Saturday, September 24, 2016

Adding Qualitative Research to the Classic Research Design Course

This week I had so much fun at my institution, UMass Lowell!  I got to teach the qualitative research component of our classic research design course in the Graduate School of education.  I had 10 so-called research newbies in front of me, and it was my job to give them their first real taste of my passion--qualitative research. 

Why is this such a big deal, you ask?  Well, let me explain.  At my institution and at many others around the world, there is an introduction to research course that anchors all the other social science research training, which is supposed to give students a taste of all the possible flavors of research coming up in their doctoral program.  Most of these classes, however, are taught by people with deep roots in positivist perspectives, using textbooks that emphasize positive perspectives.  I am sorry if this sounds like over simplification to some, but that's what my experience has been.  Their interaction with qualitative research has been limited--and they tend to see it as affirming or instrumental, but not as a creative component in and of it own right, nor do they usually have a very complex view of the paradigmatic issues that burden methodological approaches. 

However, having launched the Research Methods and Program Evaluation in Education Ph.D. program, our little faculty has been meeting and discussing these issues with real openness...and the result was that my colleague who teaches our Introductory Research Course invited me in to teach the two weeks devoted specifically to qualitative research.  Last week was the first week of the two-week experiment.  

Selfishly I used it to introduce materials I am developing about the historical beginnings of qualitative research, the chronologies we use to describe its beginnings, and the plethora of research kinds that we now face about a century and a half since those first anthropologists and sociologists were beginning to take lay out the foundations of the field.  An interesting exercise I shared was this table of kinds of research taken from the indexes of four qualitative research textbooks on my shelf. 

Research Kinds In Qualitative Research:  J. Davidson    Derived from the Indexes of these texts. 

Patton, M. (2015).  Qualitative research and evaluation methods: Integrating theory and practice (4th ed.).  Sage Publications.
Savin-Baden, M. & Major, C. (2013).  Qualitative research: The essential guide to theory and practice.  Routledge:  New York. 
Hays, D. & Singh, A. (2012).  Qualitative inquiry in clinical and educational settings.  The Guildford Press:  New York. 
Punch, K. & Oancea, A. (2014) Introduction to Research methods in Education.  (2nd ed.) Sage Publications. 
Action Research
Embodied Ethnography
Case Studies
Collaborative/Participatory Research
Education action research
Empowerment Evaluation
Ethnographic futures research
Applied Ethnography (anthropology)
Narrative Ethnography
Organizational Ethnography
Public Ethnography
Virtual Ethnography
Grounded Theory
Indigeneous Research
Interactive Inquiry
Mixed Methods
Narrative Inquiry
Pragmatic qualitative inquiry
Qualitative inquiry
Symbolic Interactionism
Action research
Critical/emancipatory action research
Pragmatic action research
Participatory action research
Arts-based case studies
Arts-informed inquiry
Case study
Discourse analysis
Feminist theory
Democratic evaluation
Grounded theory
Life course research
Narrative research
Naturalistic inquiry
Participatory Action Research
Pragmatic qualitative research
Symbolic interactionism
Action Research
Participatory Action Research
Applied Research
Autobiographical case study
Biographical case study
Case study                       
Life Histories
Collective case study
Critical theory
Dialectical hermeneutics
Discourse analysis
Femininst research
Grounded theory
Mixed methods
Narrative analysis
Symbolic Interaction
Action research
Critical action research
Participatory action research
Case studies
Critical discourse analysis
Discourse analysis
Grounded theory
Constructivist grounded theory
Mixed methids research
Narrative analysis
Naturalistic research
Phenomenological Analysis
Qualitative research
Symbolic interactionism

Looks pretty daunting, right?  And this is not the sum total of kinds of research one could list--there are many more out there. 

My cry to the field is--isn't it about time that we started talking about the principles of qualitative research and started looking at these kinds of research as talking points in an ongoing conversation about those principles? 

