Liminal Spaces Similar Faces

Research Theory Blog 1

Being that this is a class devoted to research theories, I looked at both readings from a research perspective.  Each of the readings was filled with case studies and other acquired data that either defended or highlighted principles presented in the research; or as was the case in the Bamford reading, to serve as a rebuttal.  The readings all presented arguments for Liminal Spaces and Language Proficiencies and the necessity in learning environments for them in an organized manner.  The research presented in the reading was quite challenging to say the least.  Trying to achieve writing success in young minds while focusing the research on college students took me aback for a moment. Aspects of the research present by Lee and Schallert should have been made clearer at the start of the study.

I completely understood the theory of Liminal Spaces where the achievement was having students write in a way that crossed the thresholds between fictitious safe worlds and reality.  Thus transforming student writing into something that can encompass more of the writer’s identity into the piece. All of the readings hinted on the ideas of “transformation” in student writing. 

In all aspects of research there is a vast amount of writing to be performed.  Thankfully I enjoy writing.  Before becoming a teacher, I was a technical Writer for AT&T and other website.  Research and the ability to collect data and then translate all of that information into text everyone can understand is a challenge to say the least.  The writing cannot be accomplished without the data from all stages of the research.  Research, from my generation meant gathering the purest resources needed to conduct the research and then conduct the research in the most sterile environment possible.  After that, it was compiling the data into a useable document.  As I mentioned in my opening, the research conducted in the readings utilized college students.  In my opinion, that skews the data collected tremendously.  The resources used were not pure.  This research was intended to help young writers, yet the research focused on college-level students College students, first off, pay to attend the universities that conducted the research or took part in the research.  College students participating in the research, majoring in higher levels of academia, as was mentioned in the article, only wish to succeed.  How can test results be reliable when everyone in the group wants to achieve a perfect score? Young readers are still finding themselves as writers.  In the Lee and Schallert piece, Korean students were used in the research.  The principles of the research providing at the beginning of each piece stated that this was to help children from this country.  I am not opposed to anyone becoming a better writer, no matter where that person is from.  The people of Korea have a profound sense of pride.  Again, how can results of a case study be confirmed when the research group only wants to succeed and because of cultural sensibilities engrained in the test subjects since birth won’t allow them to fail or feel as though they have shamed their host (those conducting the research). American children do not have this – at least not the majority of them.  Thus, the resources in this group were not the purest.  This was where the organization of the piece could have helped. 

The organization of the readings was great and easy to follow.  However, it would have been nice if Lee and Schallert had alerted readers to the idea that the group that made of the resources for the case study were from Korea.  The research does not mention if the Korean children had to learn English first.  American children to do have to learn English first and then learn to write.  I think this again makes the resources of the Lee and Schallert piece not so valid.  “’Liminal Spaces and Research Identity’ by James P. Purdy and Joyce R. Walker explores how first year composition (FYC) courses are transitional spaces in which students begin to form their research identities.” This is what Ms. O’Neill wrote in her blog.  The research from this piece speaks of how the study will aid in the transformation of student writing yet the piece deals with in its entirety college level composition students. 

The first aspect of any transformation is getting a student body to all buy in to the idea.  Some will.  Some will resist.  Many will simply not care.  The article does not address this mindset which is most certainly present in the 21st century.  Transformation begins with the here and now.  The data from both pieces is well over thirty years old.  Yes researching the past to make changes to the present is vital to learning from mistakes and successes respectively. And if we are to change, transform and implement spaces where learning is paramount, shouldn’t the research be conducted on the group it was intended to help?  If we want to study how young minds write, allow technology to help.  We no longer need to take a group of writers from a distant culture and study them like lab rats to help our own when there are so many differentiating factors. I now understand some of Bamford’s ideas.        

Are You the Gatekeeper?

James P. Purdy and Joyce R. Walker’s research piece, “Liminal Spaces and Research Identity,” began by conjuring the Ghosts of Researches Past for me.  I recalled having to do The Research Paper, my senior year in high school.  Consulting the card catalogue (it was 1998) and using the MLA Handbook (the 4th Edition) to painstakingly format my works cited (bibliography, back then) on the back of an index card, leaving room for the annotation on the other side.  We totally took a linear approach to research, and honestly, I found the process tedious and boring.  A decade later, when I matriculated to Kean, I took a course entitled “Research and Technology” which basically taught us how to use the internet responsibly, to use databases and web tools such as the then-brand-new Easybib, to streamline our research paper writing process.  We were encouraged to write and research simultaneously, an approach of which I suspect Purdy and Walker would approve.  The difference between my last high school experience, and one of my first college ones, was night and day, and looking back on which made me a better writer, which better prepared me for my undergrad Thesis, the answer seems clear, but is somewhat surprising: both!  

