21st century education
Framing a Research Question, Part 2

Framing a Research Question, Part 2

In addition to what Hugh posted a couple days ago, I’m further updating people (as promised in the Mixed Berry Shake June 2014 hangout) on what we’re doing in the MOOC Understanding Research Methods via Coursera.


Here is a link to the question Hugh is developing and some discussion around it: How do Arabian women artists view the status of women within the Middle East?

And here is a link to the question Christa is developing and the discussion around it: How can being born into a historically significant, multi-racial family — which presents as white, or “passes” — undermine white supremacy?

I see from a comment on Hugh’s initial post that Michael has signed up as well. Please link us to any work your create there!

Hugh has joined the Signature Track for the course. I’ve been wondering if I should do the same. Right now the fee of $49 is not necessarily negligible for me (we’re in the process of buying a house), so I’m wondering if my school might pay for it; they’re pretty good about funding professional development.  What do you all think about paying for the signature track?

Also, Hugh and I are tagging all our stuff with “Practice Based Research” if you want to find or search for us and others doing this kind of research in the course. Also, interestingly, the question with the most views is “Can online learning replace formal education?” There may be some interesting threads discussions in there that could be used to develop a piece for Isabella de Medici’s MOOC Magazine.


  1. Well done Christa for breaking the walls of the secret garden. I feel pretty ambivalent about signature track and online cert as there are just too many ways to cheat. I would like to return to lecturing and while I do not think the cert will win me any jobs it will show that I have been part of a process and can hopefully start a few conversations. While the PBR course was great and it developed a community of practice based researchers we all think like………… practice based researchers. The participants in this course come from a huge range of disciplines so it is a great opportunity to see how other disciplines argue, research and communicate and to see if I can learn from and use any of that in my own methodologies. Secondly the peer review process shows me how effectively I communicate to non-PBResearchers. Both of these are very important if we want to develop collaborations across interdisciplinary practice. Lastly by learning new research methods I can weave these into my existing research methodology and hopefully create a richer tapestry with more meaningful visual outcomes.

    I’m not too sure if the research questions Christa mentioned above are available to non-participants so incase you can’t get them here they are copied from the course page,

    “How do Arabian women artists view the status of women in the Middle East?

    The above question seeks to challenge Islamaphobia and the West’s perception of gender inequality within Islam through the direct testimony of the supposed underclass. This is a method I have used in previous research to challenge misperception and bias. http://www.hughmce.com/2930/1551304/projects/invisible-in-an-empty-space .In this project the subject was the Irish Sex Industry and for several reasons I found it problematic to photograph the women. Firstly, I believe a record of an exited woman (a woman who has left prostitution) would be viewed by the public as an ex-prostitute despite what she currently does with her life. I had no desire to re-victimise the subject. Secondly the active women, naturally, did not want to be photographed. Thirdly, work by other visual artists have invariably perpetuated ‘the gaze’, overly sensationalised the subject, or missed the point completely. I did not want to be associated with this body of work, so I developed a strategy that gave the participants access to direct testimony while protecting them from voyeurism.

    While the context I am now in (I live and work in the UAE) is very different to ‘Invisible in an Empty Space’ , representation of women is still problematic. This time it is due to issues of modesty rather than voyeurism. Again I need to adopt a method which allows for direct testimony while respecting cultural modesty. For this body of Practice Based Research instead of fractured landscapes I have designed a method of abstracting portraits.

    The work is situated in Orientalism, neo-colonialism, gender studies and inequality. While these terms are used to frame the research it is yet to be seen whether the status of women is one of inequality or is it a neo-colonial orientalist construct.

    My work for the past several years has dealt with societal inequality using inquiry to challenge my own prejudices, sometimes with surprising results. Often the question I initially ask is not the one I end up with and for me this is part of the process of the evolution of research. In fact in some ways if I end up where I thought I would at the outset I have probably learnt relatively little along the way.

    On the floor of the institute where I work all my colleagues bar one are Middle Eastern women and I am the only Westerner. So I have great opportunity to talk and understand the gender dynamic in the Middle East.”

    “How can being born into a historically significant, multi-racial family — which presents as white, or “passes” — undermine white supremacy?

    This question grows out of my personal experience, and I want to use my personal experience to drive my systematic research. As a woman who presents as white, but whose history and ethnicity is multi-racial, I am interested in knowing how my experience and my life can help eradicate racism.”

