Inquiry Reflective Essay

Below is my final reflective essay for the Honors Invitation to Inquiry class. It was my opportunity to reflect on the various aspects of my learning journey concerning scholarly research. I was asked to write in a narrative style. This essay also demonstrates my overall ability to critically think about the research process.

Kevin Loder
IDS 299_H
3/11/13

Inquiry Final Reflective Essay

One of the biggest eye-openers I had this term was when librarian Jennifer Klaudinyi explained the differences between scholarly and popular sources. It was a turning-point moment in which I acknowledged I rarely ever read a scholarly reviewed article. Magazines, newspapers, blogs, etc., have been my source of information, aside from textbooks for class. Using a search engine or database for scholarly information is something I have only ever done in school. From my experience in this class searching for and reading scholarly writing, I now recognize it as a method for conducting research myself, and as an integral part of using critical thinking.

I found The Craft of Research to be challenging yet mind opening literature. This book goes far beyond what I have ever given thought to conducting scholarly research. Although deep, I see the benefit to the structure the book gives for forming a question worth researching. For example, I used the three-step formula for identifying the significance of my research question. My inquiry about Lane’s use of learning communities lacked an angle that would allow me to find counterarguments beyond opinions. I did however find credible sources in strong support of my claim that learning communities are an effective method for increasing student success.

I enjoyed considering the way that research may change by discipline. I wanted to better understand research in psychology. I checked out the book Undergraduate Writing in Psychology: Learning to Tell the Scientific Story. Psychology research will often include lab reports. “Ultimately, the most important reason for scientific writing in psychology is for communication to others” writes the author R. Eric Landrum (p. 11).
An abstract way to explain how my view of conducting research has changed is in food and cooking terminology. I see popular media sources of information as drive-thru restaurants. Psychology Today is a source I browse for fun. Similar to fast-food meals, it’s cheap at $4.95 a magazine, the articles can be consumed in one sitting, and the advertisements compete for my attention. Just like candy, it is safe in moderation, but one’s mind can become obese with too much of what I call infotainment.
Scholarly research is more like actually cooking. You find a recipe (topic) you want to try to cook (question – how?) because if it tastes delicious you’ll share it with others (significance). Your grocery list items are like your research sources, for which you’ll include an annotation crediting the flavor each ingredient adds to the overall meal.

The discussion with Nadia Raza was an incredible experience. At first I didn’t really get into the groove of her approach to critical thinking. As my other peers started sharing their views, I began to see what Nada was attempting to get across: the way questions are formed/structured affect the answer. Her question to us, about if males have the legitimacy and authority to write about the experience of being a woman, was exciting. It was a great example of using critical thinking and analyzing argument styles. During this discussion I physically felt a sensation as if my brain was active in news ways!

Considering the topic of logic approaches (Inherent, Western, Positivism, etc.) was also a first for me. Nadia told us a quote by Judith Butler, “With who’s blood do my eyes see?” This asked of me what am I willing to see. It adds to my sense of being an individual. It is a characteristic of innovators to be able to see further than others.

Along with critical thinking, Nadia also asked us about our critical assumptions. She explained that these govern future behavior, based on our predictions; thoughts lead to actions, which result in behavior. This matches the definition of causal assumptions in the Teaching for Critical Thinking handout read in class. I began this term with a negative attitude assumption about academic research; I viewed finding and citing sources as a pain. The critical reading assignment tested my assumption by reading and evaluating a whole article. This taught me the importance of not taking a quote out of context. Writing an annotated bibliography was the next step to changing my assumption from a negative into a positive.

The annotated bibliography was my first time adding annotations to a works cited page. I came to see it as another way to use critical thinking, to evaluate my sources of information and of why I found it necessary to include them. This process also helped encourage me to find a variety of sources and not the exact same type of research twice. I have never read an annotated bibliography for anything I’ve read. Now I will be looking for it to help determine if what I’m reading qualifies as scholarly research.

At Lane, I decided to interview Anne McGrail, coordinator for the learning communities. Although her job duty is primarily in scheduling, she does research new reports on how students learn, and publishes an annual analytical report for Lane. Aside from the many sources of information she has in print, she shared her use and enthusiasm of the internet for scholarly research. I learned about software called Zotero, which she uses for creating her own virtual database of research she wants to save. This organizational tool greatly increases her efficiency of sorting through mountains of data. Discovering and deciphering new material is a part of the research process she especially enjoys, which comes from her curious nature.

I have made a connection between what I’ve learned about becoming a scholar to the personal development I experienced in the Success in College & Career learning community. Both require accepting personal responsibility for lifelong learning. Until college, I was content with being naïve about my thinking and learning. I believed most of what I heard, read, and saw. It felt easy to go along with what I was told. My first attempt at college before Lane was not a success. I treated my education as a selfish way to get ahead of others by pursing a business degree. I started to fail classes and withdraw as I quickly lost motivation.

At Lane, my life has been transformed through learning to become a more fair-minded thinker. I am up for the challenge to conduct research that is free from bias or deception. I now connect back with the definition of a critical thinking in the textbook from the learning community, On Course. Author Skip Downing explained it as “Critical thinking helps us find the truth. That’s why, to be an effective critical thinker, you must be willing to abandon your position whenever you find another view that is a better explanation of reality. The ultimate goal of a critical thinker is not victory, then, but learning.”  (p.220)

At the beginning of the term, I hadn’t given much thought regarding what a scholar is. I related it to the word scholarship. Having applied for those, I know they require the best of someone who can prove their worthiness. I have come to view a scholar as someone who is a critical thinker and is capable of producing knowledge. In school I’ve felt like just a consumer. I have begun to recognize the difference. I believe to be a scholar means you’re able to identify and consume information you may then use to produce greater understanding or application to innovation and/or solutions.

References

Booth, W. C., Colomb, G. G., & Williams, J. M. (2008). The craft of research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Downing, S. (2011). On Course (8th ed.). San Francisco: Cengage Learning.

Landrum, R. E. (2012). Undergraduate writing in psychology: Learning to tell the scientific story. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

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