My purpose in joining the EDDA initiative for teachers was to see if I could help students to delve deeper into their chosen topics by introducing a new element to the Senior Project process. I had noticed over the years that the students who were most successful were the ones who had made some sort of personal connection to their topic, especially when another person was involved. After some reflection I decided to include to require an expert interview as a component of their research. My hope was that this would both help students focus on sifting through possible research resources to find information relevant to important background information for their interview questions as well as to help them then refine voicing those findings in their research document and presentation. The interviews were also an attempt to steer students away from computer screens and into the real world with real experts to, hopefully, initiate community involvement in the research process as well as to give them another tool for doing research in the future.
The interview idea was one that had been brewing in my thoughts for a couple of years. Students in the past had done interviews, of course, as part of their Senior Projects, but only if they requested to use that as one of their 10 required sources. This year I included an interview right from the start and explained the idea of finding an expert in the particular field they had chosen to research. My hope was twofold: that this would add a human component to their mostly solitary process of research, mostly on the internet, these days, and, secondly to push them out into the community with the hopes that in the process of finding the expert to interview and then conducting the interview, they would have more of a connection with the community and involve family, friends, and community members in the expert search. Ideally, this could even lead to a relationship with community leaders or perhaps ties to organizations closely related and integral to their chosen topic of research, since I assumed some targeted experts would be community leaders. My ideal was not realized in every case, of course, but some students did find some remarkably knowledgeable individuals to interview and sometimes came away with new insights into their topic that led to changes in their outlook or even their thesis. For example, one student was doing his topic on police brutality in Oakland, and initially had a thesis forcefully condemning police policy in our city. He then interviewed a citizen on the Police Review Board and found that when delving deeper into controversial police actions, things are not always so cut and dry. Policing is a tough job and right and wrong often reside right along with one’s perspective. He added a page on how tough it is to be an Oakland cop, and this helped to balance the numerous incidents he cited when police actions resulted in controversy or even in the death of the suspects. In giving advice to police in Oakland, the student wrote: “The more you learn about differences in the community the better you will be addressing the crime and getting the support of those within the community. Reaching out and engaging key members of the community will teach you a lot about how to make the places in Oakland safer. Do not come to the city with a military-mind set. Come to the job with a public service mind set and working with members of the community to make it safe.” This particular student example and his take on multiple perspectives is not only a clear example of issue analysis, but also implies a desire to take action in his community, and to encourage others to do the same. This interview pushed him to consider multiple perspectives, which allowed him to take a more compassionate approach when making recommendations of how police officers should conduct themselves in the community.
Interviewing people who have a different take on the topic can be a very powerful tool and will definitely remain on the list of requirements in years to come!
I interviewed another focal student who had chosen to research her possible future career and had a target audience of people considering a career in cosmetology. She told me that having that particular group as a target audience helped her focus on what resources to use when taking notes. She also had some positive observations about the value of using an interview as a source for her research. She reported that doing an interview with a person who was currently in cosmetology college gave her some great insights into how to choose a good school and what to expect when beginning the courses. She said, “A person can actually answer a lot of questions that the internet or a book cannot.” She further stated that, “ There’s a better perspective if you actually talk to a person who had the experience.” She also observed that, “there are only things you can hear from an interview and its also nice to talk to someone who has actually been through the process.” Later in the interview, she reflected that, “when you are researching it for a paper you have to look more deep into a subject and that gives you a better insight into that subject.” That last comment in particular warmed my heart, because that was, after all, what I was hoping for in my inquiry question for EDDA this year – that including the focal audience and the interview components would help students delve deeper into their chosen topics and thus add new insights and add an element of community involvement into their Senior Project research papers and presentations.
For me, EDDA has been a catalyst for innovation in my classroom, particularly when it comes to breathing new life into my instruction, deepening student involvement in their Senior Projects and promoting community action. The goals of finding tools to help students delve deeper into their chosen topics, to be able to analyze issues, take action and then reflect on their work are ones I will continue to utilize and expand upon in years to come.