Onward and upward--I can't wait for next week's class:  data collection and analysis and QDAS!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Dear David Sedaris: A Fan Letter With Some Advice about Qualitative Data Analysis Software

Dear David Sedaris:  I am a longtime fan of your writing.  I love the way you can zip together a non-fiction essay.  You keep me laughing about those all too human failings we all have. 

On a recent couple of days out of town, I picked up a hard copy of your book—Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls.  I guess it’s not important that it’s hard copy, but I so seldom read anything in that form anymore that it seems important to me, but not to get off-track with needless details. 

It was interesting to read about your early experiences with speed.  I am glad to hear you and Hugh have found a great place outside of London.  I don’t envy you all the travel you have to do to promote your books—book tours sound like an awful lot of work.  Luckily, none of my books have been that popular, and I haven’t had to grapple with this challenge nor do I anticipate such will be in my future. 

The essay that really struck my fancy was “Day In Day Out” (pg 225-237), where you describe how you keep your writer’s journal.  I loved it!!  Now, this may be in part due to the fact that I am a bit of a nerdy qualitative researcher.  As a group, we are kind of stuck on journals, memos, observations, recording daily life in small villages, things like that, and I seem to have a quite a bad obsession with this.

Be that as it may, you just made me tingle when you wrote about the notebooks you’ve been writing in since 1977.  I sighed when you described how they had evolved over the years—yes, I am sure they improved when you were not on speed.  But the part that really had me drooling was when you talked about INDEXING the volumes of the journal.  My heart began to beat faster, and I couldn’t put the book down.  Here is a great passage.

“Over a given three-month period, there may be fifty bits worth noting, and six that, with a little work, I might consider reading out loud.  Leafing through the index, which now numbers 280 pages, I note how my entries have changed over the years…”  (pg 232)

When I finished the whole thing, I said to myself, “WOW!!  He is doing all of this without Qualitative Data Analysis Software.  This is all by hand, so to speak.  He could do so much if he would shift to QDAS”. 

Yes, QDAS—pronounced like “Cute Ass”.  You got it. 

QDAS is a class of software created by and for qualitative researchers that allows you to create your own indexes for your texts.  You can search, extract, and compare those texts just willy-nilly using the codes you assign to the bits and pieces of your text. 

I even tried something like this myself with my personal journals (see blog entries related to “The Journal Project”).  Using a tool like this would make you so much more efficient in looking for and using those great memories you are storing away—like this wonderful item on page 231--“Volume 87, 5/15: Lisa puts a used Kotex through the wash, and her husband mistakes it for a shoulder pad.”  You could code this under “Lisa” and/or “husband”.  I might make a code for “Kotex”, with a sub-code for “used”….  Then later I could search for all the possible combinations.  As you can see, limitless opportunity awaits you.

If you want to go further with these ideas, please feel free to contact me.  I am ready, able, and willing to help you get your data into good shape using QDAS.  In the meantime, good luck with your manual methods. 

And, again, thank you for all the great essays.


P.S.  If there are any other authors out there who work like Mr. Sedaris—see me for a good time.  QDAS awaits you! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Blogging about Teaching Qualitative Research

[Back in my archives of things I meant to upload to the blog, I found these two entries about teaching qualitative research.  I’ve mashed them together here for simplicity’s sake.  Surprise, surprise, they are now two years old…and I’ve switched from the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 assignment strategy to something called Specifications Grading that I will have to describe at another time.]

Teaching Qualitative Research

I have been teaching Qualitative Research to doctoral students, officially since 1998.  I teach it unofficially to everyone else, whatever I am doing. 

If qualitative research is supporting people to inquire with whatever is available, where ever you are, then I am your woman.  I wallow in the data they bring to me; I chortle at the theoretical quandaries that one can spin within this paradigm; and I laugh heartily at the storms that come with the use of qualitative research software.  Give me your best, your worst, I am ready for it! 

This semester my qualitative research class is on Tuesdays, and I look forward to the full day.  I am teaching across the day from preparation and grading to developing assignments and, finally, teaching. 

