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Research as a Journey: The New Researcher as a First-Time Traveller

By Michael Gaffney
Published in NZ Research in Early Childhood Education Journal


going on a journey are you coming?Beginning the Journey

This paper uses journey as a metaphor, and to a lesser extent problem solving, to provide a framework for understanding the activity that more early childhood practitioners are finding themselves in - research. For someone setting out on the research journey for the first time the whole experience seems daunting if not overwhelming. Perhaps very similar to taking a first train ride.

This is travel into a foreign land where everything is new and our state of arousal is markedly higher than we are used to and, therefore, we are also more stressed. Meanwhile, those around us who are frequent travellers seem to take it all for granted looking relatively relaxed and going about their business without a thought to the new traveller's anxieties. Yes, these frequent travellers can find the right train, respond appropriately to all the heavily-accented information coming across the loud speaker, and appear very relaxed as they wait. And don't you feel obvious standing on the platform - alone - although unbeknownst to you, perhaps, there are other new first-time travellers who are as equally puzzled as you are.

So how did frequent travellers become so comfortable with this business of travel? Were they born to it or did their parents induct them when they were young? What follows is an elaboration of the various elements of the journey into research. Each part of the research journey has tasks and challenges, which I will elaborate on using my other metaphor of problem solving.

It is no different to how we think about the strand of exploration in Te Whaariki for children. Who is there to support the learner? What is the balance of formal teaching and independent learning about any particular aspect of the problem-solving activity? Is it okay to make mistakes? How can more experienced learners provide a safe environment for early exploration so that the beginner experiences success and does not get discouraged? How do beginning researchers develop working theories for making sense of the research process?

What you are reading now is my own working theory about the research process. Each research journey provides new learning, which contributes to the skills the researcher takes on the next journey. There will be all sorts of challenges. Some very new and others we have had experience of before. There will be the big questions to answer such as where am I going on this journey and why is it important to make it? And there are the day-to-day sort of problems, those smaller details that still impact on the success of the journey. For example, how will I record data from an interview? Unfortunately the questions that at first glance, seem trivial can turn out to have much greater impact later on. For the new researcher the problems and questions are coming at you from many different levels. Without previous research experience to see how all these decisions come together to create the journey, managing the experience can become quite stressful.

The following describes some of the different parts of the journey and reflects on some of the things I have learnt. This article is my attempt at a short travel guide, if you like, for the beginning researcher.

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