Yes, I think both methods helped to prepare me for researching and writing my undergrad Thesis, and have contributed equally to my growth as a writer.  I think it’s easy to let nostalgia take hold, to fall prey to the allure of the tried-and-true way-it’s-always-been-done.  I think it’s equally easy to roll our collective eyes, and say with a dismissive, “Okay, Boomer,” that what is old is out, and what is new is to be embraced whole-heartedly, and without question, simply based on the merit of its newness.  But, for me, the truth is that both the “ good old-fashioned way” and the introduction of new tools and technologies have contributed by my research identity.  In a way, I feel fortunate to have been born into that generational “sweet spot,” that donut hole of old and new that has exposed me to old and new approaches, but has not blinded or biased me to the merits, and the drawbacks, of each.   In a way, I am a liminal student, in that I have not “abandoned” (or “replaced,” “retooled,” “left behind,” or any of the other verbs Purdy and Walker used to underscore this point of their thesis) anything.  What I believe I’ve done is to build upon, to refine my skills, to adapt them to new demands and to new techniques.  Isn’t that, after all, what humans do best?

As for the practical applications of Purdy and Walker’s work, I can totally relate, as both a student and a teacher, to the idea of the classroom being a liminal space, and how that can be so damaging to the burgeoning identities of the students-as-researchers we should be nurturing.  Some students perceive, and sadly, often rightfully so, their teachers as gatekeepers, wise and formidable, with sword and staff, standing, white-bearded in their path, proclaiming “You shall not pass!”  It puts them in a position of powerlessness, lacking agency and validation.   

Now, this is not to say that we should create a generation of “googlers,” students who think the first answer is the best one, students who do not understand how to properly vet and critically evaluate the “proliferation of digital resources” (p. 12) that exist today, available at the literal tips of their fingers.  No.  But to say that their way of finding information is “wrong,” and our way as teachers is “right” is to set up an opposition that needn’t exist, especially in spaces that purport to promote learning as a virtue.  

So, what’s the answer?  Well, the Common Core, or the New Jersey State Learning Standards, hardly hold the key to promoting healthy research identities and habits.  In fact, the time-honored (and oft-dreaded) rite of junior or senior English class passage, The Research Paper, has been largely abandoned.  In Common Core, or the analogous NJSLS Writing Standards, the word “research” is only mentioned twice, with no supporting standards that guide teachers or students on how to conduct such research.   Actually, the word “research” appears more in the Speaking and Listening Standards than in the Writing Standards, and even there, its use is more as a substitute for “read” or “prepared.”  (As a possible focus for my own Thesis, I’d like to explore the way writing is taught as part of an inclusive ELA curriculum, which incorporates both Language Arts and English Literature classes within the public school system, as compared to the more compartmentalized teaching of those subjects as separate and distinct within the private school curricula… Just a thought for now, though…)

If the Standards we are paid to teach don’t offer any guidance, then it is incumbent on teachers to promote the skills we know are of value, even if they are not reflected adequately in the Standards.  I think a good place to start may be to assign a fun “Quiz” something along the lines of “What’s Your ‘Research Identity’?” to assess students’ level of familiarity, and possibly form groups based on student ability and familiarity with research processes.  That may allow for better differentiation and targeted instruction in how to conduct research for the classroom, while allowing the teacher to build on, not simply replace, students’ existing research identities.  The assumption that research is “something kids can’t do” is about as valid as the assumption that I can’t juggle.  While true (and a pitiful sight if you ever watched me try!), it is not for an innate lack of ability.  I’ve just never learned that particular skill…  

As another resource, I think English teachers have to learn to delegate at least some of this burden to their schools’ Media Specialists (the term “Librarian,” at least in my district, is completely outdated, as most modern schools have a “Media Center” or “Learning Commons” that combines books with multi-media and digital components) as well as other departments (*ahem* I’m looking at you, History Department).  A cross-curricular approach would do wonders to expose students to research techniques, especially ones that are actually useful.  Sadly, too, the NJSLA boils “research” down to its lowest common denominator through the RST, or Research Simulation Task, similar to a DBQ, in which students are provided pre-selected sources to use in their responses.  To me, this in almost no way resembles actual “research” as an active process of inquiry, adaptive, responsive, reflective, and flexible.  It’s sort of more like one of those competitive cooking shows where contestants have to create an “original dish” out of the same pre-selected ingredients.  (And who uses anchovies in a dessert dish, anyway?)