Teaching qualitative research is so much fun that I hesitate to call it teaching.  It’s been well over a decade, but it still is not old.  But yes, it has been changing all along.  Qualitative research has changed as the world changes.  Tonight we will be discussing some of those changes—the dilemma of research strategies or frameworks.  My students will grapple with the meaning of those tried and true categories that everyone thinks doctoral students should know—case study, ethnography, grounded theory, and phenomenology—but they will also learn about others that may not be so much in the news (arts-based research, narrative analysis, or action research). 

Today is a big paper day, for part of the session, which means we will get out big pieces of chart paper and markers—and students will work visually to create ways to share what they have learned about these kinds of research.  Working visually is a powerful way to create mnemonics that the entire class can refer to as the discussion moves forward.  

At the end of today’s class, a group of my students are going to go off with some articles about new ways of looking at the dilemma of how to say what kind of qualitative research one is using and will report back to us next week on what they learn.  The problem of qualitative research frameworks (what to call what and why) has been bugging me for some time, and I hope their upcoming discussion gives me new ideas on the problem. 

I’m experimenting with a new kind of assignment in both of my classes; 1/3, 1/3, 1/3.  Assignments are given out each week to 1/3 of the class.  Assignments are different every week as the class pushes forward in to new topics.  The assignments come back in a week, which means I am grading 1/3 of the group at a time—much more manageable.  We use the assignments as review and extenders for the beginning of the next session.  In this way, more students get more attention from me, have more experience presenting to the group and reviewing their ideas, and I think I really like how this is evolving. 

Last week’s assignment turned out to be an excellent one—I won’t forget this one—interview someone who finished or is about to finish a doctoral dissertation in qualitative research; ask them a set of questions about the process (which I provided), and report back to us in a short paper.  The papers have been very interesting, and I will bet the interviewee also enjoyed the conversation.  It was a good way for doctoral students to get an introduction to the process of the qualitative research dissertation.  Nothing is ever as good as hearing it from someone who has done it. 

Off to teach! 

[10/2014—I continue to think with issues related to the class.]

Blasting Qualitative Research Kinds Out of the Water

Today in my qualitative research class, several students will be reporting on articles that take up the topsy-turvey world of what is called:  research kinds, research strategies, research frameworks—and probably a number of other names.  This is a follow-up to last week’s class where we looked at a number of these from grounded theory and case study to ethnography, narrative analysis, pragmatic qualitative research, and a couple dozen more. 

If you haven’t noticed—in the last two decades, qualitative research textbooks have been getting heavier and heavier around the middle.  They have been adding pages and pages every edition in the section on research kinds.  It’s not pretty.  Indeed, I think is distorting the picture of qualitative research for beginners—its key issues and concerns. 

I had gathered a number of articles on this issue...and then Norman Denzin put out his most recent edition of Qualitative Inquiry (20, 6) with a number of papers making powerful critiques of this same issue.  So, today is a kind of festival of articles on the contradictions that are emerging regarding research kinds in qualitative research. 

There are five papers being discussed today, and each paper has a paper written about it by a student in the class.  These five represent 1/3 of the class...the other 2/3’s get to listen and enjoy this week.  I’ll share some of the highlights the students raise in these short and pithy papers. 

Lauren read Paul Atkinson’s 2005 paper—Qualitative Research:  Unity and Diversity—in FQS 6(3), Art 26.  Atkinson is one of the earlier voices being raised on this issue.  She says he “identifies several limitations both on how qualitative data is collected and how it is analyzed.”  In particular, she noted his concerns about the overuse of the interview, and the need across many forms of qualitative research study to attend to the issue of context.  Lauren picks up on the critique in Atkinson’s work of the American dominated theoretical arguments that may not reflect the European concerns or other world regions. 

Jeanne selected the introduction to the Qualitative Inquiry issue mentioned above, an article by E. St. Pierre and her colleague A. Jackson.  Jeanne provides a cogent description of the St. Pierre/Jackson critique of coding, as it has been presented for many years, as a kind of pseudo-scientific algorhythm that will make qualitative research more trustworthy in the eyes of a quantitative establishment.  She points to some of the very challenging questions these two authors (and other authors in the special edition) are raising:  Should all interview data be judged equally worthy?  Can you analyze data without coding?  Should theory or question be required to step up and take a more dominant role?

