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Ascertaining Truth

Extracted from the March 11 2004 (Thursday) issue of The Straits Times:

YESTERDAY MARKED THE FIRST ANNIVERSARY of the death of Madam Teo Siew Peng, 32, who fell from the 10th floor of Block 202 Choa Chu Kang Avenue 1.

Yesterday was also the day High Court Judge Woo Bih Li visited the scene of her fall, to ascertain if she could have leapt to her death - or had been 'helped' by her boyfriend, Harith Gary Lee, 39.

Accompanied by lawyers and policemen, the judge made a round of the carpark at the rear of the block, where Lee had parked his van across three parking lots and where Madam Teo had landed. He also went to the 10th floor, standing outside her family flat along the corridor, where two women said they had witnessed Madam Teo clinging to the railing.

The witnesses had said that Madam Teo was crying out, as a man started lifting her legs higher and higher.... Lee has denied killing Madam Teo. He claimed she committed suicide because of financial and other problems.

WHILE REVIEWING THE NOTES FOR EMAR (Evaluation Methods and Action Research) and IDMP (Instructional Design Models & Practices) after Prof H's lesson last Monday, i was quite struck by something.

What we are being taught here seems to be a rather scientific method of finding, ascertaining, and acting on TRUTH -- truths which are relevant to very specific purposes. For example, after some research and deliberation, we might decide that all academic staff in an institution of higher learning must create and maintain digital teaching portfolios. We would need to gather all relevant information, and then decide on the best way to achieve this by determining:
(1) Optimals -- the desired components of digital teaching portfolios and the types of technologies to be used;
(2) Actuals -- what the potential trainees currently know and do; time and other constraints;
(3) Feelings -- the potential trainees' and other stakeholders' opinions and feelings about the problems or tasks;
(4) Probable Causes -- what are causing the problems, from different perspectives; and
(5) Probable Solutions -- ways of solving the problems or capitalizing on the opportunities.

However, the real work begins only when all the relevant data come in.

The reason: Data collection methods can range from direct participation, passive observation, films and videos to surveys, focus groups and interviews, as well as informal conversations and examination of documents and materials. This reminds me of something that a colleague has once spoken about: information sources can be primary, secondary or tertiary. The methods chosen would ultimately affect the validity and reliability of the data collected.

Knowledge, Prof. H noted, is within the meanings made out by people; it is gained through people talking about their meanings; it is laced with biases and values; and it evolves, emerges and is inextricably tied to the context. As such, the philosophical assumptions are: (1) Reality is subjective and multi-faceted. (2) Research is value-ladden and biased. (3) The solution should be inductive, contextualized, and emerging (discovery-oriented).

As reported by the Straits Times on Thursday, High Court Judge Woo Bih Li found it necessary to make a field trip (visit the scene of an alleged crime) to ascertain the truth. In this case, the testimonies of witnesses are not enough because codeine found in Madam Teo's blood (or urine?) suggested that she could have been taking drugs.

So now, what's next? How does one verify the validity and reliability of collected data? Can't wait for the next lesson...

(See also Ascertaining Truth II.)

by tree#138680 on Sun Mar 14 04 7:46 am | profile



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