Engineering an Argument

What did I learn?

I learned about how arguments are constructed (and deconstructed) and why it is important to make this explicit in writing. I am applying this to a smaller paper I am rewriting.  I met with a professor to get some feedback on a paper, and he suggested I read the section from Hart’s book on arguments.  (Again, projects collide.)  Part of the writers job is to make reading easier. What may be clear to the author is not so clear to the reader unless you take efforts to make it expressly clear.  I will apply this to my other writings as well.

How did I learn it?

First, I tried to learn this by doing it.  Actually, I have been doing this for a long time without really thinking about what the best way to do it is or how other people learned to do it.  Then I asked someone for help (a professor).  He recommended Hart’s book.  Then I read Chapter 4 in Chris Hart’s book about argumentation analysis (pp. 79-108). I followed his advice!

What was gleaned from Hart’s book?  Hart presents Stephen Toulmin’s (1958) model for the structure of an argument and Fisher’s (1993) method of critical reading.  Toulmin dissects an argument into four parts: claim, evidence, warrant and backing.  He illustrates how to build a coherent argument from these parts.  This is how to create your argument for your literature review.  Fisher’s method shows how to read someone else’s work and identify the elements of their argument. These two devices are useful.

How could I have learned this better?

Reading some examples and guidelines might help to start the process, but I don’t think you really learn it until you go through the process.  I think that I already was a logical thinker, but I need to also consider the reader of the work and making sure I make my logic perfectly clear to them.

How could I help someone else learn this?

They could read this blog. 🙂 Give them Hart’s book, or recommend it.   It is definitely a good starting point.

Google Scholar as Citation Index

Nine days ago I posted that I had received Chris Hart’s Doing a Literature Review and had skimmed through the book.  This week I decided to read through a little more carefully and look at Hart’s theory of how to do a literature review.

Points of interest:

  1. Hart talks about building a map of the literature.  He suggests starting with books in phase one, then moving to journal articles in phase two, and finally theses and conference papers in phase three.

This makes sense because books tend to be more general and are often based on a synthesis of many journal articles.  This would make them a good starting point.  I did start with books (even though I had not read this yet.)  Key works need to be identified.  Hart talks about using citation indexes to do this.

Google Scholar is a great tool for this.  For example, if I am trying to determine the relative value of a piece, looking it up in Google Scholar immediately tells me the number of times this work has been cited in the literature.  Then, I can click on the link “cited by” and pull up a page with all the works that cite it.  This is a fabulous feature for looking at the influence of a piece of work on works after it.  Which authors and articles embody the core ideas of the literature?  Google Scholar can help you find out.

I had not thought about this before.  I always read the citations at the end of articles, and make some mental notes about “who’s who”, but have never done this formally.  Definitely a process and tool to keep in mind.

When projects collide

It seems that my project for my independent study on reflective blogging with preservice science teachers is on a collision course with this class in Adult Education.  That would make sense, in that teacher educators are educating adults.  However, the science methods class seems to be a combination of pedagogy and andragogy.  The class meetings and syllabus are quite pedagogical.  However, what we expect preservice teachers to gain from the methods and planning courses will only come from their internal digestion and processing — self-reflection.  Theories of teaching are discussed in class while students observe their cooperating teachers in practical situations.  Preservice teachers are expected to reflect on their observations in the practicum.  They are expected to (1) make observations, (2) identify the underlying theories that may have governed what was observed, (3) form insights as to decisions they might have made themselves or how they might do things differently, and (4) implement change and evaluate it.  How reasonable is it to expect them to do this at this stage of their learning?

Good teaching involves a myriad of intertwined theories and potential interactions.  So I read the reflections these preservice teachers make.  I comment in their blogs in attempts to point out underlying theories to their observations or to ask questions about the “why” of what was observed.  And I watch to see what happens.

How is this project colliding with my “Academic Writing” project?  I have been thinking about my reflections on my own work.  I have been negligent in making connections of what I observe to theory, very similarly to the preservice teacher reflections I have been reading.  Where is the theory?  I started reading Chris Hart’s book on doing literature reviews.  This gives me a “how to” on how someone else did it, but this is not a theory per se.  Are my reflections supposed to evaluate how he did it compared to what I am learning while I do it?  How do I practice what I preach in terms of critical reflection?

So back to my preservice teacher example.  Do they know enough to identify underlying theory?  How much theory are they aware of?  Are they in the same position as me with my reflections on learning academic writing?    In Chris Hart’s book he talks about how he learned how to do a literature review.  He read lots of other people’s work and backwards engineered it.  Analyzed the work of others and broke it down into the basic elements.  Then, he wrote the book to help others to not have to do what he did. (Gee, that sounds familiar.)  Do my preservice teachers need a book on how to learn to teach?

