Monday, November 12, 2012

Help me decide on a thesis topic

If all goes according to plan, I will be working on my thesis next semester. I'm considering three different areas of research, each with its own pros and cons. Read about them below, and then vote to indicate which one you think I should go for. Talk me through this.

Thesis Topic A: TOEFL Repeaters. Many students seeking to gain entrance to English-speaking universities take the TOEFL many times...like, a LOT of times (if they don't get a high enough score the first time, or tenth time. Really). What kinds of patterns or generalizations can we extract from these scores? The actual research question would be more focused, but you get the idea.
Pros: Cold, hard data - no touchy-feely questionnaires or live human interaction/interviews required. There is something so beautiful about a quantitative study. Plus, one of my professors has done research on this topic and I think I could get some great direction from her, or piggy-back on a study she is carrying out.
Cons: My heart isn't in this topic. I am interested in it, but I'm not passionate about it. I'm not sure that's a strong enough foundation on which to build a relationship with something as starkly straightforward as TOEFL scores.

Thesis Topic B: The Power of YouTube. I told you about this already. Basically, how can teachers use YouTube in the classroom to increase motivation? To tidy the research paper up for a thesis topic, I would be more specific about what kind of video and what kind of motivation.
Pros: You guys, that research paper was so fun it practically wrote itself. Plus, I have two classes of my own to experiment on (and plenty of videos to choose from). The topic is attractive and I think the results could help a lot of teachers. It's also very hip.
Cons: The word "motivation" can quickly turn into research quicksand. Sooooo much has been written about motivation that I would definitely have to put in my due diligence when it came to reading/writing about it. Also, I worry that even after a lot of thought and effort, this topic could still come across as fluffy. It may be hard to find a clear focus.

Thesis Topic C: Intercultural Competence. Wait, don't go! It's more interesting than it sounds. The nature of English language teaching – spanning nationalities, ethnicities, and countries – means that students and teachers may often come from different sociocultural backgrounds, where styles of learning and culturally acceptable teaching methods vary. Teachers who are fully qualified to teach English may still feel anxiety in the classroom when confronted with students whose cultures and learning practices are very different from their own. What kinds of challenges do non-Arab teachers in the Gulf experience? Are they given training? How do the experiences of teachers with ethnorelative outlooks compare to those who are ethnocentric? Etc.
Pros: This is something I am deeply interested in, for obvious reasons: basically, WELCOME TO MY LIFE. This is the thesis I would write for 20-year-old Bridget tutoring Korean kids in Russia, and 22-23-year-old Bridget teaching English to Syrian teenagers, and everyone else out there who has to work through their culture shock to teach people who are very different from them. I think it's a relevant topic and it also has the possibility of being highly useful for teacher training programs.
Cons: I think this is the most work-intensive topic of the three. It would likely require student AND teacher surveys, plus a teacher focus group. Just the thought of coordinating with all those people within the pressured timetable of a thesis gives me pause. Also, "culture" is another kind of research quicksand.

I am interested in your opinion, even if it's "I choose Thesis Topic A because it's neat." So make your choice and then leave a comment (if you wish) with any additional thoughts.










20 comments:

Shannon said...

I (in my uneducated opinion on this subject) think YouTube has massive potential as a venue for ESL learners, and from many different angles. It seems to me that whatever you write on this will be well read and may even make you more attractive (if that's possible!) as a job candidate.

Susanne said...

I love #3 because I adore cultural stuff, but if it's too much work, I'd go for #2 since it may practically write itself. (Good for a mom, wife, student, teacher, churchworker.) The first sounds OK, but if your heart isn't in it, go for something you are more passionate about. I voted for the third one with the second also being a great option.

Susanne said...

By the way, when we were in Damascus we happened to cross paths with Samer's high school English teacher. Samer introduced us and the man proceeded to speak to us - in Arabic. Samer commented when his teacher left, "He's the guy who taught me English. It seems he was too embarrassed to speak it in front of native speakers." Your third option reminded me of this story. :)

Señora H-B said...

I am writing my dissertation on L2 pragmatic competence, so I have to vote for #3. Although, truthfully, I would love to read #2 as well.

Elena Bebe said...

I voted for the youtube one.
I really like the 3rd option too, and I remember you wrote a paper on that for our Writing and Research Methods class. But I think it might be a little too complex and too much work (especially since you want to finish everything in one semester). So youtube it is! =)

Amira said...

I really like #1 because it's straightforward and doable. The others sound much more enjoyable, but just getting the thing done is wonderful. The reading you'd have to do for #2 is huge, and the research for #3 also is huge.

Liz Johnson said...

