By Ron Tinsley
I have a news flash for all those “researchers” out there who think they know about adjunct faculty. I am an adjunct, and I use research in my classrooms.
With so much material available online and in newspapers, magazines and academic journals, how do we decide what is trustworthy? For some people, the name of a reputable scholar attached to an article is enough. Sometimes, seeing the word ‘thinktank’ is enough. The truth is that with so many articles written, it’s impossible to verify everything you read. As an adjunct, I collect information from various sources to present to my students to help test their perceptions. I also try to research data I disagree with to see if I can glean appropriate information from it. I have learned the hard way how it feels when you present info to students and they ask for an opinion from the other side. It can make you look biased (even though you may not be.)
But when does using research, facts and statistics in a classroom become a liability?
Citing statistics to support your arguments is a given in our society, whether we’re the water cooler or participating in a conference. In the early 1990s, it was reported that pregnant women who listen to Mozart can increase the intelligence of their unborn child. This was called The Mozart Effect. However, later it was determined that the research in this area was inconclusive. I am not suggesting that listening to Mozart would not help children in some way. But if the original study was conducted on learning disabled children, does that change how we view the results?
Could this be a case of seeing what we want to see for our own benefit? I was skeptical of the claim because of my background in media literacy. I wondered, why Mozart? Why classical music? In his defense, Mozart’s complex arrangements are to be respected. He truly had a gift. But is it easy to accept this because of our perception of classical music? Many may view it as stuffy but it is still seen as the music of those many of us aspire to be: wealthy cultural elites. If Heavy Metal music made kids smarter, would we even be having this discussion? We often believe claims based on our perceptions.
Because of my experience, I don’t present research as the final word to my students. I present it as one of two things: a translator or an additional voice in the discussion.
The translator function works especially well when the research bears out the experience of the class. In other words, the perception of the students and research data are in agreement. In this case, research expands our vocabulary by translating what we already know into fancy academic words and phrases such as social disorganization theory, globalization and dispensationalism. This allows us to begin understanding articles that use these terminologies and hopefully increases our knowledge on a given subject.
The additonal voice function works when research and perception do not agree. It is not easy to trust what we don’t know. Seeing the info as another voice feels less threatening than presenting it as high falutin’ data coming from a genius scholar. Typically students push back when I present this kind of information, so I raise the following questions:
1. If the research findings are true, how does that affect your point of view?
2. If there is bias, why do you think it exists? Can there be bias behind your point of view?
3. What was the research metholodology that led to the findings? (This usually bores students)
Perception has it own pitfalls, as well. It is easy for us to trust what we have already experienced. However, one thing I don’t ever do is discount a person’s experience. Sometimes I raise rhetorical questions and recognize that there are always exceptions to all of the rules. In this way, I open the door for students to absorb new information, new vocabulary or both. And all of this is done without listening to the Marriage of Figaro.
Take that Amadeus!
About the Adjunct: Ron Tinsley is a Communications Director by day and an Adjunct Instructor by night. He teaches classes on Urban Youth Culture, Media Literacy and Urban Studies. He has a BFA in Graphic Design from The University of the Arts and a MA in Urban Studies from Eastern University. For the past 20 years, he has worked with children, youth and families in disadvantaged communities. He is fearfully entertaining the idea of getting a Ph.D.