How to keep a research diary or log

1.  What did I learn?

I learned what should be in a research log or diary.  Yesterday I received my copy of Doing a Literature Review by Chris Hart.  I skimmed through to see what its basic contents were.  One item that attracted my attention was the table on page 146 that Hart recommends using to track articles read.  I think I will incorporate something similar in my research.  However, I think I need additional information than what Hart describes.  When reading empirical studies, I need to note sample size, population, and other items that affect generalizability of the study results.  But, he does provide a misc. column that allows for additions.  Hart talks about keeping a database if the literature review is large.  So, I am thinking this could be easily kept in Excel.  It would be nice to integrate this with Mendeley Desktop.

Hart also describes the content of what you should keep in a log during a literature review.  (p.216)

A research diary should contain:

  • Records on the literature search.  Every hardcopy and electronic database searched, the times they were searched, and what vocabulary was used for the search.  (I have not been doing as good of a job of this as I should.)
  • Notes on what items have been obtained and which have been ordered, say ,through interlibrary loan. Need to keep track of the literature; provide reminders for follow up.
  • Refer back to research proposal and plan of work and plan for literature search.
  • Serendipitous finds in the library or references in texts, together with possible new contacts, can be noted.
  • Weekly to monthly plans of what needs to be done.  What needs to be read and other tasks.
  • Instructions on how to use technology.  (Here is where Hart’s book is outdated.  He mentions CD-ROMs and useful websites.  His is obviously not a technophile.)

2.  How did I learn it?

I read Hart’s book.  I will adapt this for my own use.

3.  How might I have learned it differently?

I have been trying to do it differently, kind of a “fly by the seat of your pants” method.  But now that I have gotten further into the project, I realize that I needed more organization.

4.  How can I help others learn this?

This type of methodology should be taught in the EDUC 663 Research Methods class.  Some of this information is taught, but not enough of it.  I think the problem is that so many students in that class do not feel confident with the quantitative statistical stuff, that the focus of the class stays there.  Maybe another course needs to be added to the program…  But at some point, every graduate student needs to learn how to do this.

Hart, C. (2005). Doing a literature review: Releasing the social science research imagination. London: Sage.

This is your brain on Mendeley Desktop

As I have been continuing my work on the literature review, I become more enthralled with the features of Mendeley Desktop.  I have put over 100 PDF journal articles into my database.  They are now indexed by author and author keywords (automatic) and by my tags.  But there is more…  You know when you remember something, but you can’t put your finger on where it came from?  Mendeley to the rescue.  The search feature in Mendeley uses fairly standard search syntax to access the full text of your collection.  This is almost like having the entire library of resources in short term memory.  All you need to do is type in the phrase or key word you are thinking of and Mendeley finds every occurrence in your collection, highlights it and brings it up in a list for you to scroll through and select.  This feature is amazing!  For me, this means I can basically skim through the articles, then use Mendeley’s search feature to go back later and pull quotes or paraphrase key information.  It is no longer necessary for me to take as detailed notes as I would have before.  Of course, once I find that magical key word or phrase that is key, I go back to Google Scholar.  Google Scholar will search for it in the full text of its much more comprehensive database of journal articles and list the links to those resources.   Then I import additional articles into my own database, so I can widen and deepen it.  The process is quite iterative.

Navigating Mendeley Desktop

1.  What have I learned today?

As I am going through literature and taking notes, the most efficient way to do this seems to be:

  • Import .pdf of article into Mendeley desktop, by dragging and dropping the article icon onto Mendeley desktop.
  • Verify bibliographic metadata.  If it does not autofill, type in article title and Mendeley syncs with Google Scholar to fill in remainder of information.  In some cases, you might have to enter it manually.
  • After previewing article and deciding if I will use it, use CTRL-C and CTRL-V to copy and paste the APA citation into my draft bibliography section.
  • Create a Google Doc to take notes on the article.  Use CTRL-V to paste the bibliographic information at the header.  Use the “select” feature of Mendeley to copy quotes, or use screen shots to copy tables/figures.
  • Use Google Docs to create tables, graphic organizers and the like to organize ideas.
  • “Snowball” type research on references cited in the article you are reading can be easily found by using the “select” feature to copy the article title.  Then open Google Scholar and paste the article title into the search window.  Use the provided hyperlinks to find the article at W&M.  Very quick and efficient!  For this to work you must set up your Google Scholar Profile to include the library at William and Mary.  You can also use Google Scholar to do key word searches or author searches.

2. How did I learn it?

Trial and error.  First I tried the notetaking box provided within the Mendeley software.  I found it a bit too limiting.  I wanted to be able to draw graphic organizers and this is easier to do in Google Docs.

3.  How might I learn it differently, maybe even better, in the future?

Find out from someone who has done it before instead of banging around by myself.

