Education is a broad and diverse field that incorporates ideas and concepts from a wide range of other disciplines. As we learned in our Leadership in Education and Ways of Knowing courses, education as a field has struggled with being taken seriously as a professional field for reasons that can be tied to the traditional domination of positivist thinking found in the scientific process. For as challenging as this situation is for the field, it is also one of the primary reasons why a person with my educational background, professional experiences, and areas of interest is able to enter the field with relatively few barriers.
Understanding the historical context of the field, challenges facing those who are considered leaders in the profession, and the valuable perspectives of my peers and colleagues who consider themselves educators has been a unique learning experience for me. I have gained access to a host of ideas and concepts that help explain how education has evolved over the centuries and where it is now including how the work of Descartes not only influenced the field of physics but how it changed the way we as a society perceive the world and conceptualize knowledge. From these general culture courses I have been able to take many of the foundational concepts – understanding of the world (ways of knowing), production of knowledge, leadership – to the research methods and specialization courses I have taken thus far.
One theme that seems to run through nearly every course I have taken is this idea that how I perceive the world, come to develop knowledge, and take in information will influence my work as a scholar. My assumptions and biases are developed by how I have come to understand the world. These assumptions and biases not only have an impact on the research questions I will ultimately explore, but they will also influence my interactions with others (i.e. colleagues, research participants). For this reason, I have learned, it is imperative not only to make these assumptions explicit but it is also important to be reflective as I learn new materials so that I am aware of the implicit knowledge, biases, and assumptions that I may not have realized I had. All three educational research classes have hammered home this point by focusing on our identity as researchers and the key components of choose and writing about a particular methodology.
Within my specialization these concepts have been at the forefront of many of our course discussions. In the Introduction to International Education and Research Inquiries in International Education, it was evident that our identities as Western researchers and training in the U.S. educational system would greatly influence the questions we ask and how we interpret the data after it has been collected. While exploring visual methods in research inquiries in international education, for example, we were asked to describe our own researcher identities early on. This was helpful for me because it allowed me to uncover assumptions I would not have known I had and made me think harder about why I choose to focus on some ideas more than others.
What is more, it is not just about making explicit my assumptions and identity as a researcher, it is equally important to define terms that may have nuanced definitions or could easily be interpreted differently by a scholar from another discipline. International education, as my specialization courses have highlighted, is a particularly ambiguous phrase because it can easily be defined in several different ways. This phrase can be defined differently depending on the topic you are exploring – international exchange, American schools, comparative policy, curriculum – which can be a benefit and a challenge when looking at issues in this field. The phrase allows a level of flexibility for scholars to use “international education” to describe multiple ideas, but it also highlights the importance of defining terms and making the scholar’s background explicit to reduce the likelihood that others misinterpret or misunderstand the context of the research question. This has not come easily, and I am still working to identify terms that can be problematic.
What has been helpful to my growth in this area, however, has been my interactions with peers and professors. Receiving constructive feedback from those colleagues with whom I have built a sense of trust has been a tremendous opportunity to grow and learn in my walk as a scholar. These interactions and course discussions have made the case for looking at issues from a more interdisciplinary and holistic lens. Collaboration has been a key theme that has also made its way into many of my courses and the professors have delineated clear examples of how collaboration has enhanced their own research interests. Though I yet find myself making assumptions and jumps in my thought process that I fail to include in my writing, I have found that collaborating with colleagues that are diverse in their ways of knowing, backgrounds, and areas of focus has been important to my growth as a scholar. Thus, it is not just the concepts and themes that I have learned in my courses that have contributed to my development of knowledge, it is also the opportunities for collaboration that have contributed to my scholarly growth.