “Session 1”, “Session 2” and so on to keep all of the related media together. Each child was issued with their own USB drive to back-up their work. These USB drives were then copied into the “Session” folders on my computer.
The twelve data sources that informed the current study will now be detailed in terms of how they were collected, and more importantly, why they were chosen and what I was looking for.
The twelve data sources
The twelve data sources generated throughout the current study served to document the evolution of this project. These sources were centred on the various roles that the children and I had in the co-construction of the animation artefacts. Table 3.1 ascribes these sources as primarily originating from the child or myself as follows:
The twelve data sources
These twelve data sources are further delineated in Figure 3.1, which illustrates the interactive relationships between these sources and how the co-construction of the animation artefacts was not a linear process but rather an interactive process. This Venn diagram also shows whether the data sources were primarily reflective or constructive in nature.
Figure 3.1. Venn diagram of the twelve data sources.
Although there was considerable weaving between student and researcher processes, particularly in relation to the co-construction of the imagery files, voice-over scripts and completed explanatory animations, the twelve data sources will be presented first in relation to the child data sources followed by the researcher’s for the purpose of clarity. This, however, is not meant to be interpreted as a sequential pathway, but instead, a back-and-forth iterative process.
Extracts from the twelve data sources described below are included in the portraits of the children in Chapter 4. These portraits contain the data analysis for each child where I provide a behind the scenes account of the current study and how it evolved according to each child’s conceptual journey. The twelve data sources will now be described as an introduction to what they are and also to provide a rationale as to why these sources were collected.
Prior knowledge videos
Each student recorded a prior knowledge video about their topic at the commencement of the data collection process. According to diSessa (2008), “the central principle of conceptual change research is the constructivist idea that ‘old’ ideas (or mental structures) are influential in supporting or constraining learning (or development)” (p. 35). According to these prior knowledge videos, the students claimed to know nothing or very little about their topics. A more important theme arising from the prior knowledge videos was that the participants displayed an interest in their topic.
Initially, my rationale for the inclusion of the prior knowledge videos was to show how much each student had learnt. It became more important, however, to show how and why they developed their conceptual understanding along the way. As such, the prior knowledge videos were not as useful as many of the other data sources (such as the voice-over scripts) and are rarely referenced in the data analysis chapter.
Each child’s PowerPoint file was their digital workspace as all of their animation imagery was constructed within PowerPoint. This graphic imagery was constructed as a montage of auto shapes. I had instructed the children to construct relevant key frames (i.e., beginnings of movement sequences) before animating any actual movement. When viewed in the slide sorter view within PowerPoint, these key frames could then be easily dragged into a different position if necessary, to create the most appropriate sequence of events as a storyboard. Figure 3.2 is a screen shot of the slide sorter view within PowerPoint.
Figure 3.2. Screen shot of the slide sorter view in PowerPoint.
It was the appearance and functionality of the slide sorter view that gave me the idea of using “Storyboard” as the title for this thesis. The imagery within the PowerPoint files eventually made their way into the completed explanatory animations as the PowerPoint slides became animation source material by “Saving as” graphic files (.png format).
The graphic imagery was clearly more than a means of producing ‘visual building blocks’ for the animations. These images were tangible representations of each child's understanding of their conceptual topic that also provided a digital window into their thought processes. Although the participants were generating their imagery on computers, they were nonetheless, drawing. “Drawing involves more than simply forming images; it is equated with the capacity to think and feel” (Wright, 2011, p. 159).
The PowerPoint files were saved each week using a date suffix after the topic name (e.g., satellites 080911.pptx). The date suffixes were very important as they provided a chronology of the child’s work from one week to the next. This resulted in multiple files for each child and also provided an additional benefit of backing up the children’s work. The date suffixes were created using the convention of DDMMYY. (File extensions were either .ppt or .pptx depending on which version of Microsoft PowerPoint was on each child’s computer).
