The Pedagogy of Monsters: Scary Disturbances in a Doctoral Research Preparation Course
by Nancy Lesko, Jacqueline A. Simmons, Antoinette Quarshie & Nicki Newton — 2008
Background/Context: Although doctoral education is an important component of research universities, few investigations of doctoral education exist. Furthermore, with the push in education and in other disciplines to help beginning researchers understand multiple paradigmatic, epistemological, and theoretical orientations that define fields of study, few reports explore the attempts and their effects.
Purpose: This study sought to understand the unusually strong student responses to a new doctoral core course that aimed to initiate them into the competing theoretical, epistemological, and paradigmatic complexity of contemporary educational research. This study developed from the authors’ experiences with the course in an attempt to understand students’ conflicted responses.
Setting: A private urban graduate school of education was the setting for this study.
Participants: Participants were doctoral students who enrolled in the core course between 1999 and 2002. By virtue of the action research design, the authors were also participants.
Research Design: The overarching design developed from action research in that we sought to investigate a question that arose from our teaching practice. Our initial research question was, How can we understand students’ highly charged responses to the doctoral core course? The inquiry drew upon three traditions in qualitative interpretive research: action research, collective memory work, and deep interpretation and reflection.
Data Collection and Analysis: Data were collected via three collective memory groups and through the sustained and collaborative sharing of the authors’ own varied experiences of the doctoral core course.
Findings/Results: Students’ stories of turmoil in the doctoral course are interpreted as disruptions that occurred when familiar ideas about knowledge and learning, identities, and social networks were breached. These disturbances—encounters with ambivalence, and the awareness of more than one way to interpret, categorize, and feel about phenomena—were related to instances in which their reading, perceptions, and identities were challenged. These disturbances were frightening, and students defended against the uncertainty and the attendant questions of their own competence by recuperating stable ideas of knowledge, self, and community through talk of authentic learning, noncompetitive peers, caring professors, and a harmonious academic community.
Conclusions/Recommendations: The doctoral core course took on a life of its own, like Frankenstein, achieving effects beyond the original intention and desires of its creators and its students. We now recognize some of the limits to the critical curriculum that we developed, revised, and enacted. We have sought to tame some disturbing aspects of the course and also to admit that teaching that interferes will always produce unpredictable and mixed responses.
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