Monday, April 16, 2007

Reading Dissertations

I've been reading a lot of dissertations lately as part of the PBL meta-analysis that I'm working on. I have slightly mixed feelings about them so far--in some cases they are amazing sources for additional literature (in fact the bulk of my time is spent chasing some of these references, and the nice thing about reading the dissertations is they usually give you a lot more information about what they're citing than a journal article--e.g. I generally have a good idea about whether or not the article will be codeable for our purposes). Some of them are downright horrible, I'm amazed at how little information can be packed into 180 pages. Some are really quite strong and some (this is my epiphany for the day) are quite reflective about the makeup of the dissertation committee behind them.

I for instance recently read one such dissertation (on PBL) that contained an extensive review of behaviorism. I don't want to start an epistemological argument or anything, but my general view (shared by several others) is that PBL is quite pragmatic. I know others feel that it's very post-positivist or constructivist and I can certainly see the merits of this opinion. I've even seen efforts to tie PBL in with cognitive information processing, and yes there's some good connections to be made there, but I have yet to see (with the exception of this dissertation) a tie to behaviorism. Ok ok, I know I'm traversing categories of educational philosophy as well as learning theories, but at the end of the day I haven't seen a whole lot of people making ties between behaviorism and PBL. The dissertation in question wasn't using behaviorism as the only tie-in, in fact constructivism was given a great deal of prominence as well. What the lit review read like was one or more committee members with strong epistemological beliefs insisting that both "views" be represented. If that was indeed the case then yikes.

It's also got me thinking a lot more about how much a dissertation reflects the committee that participated in the effort, and the department/program the dissertation came out of. It seems like that would be a good set of glasses for all of us to put on as a dissertation reaches the closing stages. And of course it gets me thinking about whether or not I've made unreasonable requests as a committee member . . . I don't think I have but I've got a sneaking suspicion that I'm probably the worst person to make that call.

1 comment:

marry said...
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