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Review of Relevant Literature

“Problematising” your problem

Blending reductionist and systems perspective

From the reductionist perspective, we seek to understand the problem, its direct and indirect causes, and to analyse each component of the problem. Here, understanding is sought by decomposing the problem situation into its constituent parts and examining flaws or unresolved challenges in the components and / or their modes of interaction. This kind of approach can be very useful, especially for identifying the root causes of certain problems. It helps to ensure that we will design solutions and not merely treat symptoms. But to understand problems fully (and especially to design solutions for them), we also need a holistic understanding of the problem, and how components in its system interact … Systems are composed of dynamic and interdependent sets of elements that, through interaction, function as a whole. Educational systems, like human bodies, are extremely complex; and their inner workings are far from being comprehensively understood. In addition, some aspects of the system are more subject to being influenced, or manipulated, whereas change can be difficult or impossible in other aspects of the system. The system lens helps us to acknowledge changeable elements and those that seem unchangeable, and to seek out elements that are open to improvement (p.96).

Using both reductionist and systems perspectives during analysis, the aim is to first portray the situation as it is and provide explanations for this; second to assess what is desired; and third, to distinguish between potentially changeable and unchangeable elements in the target setting (p.96).

Theoretical understanding supports problematization

Problematization is the process of seeking new perspectives and challenging existing assumptions in relation to particular phenomena. In the analysis phase … it can be useful to problematize aspects of the existing situation, the desired situation, the context, and especially the stakeholders … Multiple theories and approaches have been developed in the social sciences that can be leveraged for this purpose (p.97).

Which of the theories or theoretical approaches you have come across during both Part 1 (DCL Certificate) and Part 2 of the MCE might provide useful lenses through which to view your problem? You are likely to find that you could use more than one of these - but be careful of using too many. One approach might be to use a particular lens for a specific component or group of components included in your problem. The trick is to ensure that the theories or theoretical approaches you use are compatible and do not contradict one another. For example, you might use aspects of heutagogy, complex leadership (Cynefin Framework) and Post-colonial or Critical Race Theory in combination. Here is a reminder of some of these theories or theoretical approaches that you might use: constructivism; constructionism; connectivism; distributed leadership; transformational leadership; growth mindset; complexity; critical theories; personalised learning; heutagogy; problem-based learning; connected learning; flow theory, etc.

The literature review serves three main purposes. Namely, it helps develop a broader understanding of the problem at hand, provides ideas which can help shape data collection, and assists in identifying frameworks (or important elements thereof) for data analysis. In conducting a literature review, it is often useful to assume that the problem which has been identified, or at least many of the themes associated with the problem, have been experienced elsewhere and reported on. The literature review is best served by creating questions that are, in essence, posed ‘to’ the literature. The literature review questions can be generated by thinking about this main question: “What can literature tell us about this kind of problem; this type of context; and given these, typical concerns of these kinds of stakeholders?” The goal of the literature review is not to find the answer to the question: “What should we do to solve this problem?” Rather, the goal is to discover how others have experienced this or similar problems, and to examine how and why these problems were addressed, with what results (p.101).

Task for you Project: “What can literature tell us about this kind of problem; this type of context; and given these, typical concerns of these kinds of stakeholders?” Formulate 4-6 questions (addressing the issues raised in this quotation) that you will use to interrogate the literature.

A well-structured process and product

There are many different types of literature reviews used in the social sciences. Two primary types, structured and systematic, are common in educational design research. Both occur more often during early stages of analysis and exploration in a design research project. A structured literature review summarises and synthesises current knowledge (theoretical, methodological, and / or substantive) about a particular topic. Systematic reviews use a highly structured process to collect and analyze insights from multiple sources. While particular details vary per type, the following ten steps are common to most literature review processes:

  1. Identify themes

  2. Draft research questions posed to literature

  3. Create a search plan

  4. Conduct the search, document results

  5. Read abstracts to identify papers worth obtaining

  6. Obtain and scan full papers; snowball [let one clue lead to another] sample authors/journals/bookshelves.

  7. Read and take notes from each source

  8. Group notes according to emerging themes

  9. Synthesise the groups of themes, also identify gaps in the literature that warrant being addressed by new research [the topic of a following sprint!]

  10. Record your literature review.

Task for your Project: Complete your review of relevant literature, using the ten steps outlined above as a guideline.

Documenting your findings

Because you do not write a thesis for the MCE but complete a Practice-based Change Project, you will not be required to submit a formal literature review for the 9200 Course. In effect, you have already conducted a form of literature review during completion of Part 2 of the programme. What is missing from your current understanding of the literature, however, is detailed knowledge of literature that relates specifically to the problem and associated research question(s) that you will set out to answer during the implementation of your project.

Once you have completed interrogating the literature, as suggested above, the question is: how will you document your findings from the literature so that they are both easily accessible and also maximally useful during the design and implementation of the project? It is also important to remember that the literature review will not necessarily end here. You might be required to read further sources during the planning, implementation or evaluation of your Project. So, you also need to document your findings so that they can easily be added to.

Using the suggested steps above, it might be easiest to group your findings in terms of emerging themes and possible gaps in the literature. Be very careful of assuming that there are gaps in the literature - unless you actually come across authors who specifically state that these gaps do actually exist in the literature. Often gaps you identify might simply be a result of limited searching of available literature on a specific topic.

What platforms might you use for the purpose of documenting your literature? Again, this depends to a great deal on your own personal preferences. Here are some things to consider:

  • With which platforms are you currently very comfortable?

  • Where do you currently document your findings from literature?

  • It is important to be able to view your findings globally (i.e. across all themes) as well as being able to drill down to specific details.

  • It is also important to capture all information required for referencing at the point of data collection- so that you do not have to waste time searching for something when you have forgotten where you found it.

  • Bear in mind the fact that you will want to use these findings from literature after you have completed the MCE and thus need to ensure that the information you have collected is easily accessible / transferable.

  • Might it be useful to create a shared literature findings space with someone who is researching a very similar field / problem to the one you are researching?

  • Decide on the format in which you wish to document your findings: spreadsheet; digital flashcards; document; mind map etc.

  • Now choose a platform(s) that enables you to document your findings from literature in the format that works for you.

  • You might even use more than one platform, for example, both your eportfolio as well as a references management tool, like Mendeley.

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