Personal writing for learning in a science education PhD

Year: 1995

Author: Hanrahan, Mary, Cooper, Tom, Burroughs-Lange, Sue

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In spite of rhetoric about "the social construction of meaning", it has been our experience that it is difficult for doctoral students in science education research to break out of the shackles of traditional experimental notions of research. Even when qualitative methods are used, we find that a linear program within a single paradigm has been assumed and findings are expected to be "objective". It is our experience that both subjectivity and major changes in epistemological beliefs are discouraged in doctoral studies. However, we believe that it is more consistent with recent developments in educational theory for such factors to be accepted and reported as a legitimate part of the learning process in a doctorate. This paper reports on an innovative approach to doing a doctorate in which Mary has used personal writing to increase the relevance, autonomy and quality of her learning. The personal writing consisted of reflective and critical journal and letter writing with which Mary dealt with the affective, social and moral factors she believed to be an integral part of deep learning in a social science. The paper describes how this had consequences for her research on improving autonomy, motivation and learning in Year 8 science students. The paper discusses how personal and students writing have been found to be a highly motivating and powerful technique for research and learning, and one which has led Mary to see the need to actively involve both teachers and students in research on teaching and learning.