Building a Research Family


Marisa and Wanju revisit their journey towards building a “research family.”

Marisa: By my second year as an assistant professor in 2014, I had three doctoral students. Each was highly experienced in their own prior professional life, but only one had significant prior experience conducting research. We began meeting as a group and the first thing I asked the students to do was “write a literature review on a topic that interests you.”  I soon learned that this was both too structured and not structured enough – it did not leverage their strengths or draw them into something that really interested them, and they did not yet have the background in finding and synthesizing literature, which was particularly problematic as each selected a topic that was not particularly easy to search on.

Since then, the research team has grown and added many members with disparate professional backgrounds.  Different members come and go.  We have read and discussed articles as a group, broken off to work on various research projects, and set up times to walk through activities together, such as writing design case papers aimed at the International Journal of Designs for Learning. A core group of students kept coming, so I assume there was something in it for them. Yet, I continued to struggle between adding structure and keeping the experience collaborative and authentic.  What could I do to make this research group really meet the needs and interests of all the group members?

Wanju: When the invitation arrived at my doorstep, I asked myself if I really wanted to join a research group. What does a research group look like? What do those people do exactly? So many questions went through my mind. Finally, I decided to take a leap of faith to join Marisa’s research group. 

Just like a fairy tale – the group lives happily ever after. Haha …..

Marisa: I was really happy to have you join! Having another perspective has really moved us forward in thinking of different ways to facilitate the group’s experience.

Wanju: Honestly, I thought it was just a one-time deal. Since I need to take a lunch break anyway, why not having my lunch with your research group. 🙂 Meeting with your students and getting to know your design case group was amazing. You opened a door for me. I truly didn’t know the journal of designs for learning existed until that meeting, even though I have been doing similar things for a long time. Also, it was nice to know that students wanted to learn more about the applications of instructional design and technology. I felt there was something I could contribute to the group. I was happy to find my academic family. 🙂

Marisa: It has been really helpful to begin to co-lead the group with you.  We bring in different things and have different philosophies. 

Wanju: Because of my work experience, I tend to focus more on the applications of instructional design and technology. To me, you are more research-driven. Having these two perspectives seems to be very helpful to the group. The conversations we have had with the group do not dwell on either side. It is very often back and forth between these two perspectives or in-between. Personally, it is very helpful to the students since our field is so versatile. One of my goals as a professor in LDT is to ensure that students have the knowledge and skills needed for the profession beyond/outside of higher education. 

Marisa: That is true. I think both of us lean towards research that is applied or has applications – although I do not have the hands-on ID experience you do to inform my work in that realm.  I can contribute my experience with research and research methodologies, but also like to bring in other topics that impact all of us (students and faculty) as academics, such as mental wellness.

One thing I like is that we have in common with our students is our interdisciplinary interests and backgrounds. I have a background in computer science and software development. Among our team we have members with backgrounds in psychology, human-computer interaction, game design, journalism, linguistics, management, microbiology, forestry, engineering….wow, we have an interesting group! I like that we both have a desire to embrace and leverage everyone’s experiences and what they have to offer as a “whole person”, rather than the deficit model of seeing grad students as buckets we need to fill with primarily research-oriented topics.

Wanju: I love that philosophy of seeing students as a whole person and an agent whom we (as faculty) can learn from and grow together with. This is where we came up with the idea of a “research family” — which we are presenting on at AECT.

Marisa: I hope this blog will become another way for our “family members” to come together. We would like everyone to contribute to the blog — can be about research but also other topics and experiences.  I can’t wait to see what comes out of it!

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