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Reflections on the early stages of my Research Project

Reflections on the early stages of my Research Project

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Shirley Murray. Originally submitted for Research Project Module at Dublin City University, with lecturer Trudy Corrigan in the category of Teacher Education
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Shirley Murray. Originally submitted for Research Project Module at Dublin City University, with lecturer Trudy Corrigan in the category of Teacher Education

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Reflections on the early stages of my Research ProjectSince I began tutoring in Adult Literacy five years ago, I have had a wish to tutor within thePrison Education Service. I am not really sure where this wish originated, but I suspect it stemsfrom the fact that I am a passionate supporter of life-long learning and second-chance education, particularly for people who have suffered educational inequalities during childhood. However Inever imagined for one minute that, five years on, I would find myself in university doingresearch into prison education.Back in October when I was putting together the proposal for this research project, I had no ideathat doing it would present such a variety of challenges for me; not just academic challenges, butalso personal ones. Although I read much of the recommended readings on how to embark on aliterature review, I still found myself getting almost overwhelmed by the task of sifting through itall. I became very unsure at times, not only about choosing the right data, but also about using itwisely, objectively and ethically. I was aware that some of the literature I was reading related toreal people who were experiencing hardships brought on, in many cases, by life experiences over which they had very little control. However, I realise that these uncertainties have made memore conscious of the importance of good ethics in research, and I have made a mental note of this for project two, when I will be out there doing the actual fieldwork.A very particular issue arose for me while doing the literature review that I did not envisage; thequestion of linguistics. As I progressed through the literature, I found myself going back toearlier passages I had written in my review, and questioning some of the words, terms and phrases I had used. I became very sensitive to the meanings and inferences of words, and felt a
need to be very careful that my words or terms would not be misconstrued by potential readers.This involved a process of reflecting, and re-reflecting to a degree that I have never done beforewhile doing an assignment. I even reworded my research question, eliminating certain wordsthat I felt might have different connotations for others than they have for me. I am aware that Istill have a lot to learn in terms of research but I really welcome the learning that has resultedfrom this, my first experience in the area. I feel it will be invaluable to me in any further studiesI may take up after my degree.The personal issue I referred to earlier was more difficult to negotiate, and I suspect it willcontinue to be so throughout the research process next semester. Although it did not surfacewhile doing the literature review, I feel it is appropriate to outline it here as it has prompted meto critically reflect on the fact that perceptions and outlooks are very different for people,depending on their circumstances.While making some inquiries in October last year about gaining access to current and ex- prisoners, I was put in touch with a man who had served mandatory life sentence. My contactfor this person told me that the ex-prisoner was willing to be interviewed by me, so I suggested a preliminary, informal meeting with him to outline the focus of my research. We met in his placeof work where he now facilitates troubled teenagers in the area of anger management andconflict resolution. Although he is fully open to the world about his past, I will not give anyinformation here which could expose his identity.He came across as an intelligent, articulate and compassionate man. He was very interested inmy research and proceeded to tell me about his own experience of education. He left school at
fifteen, fell into the wrong kind of lifestyle, and at the age of twenty-four, was sentenced to lifeimprisonment; he served fifteen and a half years. While in prison he did the leaving cert,successfully completed a degree in social studies, and after his release he completed a Masters. Ifelt a real admiration for how he had turned his life around.While discussing the barriers he faced to education in prison, he indicated that the ‘media’caused him particular problems. He explained that towards the end of his sentence he wasgranted day release at times to attend courses outside the prison, but that this became verydifficult for him as he was always followed by reporters. As this represented a ‘barrier’ to thisman in terms of his participation in education, I later did a Google search in an effort to locatethe media coverage of which he spoke. However, I had not anticipated that this search wouldlead me face-to-face with the details of his crime. I can honestly say that I never experiencedsuch a conflict of personal values in all of my years, as I did in the days that followed. On theone hand, I was in awe of how this man had turned his life around, on the other, I knew that if that if I had been directly affected by his crime, I would not want him alive, let alone have aneducation.The reason I feel it appropriate to relate this story here is that it has turned out to be atransformative learning experience for me, one that would not have taken place had I notembarked on an undergraduate degree and found myself doing research in the area of socialstudies and the humanities. I had to ask myself some serious questions regarding continuing theresearch; I was not sure I could do it. I considered changing to something completely different,and reflected on this for a long time. Eventually, I realised that what was happening for me, was

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