Thursday, 16 July 2015

Maths, nuclear explosions and other recreational activities

It's always nice to get a comment from someone who isn't trying to sell something.  Zoe Chen's comment not only displayed cultural awareness (math / maths) but also touched on points that were raised during the discussion with Marc.

The three games Marc is hoping to get feedback on are:
Ordering Fractions Game and Giving Change Game by the BBC and
Algebra Meltdown by Manga High.

"What's that last one about?" someone asked
"It teaches maths by getting people to solve algebraic equations in order to prevent a nuclear explosion" answered Marc.
"Er... so people who are nervous about maths are told 'If you get these equations wrong, there'll be a nuclear disaster.'  That's very homoeopathic!"

Marc made the point that storytelling could be a factor in the success of a game; and actually the Algebra Meltdown game (despite its name) isn't that scary.  The only things that explode (metaphorically) in the event of algebraic error are nuclear scientists.  I suppose it's difficult to get the balance of punishment and reward right in such things.  If you make the game too stressful, students give up on maths and seek therapy*.  However, if the consequences of making a mistake are comical, students deliberately make mistakes.

*I met a New York based therapist recently.  He charges $200 per hour.  I guess they rely on people not being able to add up. 

Monday, 15 June 2015

Title: Educational computer games and their impact on maths anxiety in University social science students (by Marc Bonne)

Educational computer games are already known to help motivate university students to learn maths. However, few studies have measured the impact of such games on maths anxiety: a significant factor contributing to underperformance in maths-based studies.

This project aims to assess the degree to which educational computer games affect maths anxiety in university social science students. Maths anxiety is prevalent amongst such students because many lack a maths-oriented background, but are often being exposed to statistics and other maths subjects during their courses.

The study consists of a systematic literature review of educational games and maths anxiety (currently underway).  When this is completed, students from the Faculty of Social Science in the University of Sheffield will be invited to complete the Maths Anxiety Rating Scale (MARS) brief scale in order to assess the scale of their maths anxiety. Participants will then put into a control group and an experimental group. The control group will carry on their course as normal, while the experimental group will play an online maths game.

The experimental group will be observed as they play the game.  Data collected will include think-aloud data; records of keyboard and mouse strokes; and video recordings of gameplay and body language.

A sample of participants from the experimental group will be interviewed in order to gauge how they felt while playing the game.  This, in conjunction with the video data, will help identify which aspects of the game provoke an emotional response .

A post-session maths anxiety scale will be given to both the control group and the experimental group in order to measure any difference in maths anxiety levels before and after the session. Furthermore, the average maths anxiety levels of each group are to be compared and analysed.

Several online maths games have been identified as possible choices to be used for data collection.  A pre-pilot study is to take place where potential participants play each of the three online games and decide which one to use for the main study based on the games’ usability.

Following the pre-pilot study, a pilot study will take place involving the same procedures as the main study but with smaller sample sizes.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

An exploration of the information literacy experiences of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) learners (by Jess Elmore)

My research explores information literacy in the context of the ESOL classroom.  I am interested in finding out about the relationship between language learning and information literacy, and about how changes to learners' information literacy practice impact on their lives.  My working definition of information literacy is that it is a sociocultural practice; a set of shared activities rather than just individual skills that constitutes the ability to find, use and share information in a particular context or information landscape.

ESOL learners are typically people who have come to the UK for work, for family reasons, or to claim asylum; and are learning English as part of adult basic skills provision. They are a very diverse group but can be seen as disadvantaged by several measures; they are immigrants, they are less likely to be employed, they are generally female, and they often come from BME (black, minority and ethnic) communities. Information literacy and ESOL can be seen to have similar goals in terms of providing individuals with the ability to participate fully in society (however you choose to interpret this) but the relationship between the two has not been explored in detail.

I am planning a longitudinal case study of three community ESOL classes. My research is multi-method; I will use observation, one to one interviews, focus groups, group interviews and visual methods. My research is participatory and emergent so I will negotiate with participants what methods to use and hope to involve them in the research as far as possible. The multi-method approach is used because I am interested in rich, holistic information experiences, but also to help overcome the language barriers present when working with participants who have limited English.

