Last week I wrote about Bakhtin’s idea that in order to put together a real, full research account, the researcher point of view has to be put in dialogue with the point of view of the participant in research.  Neither point of view is complete in and of itself.  The question I raised was how do we make sure and include the voices of research subjects in our work such that they are co-researchers with us and help create those fuller research accounts of experience.  One of the primary tools for engaging in shared research used in professional development of educators is video.  When we video our practice as educators and (re)view it with others, we create the possibility of real dialogue among multiple points of view.  My own experience working with classroom teachers and museum educators, floor staff, and volunteer interpreters using video to reflect on experience has convinced me that neither my outsider observations nor their reflective writing have been sufficient to create real dialogic relationships where we become co-researchers.  In some cases, overarching cultural and social narratives about teachers and learners inevitably drown out the details of their experiences as they experienced them. In other cases, the details of those experiences defy categorization and reflection.

As one example, in one project to develop a professional learning community among veteran K-10 teachers, observations showed very little evidence of student led inquiry, but teacher narratives about their teaching reported detailed regular use of student-centered science inquiry techniques as part of their normal routines.  Having teachers observe each other using a researcher-generated rubric did little to change their assertions about their teaching even though they were directly contradicted by the observational evidence.  Similarly, in multiple projects with museum educators, those educators report a basic belief that visitors do not read labels.  Putting these educators in the position of researchers observing visitors generated copious examples of visitors reading labels, yet educator narratives about visitors consistently fail to include that reading. The data and observations simply don’t stick and are overwhelmed by other kinds of details or by larger-scale institutional narratives about visitor behavior.

In both instances, we eventually turned to video as a way of creating what we hoped would be shared texts for analysis and reflection.  Yet, the existence of video itself as a shared text is also not enough to form the grounds for researchers and participants to become co-researchers.  Watching video and talking about it, even using a rubric to analyze it definitely helps educators be more reflective about their experiences and to put them in larger contexts than the overarching narratives we tend to fall back on.  But there still seems to be a missing step.

For Bakhtin the missing step seems to engaging in co-authorship to create some kind of new text or new representation of or about that experience.  When we watch video and reflect on it with each other, educators and researchers both come away with a stronger shared sense of what’s happening, but in the absence of creating some kind of new shared text or representation, we don’t have the opportunity for truly developing as co-researchers.  Are there places and projects beyond video that we can do on the museum floor that will help visitors (re)create, write about, or otherwise represent their experiences with us as co-authors?

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One thought on “Promoting Participants as Co-researchers

  1. This is a very intriguing post who left me thinking “hard”. It seems to me that the ways to embrace such representations of their experience is through reflection inductive tools/opportunities. Video is one way, perhaps another useful vehicle can be the largely increasing use of hand-held devices such as iPads and IPhones.
    Can designers create tools that can encourage the use of these devices in a reflective way? Perhaps twitting or face booking, perhaps a QR code that takes visitors to a website or somewhere else that would add to the experience and indirectly promote reflection.

    It seems to me the answer in on their voices, which is not solely expressed through spoken language. Photovoice methodology is a qualitative method some researchers have used to give participants a voice through the pictures the take of an experience, as a way to tell their stories as to what matter to them . Can we think of ways to use photovoice creatively?

    On another token, this debate made me think about the discussion about whether citizen science is valid/trusthworty science or not? I guess co-participation in social research may function the same way if you think of the gap Shawn talked about between what teachers saw and said vs. what was going on in fact. If so, increasing reflective practice is a must, and involvement in all steps of the process (including analysis) is necessary. Is it feasible at all?

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