Colby students research elite education around the globe

Associate Professor of Education Adam Howard has developed a creative and interactive way to conduct his new research project.  Inspired by his prior research, he wanted to teach his class how wealthy students in elite school think about themselves and the world around them.  With this in mind, Howard chose to incorporate his students into a research project that studies this topic of privilege in the school system.

The Global Citizenship within Elite Educational Contexts project is described as “a multinational, multi-sited global ethnography exploring adolescents’ understandings of self, others, and the world around them with a particular focus on their understandings of what it means to be a global citizen.”

The project consists of studying schools and their students in six countries: Jordan, Denmark, Ghana, Brazil, Taiwan, and Australia. Howard wanted Colby students in his Elite Schooling in a Global Context course to help with this research, not only because he wanted his class to learn about privilege in a global context, but also because adolescents participating in the research would be more willing to open up and share their thoughts with people close to their age.

As Howard’s current research assistant Patrick (Pat) Stewart ’16 said, “This type of project allows the class a fantastic opportunity to dive into, and have a part in high level qualitative research with a professor who specializes in these topics.”

The study is broken down into three phases.  The first phase familiarizes students with the countries and the schools they will be studying.  The students must learn and present any information they find about their country, and figure out how this broad information might influence or affect the elite schools they will study.  The class must then conduct research on the specific school and present their findings in a case study.

The second phase of the project involves interviewing adolescents at the schools.  Each school must have four students interviewed, and each student must be interviewed three times. The reason for interviewing each student three times is that the research project has a systematic way to conduct each interview.  The first interview is an introduction where the students get to know one another.  The second involves talking about privilege and how the adolescent feels it impacts him or herself, others, and the world around him or her.  The final interview is a reflection interview.  Each interview takes about 60 to 90 minutes.All of these interviews are transcribed and analyzed by Howard’s class and a case study is done on the participants.

However, the research does not stop there. Howard wanted a third phase in which he would travel to the schools and conduct interviews with teachers and the administration. Howard is not alone in his efforts.  Stewart and recent graduate Sangay Thinley ‘15 work alongside him.  Stewart has been working closely with Howard since fall of 2014.  He has flown to the school in Denmark with Howard to conduct interviews and even attended the graduation there.  Together, Howard, Stewart, and Thinley plan on using their combined efforts to write a book on the research they gathered.

Though things appear to be running smoothly, a research project like this one is not without its challenges.  A project of this scale has a lot of moving pieces, so many that it can be difficult to keep track of all of them.

“I haven’t done a project this big since early in my career,” Howard explained.

Additionally, the adolescents being interviewed live busy lives.  They attend elite schools with a lot of work.  Being in the midst of the college application process can often complicate communications.  Howard explained that connecting with the students, and having them be able to make the time to communicate and follow up is often difficult.

Looking forward, the group has an upcoming trip to Jordan in March.  One regret that Howard and  Stewart had from their trip to Denmark was the lack of photos they took.  They intend to change that for the next trip.  They hope that adding pictures to the study would help to capture the visual effects that privilege has on these schools, and add visual evidence to their research of the disparity between privileged and impoverished schools. After the trip to Jordan, and the following trips to Ghana and Australia, the three should have all they need to write and eventually publish their research.

“This type of research project is typically only available for graduate level students,” Stewart explained. “Adam has been incredibly helpful in allowing me to work at a level where we are producing publishable research.”

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