Expedition to Kaluga, 2019
Longread about the expedition to the Kaluga region.
The Laboratory has been cooperating with Kaluga region since 2016. During this time, the Laboratory conducted three waves of large-scale surveys in schools and twice went to the Kaluga region with expeditions. The expedition is a logical continuation of the survey. The work is designed in stages. Surveys collect data on the school climate, peer relations, students' trust in teachers. Based on this data, indices of students' academic motivation, the prevalence of bullying, attitudes toward teachers, etc. are constructed. Surveys collect data on the school climate, peer relations, students' trust in teachers. Based on this data, senior members and analytics of the Laboratory construct indices of students' academic motivation, the prevalence of bullying, attitudes toward teachers, etc. Then they make reports for each school and for the region. At the next stage, the expedition group, which includes not only laboratory staff but also students who apply for the project, - this big group collects interviews with schoolchildren, teachers, and principals in the field. Here, indices were confirmed (or rejected) by the words of the informants. The interviews reveal inaccuracies in the results or methods of quantitative data collection, as well as provide an in-depth understanding of the context.
Such complex work is possible to be implemented because of the "Teacher for Russia" project, the "Discovering Russia anew" program, and the support of Kaluga Oblast Minister of Education Alexander Sergeevich Anikeev.
«We have been working with Kaluga Oblast for four years now. The Lab conducted three waves of surveys in 249 schools in the Kaluga Region - that is 27,000 schoolchildren. Last summer we were able to go see the places where we surveyed schools. Now in April, we went on an expedition to Kaluga again. All this was made possible thanks to Alexander Anikeev, Minister of Education of the Kaluga region, who helped us organize all the surveys and our fieldwork. It was a great joy to meet him, he is a wise and caring man.» - shares Daniil Alexandrov, head of the Laboratory.
Preparation began a month before the planned trip. We met together, studied school indexes, area maps, and school websites. Senior colleagues gave masterclasses on how to be good at interviews. Students tried on research optics, learned how to hypothesize and problematize the environment.
By the end of the preparatory phase, we were aware of what we were about to encounter, we understood the context and indicators of each school. We were armed to the teeth with various interviewer techniques, distinguished between active listening and empathic listening, and though we were nervous, we were eager to do battle.
Preparation time flew by quickly, as fast as our little green plane flew from St. Petersburg to Kaluga. When we arrived there, a bunch of scattered, atomized students and teachers turned into a cohesive team of researchers.
Kaluga everyday life
One apartment out of several ones rented for the trip was chosen as the main one. Two students were on daily duty in the kitchen to prepare breakfast and dinner. In the living room, the crew gathered each evening to discuss what had happened during the day. In the afternoon, the team divided into several groups that went to the schools. Each time the composition of the groups was different from the previous ones. These crossing and rotation were necessary for us to practice teamwork with different people. At the schools, the students interviewed students, while the older colleagues talked to principals and teachers.
Part of the expedition team's work was done in regional schools, not in Kaluga. On such days, moving around in a funny yellow car with "Children" written on the side was added to the usual routine.
By 3 or 4 p.m. the fieldwork was over. However, resting practice came much later. In the second place, following the fieldwork, were the observation diaries. In such field observation diaries, we had to write down the main points from the interview, the features of the informant that drew attention, the reflection of the day. Writing diaries was new to the younger members of the team, so it usually took longer - much longer - than the interview itself. In the middle of the expedition, senior colleagues set aside a whole day for the diary debtors to finish their work.
Evening meetings in the living room were the most pleasant event of the day for many team members. Everyone talked about what happened in their day. Who the informants were, what from the interviews was memorable and proved to be especially important. When the words of several people about the same school overlapped, it was possible to speak about a certain objectivity of the picture. Much of the educational process took place at such meetings. During the conversations, young researchers were able to learn scholarly insights of their older colleagues. We could ask questions, share experiences, and learn how to improve our techniques and practices.
As a result of the expedition, we visited about 30 schools, took 195 interviews, and wrote 95 observation diaries. We collected an enormous qualitative data set, gained valuable experience, and had a great time among collegues, with benefits for ourselves and for research. The data collected during the expedition can be used as the basis for many articles, term and graduation theses. The Laboratory does not stop at the Kaluga region - in the next years we are going to organize new expeditions to other regions of Russia.
Impressions from the participants of the expedition
Daria Khodorenko, one of the expedition leaders, Lab data analyst:
These were intense days. A quick dive into the field, lots of field trips to schools and discussions. I was a little nervous because our summer expedition was so successful and productive. I thought nothing could compare to it. I was wrong! This research trip turned out to be just as awesome! The students are wonderful! We managed to get a lot done in a short amount of time.
It makes me happy that the team worked together. The guys are passionate about collecting interviews and discussing them. It's such a detective game for them, comparing stories of children and adults about the same events at school. I know that some are eager to share details from successful interviews outside of the research team. We continually teach them about research ethics and respect for informants who entrust their sometimes difficult stories to us. As usual, the most difficult thing for everyone is to write diaries :)
The field findings, interviews, and school descriptions are part of a larger project to investigate the emotional well-being of schools in the Kaluga region. I hope that the students who have been on the expedition will continue to work with the materials further.
Adelina Akhmedova, 2nd year student:
It was exhausting at times. It was frustrating when something did not work. But all has changed with the lapse of time. Staying among team members is helpful, writing diaries becomes an unavoidable but interesting routine. Schools and students turn from distant and fuzzy objects of study into cases, stories, and new discoveries. Thanks to the lab and our seniors - they motivated from the start, taught us how to do and not to do, trusted us.
Anastasia Vlasenko, 2nd year student:
I was not prepared for the amount of work on the expedition. It is a constant brain activity: getting the right topics out of the informant, catching the details one mentioned, not getting lost in your own thoughts during the interview (yes, it turned out that this happens!). Then there were discussing, comparing, underlining, and compiling the big picture piece by piece. We get tired, but it is very interesting.
Katya Chernykh, 1nd year student:
We immediately plunged into the field work, and the schools of the Kaluga region began to strike with the contrast: small one-story buildings and the newest schools with super equipment in the villages. Worth mentioning are our evening meetings, when the team members with excitement tell us about the schools they visited during the day. Sometimes they are unstoppable!
Of course, at times it was difficult because of emotional pressure: a lot of conversations with different people, for each of which I had to find a certain approach. But despite all the difficulties, I am very glad that I went on the expedition - it is an invaluable experience.
Daria Kuzmicheva, 2nd year student:
I already had experience in conducting interviews, but not that much. I understand how great it is to listen to different people, their stories and get to know the life I could have lived if I had been born here. It gets easier each time I'm interviewed, I'm less and less likely to watch the guide and more and more likely to shape an almost friendly conversation with my interviewee.
Overall, I'm very happy with the trip. It's not easy, but it's also madly interesting. I am happy not only with the place I am in, but also with the people I came here with. During my stay in Kaluga, I saw many of my colleagues in a different way. Every day I get more and more convinced that I am surrounded by absolutely wonderful people. I'm glad I'm doing real research work. I feel like a real sociologist, and I definitely like it.