Douglas, Kathleen, and Danielle dove into the special issue and read pieces by the contributing authors.  Their papers help to put flesh on the overviews described above. 

Douglas investigated Holbrook and Pourchier’s “Collage as Analysis: Remixing in the crisis”—sharing those three fascinating characteristics of the approach—hoarding, mustering, and folding/unfolding/refolding. Kathleen takes us into Murphy’s “Living in a post-Coding World: Analysis as Assemblage”and the notion of rhizomatic where “concept/data interrelationships are considered horizontal in nature, heterogeneous, and resistant to hierarchical categorizations” (Kathleen—that is heavy!)...Danielle’s review of Brinkman’s “Doing without data” is bringing us into new thinking about abduction and the pragmatic notion of ‘the situation’ as a way to get our heads out of the old research framework notions. 

Thank you all for the articles on the articles.  As I look across the different authors and their arguments, I can say that I really think there is a there...there.  In other words, they are on to something important.  There is a shaking and shuddering going on out there within the qualitative research community.  We are not happy with these muffin-top textbooks with their gigantic inflated center sections on research kinds—it’s gone too far! 

The critique of research kinds emerges from a variety of corners of the qualitative research world—we notice we are focusing on words (interviews) at the expense of context; we notice that one small part of the world is dominating the discussion; we notice that the ways we actually conduct interpretation differ considerably from the descriptions we were taught...and that we continue to teach others.  It all screams for a new kind of congruence.  I think this is the challenge ahead of us in the field.

Thanks to my great students who have begun the discussion, and I hope will continue to engage with it. 


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Why Philosophy and not Problem: A Key Qualitative Research Dilemma.

(This is another piece I wrote in January 2016.  Looking back at it I am not sure I agree with everything here.  Also I have since found Patricia Leavy's book on transdisciplinary research, which does put the heart at the center...and as part of another project I have been looking at a lot of mixed-methods pieces, which also talk about the problem as central.  However, my basic concerns remain.)

Why has philosophy, and not the problem, come to dominate qualitative research discussions?  By philosophy, I mean all of the kinds of qualitative research from ethnography and case study to phenomenology and narrative analysis.  The discussion of “kinds of research”, as I call it dominates the qualitative research textbook, taking up the majority of space in today’s examples.  It also dominates in the dissertation process, where students are asked to declare allegiance to a kind of research and demonstrate adherence to its principles. 

While in the larger debate these different kinds of research are all considered to be equal players, meaning they all bring the same range of issues to the fore, but in truth, they are a really motley group and look very different up close than they do far away.  Case study focuses on particular incidents, but doesn’t say much about methods.  Ethnography, traditionally, focuses on observation of small geographically located communities, while phenomenology favors interviews and attention to a subject’s internal perspectives.  Grounded theory seems to pay most attention to analytic issues, such as coding and thematic development.  These are not comparable, nor are they mutually exclusive. 

The emphasis on declaring a kind of research developed as qualitative research expanded its scope and audience.  Initially a way to describe differences between quantitative and qualitative research, it has become a litmus test for legitimacy.  This is a reactive stance. 

In turning toward philosophy, qualitative researchers have turned away from the problem itself.  Ironically, the problem is now coming to the fore with the need for using qualitative data to solve complex problems using complex teams that span disciplines and geographic areas and perhaps even dip into social media and big data.  When qualitative researchers are dropped into these new situations they need to talk problem, not philosophy, if they are to make sense to their diverse colleagues. 

Diehard qualitative researchers schooled in the logic of qualitative research kinds are going to object, after all if we were to leave behind the glory of the paradigm wars it could mean the end of their bread and butter.  And how do we know that they aren’t right?  Is there any other model out there that could help us to make sense of this problem?

