Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The 100th post!

Wow I can't believe it, post number 100 my first blog milestone...so what to write about? How bout my final project for my master's degree. I opened up the syllabus today and found this....it's a how to and sample proposition...wow I think I'm gonna be sick:

Overview of Workshop One
In this workshop you will draft a project proposal which you will submit to the facilitator by midnight Sunday (i.e., Sunday night). S/he will then review it and give you feedback by the beginning of the next workshop so that you can begin on good footing to plot your research method in greater detail next week. The goal is to have your proposal fully approved by the end of the second week of class.
The basic outline of a project proposal includes the following sections:
1. An Introduction
In the introduction you will give background to the problem you are going to address in the project.
2. Statement of Purpose
If you do not identify the problem you are going to address clearly, then you are not likely to solve it very well. In a paragraph or two, you will present the purpose of your project.
3. Review of the Literature
In this section you will identify the most important books, articles, and all around resources available on the topic you plan to address.
4. Research Method
In this section of your proposal you will set forth a synopsis of how you plan to go about addressing the problem at hand, including what the chapters of your project will be.

Statement of Purpose
Why Begin Here?
You might wonder why we would write the "Statement of Purpose" before we have written our introduction. Believe it or not, book writers of all kinds often write their introductions last or at least revise their first drafts significantly after they have finished the bulk of their writing. One reason for this procedure is that you do not always know where your research will take you when you start a project. Only when the project is done do you have a full sense of what you are actually introducing!
In the same way, while you will write your project proposal this week, you will not go back and turn it into the full "Introduction" of the project until near the end of our eight week pilgrimage, after you have written up the rest of the project.

What is a Project?
A project identifies a problem that it then goes on to solve. In contrast, a standard thesis asks a question that it then proceeds to answer on paper. Given the nature of this program, it seemed fitting to its designers to have you do a project rather than a thesis. So in these eight weeks you will 1) identify a problem and 2) solve it.
The way in which you solve a problem varies depending on the nature of the problem. If the problem is concrete, then solving it will involve doing real time things. If the problem is a lack of information on a topic or a need for a certain kind of curriculum, then the solution can be on paper. Since we are only together for these eight weeks, it will be key for you to pick a problem to solve that you can address sufficiently by the time the course ends.

Crafting a Project "Statement of Purpose"
"A problem well defined is a problem half-solved." I do not know who first said this dictum, but it is right on target. If you cannot identify the problem you wish to solve, then you are not very likely to solve it. If you do not know what is broken, you are not likely to get it fixed.
The first step in crafting your proposal is to be able to state your problem clearly and succinctly enough for it to pass. This portion of your proposal need not be long. You will have already provided the background to the problem in the introduction portion of your proposal. So what we are looking for here is one or two paragraphs in which you state the problem in its most basic terms.
Here are the main characteristics of a good problem to address:
1. It should be focused enough to address adequately in less than 100 pages and within the eight weeks of this course. "World Hunger" is thus far too broad a problem for a project of this scope.
2. It should not be so obscure that you will not be able to find any resources or so little a problem that it is not really a problem. In general, the narrower the topic the better. On the other hand, you would not want to write on "The Difficulties of Getting Food through Customs in Tibet" unless you actually have access to some resources you can bring to bear on such a subject: people to interview, online or hard documents to read, etc... Further, is hunger a big problem in Tibet and is it really hard to get food through customs?
3. It should be graduate level. For a masters degree, research work does not have to be completely original, but it should be insightful and challenging above the undergraduate level. If you are going to write on "Getting Essential Resources to Churches in Disaster Areas," you should address the issue with competence beyond that of a college student.
Here is a sample "Statement of Purpose" I have drafted myself:
"This project will address the problem of how to relate to openly gay teenagers who are attending a youth group. Should they be asked not to attend if they are practicing? What if they are not practicing? How should the issue be addressed with the rest of the group? What biblical teaching is relevant to the problem, and how do Christian principles best play themselves out in contemporary practice? The rest of the project will address these issues."

Draft a Statement of Purpose in Groups
Take a moment to think of a problem you might want to tackle for these next eight weeks. Be sure to pick one that interests you and is relevant to your ministry--it will be easier to stay motivated! When you have thought of one, post it in your Group Folder. Be sure to comment on your fellow group members' work.