The digital domain allowed the children to literally undo their changes to facilitate trial and error. The basic functionality of saving as (a date-based suffix) was at the heart of this method, as every new tangent became a new file. This was particularly useful in case mistakes needed to be undone. The issue of mistakes has interesting parallels here with Art and how we shouldn’t be too quick to correct or remove error. Discarded ideas are not without merit, as noted by visual artist Patricia Mullins (2009):
When something doesn't work out, I take another sheet and do it again. If I were to rub out or destroy what went wrong I'd lose a sense of progression, or maybe later it might not look so bad (p. 49).
The PowerPoint files also contained a separate slide that functioned as a dumping ground for instances where I introduced new terminology. I did this as an attempt to reduce cognitive load for the children as new information could be dumped and reviewed at a later date. These non-graphic slides were simply omitted from the video- editing environment (i.e., imported but not selected) during the final stage of creating the animation artefacts.
The voice-over script was a separate slide within the PowerPoint file of each student. As such it could be seen at various stages of development before it was eventually recorded as narration. The children were instructed to be careful that the content in these voice-over scripts was accurate and to only include information that they were confident about. The children were also made aware of the need to pass through two stage-gates (Cooper, 1990). Stage-gates are predefined steps that must be completed before progressing from one stage to another, namely:
The voice-over script had to be recorded before entering into the video-editing domain.
The imagery had to be synchronised with the voice-over script as the final stage of the explanatory animation creation process.
The children were generally more interested in working on their imagery than their voice-over script. Ironically, working on their voice-over script was the most direct method of finishing their animations because, until the voice-over script was completed and recorded, no imagery was rendered (i.e., extracted from the PowerPoint file by “Saving as” .PNG and then imported and assembled in video editing software).
The final voice-over scripts explained the content of each animation and were primarily descriptive in nature. Up until the final stage of the project, the voice-over scripts were also prescriptive as each sentence required corresponding imagery. Vygotsky (1978) has noted how the relationship between language and activity can be both descriptive and prescriptive at various times:
Initially speech follows actions, is provoked by and dominated by activity. At a later stage, however, when speech is moved to the starting point of an activity, a new relationship between word and action emerges. Now speech guides, determines, and dominates the course of action; the planning function of speech comes into being in addition to the already existing function of language to reflect the external world (p. 28 original emphasis).
Zoss (2010) has noted how Vygotsky’s work on sense and articulation in relation to provisional texts continues to inform research on conceptual development. The children’s voice-over scripts were also provisional texts because they evolved throughout the project. Smagorinsky (2001) is insightful here about the dual role of provisional texts created by students. He argued that provisional texts simultaneously function as indicators of a child’s conceptual understanding and as a mediator for ongoing development of that concept. As such, provisional texts can function as cognitive tools in the explanatory animation creation task. These voice-over scripts became key data sources and had a direct influence on the completed explanatory animation and director’s commentary.
Completed explanatory animations
The completed explanatory animations were the focal point of the animation task and they also brought most of the children’s understandings together in the one artefact or product. A premise and theme throughout the current study is that the process of explanatory animation creation is more important than the product. This premise, however, must be balanced with the fact that the children’s motivation to participate in this project was based around the goal of creating a finished explanatory animation. It is unlikely that the same level of participation and enthusiasm would have been achieved without this goal and it also would have stopped the project from being an authentic task. That said, most of the learning was evident in the unrendered animations (i.e., the storyboards), which was actually a finding from the 2010 Storyboard pilot study. Hence, the completed explanatory animations in the current study were not designed to embody the learning but, rather, provide the motivating goal and context for the learning task.
These explanatory animation products were also representations of the children’s cumulative learning. Prain and Tytler (2013) have noted that representations require further clarification. “Representations are always partial, selective, value-laden, perspectival, and offer abstracted, always constrained accounts of their referents. Learners need to know how to invest them with meaning” (p. 14). The investment of meaning in the completed animations was further enhanced through the addition of directors’ commentaries.
The concept of a director’s commentary is well known through entertainment contexts where a director records a commentary as an audio option on a DVD. This mirrors the same basic utility that was adopted for the current study where an additional, alternate audio track is merged with the primary video artefact (i.e., completed explanatory animation).