I have completed a pilot study consisting of one observation of an ESOL and Art workshop and two focus groups which were held in existing ESOL conversation classes.  The findings from the pilot were local and limited, but suggested several areas for further exploration: in particular, the diversity of ESOL learners' information experiences, their use of digital technologies, the significance of religion, and the importance of place and people.  However the methodological findings were more interesting. The pilot identified the language level of ESOL learners who could talk meaningfully about their information experiences, but also raised important questions about my position as a researcher, the process of analysis and the need for sustained research relationships rather than single encounters.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Back in January Syeda discussed her project (Exploring information literacy practices in primary schools: APakistani case study).  Unfortunately I couldn’t attend, but when I talked to her about it afterwards, she mentioned that, at one point, the discussion had taken an interesting turn, but that there had not been time to explore it.

The unexplored turn revolved around questions of when, where, and what to translate.  Many of Syeda’s interviews were in Urdu, but she translated them into English, and then coded.  Apparently her decision raised questions about whether or not she should have coded her interviews before translation. 

We continued the discussion in the February meeting.  Translation proved to be an issue in more ways than one, since those researchers with a programming background understood coding in a different way from the qualitative researchers attending.  However, it emerged that the qualitative researchers who interviewed in a language other than English had a range of views.  Their positions, it appears, depend on the nature of their research.

The clearest difference was between Syeda and Kondwani, whose project (Experiencing HIV and AIDS information: a phenomenological study of serodiscordant couples in Malawi) was discussed last November.  Kondwani codes first, and then translates.  However, as he pointed out, a key difference between his research and Syeda’s is that his study, being phenomenological, focusses on meaning, while hers focusses on processes. 

Many of Kondwani’s interviews use metaphors and euphemisms that don’t readily translate into English, while Syeda’s involve descriptions of materials and practices.  For her therefore, there was far less chance of important findings getting lost in translation.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Exploring information literacy practices in primary schools: A Pakistani case study - by Syeda Hina Shahid

Information literacy (IL) provides opportunities to those who want to be independent learners. The rapid growth in the availability of information has made it impossible to search relevant information sources without IL skills.

IL has been defined differently by different authors as: a set of skills and abilities, a process, and the adoption of appropriate information behaviour. Research supports introducing students to IL at an early age to make them independent learners while still young. IL literature has focused mostly on high school and university level students. Although there has been much development of IL models at school level, only a few are research based and their emphasis is on school education above the primary level.  There is a lack of local research, or even descriptive studies, at primary school level. Therefore, this study aims to explore IL practices in the primary schools of Lahore, Pakistan.

After considering different research approaches, the qualitative sequential multiple case studies approach was adopted. Data were collected from primary school teachers (interviews), children (focus groups), librarians (interviews).  Related documents (curricula, teacher guides, activity sheets etc.) were also collected. Children were also asked to fill in some sheets (designed or adapted) to measure their IL skills. Initial findings showed that private schools are doing better in terms of basic IL practice. However, in both sectors teachers were unaware of the concept. The analysis of the most recent school practice curriculum showed that IL can be practised mainly in English language and General Knowledge courses at primary level.

This study will propose a research-based IL model for the selected primary schools of Lahore, Pakistan. This baseline study will be a valuable contribution to local knowledge and an overall addition to school sector IL literature. The findings of the PhD will provide directions for  policy makers and identify concerns regarding the development and improvement of IL programs at primary school level in Pakistan.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Experiencing HIV and AIDS information: a phenomenological study of serodiscordant couples in Malawi - by K. Wella