The Introduction to the Proposal
What Goes in the Introduction?
Now that you have some clarity on the purpose of your project, go ahead and draft an introduction. The purpose of the introduction to the proposal is to give us some sense of why you are doing this project. Why is it significant and why is it significant to you? Lead us from having no sense of what you are doing to the statement of purpose that sets the course for the whole project.
A good introduction will be like any good piece of writing. It will be interesting and to the point. It should not ramble on and on. On the other hand, this part of the proposal can be the most personal part of the introduction--within reason. This is a public document, and there are things to say and things not to say... Or if you prefer, you can take the part of a "scientist" analyzing a situation.
After you have provided important background to the project and its problem, your introduction should end with a clear and succinct statement of the problem. The Statement of Purpose tells us what you plan to do in your project. The statement of the problem identifies clearly the problem that gives rise to that purpose. All in all, such an introduction may be 2-4 pages in length, give or take.

Some Sample Thoughts
Without writing a full sample introduction, let me suggest how I would go about introducing a project that aimed to help a segment of a church population enslaved to such debt that it was causing significant problems in every area of their life.
I might start off with a story, maybe a true one with the names changed or perhaps a hypothetical one. I introduce a couple that perhaps ends up divorced or has significant marital troubles because they are so strapped with credit card debt that they cannot function at all. Maybe he or she works two or three jobs. Far from being able to tithe, they cannot pay basic bills like electricity or gas. Problems spill over to the children not only because of the stress level in the home but because their parents are far too busy to give them any time.
I might then give some "starter statistics," some basic numbers on how many Americans are in similar situations. I might then generalize about how such problems quickly affect the spiritual domain of a family's life. Indeed, there are any number of consequences that are part of the spiritual domain to which the church should minister.
I would then end with a clear statement of the problem, something like, "Clearly the current economic state of so many Christians today is having an overwhelmingly negative effect not only on the spiritual lives of the individuals, but on marriages, children, and broader church families as well." The statement of purpose would then follow.

Write your Introduction!
Now try your hand at writing a sample introduction. Post it in your Group Folder. Read the introductions of the other group members and learn from all the feedback!

Plotting a Method for Your Research
Getting from A to B
You can often get from one place to another by more than one path. So it is with a project. There is often more than one way to get from A to B. Next week you will write an entire chapter to plot in detail the entire course of action you will take to solve your problem. In the meantime, your proposal needs to give us a good taste of your method.

The Two Basic Types of Research
There are two basic ways to do research: qualitative methods and quantitative methods. Quantitative methods, as the name suggests, deal with things that you can quantify. Accordingly, such methods are particularly useful in sciences of all kinds, fields like chemistry or medicine. But any minister who has ever quoted Barna realizes that you can do quantitative research of a sort in relation to ministry as well.
For example, a person can use surveys to generate data for quantitative research. If you want to know whether there is any correlation between a youth minister's marital status, the number of years in youth ministry, or any number of other factors with a struggle with Internet pornography, a person might survey a sufficient number of youth ministers in order to gather appropriate data.
WARNING: This last comment leads us to an important warning. Very few of those taking this class will have taken a course in statistics and will not be qualified to conduct this kind of research on a sufficient scale within the allotted time for your data to be valid.
For example, the smaller the "sample" surveyed, the less accurate your survey is likely to be. In addition to basic averages, you would need to be able to figure out things like "standard deviations" from the average. You would need to take into account the fact that not everyone returns surveys. You would need to have some expertise in crafting questions so that your questions do not bias the kinds of answers you get.
Because of the constraints of time and expertise, most of you in this course will want to conduct more qualitative research, research that is more anecdotal than quantifiable. Such research is especially relevant to things involving people. Thus surveys can provide information for qualitative as well as quantitative research. The interview is an even more impressionistic source of qualitative information.
Thus surveys and interviews can provide you with useful solutions to problems that are not conclusive, but are nevertheless persuasive. Let us say you are addressing the matter of how best to counsel someone who has lost a young child in a sudden tragedy. You might survey a number of pastors, youth pastors, etc. who have faced this experience. You might ask them what courses of action seem to have worked best with certain types of people and/or situations. The answers you get will not be conclusive, but they may point you in fruitful directions.
Let me suggest finally that these kinds of research tools can serve both to 1) clarify the problem and 2) point toward solutions. If you wish to use research tools of this sort, you should clarify in your mind exactly which your tools are meant to do, including the possibility that they might contribute to both.

