We are hopefully approaching the beginning of the end of the “Beast from the East” but it is still very inclement weather. I feel very lucky that I don’t need to travel anywhere for the moment – however I will need to on Tuesday to collect the last lot of data for my thesis! Fingers crossed for a thaw over the weekend.
I had my supervision session today over Skype which worked pretty well. Julie, Nicola and I were all calling from our respective homes. The main topic of conversation was the concept mapping sessions I am planning to use to collect the student data for my thesis on Tuesday.
Briefly – I am running two 2-hour workshops where students in groups develop concept maps around the central concept of entrepreneurship. I will be asking them to indicate which concepts they think are easy or difficult to understand, and whether or not they have understood each one, or if they still have some way to go before they have understood each one. Finally I will ask if they think any of the concepts they have identified are threshold concepts.
Individual versus collective – “me” versus “them”
I was mindful of the need to ensure students were answering for themselves individually at this point in time – not hypothetically about students in general at any point in time.
I need to be sure to emphasise that I am looking for their personal response, not their idea of a generalised response. I am not talking about “you” plural but “you” individual.
Nicola and Julie were also concerned that I accounted for the group effect where students in a group are significantly influenced by each other. I am asking the students to develop the concept maps in groups, but then was proposing to ask them to sticker the concepts individually. Both Julie and Nicola felt this wouldn’t work as it would be difficult to argue the authenticity of the individual data collected in this way due to group effects.
Julie suggest a way around the group effect might be to ask the students to develop their own individual lists of concepts they found easy and difficult to get their heads around, drawing from the concept maps. These could be created individually and separately to the concepts maps and collected in with them.
Nicola suggested I might photograph the concept maps and share all the maps with all the students (using phones?) as well as asking individual students to develop individual lists of aspects they found easy or difficult to get their heads around. Students might be able to photograph and share the photographs among each other.
It comes down to whether I am looking for a generalised view or a collection of individualised perspectives. My inclination is to go for the generalised view. Then I don’t have to worry about the group effects so much, and it would also be aligned to my approach with the educators.
Nicola suggested that I might add an instruction for the students to have a group discussion about which aspects were easy or difficult to get their heads around in the groups, before asking them to add the stickers to the maps. In this way the decisions would be more considered, and would never be intended to reflect an individual perspective. I could emphasise that the group did not have to achieve consensus, but needed to ensure that all views represented in the group needed to be reflected on the maps.
Nicola related another teaching activity where people were given options to choose from and had to indicate their choice using one of a individual set of cards. Individuals revealed their choice on a count of three – this minimised the group effect. Then the participants had a discussion regarding their choices and then another vote was undertaken. This has parallels to a Delphi technique.
Julie asked if I was looking for agreement or if I was wanting to see the variation within the groups, and I think it is the latter. As long as the stickers show the range of perspectives that will be good. I don’t intend to gather data on the strength of opinion – how many students thought this or that.
When I analyse the maps, I will not take into account the number of identical stickers in the same place. I need to emphase to the students that they should not seek consensus. I will get some variation, but hopefully individuals will feel OK to express a contrasting perspective as consensus is not the aim. I am looking to capture all perspectives.
Nicola was concerned that I was not going to capture the individual responses of any students and suggested I asked them to initial the stickers they put on the sheets. Julie felt this was not necessary as it went back to whether I was interested in a collective or an individual perspective. If I was looking to gather shared, constructed, knowledge there was no need to know who said what. If I was looking to gather a collection of individual perspectives then I would need to be able to explain how I had sought to mitigate the group effects of group think and social desirability.
We discussed perhaps having the stickers as an indication of group consensus and then whether or not you had understood each aspect of entrepreneurship as individual perspectives.
I need to be really careful with the wording of the instructions for labelling the concepts and using the stickers. I need to make sure that the students are answering from where they personally are now in their own individual journey towards understanding entrepreneurship.
Julie said that either option is fine – i just need to be clear and able to defend which ever I choose. I need to demonstrate the authenticity of the responses as far as possible.
“Learn” versus “understand”
I had some concerns about the exact wording I was proposing to use during the sessions. Would the words I was going to use enable me to elicit the data I was looking for? Julie’s first comment was to question the use of “learn” over “understand”. Should I be asking:
“What do you need to learn, in order to learn entrepreneurship?”
“What do you think you need to learn, in order to learn entrepreneurship?”
“What do you need to understand, in order to understand entrepreneurship?”
“What do you need to understand, in order to learn to be an entrepreneur?”
Julie’s concern was also with the word “learn” – as often people associate it with memorisation, recall. And I think sometimes people only thinks they have learnt things that they have been taught. I also didn’t want to imply that becoming an entrepreneur was something that you could do in an educational environment necessarily. So I have changed the question to:
“What do you need to understand, in order to understand entrepreneurship?”