    Hugh McElveen
  2. Hello Christa & Hugh, very nice work! And thank you for sharing your updates / process.

    Christa, you asked about Signature Track.

    I don’t think there’s any harm in Signature Track, however it’s slicing things pretty thin and in a way counter to what I like to think of as a more progressive perspective I’ve been trying to develop at MU.

    By thin, I mean that you already have a course that is officially not official. The various universities, from Stanford / PBR to Edinburgh / Warhol, and all the rest, don’t really know what this new landscape is or wants to be or can be. They know they want a seat as the table. Their faculty teach, pretty much, university courses, and the U is willing to let participants have a piece of VR paper that says “You did it!” And we’re putting our logo on it, but not certifying you. So to have an identity-verified-not-certified-no-credit course completion… as I say, it can’t hurt, but IDK how helpful it is. As far as “credit” goes it won’t get you a degree if you need that, but they look good on your LinkedIn where I think they help show a pattern of professional interest and activity.

    My worry about all Certificates however, Signature Track or not, is essentially a rot of capitalism argument. That as soon as you focus on what do I need to do to earn my certificate now you’re bubbling in multiple choice questions and jumping through hoops. Or the upset students in Warhol MOOC who tried to petition Coursera to cancel the MOOC because if there was only 5 minutes of video / week it could only mean the course wasn’t ready to be offered. In fact the course was focused, if you wanted to go deep, on independent study and group discussion. But for those trained to listen to lectures and answer multiple choice questions it may have been disorienting.

    The work you needed to do to “earn” a certificate in Warhol MOOC was ridiculously simple. You could easily “earn” a certificate and learn pretty much nothing. But the work you were invited but not required to do, could go far deeper.

    My argument is that when you have an hour of video a week and a list of quizzes and papers to earn your certificate, then that becomes the focus of your MOOC experience. What if you had no video at all? And no certificates even available? If I were a MOOC marketer, those would be terrible ideas because they’d hurt enrollment and students would be confused and dissatisfied.

    But I’m not a marketer. I’m interested in helping truly motivated learners discover and reach their highest potential. I think one of the most powerful tools for doing that is to get out of the way. Why does the University give the student a list of requirements? Shouldn’t the truly motivated student be able to create their own, better list?

    Signature Track isn’t really bad, but it reinforces student as dependent learner relying on the judgement of others. A no certificates at all MOOC might emphasize an empowered learner responsible for their own knowledge trajectory.

    1. Interesting perspective, VB! I appreciate (as always) the depth of your thought around these issues.

      As you well know, the self-created education is a super hot topic right now. My sense is that “certificates” could act like proof that the student has indeed completed the “course work” (it’s harder to COMPLETE the work — i.e. meet the deadlines — in a MOOC than most people think). I feel you on your suspicions/hesitations about certificates (they are very similar to the ones I have about grades); however, when a person is trying to get a job or a gig or a connection, the certificates could help differentiate the person in the social media space (like LinkedIn). Certificates might act like “badges” in this way.

      Incidentally, badges are in fact making their way into the traditional educational sphere, discussed as an alternative to grades.

      Here’s a link to an article in Education Week about a professor who replaced grades with badges.


      And a quote from the article
      “Part of what drew Halavais’ interest to digital badges was the amount of data each badge contains.
      “It’s an index of your learning biography,” he says. “It allows you to stitch together your [educational career] in interesting ways.”
      And unlike an e-portfolio, badges generally represent one skill, making them easier for prospective employers to peruse, says Halavais.”

      This is how I’ve been thinking about certificates. By the way, I did end up buying the Sig. Track, but I totally lamed out on the course work, because most of the due dates came while I was traveling through the American Southwest. Nevertheless, I still read the readings, participated in some forum activity and watched the videos. But I did not “do the work” required to get the certificate, which is fine. My “failure” was actually a great learning opportunity. I’d like to write more about it at another time.

      Now I need to get some sleep so that I can be ready for our Mixed Berry Shake meetup tomorrow morning!

  3. Oh look, here’s a course where Penn State is giving “real” credit for a MOOC. The credit option appears to have “extra work” and includes “actual faculty access.” The “reduced rate” for this “bargain” credit course is US$333 / credit. It doesn’t say how many credits the course is, but if it’s 3, then your bargain price is US$999. It’s actually a pretty cool model though, to have Credit and No Credit or Certificate courses wrapped up together.

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