Projects’ Day

Before I start my usual ramble [note that an extremely long (my longest post ever?) elegy for Hwa Chong students follows], I notice that my blog posts are not meant to entertain (as a result I do not attempt to fancily classify/ title my content), nor are they intended to attract readership (in other words angst about school, about how the referee was biased in whatever game, how “boring” life is/was, how busy/ free I can get etc.). I do not possess the creativity to attract attention, and I see little purpose in doing so too (besides the occassional lame post that stems from a madness that I cannot explain). What I can do is to facilitate discussion (somehow I have failed either because people do not understand what I am going on about or my blog posts are simply too long). Please comment more often if you have alternative views (or if you agree! haha).

I shall attempt to paragraph my words below (paragraphing may a little inappropriate but its to make sure the post is readable).

I notice the Projects’ Day competition (Semi-Finals Round) held this morning has rekindled my interest for qualitative research, or more specifically research with regards to Democracy in Singapore (no this is not an intended reference to Ping Kan’s project). Spent my time at night exploring the web for material related to politics (commentaries, personalities, satirical parodies), but didn’t get to read much (I am too distracted by nothing). I realise that political science (perhaps Singapore-related because that’s all I am “really” exposed to now) to me is easier to tackle than psychology, though I do have a general interest for both subjects. I’m wondering though – what should be the JC path for those generally interested in both arenas?

Sadly, when sitting through the judging for my category, I noticed two unsettling trends among the projects judged. First and foremost, many students who attempt the category (including the seniors, Sec 3-4) do not have a firm concept of what Qualitative Research entails. The “unsettling” portion of this is that I’m not talking about the “research methodology” that students utilise (e.g. interviews, surveys, participant observations) and which the judges criticize the most, but the entire misconception of the word “Qualitative”. It is quite painful to sit through groups who believe that they have the “strong mandate of qualitative research” just because they are doing interviews instead of the professed “quantitative” method of surveys. What makes this worse is not the students’ ignorance over what actually constitutes “qualitative research”, but what the judges actually say. Examples of comments they make include: “In qualitative research you use interviews, not surveys. Surveys are only used in preliminary data collection…”.

I believe that statement is very misleading, so misleading that it causes groups to screw up every year. Yes, I agree that interviews can be the main method of data collection (and is a very useful tool too) for qualitative research. But is every research project that uses interviews necessarily qualitative? What actually constitutes qualitative research? To me, its the word “quality” that matters. Qualities instead of quantities form the crux of any proper qualitative research. So linking back to what went on today (or rather yesterday, its past 12 now), I noticed many of the groups (shall not name them in fear of the gahmen!!!) used quantitative methods instead of qualitative methods, even within their interviews. Their objectives and research questions were more measurable/ quantifiable than explainable, and indeed some projects really didn’t need any “critical analysis”.

This phenomenon (seen over a few years here in Hwa Chong) is almost omnipresent in Category 3, so much so that judges (in my humble opinion) have to adopt such a method of elimination round-by-round:

Preliminary Rounds: An examination of the method is used here, and the project is judged on whether it is feasible. At this round, many groups go through (either in first or second round of Prelims) because of the sympathy that the judges possess (give some ACE points lah!).
Semi-Finals: A re-examination of the method used. Sadly few groups pass this round – is there a real problem with qualitative methodology in HCI? Some groups are also eliminated due to a large percentage of their statements sweeping the floor (hehe I like to use this discriminatory term =D). Very few groups are eliminated because of actual content, still a lot of focus on the feasibility. Most of the groups which pass this round have a much better understanding on what constitutes “qualitative”. (6 groups only?!)
Finals: I have not been to a final round in Category 3 before, but I predict it will still revolve more around the method than the content.

So, if judges are spending the 3 elimination rounds on making the research methodology “perfectly qualitative”, then what will happen to the content in the presentation? Is there actually time for the groups to present on how exactly data analysis was done? (given the extremely short span of time allocated to them) I don’t know, but gut tells me that the standard of qualitative projects here is simply not high enough.

