Colin's Sandbox


Happy #seaccr Festivus!

by on Nov.27, 2013, under #seaccr

Research Paper Now Available!

Better late than never, my recent (and overdue) #seaccr paper, “Helping Teachers Learn With Apple iPads in Rural Alaska” is now available via my Dropbox.


I go over in 1000′ detail the process in a Prezi presentation using Screenflow to add the audio overdubbing and some video / audio effects.

So – Now that I’m Done With The Class – What is Action Research?

The hardest part in this project has been the communication aspect as well as the proximity to the work.  I am not physically near any of the participants, nor have I met any of them face-to-face, making me a researcher at distance.  Then it dawned on me: action research requires ACTION by the RESEARCHer; it is not enough to advise some others’ actions through your research as the project continues through your findings.  Without an explicit spelling out of the role of the researcher early on in the process, and some sort of familiarity between yourself and the various participants, the humble researcher-at-a-distance is setting themselves up for frustration and lack of engagement.

The Wheel of Action Research

Let’s view the wheel of Action Research a minute.  The scope of this particular study was small, but at least one trip through these four main stages is required to complete the study.

I view the initial email exchanges as the initial starting point to my knowledge of the process.  The subsequent journey through the literature review process brings categories to light and sets this wheel in motion.  I would think that in a “real” study, you modify the process to look more like this:

Notes Concerning the Literature Review Process

I found the traditional means of searching through articles in the various journal searches to be tedious.  Either that or I’m just accustomed to having search results displayed quicker and the information I want available within a split second.  I got help from my classmates who were working on a similar project and then I spent some time rediscovering Google Scholar.  For an initial run through of articles I love how quick I can find snippets, abstracts, and full papers out there (some available free of charge), and if something looked promising only then would I dive through the library search means.

Going through Google Scholar allowed me to use Diigo to manage some of the initially promising results, and then when I focused on a smaller set of resources I relied heavily on Dropbox to make the articles available on my phone or iPad for later reading.

Getting a Jump on Categorization and Data Analysis

It is at this early stage of the process that I should have had established categories and workflows for analyzing data that was already present, such as the email exchanges between the trainer and myself.  This would assist highlighting areas of interest, identifying where the bulk of time spent planning is consumed, etc., and guided future inquiries into literature and planning with district administration.  This diagram explains this cycle best, except that I believe that data collection in a study such as this can be occurring at different, simultaneous stages of the cycle and thrown into the data analysis grinder.

Organization and Coding Strategies

It may seem a little tedious but I ended up using Google Docs to go through and write comments and code up categories for specific sections of the emailed correspondence.  The next time I go through this process I’ll explore different options, such as a hybrid Evernote / Google Docs system, putting the URLs to separate email threads as individual notes within the Evernote system, utilizing the tagging feature and marking additional notes / snippets.  Compared to the feature sets of the big players in the market, QSR International (nVivo 10) and Atlas.ti, for example, the tagging features don’t compare very favorably to the coding features offered in those commercial packages (costing roughly $100-$120 per student license).  The Coding Analysis Toolkit (CAT), an open source offering, looks to have somewhat of a steep intro, with a hefty 7 page quickstart.  [Looking for suggestions here]


I should have made heavier use of something like Google Calendar to remind me of when to send out surveys, milestones, etc., in addition to the events for things such as meetings and the teleconference.  That may help in keeping me focused on the study even though there was a lot more going on in my job than just that.


Next time seek many alternatives.  Get a better jump on data analysis.  Know the toolchain better. Run ideas by a few different devil’s advocates. Most importantly, make sure you’re in a position to do action before approaching the work as an “action research” study.

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Changing direction?

by on Nov.09, 2013, under #seaccr

Over the past few days (weeks?) I’ve been slowly coming to the realization that my action research project just isn’t working out as I had hoped.  This is leaving me with a pit in my gut: it feels like failure and it’s not where I wanted to be.  I’ve been trying to get data from the teachers for the past week but so far have only received one response – and this isn’t nearly enough.  To be effective this project will have to have a snapshot at the start and at the end.

Come on now – it’s not as bad as all that.

The hardest part in this project has been the communication aspect as well as the proximity to the work.  I am not physically near any of the participants, nor have I met any of them face-to-face, making me a researcher at distance.  I am finding out more and more that action research requires ACTION by the RESEARCHer; it is not enough to hope to guide others’ actions through your research as the project continues through your findings.  Without an explicit spelling out of the role of the researcher early on in the process, and some sort of familiarity between yourself and the various participants, the humble researcher-at-a-distance is setting themselves up for frustration.

I’m not sure where to go from here.  I’ve sent off a last ditch salvo of emails at the participants in attempt to salvage what I can.  Not going to lie to you – there’s definitely a little whelp inside of me who wants to grab them by the lapels and say something ridiculous like “ANSWER ME!  Was the training effective or not?  Are you more comfortable with technology in your school than you were before? How might you continue learning about mobile devices going forward? Huh? That’s all I ask! My research paper depends upon this data!!”, professionally I am not in any position to badger them – they are my organization’s customers after all – and guess what?  They’re probably very busy and setting up a quick phone interview or answering an email with more than a quick one liner probably just isn’t on their radar at all.  Being the husband of an overworked teacher I understand 100%.  But really all I need is that last chunk of data – I feel confident that I’ve got the ability to whip out meaningful analysis and conclusions in short order.

