What is Research?
For me, general research is wanting to know more. It’s satisfying a curiosity. Delving deeper into a topic. Academic research, for me, relates more specifically to solving a problem or testing the validity of a theory.
A couple of years ago I carried out some ‘general research’ into the area of Teaching Chinese to Speakers of Other Languages (TCSOL) here in Beijing, China. I wanted to understand ‘why teachers teach as they do’. I wrote a questionnaire of about 13 questions, of which covered teacher motivation, training, professional development, view on teaching Chinese Characters, use of technology and so on. I sent out 10 questionnaires: recorded three audio interviews and recieved seven written questionnaire responses. (Example audio interview: here. Example written questionnaire: here.) I didn’t really know what I was doing in terms of research process. Not to mention my weak Chinese speaking and writing skills! Nevertheless, I just thought about what I wanted to know and based my questions on that. I tried to make it look professional by adding sections that explained the percieved limitations of my small-scale questionnaire, and I drew conclusions and made recommendations. I realised later, something like this comes under the umbrella of ethnographic study. (Well, I think it would if I repeated the study and discussed the developments, if any, over time.)
What I Learnt From This First Research Attempt
From these questionnaires, and information I have gathered through extensive dialogues with Chinese Teachers since then, I realised (almost, quite obviously!) that teachers teach as they were taught and how they were trained. Cultural and social perspectives influence our view of what learning is, and, as such, what teaching should be. And thus, it may be difficult to penetrate these seemingly fixed ideals when new teaching/learning paradigms appear on the scene. This is particularly curious to me as both a teacher and a student. When drawing on these conclusions as a teacher of English to Chinese students, then there is a conflict of expectations: I think they want ‘student-centred‘ activities, but many are still used to and more comfortable with traditional ‘teacher-centred’ customs. Similarly, it works the other way for myself as a student of the Chinese lanaguge: what I would really like is to analyse, evaluate and create, and I am mostly asked to remember, know and apply (Bloom et al., 1956).
(If you are interested, you are welcome to read my reflections on teaching and learning in China and a related post where I am again reflecting on my role as a teacher in China which discuss cross-cultural conflicts and expectations.)
Anyway, all that to say, I learnt a lot! However, there is likely to be a much better, formal, productive, scientific, not to mention, ethical way to go about the ‘general research’ I attempted. And as my Masters studies start back up, I’m about to discover just what that is..!
Bloom, B. S.; Engelhart, M. D.; Furst, E. J.; Hill, W. H.; Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay Company.