When outcomes aren’t outcomes
Over the last couple of days I've had a few ah-ha moments relating to my thesis proposal. The first leap occurred when the picture of my proposal, that is my conceptual framework, appeared in my mind. I had been struggling with it for weeks, and then, all of a sudden, it was there. I've since gone through a few iterations, reviewing it with several people, and it seems reasonably solid.
During a discussion with my supervisor I had another ah-ha moment. On my conceptual framework I had listed "outcomes", as in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary Definition "a result; a visible effect". Specifically, I had listed what I anticipated the effects of my research to be. For example, I am doing a design-based research study that involves creating a program to teach family medicine (aka primary care) preceptors (clinical teachers) to use iPads. The outcomes that I originally listed included: (1) best practices in creating iPad professional development programs, (2) program artifacts (such as facilitator materials and participant materials), (3) increased use of iPads among participants, (4) peer facilitators becoming better teachers, and (5) peer support for iPad adoption. My supervisor questioned me on the last two – asking me "how are you going to measure that?". After asking me enough times, it occurred to me – outcomes are not what you "expect" to find in the research, rather they are what you are planning to measure in the research. The last two items on my list will likely be "findings" in my research as they are side effects of my program, but they are not outcomes because I do not plan to explicitly measure them. You can't measure everything afterall!
My follow on ah-ha moment occurred when I was walking this morning. I realized that when I reduced my list to my three main outcomes: (1) best practices, (2) artifacts, and (3) increased adoption; those also aligned clearly with three research articles. Since I plan to do a thesis by articles, the three articles provide the foundation of my dissertation.
All the dots seem are coming together, connecting. For the first time, I can actually visualize what my dissertation will look like when I'm done! Now don't get me wrong, I fully expect that when things get reviewed by my committee, they will change. I don't expect things to be exactly as I visualize them now. But for the first time, I can actually visualize something. My dissertation is no longer a nebulous fog, rather it is something I can see myself writing. It feels great!