The directors’ commentaries provided another opportunity and context for student reflection. A premise for the current study gleaned from the 2010 Storyboard pilot study is that, on its own, a director’s commentary is insufficient to surface all of the issues and crossroads which the children encountered along their conceptual journeys. Hence, extracts from the directors’ commentaries appear in the students’ portraits wherever they are relevant.
More will be said about the genre of the director’s commentary in Chapter 5 because a survey of the literature would suggest that this is a new genre of research data that is unique to the current study.
Student weekly reflections
Each child made an audio recording as a weekly reflection about his or her animation progress. These recordings were always made towards the end of each session and the whole process usually took around fifteen out of our sixty minutes together. The student reflections were transferred from my handheld audio recorder to my computer and then edited, mastered and transcribed.
Recording the weekly student reflections also served an important, relational purpose by demonstrating my genuine curiosity about each child's progress. Paley (2007) has noted the positive effects that this interest has on children:
When we are curious about a child’s words and our responses to those words, the child feels respected. The child is respected. “What are these ideas I have that are so interesting to the teacher? I must be somebody with good ideas”. Children who know others are listening may begin to listen to themselves, and if the teacher acts as the tape recorder, they may one day become their own critics (p. 157 original emphasis).
Although the students dictated the weekly student reflections, these reflections arose from discussions with me immediately prior to making the recording. I would always ask; “Who is ready to record?” and then proceed accordingly as it proved to be more efficient to work with the children who were ready to share their thoughts and ideas. Whenever children weren’t sure what to say, I could easily prompt them to remember the significant events from that session, as I was intimately involved in their progress.
As the case study sessions were held after lunch each Thursday between 2:30 and 3:30 pm, the eight children who participated in the project usually went to their usual classroom first so that their grade teacher was aware that they still present at school. All grade teachers are required to mark their attendance roles in the morning and afternoon but I chose to maintain my own attendance record as this provided a quick snap shot of attendance (see Appendix D). I also recorded additional details for myself about absences by describing them as “A” (unexplained), “H” (family holiday) and “C” (school camp). These extra details helped me to gauge student engagement as some children (e.g., Magnus and Ryan) could still be described as having a perfect attendance record as they only missed sessions for reasons beyond their control.
By the end of this project there were thousands of date-based digital files, so the attendance role was also very useful in terms of data management, as I could quickly check which files would not be extant. For example, there are no “Stadium design” files between September 22nd and November 3rd as Ryan was on holiday throughout October.
The majority of the animation sessions consisted of giving the students as much time as possible to work on their projects. This stemmed from my constructionist ideal “to produce the most learning for the least teaching” (Papert, 1993, p. 139). The initial focus sessions from me were responsive to the needs of the children as they arose, so a basic dot-point description of these sessions outlined the actual session development. The lessons plans were conceptualised as another way to track the progress of the project. All of the sixteen lesson plans are appended to this thesis as Appendix E.
Researcher reflections in weekly reviews
My researcher reflections were made on a weekly basis throughout the data collection phase and were readily shared with the children during our regular interactions. These researcher reflections were also my initial form of data analysis. This was the most difficult task because my comments usually concluded by identifying issues that the children might need to explore. My main task was to formulate suitable questions or suggestions to keep the children focused. I was usually able to pose suitable questions or make relevant suggestions during my classroom interactions with the children, much like a teacher would in a normal classroom situation as “once ideas have been stated, both child and teacher can develop experiences that help the child think about a question” (Gallas, 1995, p. 29).
Sometimes I would pose a suitable question without knowing the answer myself. In these cases I had to investigate any specific content issues related to the children's topics. The children were encouraged to do their own research, but in instances where I wasn’t able to assist them through my general prior knowledge, my own curiosity led me to conduct additional research on specific issues.
The Researcher reflections in weekly reviews were comments related to particular students in each instance. They had an immediate tone to them as they were primarily about week-to-week guidance. The Researcher's reflexive journal, by comparison, also contained specific reflections about particular children, but the journal was focused more generally on any issues that might apply to the whole project.
