In the College of Education at Michigan State University, a practicum is, according to some faculty, a “mini dissertation” and in the Teacher Education program, along with faculty, doctoral students are invited to participate as committee members for doctoral students’ “practicum committees.” In some ways, it’s an opportunity for the student doing the practicum as well as for the doctoral student serving on the committee. Since I’ve already completed my practicum and am now working on my dissertation, I am “qualified” to participate as a practicum committee member and for me, this is a privilege and terrific learning opportunity. It’s a privilege because I get to listen to someone else share their ideas, refine their questions, and plan out a study to answer their question(s). It’s a learning opportunity because I also get to participate in a larger conversation about research, methodology, theoretical frameworks, and the ideas and questions that make us want to know more.
Earlier today, I spent time in a colleague’s practicum proposal defense, listening to him articulate his ideas about his research project. Before we met as a committee, we all read this individual’s practicum proposal, in which the student outlined his ideas, questions, and research project. As I sat listening to the conversation unfold, one of the faculty committee members commented that – as researchers and scholars – we should continually ask ourselves questions about our ideas and research. One question in particular, she pointed out, that we should continue asking ourselves as we press forward is, “What do you want to get smarter about?”
I have to be honest here. When I first heard this question, my first thought was a fleeting image and memory of the Get Smart movie, staring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway, in which a bumbling analyst for a secret spy agency must prevent an international spy from bringing great harm to the United States. This thought was not exactly fodder for an intellectual conversation focused on the topic at hand.
However, as I listened to her say this, I quickly realized the beauty and truth in the question. It’s a question we should all ask ourselves, in and out of academia. For instance, this question resonates with this student’s practicum because he is working to refine his questions and hone in on what is he wants to really know more about. At the same time, I also thought about my own research. What is it I want to get smarter about? And, am I answering this question with my dissertation project?
Throughout the dissertation data collection process and as I continue to learn from my case study teachers about how they think and work in their 1:1 classrooms, there’s definitely a lot about which I want to get smarter.
For example, I want to get smarter about….
- understanding how teachers think about about use 1:1 technology in their classrooms
- recognizing how, when and why teachers use 1:1 technology in ways that bring about changes in teaching and learning
- what “change without difference” and “change with difference” means, if anything, in 1:1 technology classroom contexts
- portraiture and how to use it effectively to write my case study chapters
At the same time, I also want to get smarter about writing which includes learning and understanding more about
- the dissertation writing process and how to make it work well for me [and my family]
- balancing my writing life with the rest of my “lives”
- knowing when enough is enough, in terms of data collection, analysis and writing
- identifying the *best* stories for each case study, which most readily answer my research questions and compel my reader
The things listed above are just *some* of the things about which I want to know more. I also recognize that there will always be things about which to “get smarter.” The question in today’s meeting, however, offered another opportunity to think – once again – about what it is I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and what it is I hope to learn along the way. So, one of my goals as I continue to venture forth = get smarter.