4.  How might I help someone else build on my learning?

Post some thoughts on the SOE technology Wiki about how I am using this, or on this blog.

Efficient Academic Writing… the Project

This blog will be used as a learning journal for an independent learning project. The project is to learn how about academic writing… How to organize research literature and notes… and how to take those notes and produce a finished academic piece such as a book chapter. I will answer the same four questions for each entry:

1. What have I learned today, this semester, this week?

I learned about an excellent tool for organizing research – Mendeley Desktop. I learned how to use it. I am using it in conjuction with Google Scholar. This combination really streamlines the finding of materials. Once your “Scholar Preferences” are added, search result items that are at the W&M library have hyperlinks directly to that resource at SWEM Library. Once I download the PDF, just drag it to Mendeley desktop and it automatically imports the bibliographic metadata, abstract, doi, author key words, etc. I can add personal tags, highlight the PDF, sticky note the PDF and add personal notes that all stay attached to the PDF file within Mendeley. Later I can search my whole database for a word in an article or any of the metadata. Truly a wonderful tool.

2.  How did I learn it?

I found out about the tool from a classmate, Meg. Then I downloaded the tool and played around with it to find out how it works. By trying out the features I learned about what it could do to help me be better organized when doing a lit review.

3.  How might I learn it differently, maybe even better, in the future?

I might have read the manual about how to use it or found a tutorial.

4.  How might I help someone else build on my learning?

I can share this tool with other students and show them how to use it. I created an entry on the SOE Tech Reference Wiki Page for Mendeley Desktop and Google Scholar. I also forwarded this information to Dr. Kim, who teaches EDUC 663 – Research Methods. She suggested I might present it to her students as a useful tool.

What’s the “right” order to teach Physics?

As we move forward with content development for the online Physics course, there are interesting discussions about the order to present the topics of the course.  Do we do it the “traditional” way?  Or, do we use the findings of Physics education research?  We are not basing the course on a textbook, so it is all wide open.  How to decide?

Physics teachers are a product of their training and professional development.  I have had the opportunity to learn from some of the true master teachers in my field.  One of the most influential workshops I attended was the “Activity Based Physics Institute” at Dickinson College.  There I spent four weeks learning about the approach used in publications such as Real Time Physics and Workshop Physics.  Not just how to do it, but also why we should do it.  Curriculum that is research-based and tested.  This means that I have some opinions that disagree with tradition.

One point of contention is when to start working in two dimensions.  The traditional method is to add the second dimension immediately after finishing one dimensional kinematics.  Some reformists say hold off on the second dimension until after Newton’s Laws of Motion are applied to systems with one or more forces along a single line.  This is called the “New Mechanics” sequence (Laws, 1993). This approach allows students to get a firm grasp on what acceleration is and how force relates to acceleration.  However, this approach does not appear to be widespread.

Why do we stick with “traditional” approaches when research has shown reasons to do otherwise?

Laws, P.W. (1993) “A New Order for Mechanics pp. 125-136, Proceedings of the Conference on the Introductory Physics Course, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy New York, May 20-23, Jack Wilson, Ed.)

Online physics course

Today I attended training for new content developers at WHRO in Norfolk, Virginia.  I will be developing content for the new online Physics course.  This is an exciting opportunity to use my content knowledge gained from 13 years of teaching Physics and knowledge of technology such as Web 2.0 tools, simulations, and games.  I will be working with a team of two other physics content developers.  I look forward to the chance to create an innovative, engaging online learning experiences for high school physics students.

More to follow as we delve further into this project…

Beginning a new project

This semester I will do an independent study with the science educator at my college.  The purpose of this is two fold… (1) Since I am in Educational Technology, I will work with her to incorporate some best practices of technology use into the course.  AND (2) To prepare myself for the possible future of teaching the science methods course.

I am very excited about this project.  I met with my professor and we spent two hours going through her syllabus and discussing each assignment.  A reflection journal will be done in a blog format this semester, with the professor subscribing to each students blog using Google Reader.  Journal article will be shared with the class using Refworks, an online citation management service.  A wiki will be used to organize the course.  We brainstormed the possible ways technology could be implemented and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of each one.

Using technology in instruction should be done when it will provide benefits to instructors and students.  We decided that a few of the assignments would be best left as paper assignments (at least for now).  However, the changes that will be implemented are changes that will: make receiving and assessing student work easier, allow students to learn from each others experiences, and provide preservice teachers with experience in technologies they can use with future students.

One issue to mull over… The preservice teachers create videos of their teaching for a project.  The end product of the project has been a 15 minute long video vignette.  We discussed doing this by embedding each clip into a wiki page where students could incorporate their commentary as well.  One concern was with putting videos with students in them online and privacy issues.  Any readers have experience handling this issue?  What are the “new standards”?