In the absence of an HIV vaccine, information has played a pivotal role in influencing behaviour change in people. The ability to design successful HIV and AIDS information campaigns is highly dependent on knowledge of  people’s information behaviour. Accordingly, there is a need for a clear understanding of the information behaviour of groups of people affected and infected by HIV.  
Serodiscordant couples are couples where only one partner is HIV positive. My PhD project aims to investigate how such couples experience HIV and AIDS information in Malawi.
Data were collected between September and October 2013. Twenty four interviews were conducted in two districts of Malawi and I am currently in the later stages of analysing the transcribed data. I am using Van Manen’s phenomenological approach to help generate descriptions and interpretations of the experiences of HIV and AIDS information. Phenomenology is a research approach that seeks to understand how people experience phenomena.
Although policy makers and practitioners in Malawi are aware that HIV information is an indispensable component of the fight against the HIV pandemic, their focus seems to be more on getting information to the people than on understanding the information related dynamics that drive behavioural change. According to the National AIDS Commission (Malawi), Eighty percent of new HIV infections occur among serodiscordant couples. A better understanding how such couples experience HIV and AIDS information would therefore be of considerable valuable in helping to combat the HIV pandemic.
This study is significant for two main reasons. Firstly, HIV and AIDS have an impact on the development of Malawi and Africa. Therefore, it is important to develop knowledge of how to control their spread. Secondly, to the best of the researcher’s knowledge, there has not been any study of HIV and AIDS related information behaviour conducted in Malawi. This study therefore, contributes not only to our understanding of the information behaviour of serodiscordant couples but also, more generally, to our knowledge and understanding of the information behaviour of people living with HIV.
Emerging results of the study suggest that the life-world is the overarching framework in which HIV and AIDS information is experienced. In addition, the experiencing of HIV and AIDS information is found to occur at four levels: while anticipating, interacting with, acting on, and reflecting on the information. The results of the study also indicate that, at all these levels, HIV and AIDS information is experienced with emotions.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

How to write a bad thesis and to spend years of misery doing so

The discussion group took a break in August and I've only just got round to blogging about the July session.  Shame on me!

Duration of a PhD

Elaine Toms volunteered to be interrogated on the subject of theses and began by referring us to an article from the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail.  The article "Caught in Thesis Purgatory" described the trials of a Canadian Masters student trapped in a cycle of revisions and rewrites.  The system in Canada is clearly different from the UK, but one thing was clearly the same: writing a thesis usually takes longer than expected.  According to most UK universities, a full-time PhD normally takes three years.  Prof Toms observed that this is very much an exception - a point reinforced by the fact that HEFCE assesses PhD completion rates by the percentage of students who finish within seven years and the percentage who finish within 25 years!

The University Handbook

This offers some generic guidelines about PhD theses, and departmental student handbooks offer more specific guidelines (such as on formatting and thesis length) but these are often out of date and should be verified.  Elaine also gave a reference to an article on How to write consistently boring scientific literature, to aid the surprisingly few academics who aren't naturally gifted in this field.

Doctoral Development Programme

The DDP offers courses to help students develop the skills needed to complete a PhD, and to equip them for the job market.  However, Elaine noted courses should be selected strategically.  Students should not go for "every spice in the cupboard".  Also - although a long list of training is offered, not all courses are available all the time.

Upgrade Report vs Final Thesis

Upgrade reports are now called Confirmation reports. They should answer the questions "Is it likely that the student is good enough?"  "Is the research idea good enough?"

In other words, they should shows promise, which isnot the same as saying that the ideas are fixed and crystallized.  Another question that a confirmation report should answer is "Why is this problem important?".  In answering that question, it show demonstrate a clear understanding of the problem and a grasp of the literature.

Methodology and Methods

Methodology - What is the research philosophy?  How and why were the methods chosen? 
Methods - A good methods chapter is like a recipe -  it should be follow-able.  eg, Why is focus group more appropriate than interviews?  What questions will be asked?
(Creswell, J. W. (2013). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Sage.)

Research questions

A good research question should be concise, answerable, focussed.  More specifically it should be:

  • Pragmatic, so it can be answered in the time available;
  • Novel (so literature must be well covered in order to demonstrate novelty). 
  • Appliable - Will it help to discover things not already known?  Does it have practical implications?
  • Answerable - Eg, it must be ethical and it should be practical (eg no problems with privacy or security).

Objectives and Research Quetions

A Thesis should have 3-5 aims with a set of RQs for each one.  Answers to RQs should be clearly mapped onto Objectives.

Results and Discussion

Give data in a results chapter and interpretation in the discussion  This allows the reader to draw conclusions, then compare them with the author's.