I think there are ways to do this.  What if, we prioritized the problem and conceptualized kinds of research as forms of narrative.  This would mean our starting point would be a problem, sitting in the middle of a wide river composed of many molecules and currents combined from the water in tributaries above the place where our problem sits in the river.  As we start to examine the problem-- to observe it, understand it, distill its characteristics—we would simultaneously begin to pay attention to the context in which it is embedded.  This approach would lead to the development of an appropriate set of methods and methodological perspectives that would help us to understand the problem and to describe the context.  Thus, in this scenario, the problem comes first and speaks to the possibilities of the kind of research that will be employed to explore its qualities.  It also suggests that philosophical strands, as narratives, are more connected than disconnected, more intertwined than not. 

Literature offers a good comparison for understanding this perspective.  There are many kinds of literary styles and approaches to the novel that have emerged in different epochs, bearing different names like “realist” or “postmodern”.  While authors will be deeply aware of the discussions of these kinds around them, and they may employ approaches that fit within one or another such style, they don’t start off by declaring to their reader that this is a such-and-such-kind of novel.  Instead, they have to engage the reader in a problem and a narrative about that problem—they have to find ways that will allow the reader to see different angles of the problem, develop views of the problem.  The understanding of the problem must be full and contradictory.  No good story is too one-sided.  Reader wants complexity.  Novelists use techniques that will build the story—and these can come from many different eras and examples.  They leave it to the critiques to work out the way the novel  is positioned among other novels in the history of literature. 

What I am proposing is a very Deweyian response to the problem of “kinds of research”.  I have even proposed at an earlier time (a presentation at the International Congress on Qualitative Inquiry) that this kind of qualitative research should be called “transactional”.  In a textbook I was looking at recently, this form of approach was called “pragmatic” (although the mixed methods people are trying to grab this label). 

In an earlier blog post, I also described an assignment I had been doing over several years with my doctoral students in the qualitative research class, where they had to present an article describing a qualitative research study on a topic related to their dissertation interest.  Time and again, they could see no discoverable kind of research described, or it was only described without much connection to the research actually presented.  This suggests to me that the problem leads and the method twines around the problem, not the other way around. 

Philosophy or Problem?  I vote for problem as the heart and starting point of good qualitative research. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Subjectivity is to Ethics as Caring is to Social Justice

An ode to caring and qualitative research written in January 2016!

Once upon a time when I was early on in my work as a teacher of qualitative research, I created a little table to help students understand the relationship of inside and outside/subjectivity and ethics.  It looked like this:

(Values, beliefs, assumptions)

I was hoping it would help them to see the complexity of the problem and the ways that self is interacting with other in one-to-one and institutional contexts.  This table shows up on pg 40 of Qualitative Research Design for Software Users by diGregorio and Davidson—2008.

The development of my table came about as qualitative researchers were making the adjustment to being considered part of the whole Institutional Review Board (IRB) apparatus, and, concurrent with that the growth of the IRB within higher education and non-profit institutions. 

I am thinking that a similar table might be useful to help students see the relationship that caring has to social justice, and this idea coincides with another thought (see following paragraph)…

I recently got a request from an administrator to provide information on the ways ethics and ethical issues were presented in the classes I teach.  My response was that in qualitative research, ethical concerns are always present and always part of our thinking.  It is there from the start and continues to be part of the discussion through all phases of the work.  Being asked this question forced me to respond to one thing that had been bugging me about qualitative research textbooks—the one little chapter or section about ethics…sometimes sitting near the beginning and sometimes near the end of the book and the one little section on reflexivity with participants—also sitting out alone somewhere in the text and the one little section on critical theory approaches that always really grabs students, who, in my experience care an awful lot about the impact of their work. 

It seems to me that caring (or lack of caring) is part of subjectivity in the individual researcher…and this is the necessary starting point for an approach to research that is respectful of the other in all its forms. 

The Caring Self/Researcher
The Cared for Other
Individual researcher
Individual participant
Community of researchers (team, advisors)
Community of participants (interviewees, observed)
Institutional context;  university, NGO
Institutional context;  school, community agency, business
Disciplinary context:  Field, Communities of researchers addressing this issue, professional organizations
? :  Education, Umbrella Organizations


Care is the individual and interactive expression of social justice;  social justice then is the policy and political face of care. 