Finally (because I feel like I’ve rambled and I have far too many opinions on this text to include them all in one blog!) I enjoyed Purdy and Walker’s medical analogy (p. 26) as having elucidated the point that teachers may, in fact, feel threatened by their students’ existing proficiency and knowledge of research in the way doctors despise patients consulting “Dr. Google” on their own.  I have often wondered why doctors dislike this (beyond the obvious, which is that the internet will pretty much diagnose you with nothing short of cancer for every mild ailment).  Is patient knowledge a threat to their own power and authority in the exam room?  Similarly, are teachers intimidated by students who dare to enter their classroom without the brand of “novice” upon them, thereby diminishing the teacher’s expertise and “master” status?  If so, that is a flimsy ledge to stand upon.  As teachers, I completely agree with Purdy and Walker, we should embrace, refine, and build upon the skills and abilities our students come to us already having possessed, and not be the impenetrable gatekeepers in these liminal spaces, barring our students from gaining entry, and experiencing success.

Critiquing Research

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This week we were assigned a variety of texts to read and digest. One text was clearly the front running in terms of taste, and the other three were pushed around the plate until I needed to leave the table. “Liminar Spaces and Research Identity” discusses the value of unlearning past researching techniques and starting over with a clean slate. It also encourages educators to meet students at their research level to increase student buy-in to learning and incorporating new methods. The “Swales & the Cars Model” document gives readers three options of how to outline the research process. “The Relative Contribution of L2 Language Proficiency and L1 Reading Ability…” gives readers an example of a research project and how to present the research in a paper. While I did not understand most of the mathematical information presented in the document, I understood that their paper was published in hopes of inspiring others to continue researching this theory. Bamford and Day’s reaction to Lee and Schallert gives readers an idea of the type of feedback researchers should be ready to receive once their work is published. Schallart and Lee respond to the criticism in a way that can be read sarcastically, but also in a way that proves they believed in their work. 

As previously stated, the article I connected with the most by Purdy and Walker was “Liminal Spaces and Research Identity.” This article allowed me to reflect on my own research practices as well as the methods I am using in the classroom. There were several sections from the text that stood out to me and got me thinking about changing my approach to teaching research and also got me interested in learning more about which research methods would work best for me and my thesis project. 

Key Quotes from “Liminal Spaces” (there are a lot, feel free to skim through):

Being a “good” academic researcher, according to these texts, requires students to leave behind their existing identities as online researchers. (10)

He asserts that “to cross the threshold,” that is, to literally or figuratively pass through a liminal space, “is to unite oneself with a new world” (20). Introductory composition classes serve as such a threshold into the “new world” of the academy. (11)

The proliferation of digital resources for finding, compiling, and con- tributing information has increased the uneasiness that teachers, librarians, administrators, and other academic professionals feel about the liminal sta- tus of students in these introductory courses. This uneasiness reveals itself in expressions of alarm that students do not, or cannot, consult the “right” online research sources and thereby will use inappropriate materials, as well as in the strict adherence to a static, product-oriented approach to searching for sources (see, e.g., Miller and Tegler 1986; Gillette and Videon 1998; Bur- ton and Chadwick 2000; Grimes and Boening 2001; Herring 2001; Graham and Metaxas 2003; Lederman 2004; Wang and Artero 2005; Hargittai et al. 2010).  (12)

As representatives of this boundary making, instructional materials are valuable starting points in our effort to trace the ill-matched connection between the research practices of students as they enter liminal educational spaces and the much more narrowly constructed practices allowed to the established researcher. Ultimately, because textbooks can strongly shape the teaching practices of composition instructors, especially those new to the field, a better understanding of how these texts work to shape identity is necessary; without it, we may be unable to assist students significantly in building the kind of robust research identities they will need in a complex, information-rich world. (15)

For instance, The Brief Wadsworth Handbook (Kirszner and Mandell 2007) presents “The Research Process” as a “systematic process” with eleven linear, sequential steps offered in the form of a checklist: “Move from an Assignment to a Topic. Do Exploratory Research and Formulate a Research Question. Assemble a Working Bibliog- raphy. Develop a Tentative Thesis. Do Focused Research. Take Notes. Fine- tune Your Thesis. Outline Your Paper. Draft Your Paper. Revise Your Paper. Prepare Your Final Draft” (109). Each step is treated in a distinct section of the text, following the order outlined in the checklist. (19-20)

