Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What Constitutes Creativity in Qualitative Research Teaching?

Here is a set of related sentences:

What constitutes creativity in teaching?

What constitutes creativity in research teaching?

What constitutes creativity in qualitative research teaching?

Like stair steps, each one brings me closer to the thing that is at the heart of what I do--teach qualitative research in as creative of a manner as possible.  But, what is that? 

There is creativity in teaching and research teaching, both of which are necessary and related, but then there is creativity in qualitative research teaching. 

Before we get too much further into this conversation, I should probably mention that I love teaching qualitative research.  Maybe it is not coincidental that generally when I am teaching qualitative research, I feel I am deep in the flow of creativity.  So, it would stand to reason if I looked more closely at what feels like flow, I might gain some insight into the elusive notion of creativity in qualitative research teaching. 

When I thought about digging deeper, however, I worried that there would be nothing there specific to qualitative research.  In other words, was I simply being a creative teacher and/or a creative research teacher?  Is that really the sum total of what is needed?  But I persisted and here is a list of things I can identity as part of my practice:

1.  I like my students.
2.  I like my subject:  qualitative research. 
3.  I have been reading about it for quite some time.
4.  I like the mundane parts of my craft as well as the elevated parts, that is, the tedium of organization is as likely to get my attention as the theory, and I consider them to be related.  You can't have one without the other.
5.  I like to find new ways to put my students in charge of the doing and thinking, so I can sit back and watch them make meaning. 
6.  I don't mind trying out new or risky instructional activities.
7.  I never seem to get tired of the excitement that comes when I see students making new discoveries and shifting their understanding of what research is or could be. 
8.  I love it when students go out and find new methodology resources. 
9.  I love it when students identify and develop new efficiencies with digital tools or other items that support their research?
10.  I like teaching students how to write up qualitative research.

Looking over this list of ten items, I am hard put to see how creativity in qualitative research teaching is different than creativity in teaching.  I am not sure if that is a good thing or bad. 

To another academic year of qualitative research students, I say, "Thank You!"  It gets better year by year. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Wikipedia: Why should female academic qualitative researchers care?

I have been slow to come to the Wikipedia party.  I knew people who edited.  I had heard other academics complain, “never use Wikipedia as a reference in a professional paper!”  I used it regularly myself.   I realized it wasn’t perfect, and I took the information with a grain of salt, glancing over the references to see where the stuff came from.  Sometimes I quoted Wikipedia because I wanted to reference the information most people had access to at any given time.  But by and large, Wikipedia was backgrounded for me. 

That was until recently, when, thanks to my Library colleague, Sara Marks, I began to pay attention.  For over a decade, Sara has been editing Wikipedia, leading wikihackathons, and attending Wikimania, the international conference of Wikipedians.  She is deeply into it. 

So, when I went to her recently and said I would like to see if I could use Wikipedia editing as a practical means of using the information my advanced qualitative research class would glean from writing papers on methodological topics…her eyes begin to glow with a strange light.  It could be done, she promised me.  I should have realized she was choking back a smile, pleased to think she might be adding more Wikipedians to the institution. 

In anticipation of getting started planning a project, I began, on my own, to dip into Wikipedia and see what was already available on my topic.  The article on qualitative research was one of the first places I visited.  

It’s not a very inviting place.  There is a banner across the top warning the reader that the article has multiple problems—related to writing and references.  The topic seems to be “owned” by sociology, as it is linked to that project.  Based on some of the text near the beginning, I had the feeling it might have been written by a student of Robert Bicklin (of Bogden and Bicklin fame!)  At least, I thought, there is lots to do here.  Definitely room for growth as an editor. 

Interesting, but I wasn’t getting close to my key concerns which I would express like this:

  • Why does anyone care about Wikipedia?  Why is it such a phenomenon?
  • Why should I, as an academic, care about Wikipedia?  [Many academics hate it with a passion, so why am I hanging around here looking at it?]
  • Why should I, as a qualitative researcher, care about Wikipedia?  [If the generic article possesses warnings, what is the state of the other articles related to this topic?]
  • Why should I, as a teacher, care about Wikipedia? [Do I want students to struggle with poorly formed text and mis-information?  Is that learning?  Shouldn’t they be given the right information and the best models?]
  • Why should I, as a woman, care about Wikipedia? [I was already aware that there was a dearth of women represented on Wikipedia, but poking around I found that only 10% of the editors are female.]

Here are some reasons that I have come up with to answer my questions:

Wikipedia is one of the top Internet sites in the world.  It has more unique visitors visit it every day than multiple of the world’s top newspapers and other communication sites.  It is developing repositories of information in languages from across the world. 

