Primary versus secondary. Only primary sources may be used in OL201 and only the course readings will be used to interpret your primary sources.
The most basic definition of a primary source is that it provides data from first hand observation. A secondary source is once removed from the primary source.
For this course, you are a primary source and the dataset is created from your personal experience, within the parameters (date range and specific types of experiences) set by the instructor for the course. There are qualitative methodologies, such as autoethnography, that provide a systematic approach for engaging with personal experience.
A secondary source may engage with an analysis and interpretation of a primary source or provide a theoretical perspective. In this course, you are going to be given academic content (course readings, such as textbook chapters and journal articles) which you will then use to enhance your analysis of your primary dataset.
Research questions and the research process
Research is question driven; however, engaging in research is not about finding specific answers to factual questions. It is not about what you already know - it’s about what you don’t know. Starting with a question helps you keep an open mind, and avoid confirmation bias. If you already have an answer in mind you will naturally want to focus on sources that support your particular viewpoint and you will be more likely to overlook or fail to recognize the value of sources that contradict your perspective. Be prepared to adjust your thinking as your knowledge grows.
Strategies for identifying and generating questions to help with recognizing information gaps
When compiling your personal dataset, think about the academic content covered in class: What are the key concepts, how are those concepts significant, and what insights do they provide in connection to your personal experience?
- For example, some of the course content that I identified as particularly relevant for me, was the concept of servant leadership and also storytelling as a way of creating a shared vision and communicating knowledge. In my work as a librarian, my goal is to empower students to be able to meet their information needs, which can be viewed as servant leadership on a smaller scale, and I often use stories of my own library research experience to exemplify the cognitive aspects of the research process.
The course readings can help you think about your personal experiences with a new perspective and assist you with identifying which experiences are most relevant to draw on in order to compile your personal dataset.
Sometimes researchers will explicitly identify questions in their work or something you read might raise a question for you. Ask yourself, why are those questions significant? Understanding the question(s) researchers are engaging with in their research can also help you critically evaluate those sources.
A question may not always explicitly look like a question, so you may have to read carefully to see them.
For example, in the article “A review of servant leadership attributes: developing a practical model” by Russell and Stone (2002), the authors write, “If servant leadership is different from other forms of leadership, then one should be able to observe characteristics and behaviors in such leaders that are distinctive” (p.145). This is a working hypothesis, but they are basically asking the question, what characteristics and behaviours are unique to servant leaders?
When using questions to move your inquiry forward, you need to keep in mind the following:
- Do those questions give you new insight into your personal experiences you can draw on?
- How do the questions move your inquiry and knowledge forward?
Making effective use of your course readings
Do not read only to find facts. Read to understand arguments and look at the evidence the author(s) uses to support those arguments.
- For example, Russell and Stone (2002), clearly identify the guiding goals of their work in the section with the heading Purpose. The overarching purpose of their work is identified when they write: “The primary purpose of this article is to examine the existing literature that relates to the concept of servant leadership and thereby develop a researchable model of the theory” (p.145). They also want to evaluate and organize the attributes of servant leaders and use this information to create a rational model. This model can then act as a foundation to inform both behaviour in practice and to guide future research.
- When you read this article, think about how the authors identify the attributes of servant leadership.
Look for noticeable themes and connections across the sources you are reading. You will notice that the authors in some of your course readings do exactly this.
- Across the sources I read, I noticed a consistent effort to link theory to practice and establish an empirical foundation for the theory. This means I will want to be mindful of how these links are developed and what evidence is presented.
- A desire to establish clear definitions for certain concepts like, leadership and leadership styles, and servant leadership. I will want to be mindful of how definitions might vary and why those variations occur, and I will want to ask the question "how do my sources 'speak' to each other?"
- For the course readings ask yourself: why was this reading assigned and what purpose is it intended to serve in developing my knowledge?