Researcher’s reflexive journal
My journal entries were made on a daily basis between June 2011 and September 2012, focusing on interesting developments with various students, or additional insights that I was exploring. Although this started as a Reflective journal, I now refer to it as a Reflexive journal. Darling (1998) has articulated the differences as follows:
Although reflection influenced the development of reflexive practice, there are profound differences. Reflexivity is proactive as its focus is on providing practitioners with a tool that will simultaneously improve their communication and help make them [be] aware of assumptions and priorities that shape their interaction with others (para. 6).
My reflexive journal was a source of data but it also contained instances of preliminary data analysis. Altrichter and Holly (2005) have noted how research diaries can include data, interpretation, commentaries and reflection. This promotes ongoing analysis, as “preliminary results of analysis can indicate which additional data are necessary to fill in the gaps in a theoretical framework and to evaluate intermediate results” (Altrichter & Holly, 2005, p. 25). This is also in keeping with the nature of action research, where incremental improvements and refinements are made along the way.
Because the reflexive journal provided the most extensive and longitudinal record of analysis, it functioned as a backbone for my evolving understanding of the project, which was useful to cross-reference any of the other data sources. There are over 40,000 words in this journal so only the most relevant parts have been extracted and included in the body of this thesis (see Chapter 4).
Conceptual consolidation rubrics
My use of the conceptual consolidation rubric was initially conceptualised to assist me in the weekly, retrospective process of looking back at each child’s work to find key instances of conceptual change. The true significance of the rubrics, however, only appeared towards the end of the project when I noted a pattern that was consistently evidenced in each of the children’s work. This pattern is discussed further in Chapter 6.
The conceptual consolidation rubrics are in a table format, like a conventional rubric. The shaded boxes in each conceptual consolidation rubric records my weekly assessments on the progress of each of the participants. Table 3.2 is an example of this rubric.
Conceptual consolidation rubric
|Uses correct terminology||With assistance||Simplified terminology||Some correct terminology||Actual terminology|
Identifies relevant variables
|Not apparent||With assistance||Basic understanding||
|Identifies relationships between variables||Not apparent||With assistance||Basic understanding||Deep understanding|
Self-assessment scale (1-10). Does the student think that they understand their topic?
The final row contains each student’s self-assessment. According to Wilson and Johnson (2000), “the process of reflection is valued more highly by students if their reflections, such as their self-assessments, are included as part of the assessment process” (p. 19). In each instance, I made the actual shadings myself after each session. I didn’t ask the children each week what they thought their self-assessment should be as this was evidenced by the overall progress of their work and their weekly Student weekly reflections. The self-assessment scale in the bottom row was originally on a four-point scale of “No”, “Not really”, “Basic understanding” and “Yes”. All of the rubrics located in each child’s Weekly review use this four-point scale. During the Debriefing sessions, Magnus suggested that the self-assessment should be a 10-point scale, as he believed that the previous scale was too narrow. The final conceptual consolidation rubrics included in the children’s portraits in Chapter 4 now have the new 10-point scale.
According to Lincoln and Guba (1985), a basic assumption for conducting a debriefing session is that the person conducting it is not the primary researcher but, rather, a “non-involved professional peer” (p. 283). Common reasons for holding a debriefing session are to gain a different perspective on a study and to give the participants a chance to interact with another person with the assumption that the participants can speak more openly and without prejudice. However, I was the only researcher at the debriefing session for the current study as I had additional objectives such as recording the directors’ commentaries and it also provided a chance for me to thank the children for their participation.
Although I had some questions that I had prepared for the session, the debriefing session was conducted in a semi-formal fashion, where the children were also free to take the discussion in different directions. Only six out of the eight participants were at the debriefing session so I organised a second session for the following week. The two debriefing sessions generated interview-like data as videos and subsequent transcriptions. The edited video footage from both sessions was twenty-one minutes long. To make this video easier to stream, I divided it into four chronological chapters. This resulted in six children featured in ‘Sessions 1A, 1B and 1C’ and the remaining two children featured in ‘Session 2’.
Transcriptions of relevant exchanges and discussions from these debriefing sessions have been embedded into the children’s portraits wherever they are relevant.