Your write up of this part of your proposal should present the "staging" of your project. What steps are you going to take to solve the problem your project is addressing. Accordingly, this section will present 1) the steps you are going to take, with a brief description and 2) a timetable for their completion.
This timetable may or may not coincide exactly with the workshops of this course. For example, let us say that your project has to do with helping teens in your district (or some similar group) set physical boundaries when dating. Let us also say that you want to survey the teens of your district or interview selected teens for some qualitative sense of how far they are going and under what circumstances. It will take some time to collect and organize this data.
In the meantime, you will be writing chapters in accordance with the course schedule. For example, you will probably want a chapter on the biblical and theological foundations of Christian sexual boundaries. While you are waiting for your data to come in, you might spend Week 4 writing such a chapter as your chapter 4. In Week 5 you might then write chapter 5 to present your observations from your interviews and surveys along with the kinds of observations you might have found in books or other studies. Chapter 6 might then present lesson plans or guidelines for pastors or it might document actual events that took place in your local congregation (videos or tapes might even accompany your project).
Although in your final product, the research method chapter will follow your literature review, we will write that particular chapter next week so that you can get right to work implementing it. You will want to send out any surveys or arrange any interviews you plan to conduct as soon as possible so that you have the data back as soon as possible. In general, you will want that information available to process by the fifth week of the course or sixth week at the latest.
So the staging of your project might look something like the following:
Week 1: Write proposal and submit to facilitator for comments.
Week 2:
1. Send out surveys to all the district youth ministers
[You would also provide in your proposal some general sense of what those youth ministers will be told to do, whether you are going to contact them personally, etc...]
2. Arrange youth event at my church with all district invited for Week 6: "Setting Sexual Boundaries."
[In your proposal, give us some sense of what this event will be like, what will be involved, how it will relate to your research in these next few weeks, etc...]
3. Write Research Method chapter with actual survey, rationale, detailed instructions, etc... Submit to facilitator.
4. Submit edited proposal to facilitator for final approval.
Week 3:
1. Write Review of the Literature and submit to facilitator.
2. Make any necessary edits to Research Method chapter and resubmit to facilitator.
3. Conduct key interviews with person x, y, and z.
Week 4:
1. Write chapter 4: "Biblical and Theological Foundations of Sexual Boundaries." Submit to facilitator.
2. Make any necessary edits to Review of the Literature chapter and resubmit to facilitator.
3. Contact youth ministers to remind them that the surveys are due in the next two weeks.
Week 5:
1. Data is due. Collect and compile data.
2. Make any necessary edits to "Biblical and Theological Foundations of Sexual Boundaries" chapter and resubmit to facilitator.
3. Write chapter 5: "The State of Sexual Boundaries in the Indiana North District." Submit to facilitator.
Week 6:
1. Conduct district youth event: "Setting Sexual Boundaries" Videotape
2. Make any necessary edits to "The State of Sexual Boundaries in the Indiana North District" chapter and resubmit to facilitator.
3. Write chapter 6: "The Event: Setting Sexual Boundaries 2005" and submit to facilitator. The chapter will include documentation from the event, the agenda and any presentations. You will note that a DVD accompanies the project.
Week 7:
1. Make any necessary edits to "The Event: Setting Sexual Boundaries 2005" and resubmit to facilitator.
2. Write the Conclusion and submit entire first draft to facilitator.
Week 8:
1. Write the Abstract
2. Make any necessary final revisions and submit final draft to facilitator.

Potential Elements of a Project
There are countless problems to do a project on and countless ways to approach each one of them. The examples we have given so far give you just the barest tip of the iceberg in terms of problems you might tackle and how you might tackle them. The following is a list of a few different kinds of "solutions" toward which you might work. Remember that these kinds of things happen all the time in ministry and that your project needs to effect these kinds of things on a graduate level with an appropriate level of research and development.
An Event or Set of Events: The purpose of these events would be to address (and thus "solve") your problem. The example above involved an event in which district teens were led to consider appropriate sexual boundaries.
Set up a Structure, Organization, Mechanism: If you work in a rural church in which farm accidents are a regular feature, you might put "structure" or "mechanism" in place by which grieving families are immediately met at their needs.
Set up a Curriculum or Catechism: If your problem involves a deficiency of knowledge or skills in your congregation, you might set up a curriculum or catechism that will systematically and innovatively address that deficiency.
Create a Manual or Set of Resources: If your problem is a failure of ministers to know how to deal properly with grieving parents of young children, you might create a mini-manual to address this deficiency of knowledge.