Wikipedia is a unique experiment in community knowledge creation, primarily driven by volunteers.  The information on Wikipedia is getting better and better.  It grows, changes, and is revised with great rapidity (in certain areas).  Some disciplines or organizations are taking on the task of vetting the information in their area of expertise.  As this happens, Wikipedia takes on a greater and greater role as a central source of information. 

Wikipedia is widely accessible, unlike many kinds of journals or books in specific disciplinary areas.  For many people in different corners of the world, Wikipedia may be a primary text.  If qualitative researchers want to make their topics known to the world, they probably need to care about the kind and quality of information that is represented about qualitative research in Wikipedia.  As with many things technological, however, I would bet that Wikipedia has not yet caused the hearts of too many qualitative researchers to beat faster. 

As I searched for resources about how to teach with Wikipedia, I realized that it was a phenomenal tool.  Higher education classrooms around the globe have begun to make Wikipedia editing a component of a dynamic class.  I was excited to see that I would not be alone if I undertook this effort.  Moreover, there were good resources available to help me hone my skills. 

This last week, Michelle Obama was featured on a documentary about the ways girls are losing out in the educational arena.  To be blunt, millions of girls around the world are not even enrolled in school.  If they were in school, maybe they would be asked to turn to Wikipedia to find information—where women are under-represented, and few women are participating in the development of what has become a universal text.  That’s not good.  Wikipedia clearly needs women’s participation.  I find it thrilling to think that I could be developing texts that could become part of the curricula for these unknown girls and women who may be about to begin their education. 

I realize that it might be a slow path, but I think I see Wikipedia in the future of this female, academic, qualitative researcher.  Tune in for more…

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Doing Qualitative Research Online by Janet Salmons

This semester I am teaching a class called "Advanced Topics in Qualitative Research".  This is the first time we have offered this class in our new Ph.D. in Research Methods and Program Evaluation in Education in the UMass Lowell Graduate School of education. 

In the first part of the semester, I am mixing topics I have selected with the development of students' methodological topics (which they will be presenting later in the semester).  I identified topics that I thought were cutting edge, of interest to students, or I thought hadn't been fleshed out in the first qualitative research course they had taken with me. 

Our first text in the "selected by me" category was Janet Salmons book Doing Qualitative Research Online (Sage Publications, 2016).  I selected this because I felt the first semester of qualitative research had used the traditional approach focusing on face-to-face interactions, which doesn't really represent reality for anyone in today's digital world.  We read the text over two weeks, giving us time to digest the points. 

Most important thing to report first:  Everyone in the class liked the text.  It is well organized, informative, and clearly written.  There are great charts and tables throughout that illustrate the points being made, and students appreciated this component.  No one mentioned going to the online resources that are also available (I think they were more concerned with developing their own topics.)  Figure 2.1 was our all time favorite table:  Designing studies to generate new knowledge--I think I will see a lot more tables like this out of our group in the future. 

As  I mentioned in an earlier blog posting, I love Salmons formulation of data as "extant, elicited, and enacted".  I think that moves us up a level of generalization to create categories that are very useful for organizing ideas about types of data. 

Personally, I liked it that she didn't belabor the discussion of kinds of research.  I also like the "Discussion Questions and Exercises" at the conclusion of each chapter, where she gave students suggestions for looking at the products of research, comparing the end results and how people describe their methodological approach. 

One thing I noted that surprised me was that sampling was discussed in Part III, as if this would be considered after you have done the design and received institutional permission to move forward.  At my institution that discussion would have to occur prior to IRB approval.  I wondered if the difference is that located/geographical studies in a fixed place are sampled or approached differently than many online populations.  This may need more discussion in methodological circles. 

As a QDAS nerd, I was disappointed that there wasn't stronger discussion of the integration of these tools. Her references to further resources in this area could have been stronger. 

Don't let me forget to mention that I particularly liked the way she set up her appendix in the "Do you want to learn more about..." form.  Very effective and much less distanced than the usual annotated bibliography. 

Although the title of the book has the term "online" in it, I think this text would make a good cross-over text, that is, it could be used to teach qualitative research in its emerging hybrid form that intersects hybrid and online. 

So:  Thumbs up!  from the Fall 2016 course in Advanced Topics in Qualitative Research. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

International Congress on Qualitative Inquiry: Call for Proposals

It is that time of year again.  The International Congress on Qualitative Inquiry is getting ready for Year 13--2017.  The Digital Tools Special Interest Group needs your submission.  I have posted the call for applications below.  Or, you can go to our web page for more information, and to see what we have been up to.  The submissions are due at the beginning of December, and the conference is in mid-May.  Join me on the University of Illinois-Champaign campus for another exciting year discussing qualitative research with fellow hard core aficionados!