Organisation of the twelve data sources (3)
There were thousands of files generated throughout this project, as there were eight children and twelve data sources over seventeen weeks of data collection. All relevant data are included in a portrait of each child in Chapter 4. The thousands of decisions that I needed to make as to what constitutes essential data were mitigated by the inclusion of all data, even raw data, on the Storyboard web site in the Digital data and Digital appendices sections.
The Weekly reviews in the Digital data section contain five out of the twelve data sources as follows:
Imagery files (i.e., PowerPoint files)
Researcher reflections in weekly reviews
Conceptual consolidation rubrics
The Videos and transcripts in the Digital data section (also embedded in Chapter 4) contain three out of the twelve data sources as follows:
Prior knowledge videos
Completed explanatory animations
The Digital appendices section contains four out of the twelve data sources as follows:
Researcher's reflexive journal
The links to the children’s PowerPoint files from the weekly review pages enhanced the confirmability of the current study. Other issues concerning the integrity of this research will now be addressed.
Integrity of the research methodology
The integrity of qualitative research requires that researchers articulate and justify their assumptions and methods. Janesick (2000) however, questions the “psychometric assumption that the trinity of validity, generalizability, and reliability, all terms from the quantitative paradigm, are to be adhered to in research” (p. 391). Guba and Lincoln's (1999) widely influential criteria of dependability, confirmability, credibility and transferability would seem to be appropriate categories for this discussion due to their close alignment with qualitative practices and dynamics. Guba and Lincoln (1999) were also careful to point out that the main reason for using any methodology is the “fit” (p. 141) between the axioms or propositions of the research and the phenomena under study.
Naturalistic enquiry accommodates emergence within a research design in contrast to rationalistic enquiry where the methods are usually predetermined. As such, the evolving and emergent nature of the current study provided a close fit for naturalistic enquiry as follows:
Issues concerning dependability
Dependability has some correlation to how well a study can be replicated. Dependability itself, however, is more about the extent to which a researcher can account for the changing context during case studies. In the current study I documented the context in three ways:
Through the Researcher reflections in weekly reviews that are included as a separate column in each participant’s Weekly review page in the data collection.
Through the weekly Lesson plans that include both the objectives for each session and a retrospective reflection about how these objectives were realised or changed.
Through daily entries in my Reflexive journal.
My use of a reflexive journal was in keeping with the aims and objectives of action research. Action research is known for effecting change and often this change occurs in the thoughts and revised plans of the researcher. According to Anderson, Herr and Nihlen (2007), “unearthing the tacit knowledge we bring to a question can be an important source of data, but it also needs to be critically examined” (p. 130). Guba and Lincoln (1999) have noted that naturalistic researchers often try to “recast their tacit knowledge into propositional form as soon as possible” (p. 145). As propositional knowledge is simply knowledge that can be stated in language form, the daily writing habit fostered by keeping a reflexive journal was an important and practical way to achieve this.
Issues concerning confirmability
Confirmability is often addressed directly after dependability as both issues deal with certification but in different areas of a study. “Confirmability shifts the emphasis from the certifiability of the enquirer to the confirmability of the data” (Guba & Lincoln, 1999, p. 147). The current study has augmented the ability of other researchers to confirm the data through the inclusion of all raw source data as hypertext links within the first column of the Weekly review page of each child. As such, these files don’t occupy any physical space, as the links are merely access options that are then left to the discretion of the reader. This enhanced level of referential adequacy is an affordance of presenting these data in the digital domain.
Although somewhat mechanical, the chronological file-naming conventions used throughout the current study also enhanced confirmability. This practice also demonstrated methodological congruence through the creation of a logical, chronological framework for the data trail.
Issues concerning transferability
Transferability relates to the possible extent that elements from a study might reasonably be transferred to other settings. Guba and Lincoln (1999) proposed that researchers provide a detailed and sufficiently thick description to the extent that others might be afforded a “vicarious experience of it” (p. 148). The purpose of the vicarious experience is to enable others to make judgments about a study, particularly about the researcher’s working hypotheses, which might be transferable to another context. Lincoln and Guba (1985) describe transferability in relation to a transfer between the sending and receiving contexts and further note that “transferability inferences cannot be made by an investigator who knows only the sending context” (p. 297 original emphasis). Establishing the feasibility for transferability then becomes the responsibility of the researcher in the receiving context as “the burden of proof lies less with the original investigator than with the person seeking to make an application elsewhere” (Lincoln & Guba, 1985, p. 298).