Potential Chapters in your Project
The basic structure of an IWU project is:
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Review of Literature
Chapter 3: Research Method
Chapter 4: Content Chapter
Chapter 5: Content Chapter
Chapter 6: Content Chapter
Chapter 7: Conclusion
Depending on the specifics of your project, you may need to modify one or more of these elements. For example, if your project is to write a manual, set up a curriculum, etc..., you may or may not need to have a chapter on research method. Further, the number of "content" chapters--indeed whether they actually turn out to be content chapters--will depend on exactly what you are doing. It may be that you do not need as many content chapters as some others.
In general, you will want at least one of these chapters to address biblical issues. Then you may or may not want a separate chapter to cover additional theological issues, matters of Christian history, or matters of practical theory.
If you do surveys or interviews, I have suggested that the three content chapters follow some pattern like the following:
Chapter 4: Biblical and Theological Issues about x
Chapter 5: Presentation of the Data from my surveys, interviews, etc...
Chapter 6: Proposed Solutions on the basis of all my research.
As in my examples, chapter 6 may very well turn out to be documentation of an event, presentation of a curriculum, etc...

Now Write the Research Method Section of your Proposal
This is no doubt the hardest part of the proposal to write and at the same time the most crucial. Do your best to plot a course for yourself, giving the staging of your project with explanations and deadlines. Post it in your group folder and then give feedback to others and learn from their feedback to you.

The Literature Review Part of the Proposal
Review of the Literature
The last component of your proposal that you need to write is your review of the relevant literature. Here is where you need to put into practice all the things you learned from your very first course in this program. Use the resources at your disposal to gather a bibliography of resources into which you will dig deep in the weeks to come.
As you learned in your first course, these resources include things like:
1. Books/Journals from Libraries
2. Online Databases/Resources
3. Media of Various Type (tapes, videos, CD's, DVDs, etc...)

Review "Literature Review" Material from Proposal
From Workshop One
Your Review of the Literature will put into practice all the things you learned from your very first course in this program. Use the resources at your disposal to gather a bibliography of resources.
As you learned in your first course, these resources include things like:
1. Books/Journals from Libraries
2. Online Databases/Resources
3. Media of Various Type (tapes, videos, CD's, DVDs, etc...)

Finding and Assimilating Literature
One of the greatest skills of learning you will ever acquire is the ability to find and assimilate information quickly. It is both a discipline and an art and the best scholars know how to do it, many intuitively.
But you can also learn these skills, and the age of information technology has made it increasingly easier.

Scanning Library Shelves
In the olden days, you might have a subject card catalog in a library where some painstaking librarian had typed up cards individually with books in that library on a subject. With computer catalogs, the computer will not only do this work for you, it will do it for vast numbers of libraries within hours of the central library you are searching!
Nevertheless, there is still something to be said for finding just one book on your topic, going to that section of the library and just standing there flipping through the books in that section. If those who stock the library have done your homework, you will find the most recent and most important books on a particular subject there. At the library of a Christian college, you will often find the resources most particular to that college's Christian tradition (expect to find some Wesleyan-Arminian books at Indiana Wesleyan's library that you might not find at Calvin College!).

Skimming Books
The ability to "blow through" massive amounts of literature in a relatively short amount of time is an incredibly valuable skill. In the field of research, those who "read every word" in some ways has a vice of which they need to be able break themselves at least on occasion. There's no value in reading every word if you cannot summarize the book when you are done.
Read as much as you need to and for as long as you can. But you might be surprised how much you know about a book after 1) reading the introduction, 2) reading the first and last paragraphs of every chapter or every section in every chapter, 3) reading the first sentence of every paragraph--and going on if the paragraph seems particularly relevant, and 4) reading the conclusion.

Book Reviews
You will often find that experts have already reviewed and evaluated the key resources you are looking at. Find these as best you can. Libraries like Indiana Wesleyan pay large amounts of money to give you access to resources like the Religion Index or Epsco Host so that you can search them. Don't try to reinvent the wheel when someone who is an expert has already done it for you!