So what have I learned to this point, particularly with a project such as mine?

  1. To restate / rephrase an earlier point – doing an action research project from afar is not advisable.  You have to  be in the mix. Unless you have a direct stake in the outcome it might not even fit the definition as action research.
  2. Spend a sizable amount of time and energy ahead of time floating your idea around to others, looking for a good devil’s advocate or two to find weak spots in your proposal.
  3. Setting aside the earlier question of whether or not this actually is action research or not, if you are not the person actually delivering the training you need considerable, frequent two-way communication with the person who is.  You need to have their trust that what you’re finding has merit.  You need to trust that they will consider your findings, and provide feedback along the way.
  4. The more people at the top who are involved (the people guiding the action, that is), the more time you need to allot for communication.  People are busy with their other obligations.  They often don’t communicate in the same ways that you do.  Their priorities are not the same as yours.
  5. See #1

In talking it over with Dr. Graham I potentially have another option, that is, picking up the pieces and doing a study about my experience of doing a study.  This feels about as satisfying, from my perspective, as losing the big game and having your dad ask, “But what did you learn?  And most importantly, did you have fun?”.  Yes I can see the more important lessons that are there to be uncovered, but in the moment it is most dissatisfying, because I feel that I should have seen this coming.

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Sitting around waiting for the #seaccr phone to ring.

by on Nov.01, 2013, under #seaccr

Well the good news is that the trainer delivered her instruction to the teachers over the past couple of days.  Early next week I should have an opportunity to interview the participants individually, including the trainer.  From a few emails that were exchanged over the past couple of days  it sounds like things went pretty well, with the exception of some confusion about the expected software that was on the iPads (was supposed to be iOS 7, however iOS 6 was installed).

A tangent: an interesting item that came out from the meeting was that the school has plans to build an iPad app as part of their coursework for the National Park Service, which could be a really neat to go through the product development cycle with students and potentially be a vehicle for more in-depth discovery of the content matter thats to be covered.  I don’t have more detail on this topic yet and I need to find out more.  Some avenues for rapid iOS app development that my supervisor dug up include Appy Pie, iBuildApp.  As near as I can tell these are used to generate a hybrid app using a native application wrapper with HTML5  content.  The apps generated with such a method cost a certain amount of money per month to maintain.  For just teaching certain aspects of programming to young would-be coders I’m interested in Hopscotch.  I want to try that out with my son soon.

Over the next day or so I want to spend some time going through others’ research papers and providing substantive feedback.  In the past this has helped in my own writing to develop stronger prose.

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#seaccr Week 7 Reflections

by on Oct.28, 2013, under #seaccr

I’m seeing a lot of cool projects out there that people are doing, and I think that mine is going too slow. With a name like “action research” I expect more explosions.  I suppose it was something of a slow week for me, given my “holding pattern” status.

On a side note, for the first time time in a few weeks I feel like I don’t have that lingering cold that had been bugging me for so long.  I’ve actually been able to go do those things I really like to do, such as running, hunting, going to the dojo, and work at a much higher level than I have been, which has a positive effect on my ability to focus on work.  I take my health for granted but boy whenever I have “the grim” cold that seems to happen about once a year it’s like I’m running a constant, low-grade “meh” that eats into my ability to work efficiently.

This week I participated in a marathon Twitter session on Tuesday for both the #seaccr and #aktechplan classes and I’m not sure in the future if I’ll do the two back to back.  It’s hard at that time of day to focus solely on Twitter, when the needs of dinner time and my little children are vying for my attention.  I’ve noticed more than a few fellow classmates mention how they are gaining confidence in using Twitter, how they gain confidence and support from their peers through that medium, and through blogging, and I think that makes our class stronger.  I like the format of shifting the lead of the Twitter sessions; I think having to critically think of questions for discussion is very instructive itself.  If you understand something well enough, you can ask deep questions about it.

This week, somewhat surprisingly, I had a few people tell me that they really enjoyed my re-sharing of the iPad app evaluation rubric that a coworker shared with me.  I’m glad it’s working for people, and I really would like to know of other useful tools that people have seen out there for gauging the effectiveness of content-specific mobile device apps or simply tools for helping to make either their or their students’ work easier.

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Week 7: #seaccr Holding Pattern

by on Oct.25, 2013, under #seaccr

I see others rolling on in their data collection but I’m a little stuck with my study.  My coworker is heading out to the district for a training session on 11/1/13 and I won’t have another chance prior to then in order to collect meaningful data.  In the interim I have had a chance to go over the training materials that she’s put together and give substantive feedback enhanced by the data already received.  In particular, the survey data indicated that the participants had a decent familiarity with the iPad devices but the training materials as I’ve seen them are a little heavy on the basics in my opinion.

She does spend some time covering the new features of iOS 7, which is a good thing.  A big highlight that I saw included in the presentation was in reference to how to judge an app relative to others across seven different domains.  I encourage any educator who has to make a decision on “what apps should I get?” to read through this to give themselves a starting point for meaningful comparisons between apps.

Going forward I look forward to having some more interaction with the trainer and help fine tune anything she’d like to work on.  I’ve also suggested that, due to the perceived level of familiarity present with the participants, to include some tasks for them to accomplish ahead of time to further identify where they’re at and to provide good conversation points for the training itself.

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