Research Project


The final paper for this course consists of a qualitative research of the students' own design. Students may elect to work with a partner for a shared grade. The project requires three elements to be completed by specified dates: (1) a research proposal; (2) a collection of data; and (3) a final paper of 10–12 pages. The topic of research is up to students, but must relate in some way to the transmission / acquisition of knowledge or skill and employ qualitative research methods of the sort discussed in class.

Possible approaches to this assignment include:

  • Conducting participant observation in a setting of formal or informal learning (which could also include online settings, such as Stack Overflow). This could entail engaging in an apprenticeship in an unfamiliar activity. The resulting data will be in the form of field notes.
  • Conducting interviews about teaching or learning with practitioners of a particular hobby, profession, or discipline. Resulting data will be in the form of recordings or transcriptions.
  • Filming a scene of knowledge transmission and transcribing it for close analysis.

Projects may include some combination of all these elements.

Students may also wish to take a service learning approach to the final project, by identifying a population that could benefit from the application of the course material. This would entail seeking a partnership with an educational entity or student community (at MIT or beyond), and writing the final paper as a report that makes recommendations for improving learning outcomes. This might involve helping people who don't know about their educational options, or helping people who serve the public as educators.