The Digital Tools track at ICQI 2017
The theme of the 2017 Congress is “Qualitative Inquiry in the Public Sphere,” and the Digital Tools for Qualitative Research SIG will once again host a special track during the conference. Please note that the emphasis of this SIG is on the intersection of digital tools and qualitative researchers rather than the findings of qualitative studies that address questions of technology use. See prior programs for examples and consider submitting sessions on distance learning, computers in the schools, etc. to other tracks or to the general Congress.
You may submit poster, paper or panel proposals related to the conference theme and/or to one of the following themes:
  • Digital Tools for Qualitative Research:  What are they (old and new; hybrid or repurposed)?  What are the various and intersecting sub-groups of tools that comprise qualitative research technology? How are they being used?  What constitutes good use?  How do we know?
  • Methodological Quandaries:  How are qualitative researchers making sense of the methodological issues raised by the use of digital tools? What methodological tasks are served by the use of new tools?  How do digital tools impact the use of different interpretive frameworks?
  • Ethics and Social Justice:  What ethical issues do these tools raise?  Whom do they help?  Whom do they hurt?  How is justice or injustice occurring through the use of digital tools in qualitative research?
  • The Literature of and Theoretical Perspectives on Digital Tools in Qualitative Research:  How are we theorizing and contextualizing these tools? How do researchers’ affiliation with or critique of these tools shape our communities of practice?
  • Other: A topic of your choice that addresses our focus on the intersection of digital tools and qualitative researchers (or digital tools and qualitative methodologies).
Submitting a poster, paper or panel proposal
Please submit your abstracts to the Digital Tools for Qualitative Research SIG through the conference website:
  • Abstracts must be 150 words or less.
  • Each submission should clearly specify its category: poster, paper or panel.
  • Choose the Digital Tools for Qualitative Research track during the submission process.
  • To assist in the grouping of papers, you might also identify one of the themes described above (Digital Tools for Qualitative Research, Methodological Quandaries, Ethics and Social Justice, The Literature of and Theoretical Perspectives on Digital Tools, and/or the Congress theme – “Qualitative Inquiry in the Public Sphere”).
  • Submission Deadline: December 1, 2016.
  • Proposals that are not accepted by the SIG will be considered for inclusion in the general Congress.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Diana Eck: India: A Sacred Geography—Writing at the Intersection of Anthropology and Religion

Lotus; courtesy of Creative Commons
Recently shopping for some light reading for a short vacation, I came across Diana Eck’s India: A Sacred Geography on Amazon.  I was surprised to see Eck's name associated with a book on India, because my knowledge of her was related to work on diversity in the American religious scene.  In fact, at first I thought the odd last name was only a coincidence; but not so!!  Eck's decades long work with Indian religious issues is actually the catalyst for her current work with pluralism and American religious change. 

India: A Sacred Geography is a rich treat.  A book that has been gestating in its author for many, many years.  This long process of production started with her earliest work on Benaras (her dissertation I would presume), and includes many years of visiting India, going to numerous places of pilgrimage, and thinking about landscape, architecture, literature, language—how it all fits together. 

The underlying premise is that India was India long before the latest colonial invasions.  India created itself by foot and pilgrimage, endowing the landscape with a sense of meaning and story that is re-enacted again and again by the constant visiting that crosses various territories.  More powerful than any boundary drawn by British or other parties, India’s sense of consolidation is written on the landscape through the circulation of pilgrims. 

“Many Indian scholars have noted the significance of the network of pilgrimage places in constructing a sense of Indian “nationhood” not as a nation-state in the modern usage of the term, but as a shared, living landscape, with all this cultural and regional complexity,” says Eck (location 365) 
 A landscape that is created in this way is mythic, historical, and contemporary.  It is both natural and contrived.  Of the natural—rivers play a huge role, of which there are many, many crossing the geography of the country.   Of the contrived, temples, buildings, and cities are significant.  Tirthas, dhams, lingas—I began to lose count of the many kinds of constructions that could be linked to weave together this landscape. 

The anthropologic piece, for me, is the way Eck understands this landscape of vast proportions from a kind of participant-observation perspective.  She has walked the ways of the pilgrims…and yet she has also read and constructed a theoretical understanding of the ways goddess bodies are distributed across landscape, the way cities are connected through myth and pilgrimage, and the role that rivers play throughout it all. 

