Academic Freedom

I had an awesome meeting with my academic advisor earlier this week. When I say awesome, I mean that it was the kind of meeting that made me excited about the opportunity to write my proposal and do research for my dissertation. It was the kind of meeting that made me want to do nothing else but go back to my desk, log into some of the research databases, and start looking for anything to do with my topic.

And the topic? That was the best part, by far. After starting the conversation on possible topics for the dissertation, she stopped me and asked the question that I’ve been hearing quite often for the past few weeks. “Yeah, that’s great, but what do you want to do?” And I frowned and thought about a few things, and I said some stuff about the students with whom I normally work at the dayjob (first-year students and undergraduates on academic probation) and how I interact with them. One thing led to another, and I made my comment about how I always ask my students about their gaming habits and preferences, and how I think that people who play certain types of video games seem to have specific learning styles or preferences.

She pounced on it. She sat back in her chair and asked why I didn’t do my dissertation on that. “On what,” I asked, wondering if she was joking with me. “Learning styles based upon gaming preferences for first-year students?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Why not?”

There was something so very liberating about that “why not?” that she offered me. Aside from my “what if they don’t let me study it” question, there really wasn’t a reason to not take those ideas and start down the path of “is there any research on any part of this” before the next session of the pre-dissertation course I’m taking. My advisor pointed out that it was part of her role in the process to help me pitch the idea to the rest of the committee and to come up with a question and design that best supports that question. It’s nice to know that I won’t be going this alone, and that it’s just as important for me to do something fun with my research as it is to work on something that “is” real research.

I think I asked her, “You mean, I could legitimately find a reason to game as part of my dissertation? I haven’t really gamed in months!” Of course, I sat back and realized that without City of Heroes, any game would come in a distant second, but… gaming! For science!

I’ve spent two days picking through articles and trying to find the best search terms to use when seeking articles about specific groups of students that have been studied and the attributes related to their hobbies or personal labels that could correlate with learning styles or achievement. It’s been fun… and I haven’t been able to say that about any kind of research for quite some time. That bit of academic and emotional freedom feels absolutely wonderful.

To be honest, I’m not sure how the other two members of the committee will take the idea; the sell is going to have to be really good. I’m still finding different papers and articles related to pieces of the puzzle, so it’s clear that some groups of activities or interrelated behaviors have been studied by researchers and found to have a significant impact on student achievement. At the same time, I’m likely going to have to engage in some qualitative research to try and figure out the starting point for the modeling and surveys that will inevitably happen.

It’s really nice to be excited again about school and to not feel burdened with the thought that I must choose a topic that will have some immediate and direct impact upon my professional life. It’s okay to do something I want to research, because I think it would be fun.

Fun. Finally.

This entry was posted on Thursday, February 13th, 2014 at 11:16 pm and is filed under academics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

5 Responses to “Academic Freedom”

  1. Anne Elizabeth Baldwin Says:

    Congratulations! Finding a thesis topic you really like is great. I doubt you’ll get tired of it by the end, and that can be a problem when you’re studying it in enough depth to make a proper thesis. {Smile}

    Now, as a trained librarian (Master’s in Library and Information Science, Fall 1999, University of Hawai’i at Manoa) I have to ask this: have you gotten help with your research from your school’s library yet? Because this research sounds like a reference interview could help even in the early stages, especially if they have a subject specialist in Education. You should be at a big enough university to have those. Get in touch with the (graduate) library’s reference department (Social Science division if the department is divided enough), explain what you’re looking for, and ask for an appointment for a reference interview with the librarian who knows the field best. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a true subject specialist, with a Master’s in the field, as well as one in library science. The latter taught them how to search, and the former taught them about the particular field. If they don’t have a true subject specialist in the field, they’ll still know more about searching than most non-library students ever learn. So I suspect it would help. {Smile}

    I’d offer to help more directly, but I’m not trained in education, I don’t know your library, and I’m too rusty in searching. (I got my degree back in 1999, and haven’t kept up with the field as much as I could wish.) So you’re better off “bothering” the librarians at your school by asking them to actually use the training they went to graduate school for themselves. {wink, Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  2. Anne Elizabeth Baldwin Says:

    V? You might want to check out the Scientific American February 2014 issue. They’ve got an article called “Mind Games” by Alan Gershenfeld that might help you. It does combine computer games and education, tho it’s more concerned with fitting the game to the curriculum than the curriculum to the gamer. Still, it might be a reference, and it might lead to more references, especially if you run him and some of the folks listed in the “More to Explore” box at the end thru a database where you can find out who quoted whom in which article. (Those can be great for figuring out which articles are reasonably scholarly.) {Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  3. Veronica Says:

    Thanks! I’ll definitely take a look at it and run the references. So far, it seems like non-athletes, non-Greek-life, non-civic-service students get lumped into a huge “other” category when it comes to the research, so any game-learner connections are helpful.

  4. Anne Elizabeth Baldwin Says:

    You’re welcome. I do hope it helps. {SMILE}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  5. Doc Coleman Says:

    Brilliant! Games jut don’t get the respect they deserve. Many people dismiss games as meaningless time-wasters and idle recreational activities. They forget why we invented games in the first place.

    They’re skill trainers.

    Not only should you be able to find a correlation between game preference and learning styles, if you carry the study far enough, you should be able to find a correlation to career paths. And sports are games, too.

    Good lord… you could potentially come up with a curriculum to more effectively teach students based on their game playing preference. Imagine the value of that to every collegiate sports team with issues with GPAs.

    And it sounds like fun, too.

    I hope the committee buys in on the idea.

    (preference for strategy games, so of course I’m thinking ahead)