Issues concerning credibility
Credibility and trustworthiness are basically synonymous, as the key requirement appears to be a critical perspective. According to Sullivan (2006), the challenge for the researcher is to “maintain and monitor a creative and critical perspective so as to be able to document and defend the trustworthiness of interpretations made” (p. 29).
Credibility is also about the extent to which the participants in a study would agree with the researcher’s findings. Lincoln and Guba (1985) have said that the researcher’s interpretations must be “credible to the constructors of the original multiple realities” (p. 296 original emphasis). I attempted to understand these multiple realities through the personalised comments that I made about each child through my Researcher reflections in the Weekly reviews. This unfolding chronology was done to reduce the margin of error from my interpretations. The dialectic nature of these interactions and the importance attached to the children’s reflections were an attempt to foster the co- construction of knowledge. The fact that I had also known all of the children for many years and that the study itself ran for a whole-semester were examples of prolonged engagement as credibility was something that we could build on rather than establish in the first instance. According to Lincoln and Guba (1985), “it seems likely that unless the inquirer began as an accepted member of the group or agency being studied, distortions can never be overcome” (p. 302).
Another important component of credibility is the triangulation of data. In order to improve the reliability of data, triangulation is a general principle in which multiple sources of data are presumed to be better than single sources. Triangulation is not just the collection of multiple data sources, but also the application of multiple perspectives for analysing it. A more recent metaphor for validating or conceptualising data is that of a crystal (Richardson & St Pierre, 2008) where “what we see depends on our angle of repose - not triangulation but rather crystallization” (p. 478).
I would like to summarise this chapter by using some of the elements of filmmaking as an allegorical metaphor for the research methodology and analytical framework developed for the current study. The following filmmaking metaphor was inspired by Clarke (2008) who noted that for the qualitative researcher, data isn’t simply collected (as if it is scattered on the ground, waiting to be scooped up), but rather, composed and captured like a filmmaker who consciously and deliberately points a camera as a generative process, knowing where to look.
Constructionism is like the title of a film. The title is supposed to embody what the film is about, but is often a mere starting point as no single word or phrase can truly capture the entirety of a film. Likewise, constructionism provided a rationale for making artefacts but is insufficient to tell the rest of the story.
Action research is like the genre of the film as a broad category for this research, with practitioner action research further defining some of the practices involved. Naturalistic inquiry could also be likened to genre for similar reasons.
The dual stimulation method can be likened to the role of a location manager who decides when and where to shoot the film. In this sense, the dual stimulation method, although broad in terms of possibilities, became highly specific once the explanatory animation creation task was established.
The case study as a research method is like the role of a casting agent who enlists people to participant in a film through their direct involvement. Each of the eight children in the current study constituted a separate case and yet these eight cases were subsequently combined like scenes in a film.
CHAT is like the behind-the-scenes work of the film editor, seemingly invisible and technical yet having the ability to completely transform the final product throughout each stage of the process. As an umbrella methodology, CHAT is sufficiently inclusive as a way to conceptualise every part of this research, especially when used as an application of the ZPD.
The director was each of the eight children, and my role was like that of an executive producer. The final component in this metaphor is the script, although there was no actual script as each of the children started their animation with little or no prior knowledge. The children’s voice-over scripts soon appeared and continued to evolve throughout the project. The evolution of these voice-over scripts was a major component of the portraits that were used to detail the children’s progress in Chapter 4 as data analysis and results.
(1) A full description and explanation of all data sources is provided later in this chapter.
(2) Coincidently, Fleurke (2011) has noted that the layout and design of the PowerPoint software itself was clearly influenced by the storyboard.
(3) As this thesis was originally submitted for examination in a hybrid format with a CD-ROM accompanying a hard-copy manuscript, this "Organisation of the twelve data sources" section was initially more elaborate containing information about the breakdown of data between the two formats. When viewing the thesis from this web site (which has always been my intention), such information is now redundant and so it has been removed.