Because I think it’s reasonable to expect that students can come to an understanding of entrepreneurship in an educational setting, and that will mean that they are able to think like an entrepreneur (although not necessarily as an entrepreneur).
Nicola said it relates to approaches to learning. There’s a difference between understanding and what students believe to be understanding.
Temporal aspect – “now” versus “anytime”
Nicola asked about the timeframe I was hoping to look at, the temporal aspect. Was I hoping to effectively “take a snap shot” of what they understood at the point of the workshop, or was I expecting to gather data from a longer time period?
I explained that I imagined that the student could see what they had understood of entrepreneurship so far, and also could see a little of what they still needed to understand – that was just coming into view. But it was all (necessarily) regarded from their present reality – their here and now.
Are concept maps processes or outputs?
Nicola said it depends on whether I was treating concept mapping as a way of making a window into the mind – making a visual representation of knowledge that already existed, or if I was using concept mapping as a process to construct knowledge – and using the groups deliberately to do this. I think I am drawn to the latter and could support this approach by arguing that by concept mapping in a group, the members help each other remember aspects they might otherwise have forgotten. They are socially constructing their understanding of entrepreneurship through the process of concept mapping.
Other tips for the workshops
Nicola encouraged me to emphase to the participants the value in the sessions for them – what they are learning. They are learning about concept mapping and they are learning something about entrepreneurship through the construction of knowledge. They are developing their awareness of what entrepreneurship is.
Julie reassured me that she felt the workshop timings were OK but we all felt they would be tight.
Nicola suggested I lose two of my proposed tasks,
“Note on the map the feelings you associate with learning each aspect.”
“Note on the map what helped you “get” the aspects of entrepreneurship you’re comfortable with now.”
which I think is a very sensible suggestion. She said they might “explode” the sessions! and I think she has a point… It is not realistic to collect useful data on these things in just a few minutes. They are better undertaken in an interview. Any data gathered in the workshops on these areas is likely to be incomplete.
I should look for anything else I could feasibly leave out. She suggested:
- Cutting the time to generate aspects for the parking lot – in her experience that could be shorter
- Using the time rather to construct the maps, because that can take longer.
- Go through the slides again and cut anything unnecessary. Make them as short as possible. She thought the students didn’t need to have concept mapping explained before they were asked to do it – I could tell them about it as we went along. The workshop should be really snappy.
- Instead of explaining the entrepreneur findings, I should just direct them to further reading, or prepare a hand out.
- I should whiz through the opening slides and MAKE SURE there is time for the maps.
- The language on the slides should be as easy as possible.
Julie liked the phrase “get your head around” as in “What aspects of entrepreneurship do you find easy/tricky to get your head around?”
She also suggested a better way to ask the students to indicate any threshold concepts on the maps.
“Do you think there are any threshold concepts on your maps?”
This questions implies that there might not be, and that threshold concepts are relatively uncommon. It mitigates the risk that students mark all difficult concepts as threshold ones. I must be mindful to make it clear that using no stickers is always an option. A group may feel that there are no easy to understand aspects of entrepreneurship for example, and that would be OK.
Nicola emphasised the importance of simplifying the slides and the language on the slides so that they were as accessible as possible and not off putting.
We thought about the aspects of threshold concepts that should be emphasised – transformative was one. We discussed how to convey the meaning of threshold concepts quickly and efficiently. Julie was keen to use examples. Nicola was keen to use simpler words and was mindful of the risk of words creating potential barriers.
We discussed “bounded” as a characteristic of threshold concepts. Julie explained it as “the edges” and said it was easier to understand in the context of threshold concepts that were associated with more traditional disciplines. Threshold concepts set the parameters of the discipline. But in other disciplines or areas (such as entrepreneurship) where you get more complex threshold concepts, boundedness becomes more difficult and transcends the discipline. So for example, if “creativity” was identified as a threshold concept in entrepreneurship, it would perhaps set the limits of what creativity means in the context of entrepreneurship (and not in other contexts). The concept is context specific in its boundedness.
We explored possible threshold concept examples and Julie suggested one from theology. The concept of a religious text as a work of literature was important as it could then be examined as such – when you stop seeing it as “just” the word of God, but part of a body of literature as well, you can see it differently.
Another example Julie suggested was that of becoming a parent, and I suggested being a sibling (or not), perhaps not having one or both parents. These all involve threshold concepts that are transformative, irreversible, integrative, troublesome and bounded.
I also reminded myself that threshold concepts are not “Aha!” or light-bulb moments, but as Julie described, are more about moving through a space.
Overall the feedback I got was that the plan was good in principle and Julie and Nicola would be very interested to hear a) if I get to conduct the workshops in light of the adverse weather conditions! and b) what data I manage to collect should I manage to collect it!
We also briefly touched on how I would present the data, as a visual representation would not be helpful – so I will need to be able to describe the concept maps in words.
We fixed another two future dates for supervision meetings.