Is being a young researcher always a positive learning experience?

Kerawalla, Lucinda and Messer, David (2019). Is being a young researcher always a positive learning experience? Interdisciplinary Education and Psychology, 2(2), article no. 5.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.31532/InterdiscipEducPsychol.2.2.005

Abstract

Over the last twenty years there has been considerable interest in teaching children and young people to become social science researchers to empower their voices and give them an opportunity to develop new skills. However, there is a dearth of systematic and detailed enquiry into young people’s perspectives on their feelings and experiences as they learn how to be social science researchers. We asked seven young researchers aged 12 years (1 male and 6 females), who attended an after-school research club, to complete a questionnaire about the feelings they experienced as they learned about and undertook a range of activities during the various stages of their research (e.g. the creation of a research question, the design of a questionnaire, analysis of data, and public dissemination). The young researchers also participated in follow-up, individual, semi-structured interviews when they explained their questionnaire responses in detail. Our thematic analysis, and plots of how feelings changed across research stages, suggest that in the short term the young researchers’ engagement in self-directed research was at times problematic: it produced a range of negative feelings involving worry, uncertainty, tiredness and disenchantment. However, these negative feelings were experienced alongside a range of positive feelings associated with motivation, mastery and achievement. Feelings were, therefore, not simply positive or negative, but were always mixed and diverse. Findings from group interviews conducted eight months later suggest that overall the young researchers greatly valued their experience particularly in terms of the opportunity to engage in “proper thinking” which was not always possible in the classroom. Broader implications of these findings are discussed, including the value of informal learning in after-school clubs which are outside the constraints of the English classroom curriculum.

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