Studying the Indian sense of India as constructed through a religious landscape that has been evolving for centuries is a different kind of anthropologic feat than sitting in “x” village for a year and trying to figure out water rights (although there is nothing wrong with that).  And I am not at all sure that Eck would describe herself as an anthropologist.  But there is something here that is highly anthropologic and deserves to be thought about as a form of qualitative research.  As such it provides insights about how to study things that seem irregular, large, diffuse—not a village, school, or business department.  We need, I think, to make use of qualitative research tools to study the irregular as well as the regular and confined (made strange).  I would assume she has some items that count for traditional data, but I would also assume that much of her thinking is not data-driven in the traditional way we are using it right now—time bound and scientific—but incorporated in embodied memories of visits and time spent watching and thinking.  I think her method required lived experience, and, as she says, it was gestating for a long time. 

As I page through my digitally highlighted notes of the book it’s hard to know what to stop and share—there is so much that I felt was significant.  It is definitely a good read for a qualitative researcher in search of new models. 

 Diana Eck.  2012.  India: A Sacred Geography.  Published by Harmony Books, a division of Random House.  New York. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Making Sense of Obrist and Ways of Curating

Hans Ulrich Obrist’s book, Ways of Curating, is a marvel for many reasons.  He is so widely read and so deeply intertwined with artists and curators through his decades long interviewing activities that he is able to make amazing connections between the history of curation and the current trends.  There are many lessons and overlap with qualitative research. 
Below is a curated collection of quotations drawn from my highlights in the Obrist text.  Taken from various parts of the text, they began to form a new narrative about the bringing together of the arts and science, which was one, but certainly not the whole of Obrist’s discussions. 
As he has done in many sphere’s, Obrist suggests ways of creating connections, making sparks fly through juxtapositions, miming, and reorganization.  My question to the world of qualitative research is:  How might we change the way we bring things together—people, ideas, conferences—to “allow different elements to touch”?  What would happen if we did? 
Page 1 · Location 33
There is a fundamental similarity to the act of curating, which at its most basic is simply about connecting cultures, bringing their elements into proximity with each other –the task of curating is to make junctions, to allow different elements to touch. You might describe it as the attempted pollination of culture, or a form of map-making that opens new routes through a city, a people or a world.
Page 20 · Location 264
Zones of contact was my working phrase for what Boltanski, Lavier and I were trying to create. I took it from the anthropologist James Clifford, who had written about a new model for ethnographic museums, in which the peoples whose culture was being ‘represented’ by the museum proposed their own alternate forms of exhibiting and collecting. They were taking it upon themselves to recollect their own story and create their history from the inside. This changed the whole historical narrative of the ethnographic museum, which has mostly been a place for one culture to tell the story of another.
Page 23 · Location 305
The current vogue for the idea of curating stems from a feature of modern life that is impossible to ignore: the proliferation and reproduction of ideas, raw data, processed information, images, disciplinary knowledge and material products that we are witnessing today.
Collecting Knowledge
Highlight(orange) - Page 39 · Location 526
Though the aim of amassing evidence may sound like a rather scientific way to think about collecting, it is necessary to remember that the hard distinction between science and art which marks more recent centuries was not evident as late as the sixteenth century. The separation of art and the humanities on the one hand, and science on the other, is a fundamental feature of modern life, but it also constitutes a loss.
Highlight(orange) - Page 40 · Location 534
To study the Renaissance is to gain a model for reconnecting art and science, sundered by history.
Curating (Non-)Conferences
Highlight(yellow) - Page 152 · Location 1921
Having suddenly been introduced to such an interdisciplinary mixture of people was like a revelation to me. So I thought more about how to connect the arts and the sciences within my own curatorial work.
Highlight(yellow) - Page 153 · Location 1932
So I thought it would be interesting to apply the idea of changing the rules of the game for a discursive event like a conference, similar to what I had done in exhibitions. A mischievous idea occurred to me. What if one had all the accoutrements of a conference: the schedule, hotel accommodation, participants with their badges, but dispensed with the ‘official’ elements of panels,
Highlight(yellow) - Page 153 · Location 1937
The idea was to create a contact zone where something could happen but nothing had to happen. And so the ‘conference’ we organized at the research centre, ‘Art and Brain’, had all the constituents of a colloquium except the colloquium. There were coffee breaks, a bus trip, meals, tours of the facilities, but no colloquium.
Highlight(yellow) - Page 154 · Location 1943
the role of the curator is to create free space, not occupy existing space. In my practice, the curator has to bridge gaps and build bridges between artists, the public, institutions and other types of communities. The crux of this work is to build temporary communities, by connecting different people and practices, and creating the conditions for triggering sparks between them.