Google, Wikipedia, and Friends
Google has already become my primary venue for research. You might be amazed at how many Google searches I did in preparation of this course! And what I found was amazing and amazingly helpful. The more and more material that becomes available on the web, the more these kinds of search engines will become the way to do research.
Google arranges its material by frequency of use as well as by how close the hit relates to the way you entered the search request. What this means is that you will tend to see at the top of the results the material that the most people have found the most helpful. This is nothing short of amazingly helpful. Go with it!

Footnote Chasing
On the scholarly level, when I want to get "up to speed" on the highest level on a topic, I follow the following procedure in addition to searching Ebsco Host and Googling:
1. I find the most recent book or article I can find by an expert on a particular topic.
2. I look for what key books and articles the expert refers to. You find these in the footnotes.
3. I go to those books and articles and repeat the process.
4. Eventually, I will generate a sense of what the key resources are on that topic and get some sense of what the key issues and points of debate are in the process.
These are a few ways in which you can go about gathering information by the experts relevant to your particular project and its related topics.

Write the Review Part of the Proposal
You will do a full literature review the third week of the course. For your proposal, create an initial bibliography of about 20-30 resources. Come up with at least a sentence on most of these to describe how you think that particular resource might be of value to your project.
Of these, identify further about five that you think will play the most significant role in your project. Do an "annotated bibliography" on them, giving a summary of what that resource contributes to your project. To annotate them effectively, you will need to scan the book or resource.
You should create a reading/skimming plan for these next eight weeks, particularly the next three as you work toward your literature review. You will be glad you got a head start when we get to week 3.
Further, now is the time to order any resources you already realize you will need via interlibrary loan. Is there a major research institution within an hour or two of you? A seminary? A Christian college? Plan to visit it!
Now write the "Review of the Literature" part of your proposal. Post it to your group folder, give feedback to the others in your group, learn from their feedback to you.

Submit the Proposal
Congratulations--"A project begun is already half done."
If you have come this far, the worst is over. The rest of the capstone is simply playing out the game plan you have already set out.
Take the components of the proposal that you have been working on this week, incorporate any insights or edits from your further reflection or from your group feedback, and assemble the components in the following order:
Introduction with Statement of Problem
Statement of Purpose for the Project
Review of Literature
Research Method with Staging and Dates
Submit it to your facilitator by Sunday night, midnight, so that s/he can have feedback ready for you by the beginning of the next workshop.
Wonderful! You are on your way

Seem a little daunting to you? Am I bit overwhelmed-just a wee bit...but I suppose I'll get it done somehow. Can someone please put all of this in common English so it makes sense to a schlub like me?

I honestly am not even sure where to start. I am leaning towards one of two thoughts- "being the fat kid in a skinny world:a look at teens ans self-esteem" or "i'm a youth pastor now what?: A look at building a ministry from the ground up." I don't know if these are too general or where even to start so I could definitely use your prayers over the next eight weeks. The paper has to be 65-100 pages long. If I write 8 pages a week that isn't too much, but it just seems to be so much. Tell me this is worth it, I know I've come this far and can't quit, but I am just a wee bit scared of this.


Robin said...

You can do it Matt! I looks like you have a lot of helpful guidance in the syllabus. I like the weight-related self esteem idea. It's more specific. Plus I've edited a book 10 years ago called "What I Didn't Learn in College About Youth Ministry" which was co-authored by a professor of yours, and that might be a little too close.

It's nice to see a preview of this class (which Ken will be taking in the next year.) He's already got his topic chosen, but maybe he should start writing now!

We'll miss you in blog world as you work on this enormous paper! :-)

Eric and Kendra said...

Oh my! Glad I don't need a Masters to be a good mommy. LOL I'm sure you'll do a great job, whatever topic you choose. I like both topics, but the self-esteem topic seems like a very relevant topic for youth pastors. So many kids who are shy because of low self-esteem get overlooked far too often. It might be good to write about that topic. I know you'll do a great job!...Kendra

drinkdp said...

WELCOME ONCE AGAIN TO IWU STUDIES! I am now Alumni Relations Director at IWU - hope to hear from you....give me a shout at http://rickcarder.blogspot.com or http://iwualumni.blogspot.com

By the way, I am really excited for you - new year resolutions are tough but you look great!

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