The Cornell University Library website’s “Seven Steps” (Engle 2009), for example, explicitly places finding books prior to finding articles. It further explains, “The following seven steps outline a simple and effective strategy for finding information for a research paper and documenting the sources you find. Depending on your topic and your familiarity with the library, you may need to rearrange or recycle these steps. Adapt this outline to your needs.” (23)

Students are certainly one of the populations excluded from conversations that result in the academic making of knowledge, and although it is through the introductory composition course that students are seen as entering this institutional space, they are nevertheless identified as arriving in this space with a lack of ability to participate from a position of equality — or even at all. (24)

Students, in other words, must necessarily lack “expertise and technique” (Trimbur 1989: 611) so that academia can impart it to them. They can have “life experiences,” but we as academics have “knowledge and intellectual skills” (Kogan 2000: 210). Academics’ obligations include the creation of knowledge, while students’ obligations involve the adoption of specific skills and practices that may, in the future, be used to create knowledge. Before they can begin this work, they must adopt a new understanding of research that is more “scholarly”; however, introductory texts often define knowl- edge making as an activity that is engaged in by scholars, published through peer-reviewed journals and university presses, and documented by students through a process of research. The concept of knowledge making as an act engaged in by professionals through practices such as creating experiments, conducting ethnographies, or visiting archives is deemphasized, and the idea of students as engaged in such knowledge-making is even further deempha- sized. It is only later, when students enter their disciplines, that they may begin to use these activities of research to produce new knowledge. (25) 

For example, Vincent A. Anfara (1998: 3) notes that a position of liminality in high school settings can be perceived as either a location where students try on adult identities or a space where authority figures attempt to control the transition from childhood to adulthood in ways that emphasize students’ lack of power, freedom, or even ability to make the choices that will be required of them in the adult world. (26)

In making this assertion, we want to stress that guidance from profes- sors and librarians can be crucial to students’ ability to engage in the prac- tices of critique and self-orientation. We are not calling for less intervention or instruction. What we find, however, is that students are not given the oppor- tunity to evaluate the academically oriented practices they are instructed to follow. They are just to accept these practices and reject their old ones. When given this stark choice, students are likely either to cling to what is familiar (refusing to incorporate academic databases or search practices into their repertoire) or to create a boundary where personal research practices and academically oriented practices do not mix. Therefore, they miss the opportunity to learn to interrogate the appropriateness of these practices for different rhetorical situations — precisely the kind of instruction that teacher- scholars in English studies can provide. (27)

Finding value in the scholarly is certainly important, but a student’s sense of “scholarliness” and how to construct it through research is sadly narrowed, even crippled, when all he or she remembers is that certain locations, rather than certain activities, are scholarly. (30)

To be participatory citizens, students will need to be able to apply the kind of work they do in online spaces to other forums. If these activities are discredited, students may be less likely to find value in or critically interrogate them and therefore may be ill-prepared to effectively participate in civic activity. Students’ existing ways of approaching informa- tion are often well adapted to working with the diverse kinds of information available through digital environments. In other words, students bring neces- sary skills that cannot be abandoned if they intend to continue working with and making use of digital resources. (31)

This goal can be achieved, however, without forcing students to abandon the useful knowledge and skills that form their existing research identities. Students need to be able to make their own investigations into these practices and to understand the complexities and contradictions in the ways that aca- demic research practices create knowledge. We need to assist students in this learning by sharing with them examples of academic research processes as messy, tentative, and even contested. (34)

The above quotes resonate with my role as an educator and have impacted my instruction in the classroom already. My students are working on a research project and I have opened the door to the WWW for my students to explore global issues in connection with the literature they are reading. I had previously given my students a pathfinder document that the school Media Specialist created with links to credible websites, databases, and search tips. I did not tell my students directly to use this pathfind again for this assignment, but I noticed that some students had this document open on their screen when sharing their screen and their research. They were also asking if the information they found was credible. I thought that this lesson showed some students the value of using the strategies presented by the Media Specialist in the research while others were like the students in Purdy and Walker’s study Googling blindly. 

On Monday, I am going to ask students to reflect on their research methods with the following questions:

  1. Where did you start your research?
  2. What did not work for you?
  3. What worked for you?
  4. Where should you start your research next time?
  5. What did you learn about your research methods (identity)?

I am interested in seeing how my students are feeling about themselves as researchers and what they can learn from their experience with either using the pathfinder as a guide or combing the web looking for a document that proves their claim. 

