At last, my BCM212 research on language barriers and Vietnamese international undergraduates at UOW has officially been finished. The progress has engraved in my mind the values of good research and good researchers – particularly critical judgement, social responsibility, and flexibility – as well as brushing up on my communications strategy planning skills.
I started my project by skimming (and devouring, at points) a vast range of scholarly articles and other resources online, meaning critical evaluation of information was crucial. The first thing to do was confirm the sources’ credibility, and after that, as McIlvenny (2013, p. 18) lists out, the process involved “interpreting, analyzing, … comparing, questioning, generalizing”, although it was never a linear one. In fact, I had to go over the above steps multiple times for each source before grouping them into categories, and even as I was writing the report, I constantly referred back to the gathered information, matching them with the findings from the primary research, sorting out the necessary ones and leaving out the redundant.
Since I utilized a combination of methods in the project – a survey, a focus group, an interview, each digging deeper into the topic, the amount of quantitative and qualitative data collected was overwhelmingly immense. I was, therefore, required to “identify … the strength or weakness of [each] piece of reasoning” (Lim 2015, p. 13) and information, chopping off nearly one-half of the first draft to fit within the word limit. However, this resulted in a highly concise report, succinctly written, with only the essential ideas retained.
Thinking critically, one should also ask him/herself “Who benefits from [the issue’s] problematization?” (Lim 2013, p. 17), which poses the issue of social responsibility. The original idea for this project stemmed from my own experiences, which urged me to help other Vietnamese international students feel less alone and might receive more help from the University. In her blog post, McCarthy says “the point is not to ‘check a box’ on empathy … [but the] ongoing development of empathy”, and this deeply resonates with my own discipline; my personal experiences have allowed me to empathize with my research target, and that empathy is what motivates me throughout the project.
According to Daedlow et. al. (2016, p. 4), Ethics – ethical and transparent reflection on risks and research impacts – is a criterion for a socially responsible research. I have strictly followed the Code of Ethics (MEAA 2016), striving to “interpret honestly” and disclose “all essential facts” when reporting on my findings. During the design of my survey, focus group questions, and interview schedule, I made sure they were “fair, responsible and honest means” to obtain the information I aimed to discover.
An incident which struck me hard was an email from a survey respondent, to whom I had sent an invitation to my (unfortunately cancelled) focus group with a few other Vietnamese students. I had never met this girl before, but she said she felt so understood, and she shared her own experiences. She even offered to let me use her story as material for my project. Her email made me aware how much impact my research can have on others and reminded me how I can help them, and my empathy has gained me – virtually a stranger – her trust.
That email was only one surprise on the road; I was ambushed by even more, and flexibility fought them all. When my focus group with Vietnamese students had been cancelled due to our inability to set up a date and time, I thought I would just skip it. However, in a tutorial, there was fortunately enough time for a quick focus group, so I took out the extra set of questions I had made earlier and ran the session.
I received such informative inputs that I encountered another problem: the research was branching out into another direction, and all I could do was “enjoy the mess” and hope that it would guide me to more “innovative outcome” (Dugan 2017). It did. Pulling together the ideas from background research, survey data, and answers to focus group and interview questions, I frequently “revisit[ed] and revise[d]” (Wang & Park 2016, p. 242) my sources, especially when that change to the focus group meant “a change of theoretical direction” (Wang & Park 2016, p. 238).
The entire progress of the research has been updated on my blog, which is the main channel for communicating my outcomes with my audience including stakeholders, under the BCM212 category, and I have also emailed the suggestions from the research to Student Wellbeing as planned.
This past semester dedicated to the project has taught me valuable lessons on my skills as a researcher and Communication students. I have learnt so much, and cannot wait to apply them to my future projects.
Daedlow, K, Podhora, A, Winkelmann, M, Kopfmaller, J, Walz, R, & Helming, K 2016, ‘Socially responsible research processes for sustainability transformation: an integrated assessment framework’, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, vol. 23, pp. 1-11.
Dugan, M n.d., Tolerating Ambiguity, knowinnovation, weblog post, viewed 1 June 2017, <http://knowinnovation.com/2013/04/tolerating-ambiguity/>.
Lim, L 2015, ‘Critical thinking, social education and the curriculum: foregrounding a social and relational epistemology’, Curriculum Journal, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 4-23.
McCarthy, KD 2017, More than checking the empathy box, dscount, weblog post, 8 March, viewed 1 June 2017, <https://blog.dscout.com/martha-cotton-fjord-people-nerds>.
McIlvenny, L 2013, ‘Critical and creative thinking in the new Australian curriculum part one’, Access, no. 1, p. 18.
Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance 2016, Media Alliance Code of Ethics, Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, viewed 23 April 2017, <https://www.meaa.org/resource-package/meaa-code-of-ethics/>.
Wang, GT, & Park, K 2016, Student Research and Report Writing : From Topic Selection to the Complete Paper, Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex.
P.s.: Here’s the link to my infographic in case you’re interested: