Current draft of my research statement, such as it is. Obviously, I'm exploring ideas here; this isn't the final format for submission anywhere. As always, patches welcome.

Disclaimer: This is being written for folks in academia. For people from the hacker world reading this and going "but Mel, what about the FOSS?" just think about how damn hard it is for FOSS to talk with academia (and vice versa) for things like Teaching Open Source -- we need to tackle eating the elephant a small bite at a time. Right now, I still have a large plate that I'm trying to turn into a small bite (a bite labeled "dissertation"). But the plate is that I'm trying to figure out how to get academia to be more transparent about teaching so that it's easier for those outside the academy (like most Free Culture projects, be they software, hardware, content, or whatever) to co-design learning environments and co-teach in them. Other people are eating different bits of the elephant; if you're keen on helping us, either on one of our plates or by dishing up a new one of your own, I'm happy to help you pick up a fork.

Big Idea: Radical transparency practices of discourse exposure can lower barriers to all sorts of other serendipitous collaborations and types of work in engineering education -- it is the grease that makes everyone's engineering education wheels turn better.

Specific Population I Want To Look At Right Now: Cross-disciplinary undergrad/grad course design teams with engineering members. This means (0) groups of 2 or more faculty members who (1) come from different disciplines, at least one of which is engineering and at least one of which is not, and (2) are designing an undergrad or grad-level course that bridges those worlds that (3) they will be co-teaching in the future.

Why these people? Well, (0) faculty are established domain "experts," so they have a known context of solid ground in their discipline's community of practice as a starting point, plus at least some teaching experience helping others into that community of practice and the reflective processes that come with that. Cross-disciplinary faculty teams are thus (1) made of experts helping other people unpack a type of expertise that's unfamiliar to them. They're typically doing this for (2) adult learners who've already been in, or will very soon be in, "the real world" of work/industry, and they are (3) designing and preparing themselves to be a teaching team -- they are invested in this prepwork and build a very, very solid, concrete, context-specific thing because they're the ones carrying it beyond into the next term.

And why the moment of course design? Courses are a context where faculty are consciously and deliberately helping newcomers become aware of and fluent in their discipline's community of practice. Looking at faculty during the process of course design lets us see their metacognition and reflection on that process in the calm before the storm of MUST GRADE NOW NOW NOW. It's about the anticipation and preparation for that storm, which gives us a chance to peer at preconceptions (about the scaffolding needed for their students' cognitive apprenticeships) far more easily. And awareness of and the ability to communicate and handle these preconceptions in ourselves and others is one key skill in a successful cross-disciplinary team member that's often underdeveloped in STEM folks. (This last sentence has half a question-mark hanging over it; it's from my vague recollection of some of Robin's research, which I need to read more closely -- I could be wrong on that.)

Some concepts from prior research that come from this section, and how familiar I am with the literature:

  • expert practice, because faculty are experts and this may help explain how they think about their fields and how they got so good (spottily familiar -- I've read a few papers, but don't feel like I have a good big-picture grasp of Everything That's Ever Been Done here. I don't need a lot of depth here, so I feel like I can set a short sprint and do a time-bounded crawl and be okay.)
  • dreyfus model of skill acquisition, and what it has to say about the blind spots of people with expertise (almost there; I've written about this, but need to re-read the paper deeply; ideally I'd like to find other things about expert-blind-spots as well, but this is bounded and reviwing it won't take too long.)
  • cross-disciplinary communication (big blind spot -- I should do a bibliography-crawl through Robin's stuff.)
  • cognitive apprenticeships within communities of practice, which I did my big term paper on for Dr. Evangelou's class in the spring. (I feel quite comfortable with this literature.)
  • the design process (decent enough, and getting stronger through readings from Robin's class this term)
  • good course design practices (decent enough, thanks to CAP with Ruth and Karl last spring)

So that's the context. What I want to do in that context is to look at the practice of radical transparency -- what's already happening, what additional techniques would be possible to implement and what sort of resources that would take, and the effects of it, both good and bad. I believe that if and when we practice transparency and constantl keep accessibility in mind, we'll start seeing more and more serendipitous benefits and possibilities -- the soil becomes richer, the fruit becomes lower-hanging, not just for us but for everyone in our ecosystem -- and our ecosystem will be larger than we've ever expected.

And when I say "access," don't think about it in the sense of "for the disabled," think about it more broadly, in the sense of "for the less-privileged." And think about that more broadly than the "usual" cases of race, gender, class; we want to think about people who are less able to access your domain right now, for any reason. It could be a visual impairment. It could be that English isn't their first language. It could be that they commute 3 hours each way to get to campus and are only here 2 days a week because their family and job are in another city, it could be that other people in their discipline have a low opinion of yours, or that they worry about stepping into new waters non-anonymously because their "stupid" novice questions will give others a chance to say "see, people-like-them aren't very intelligent," or that they aren't sure what their families will think.

More concepts from prior research from this bit:

  • radical transparency (I am at a loss here for what exactly this means and what literature would help ground me; I know I know things about this, but I haven't solidified them into concreteness I can explain and back up with citations, and would benefit from being forced to explain and unpack this repeatedly.)
  • accidental learning (vaguely familiar with concept, but need to read more on this and actually make annotated bibliography this time; this is bounded and shouldn't take long)
  • social learning and self-efficacy (vaguely familiar with concept, but would like to do a more thorough sweep through Bandura and related work; again, bounded and shouldn't take long)
  • access and privilege (vaguely familiar with concept, NOT bounded. I could build a bibliography and deep-dive forever if I had infinite time, but since I don't, I'm not sure this is the most important thing to go deep on. I suspect I'll be able to pick more of this up in the spring with Dr. Lather at OSU as part of her class on feminist and poststructural qualitative research methods.)

Finally, research methods. How do I want to go about doing this? I know I like (0) qualitative research that is (1) extremely small-scale -- 1-5 subjects, meaning that I'm likely to produce narratives and case studies, and (2) uses a blend of ethnography and repeated active interviews both individually and in groups, with people making and/or modifying artifacts during sessions to help with their communication/design process. I know I intuitively incline towards a (3) weird, boundary-blurring, post-structuralist paradigm that seems to bewilder post-positivist thinkers (alas, most STEM folks are post-positivist but don't know it), and that an important part of that post-structuralism for me is the notion of (4) radically transparent research, which may or may not be a new idea (but is new to me, and is emerging in the academic strains within the Free Culture movement I'm part of).

The final batch of landmark concepts for those methods in academia:

  • grounded theory (I'm comfortable doing and explaining this to other people, though I don't have -- or need -- a broad grasp of the history of the method and so forth.)
  • small-scale research (case studies, narratives -- again, comfortable reading and producing these, but by no means an expert on case studies, just a practitioner.)
  • ethnography (same as above)
  • active interviews (same as above)
  • post-structuralism as a paradigm for qualitative research (I've been told I have a deep intuition for it, but that knack runs so deep I'm still struggling to become aware of what it is; I only know it's "different from what everyone else is doing." Again, Dr. Lather's class on feminist and poststructural qualitative research methods will help greatly with this in the spring.)
  • radically transparent research and research techniques being developed on the boundaries of Free Culture (I know and know of many people from the open source/content world doing research on that world and doing interesting things that really push out into methodological experimentation; research on Wikipedia, research on large Free Software projects, research in a world where people's expectations of anonymity and confidentiality are reversed. I have not done a systematic lit review on this, and should deep-dive into it sometime; I'm not sure if that time is now.)

I feel like I should add a section here about my prior experiences and how they prepare me to engage on this topic, but maybe that's the personal statement; in any case, this document is already longer than I'd like.