Care is understood in the way we deal with others as beings (whether persons, groups, or other grouping) that are personally connected to us.  Social justice is the way we resolve to make our ideas programmatic, legal, visible to the world. 

Caring is a stance.  Social justice is a politically enacted response to that stance. 

What is the opposite of caring?  What is an uncaring stance?  An uncaring stance is one where the motivation or perspective is selfishly motivated for personal gain—a kind of gain that could be economic, political, or social.  Uncaring seeks to put oneself above others.  Uncaring cannot share.  Uncaring is ultimately the basis of  inauthenticity.  One cannot be authentic (and genuinely reflexive) if one is uncaring. 

One can be blind, uninformed, or ignorant and still be caring…ignorant but uncaring contains the seeds of negotiation, understanding, and promise.  But if one were ignorant and uncaring, there would be no possibility of understanding.  In that case, social justice will not be served. 

Just as I am arguing in an earlier blog that problem, not philosophy, should be the starting point of a qualitative research inquiry.  Here I am arguing that caring should be the starting point of a qualitative research inquiry.  If caring (about the problem, the people, the context) is present, then social justice will be worked out through that stance. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

David Lustick: UMass Lowell Colleague Passes Away

Image result for david lustick images

A day at the beginning of the Spring 2016 semester, and David seemed to be dragging as he walked down the hall to the elevator.  Later that afternoon, he learned about the cancer that had taken up residence in his 53 year-old body.  For the rest of the semester as he sought treatment, I found it hard to pass his empty office, and I avoided looking at his photograph near the number on his office door. 

This morning, the cancer won.  He is with us no longer.   When I heard the news, I heard a rip in the fabric of the universe, as some vital essence spilled out. 

David was a vivid presence in our midst--as a teacher, researcher, and staunch faculty advocate.  His students were thrilled by his teaching.  He never shied away from speaking up in faculty meetings or faculty senate if he felt an important issue was being ignored.  Serving on a dissertation committee with him guaranteed you were going to be part of some good discussions. 

He was absurdly visionary, determined, and humorous.  He was in science education and I am a qualitative research geek--so we didn't get that many chances to overlap in our work.  It's only when it's too late you realize what you missed doing and with whom you missed connecting.

In the last few years David conducted trailblazing work in the area of climate change education, which led to an invitation to present his project at a conference at the White House.  He went with most of his family--and later at a faculty lunch shared hilarious descriptions of behind the scenes.  I was thrilled to hear his videostreamed talk that day coming from the White House meeting room.  It may be as close as I get to Presidential fame!!

We will mourn this loss in different ways.  David--I will miss you.  I will send my thoughts out to the universe, hoping your transmitter is on and can receive my message.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Thanks to QSR NVivo: Love that Survey Import Wizard!

Wonderful Morning!!  I spent from 9-11 am in the company of the delightful Noelle Wyman, QSR trainer, and several other UMass Lowell colleagues learning about the new Survey Import Wizard NVivo has developed.  I love it! 

We were a mixed group--some people with NVivo experience and some with none; some people with qualitative research experience and some with very little.  Noelle was able to make everyone feel comfortable no matter what the level and kind of experience. 

This new addition to NVivo 11 makes it so easy to bring survey data into NVivo.  There is good integration with Qualtrics and Survey Monkey, but regardless of the survey tool, if the data is in spread sheet form--it is good to go. 

Using the Survey Wizard, the data comes in and Cases and attributes are magically created, as well as nodes are made for the open-ended data.  I will be looking for unsuspecting survey researchers on campus this fall who would like to try this out. 

Thank you too to Chris Danforth from QSR, sales representative for the Eastern United States, who also joined the group. 

Having QSR North America around the corner in Burlington, Massachusetts has been great for those of us at UMass Lowell who make use of this tool.  We appreciate having this expertise in our own back yard.