I like #3, because that's the one that sounds most interesting to me (ha). I also think it's the one that could be the most useful to others going forward.

That said, YouTube is a 2nd. Don't do your thesis on something you're not excited about - that sounds like drudgery.

Myrna said...

I voted for #3 because I sense that you have the most passion for that topic, besides that it is really interesting to me personally. I did not vote for #1 because you said you are not passionate about it. You spend so much time with your thesis (spoken as a person who once wrote one, and who has been writing a dissertation for way too long now) that you really need to be passionate about it. Or you will quickly grow to hate it.

Amy said...

Bridget, I am a lurker on here...I do love reading your blog! I vote for #3, but I am biased. I am finishing up my masters degree in Intercultural Relations and can see how this would be an amazing benefit to teachers. Talk about a huge effort...but what a awesome piece of scholarly research that is really needed!

[Stepping off my nerd soapbox] #2 could be awesome and incredibly fun. I agree with Liz...with how much time you'll be spending on your thesis, it would be so much more exciting to have it be something you'll really enjoy.

Lisa Lou said...

I agree. If you're going to be spending so much time on something, passion is key. Drudgery is no fun.

Kathy Haynie said...

Which manuscript will mean the most to you 5 years from now? Make you glad you wrote it even though it (may have) practically killed you off? I voted for #3, but I think it's a toss-up between #2 and #3. Good luck!

Bridget said...

Oh my gosh, hi!!!

Bridget said...

I love this feedback. Thank you so much! I'm intrigued by Kathy's question about what would mean the most to me 5 years from now. #3 for sure...but so much work!

Sorry everyone, you probably won't hear my final decision until January or February.

elliespen said...

I'm also geeking out about #3 because that just sounds so cool. #2 is my second choice as well, for much of the same reasons that everyone else says.

If you think about a thesis like being a second spouse (which it kind of ends up being), you want a topic that you love. Sure, love can grow, but it helps to have it there at the beginning. Of course, on the flip side, you want to make sure it's not just some infatuation that's going to fade away as soon as you and your thesis have your first fight. Make sure there's something substantial there to hold the relationship together.

Silly analogies aside, good luck in your decision. I'm looking forward to seeing what you choose!

Jennifer said...

I voted for #1. I think it actually sounds quite interesting and the cold hard facts side is attractive for someone who is writing a thesis on a timeline. I spent months agonizing over the qualitative data I had for my thesis with my advisor and in the end, we had to scrap most of what we had done, come at it from a different and easier (though not as interesting) approach because I had to get writing so I could graduate on time. I guess for me, writing my thesis was something I had to do to get my degree, not an opportunity to write something amazing that would really contribute to the field. But that's just me and writing is really difficult for me, which is not the case for you. I guess it depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Good luck! Any of them will be awesome because they are written by you!

Anonymous said...

Hi Bridget. I have your blog on my RSS feed because I'm fascinated by the view of life in a different culture. I don't actually know you at all, but just wanted to say that whenever I ask for help making a decision I find myself hoping they pick the thing I secretly really want. Sounds to me like you most want option #3. You're no stranger to hard work from what I can tell. I bet you can make it happen.

Kristi said...

I really think that the first option would be interesting to look at from a statistical view. I was talking to Steven and I was kind of getting excited telling him about how after looking at the trends in TOEFL repeaters, I would then compare then to SAT/ACT repeaters, etc. That being said, it might be a harder paper to write without having a technical/quantitative background. So while there is an intrigue in working with hard data, it might be more difficult than you would expect.

Craig said...

The engineer in me leans towards #1, and that would be very interesting to me. #2 would be fun and interesting, and perhaps unique, but does have the risk of coming across as fluffy. I ultimately voted for #3, because that seemed most engaging to you, and a great topic.

Anonymous said...

My vote for the first idea did not work (poll did not go through), although my advice is it depends what you do as to whether or not it is worthwhile. I would like to know more about this area. I have offered private tuition and have found that some students have little understanding about effort or how long improvement in English can take. For example, I have worked with some IELTS students needing a higher score to go into postgrad study (and also work towards residential visas, ie high stakes tests being taken by supposedly intelligent students); and some of these students will look for a tutor only a few weeks before their exam. There is research on how much study is generally required for particular competency levels. If this could some how be related to repeat exam takers learning backgrounds and motivations,

I think the youtube one will probably end up being about what is and isn't a good presentation, possibly with developing an assessment schedule (useful in some ways but hard to add much knowledge). The intercultural one is interesting

Anonymous said...

Oops my comments went through unfinished - but hopefully you will get the gist. My thoughts on the intercultural one were again that in a short study it would be difficult to find anything new.

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