It's the start of Day 2 of my Readiness Assessment, and I'm working clearly and steadily ahead.  As a reminder of the ground rules, this is a solo assessment, so while I’m allowed to think out loud on my blog, I can’t ask for or get (intellectual) help. Cookies and emotional support are, however, welcome.

Last night I covered my living room floor with books. I'd printed out the questions and my long list of literature I might want to read and decided to start by pulling out every qualitative research methods thing I own and sorting it into a big grid on the floor by "part of process" and "likely usefulness to RAT." Then I went through paper after paper and book after book with post-its (I now need to get more post-its), flagging useful bits on the inside and finally pasting a note on the cover with a summary of the ideas I wanted to glean from the resource.

One big question I need to answer in my RAT is just what RTR is. I realized a little while back that my initial writeup was incorrect -- RTR i's not a methodology, because I've got to choose methods for my RTR projects -- so it's a something-else. I've called it an approach or a mindset before, but I think paradigm or epistemological perspective is more accurate. Possibly. Let's try that idea out.

Hypothesis: RTR is the same sort-of-thing that positivism, critical theory, phenomenology, etc. are. So what distinguishes RTR from each of them -- can I characterize it as an epistemological perspective, show how it's evolved from the others? (Stay tuned as we answer this question in another blog post, DUN DUN DUNNN.)

However, RTR (like most paradigms) tends to take more naturally to some methods than others. It will always have a multi-layered design with some sort of qualitative aspect -- even in a quantitative study, participants will be commenting and reflecting on the data and their reactions to it, and their experiences and thoughts will become data as well. This metacognitive aspect means that RTR has a particular affinity or connection to...

Narratives of participants (another blog post on its own, methinks) because the individual experiences of each participant, as they collaborate with the rest, are important. (Why are they important? I guess I'll have to answer that question as well.)

Grounded theory, because we watch ourselves and other participants move through a process (grounded theory captures process). In this case, the process is that of becoming a participant in the RTR project -- which might, in turn, move you into various sorts of disciplinary communities of practice. You're exposing the voices of people moving into a field, in many cases -- looking at and honoring all of these diverse paths in.

(Is that why I'm drawn to this? Because I have taken unorthodox paths into things, and have seen so many of my own routes -- and the routes of others who also take non-standard entryways -- ignored, unappreciated, not prepared for? The feeling of sitting in an intro CS class thinking "but... I didn't realize that beginning to code at age 12 was an unspoken prerequisite to be here -- and I didn't even have a computer at that age"? The desire to have everyone see and appreciate and validate those stories too? I don't know!)

I think it's important to pause and note here that a research project or a class are not communities of practice. They can be circles, groups, teams; they certainly partake in a practice, and they may be situated within one or more CoPs, but they're not CoPs themselves -- unless the practice they're partaking in is only found in that class/project, and the purpose of that class/project is to further that practice, which -- when you put a concrete example into it -- starts sounding Really Stupid.

The practice of my research project might be, say, qualitative research. Or engineering education research (not all of which is qualitative). But the point of my research project is not to "do my research project," and participants don't help out because they want to "do this research project," they participate because they want to "learn engineering education research" or "get experience with grounded theory analysis," because there is a CoP of people who do grounded theory and so forth. So the things I am studying are small points in a larger community picture.

That felt inarticulate, but it's out there, and I'll hone it later.

So when I'm writing about the affordances that RTR might provide undergrad engineering education, if I start saying stuff like "they will join the CoP of the classroom!" then I am spewing bullshit. The classroom or research project may serve as a staging ground within a CoP and help students grow in that CoP, but it is not a CoP itself.

And maybe one of the perspectives that this reminds classrooms of is that their job is not to be a CoP (unless you really want your practice to be "how to get A's on this multiple-choice exam," which is useless after school), but to participate in one. A broader, larger one.

I feel like I'm moving too slowly. I had a rhythm last night, but I need to rediscover and recreate that momentum now. Take a small chunk and write about it, Mel. Don't try to eat through the entire book at once. Next. Keep going.