The second trend which I noticed was based on SLIM-mentored groups, and has a relation with the point mentioned above – that is, many students, though claiming to be perfectly logical in their arguments, are unable to support their own statements (I am still laughing over the group which used Xiaxue as an “authoritative source”). Yes, it is the whole talk about statements “sweeping the floor”, or better known as “sweeping statements”. I was rather shocked, for example by what Ping Kan’s group put in their slides – of Singapore’s government being [relatively] authoritarian. If I was the judge I would blast them about that, but I believe Mr. Chng was kind enough not to highlight that (and instead point out that “free society” is more loaded than “democracy” XD).

I think these occurrences were partially brought about by SLIM’s method of teaching. Mr. Lim advocates “critical analysis” based on “support” from quotes. This is perfectly fine, however many students do not understand how “support” should be used. Indeed, in many of SLIM’s essays, analysis is made without support (largely conceptual and hypothetical), and instead the irrelevant parts of the argument (for example the factual aspects of the paragraph) are supported by the quotes of the “academics”. Shall cite an example (no offence, this is to me a general trend in SLIM essays, so I am not pulling out this specific example as a means of ridiculing the author):

“The strained Sino-Japanese relations can be attributed to Japan’s adamant refusal to atone for its war crimes. Historian Jeffery Kingston asserts that “Japan has been unable to lift the incubus of its shared history with Asia… and government leaders have failed to convey a sense of sincere remorse of contrition [for its wartime atrocities]”. Take for example the issue of comfort women. Responsibility for this sordid system and even its very existence, was denied by the Japanese government until a Japanese researcher found archival documents in 1992 that indicated official complicity at the highest levels in te military and bureaucracy. Even when confronted with archival evidence, the government “denied that it was involved, shifting responsibility on to private entrepreneurs”. When this was shown also to be untrue, the government then argued that the comfort women were not coerced into service. This highlights the desire of the Japanese government to conceal their wrongdoings and portray the regime in a positive light. This would, irrefutably, be regarded as an act of injustice by China, of which the people have been victimised by the Japanese. The traumatic experiences of the wartime past still haunts these people, and it is of no wonder that Japan’s attempts to whitewash history would be met with vehement protests in China. Widespread dissent would materialise between the people of China and Japan, hence bedevilling relations between the two nations. Thus, it can be seen that Japan’s refusal to atone for its war crimes is a pertinent cause of strained Sino-Japanese relations.”

– Taken from Kong Yik Hang’s and Jerry Hong’s essay for Tutorial 3 (Question 1)

Very lengthy paragraph which would definitely be given instant approval by anyone who does not bother to cut through the arguments. Forgive me for the typos. There are two quotation marks used in the above paragraph – one by scholar Jeffrey Kingston “Japan has been unable to lift the incubus of its shared history with Asia… and government leaders have failed to convey a sense of sincere remorse of contrition [for its wartime atrocities]” which appears to be a euphemism for the topic statement. The second, which is more descriptive than analytical, reads “denied that it was involved, shifting responsibility on to private entrepreneurs”. I shall assume that this forms the basis of support for the entire paragraph.

Taking a closer look at the points raised in Mr. Lim’s so-called “analysis”:
– “highlights the desire of the Japanese government to conceal their wrongdoings and portray the regime in a positive light” (Unproven but arguable)
– “irrefutably, be regarded as an act of injustice by China, of which the people have been victimised by the Japanese” (I question the use of “irrefutable – in which way has the essay proven that this HAS been regarded as an act of injustice by China?)
– “Japan’s attempts to whitewash history would be met with vehement protests in China” (The term “would be” already highlights futuristic uncertainty, largely hypothetical)
– The traumatic experiences of the wartime past still haunts these people (What an assumption!)
– “Widespread dissent would materialise between the people of China and Japan” (It is impossible to come up with such a conclusion based on your earlier analysis)

As such, while the quotes prove the story (yes we know the Japanese government attempted to conceal its wrongdoings), the analysis provided is totally unsupported. This has been one of the reasons why I have not been entirely supportive of Mr. Lim’s style of “using authoratitive sources to justify your opinion”. If such work is translated into Qualitative Analysis (and this is happening), I am sure the floor would be very very clean (lots of sweeping work done heh). I believe the normal history essay does not require the use of quotes for fear that they will be misused (just like they are very frequently used incorrectly for SLIM’s essays)… quotes are meant to prove your analysis and are not used as rephrasals of your topic statement.

For your reading and criticism (I solemnly note that I can type 20 times more than I can speak).

One for all, All for one. Venturez’ 06

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