Purdy and Walker’s work reminds me of a lot of the material covered in Dr. Zamora and Professor Kiefer’s classes. The works read and discussed in those classes talk about the writing process being ever changing and needing to be worked on and refined until we have “figured it out” for ourselves. In particular this work reminds me of Lauer’s “Rhetoric and Composition” chapter. The chapter discusses how instructors need to lead students in a direction that will help them develop into flexible and competent writers. Purdy and Walker’s work is talking about leading students in the direction that will help students develop into flexible and competent researchers. 

My questions about the texts are:

In relation to “Liminal Spaces and Research Identity” I wondered how many teachers actually put this much effort into creating a learning environment for students in terms of digital literacy and navigating through the WWW. Question: To what extent do educators of various disciplines prepare students for research? 

In connection to both “The Relative Contribution of L2 Language Proficiency and L1 Reading…” and “Comments on Lee and Schallert” I felt like a confused high school student in a math class reading about English class. Question: Why would researchers publish an article with minimal or inconclusive discovery? Why would researchers react to petty criticism with sarcasm if they thought their work had value? 

In relation to myself, I wonder how these texts will impact my work as a researcher and an educator. Question: To what extent will I polish my craft as an educator? What do I still need to learn about research in order to improve my craft as a writer? 

“Liminal Spaces and Research Identity”

James P. Purdy and Joyce Walker

This might sound a little harsh but so be it, “Liminal Spaces and Research Identity” reminded me of being in the military base. Well not me per say but from what I heard its like, discipline, discipline, and more discipline. I understand there are rules to conducting and writing research, but God forbid the new kids on the block try and reinvent the wheel to make their lives a little easier. I believe this article was a lot of this vs that, and I am more of a combination person. This article was heavy on the importance of how things should be done, and it is your responsibility to have the knowledge on getting it done. Academically of course. 

I found the connection between a students learning process and the way research is conducted to be a pretty judgmental one. Simply because in my opinion the research identity is strictly improving the knowledge towards academic environments. This article suggests that it actually is for nonacademic as well, that I don’t necessarily agree with. Also, I think its subjective to say that a students research process has begun once they reach university. There were a few different statements suggesting that there is some sort of separation between having life experiences and knowledge and intellectual skills. I personally believe that those all can be combined in order to be successful in different ways. I suppose I am still in the process of adapting to the new understanding of scholarly research, considering it has been many years since I had to do this. Therefore it might be difficult for me to fully agree at this point. 

“For development to be strong, it must be firmly rooted in the intellectual self-confidence of the disciplines and subject areas to which academics belong.”(p.24) Now I might not be 100% correct, but the way this translated to me based on the full sentiment was; there is a certain academic process of researching that is the absolute only way it should be conducted. “That is the context in which a sense of academic identity flourishes.” (p.24) 

 “ The texts we analyzed imply that for students to succeed as college researchers they need, in a sense, to abandon their current practices and admit that they do not know how to research.” (p.10) I always find it extremely interesting when professionals will deem one way of doing things the “correct” or “only” way. Research in the formal, old school manner has always been intimidating for myself, personally. I believe it’s safe to say that since the beginning of my research journey it hasn’t been fun. Although I love obtaining information, research itself has been overwhelming. The reason why I pointed out this section was because, I can admit that the traditional ways of conducting research, I might not fully know how to do it. But hey, I blame the internet. Now don’t get me wrong, I am very clear that just because it’s lives on the net doesn’t make it true. My undergrad was in Journalism, so I know a thing or two about fact checking. However, fact checking a news story, and conducting research for a 15-page paper has many differences. 

The issues that I have with the current research is that you have to literally do research on your research to make sure it is coming from a trusted source. That in itself can be a huge challenge, and not to mention very time consuming. Then again, I believe this is what was meant by stating, “ Being a ‘good’ academic researcher, according to these texts, requires students to leave behind their existing identities as online researchers.” (p.10) How researchers are trained to conduct research should just be put on hold while beginning new research. Now that is confusing, and probably another reason why research is still and always will be overwhelming for me. 

Overall, I believe and will forever stand by, no matter what type of written work one is doing, each instructor or each reader will have their preference of how they view the correct way.

Transparent moment: As I am still learning about the different methodologies, and really trying to break them down to my understanding. At this moment I am unable to identify what methodology that was used, and I would like to lean on my cohorts for help! If I had to attempt to break down what the question would be, I would actually show the other ways that research can be attempted without following the step by step traditional, old school way. So, the question would be can proper research officially be conducted with a new methodology, but as I am typing I know that with that statement I am just asking for trouble.