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Sometimes I Wish That It Would Rain Here

Thursday, September 04, 2008

research instigating critical thinking

I just saw an idea come up again that I've noticed in a couple places: the notion that research (generally academic) is not only beneficial, informative, and potentially transformative for the researcher, but also for the participant.

I don't recollect all the other places in which this idea has arisen. in my brief look at action research, it seemed that research as an agent of social change was a central concern in that approach. that is, research is not just about the researcher learning something about the subjects, but the subjects actively participating in, and contributing to, the research, somewhat a la participatory design. the experience also came up in my own research on blog readers, wherein participants became more aware of, and reflective about, their own blog reading practices and habits as a result of participation in the research. most recently, while reflecting (further) on questions about knowledge attribution in blogging and ethnographic research more broadly, Lilia Efimova points out that "often it’s not only the researcher who learns new things, but also people who participate in the research, when their thinking on a subject is triggered as a result of an interaction" [emphasis added].

it seems that doing research is particularly good at getting people thinking, not just the researchers, but also the participants. rather than seeing this as a side benefit, what if we were to engage in research where the sole purpose is to get participants thinking critically? how might research look differently if the primary goal was not making a "novel and significant contribution to knowledge" but rather fostering critical thinking and reflection on the part of those involved in the research? I'm not saying that forsaking knowledge making in favor of flipping bits in people's heads is necessarily desirable. rather, I'm wondering aloud how research might look and feel different if creating a particular type of experience for participants' was made a concern of greater importance. how would this different approach manifest itself, and what might it be able to tell us about the purpose and place of doing research?

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  • I think this is a really interesting line of thought. In usability testing I've noticed that lots of people really enjoy the learning aspect of it. Of course everyone likes it when someone listens to them, but this goes beyond that.

    By Anonymous Kevin Arthur, at Friday, September 05, 2008 12:29:00 PM  

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