Monday, September 27, 2010

Brilliant Bruce Retirement Bash

I spent the last few days in Champaign, Illinois partaking in what I will refer to as the Brilliant Bruce Retirement Bash.  This was a gathering of diverse individuals with a common reference point--Bertram (Chip) Bruce.  The actual day of the celebration was Saturday, September 25, 2010. 

There were 12 papers/offerings/poems.  They ranged from Patrick Berry's (English  Dept, University of Illinois) discussion of teaching and learning about writing in prisons to Lisa Boullion Diaz's (Extension, University of Illinois) description of the work Chip did in the Chicago neighborhoods.  Kevin Leander (Vanderbilt University) used "Chipscope" a take off on the inquiry work on chicks for which Chip is known.  Allan Collins (Northwestern University), a long time colleague of Chip's back to the days at Bolt, Baranak, and Newman, shared some research on the processes of experts.

There were eloquent tributes from Ching-Chiu Lin (Teacher Education Office, University of British Columbia)  in Vancouver (connecting by Skype), Leo Casey of the National College of Ireland--who had flown in for the event and talked of Chip's work as a Fulbright Scholar in Dublin, and Geoffrey Bokwer from the University of Pittsburgh.

My talk was titled "Bruce's Magnificent Quartet: Inquiry, Community, Technology, and Literacy--Implications for Renewing Qualitative Research in the 21st century."   A pretty heft title for a paper that is still in evolution.  I appreciated the opportunity to think more with what has been evolving in my mind about the historical reasons for technology resistance in anthropology and sociology.  I feel like I have taken another step forward in my arguments about technology and aesthetics. 

As would be in keeping with any discussion of Chip Bruce, the name "John Dewey" kept arising in different contexts.  There is always so much more one can learn about Dewey!  

There will be a volume coming out of these papers and others written by people who could not attend.  It will  be exciting to see the different links that surround and intersect through this amazing individual--Chip Bruce.  I can only offer my thanks for the opportunity to be part of his scholarly journey.  

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pender Hill, Parker Palmer, Mark Johnson, and Dewey!

Parker J. PalmerImage via WikipediaRecently I attended a wonderful wedding of two young friends that happened to be next door to the Quaker Retreat Center, Pender Hill, outside of Philadelphia.  While I was unfamiliar with that name...I was familiar with the name Parker Palmer, who had spent many years there as student, teacher, and Dean.

Since the encounter with Pender Hill, I have been thinking more about Parker Palmer's work, which has always resonated with me. 

I have also been reading a marvelous book by Mark Johnson--The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding--in which he comes back to Dewey's notion of the body-mind in fruitful and provocative ways.  

So this morning Parker Palmer had and out of body experience with Mark Johnson and John Dewey--in my mind as I thought about the struggle individuals and groups have with interactions.  Struggle is the problematic (a la Dewey).  We always have situations that are unbalanced, poorly understood, present an issue that needs to be explored, inquired about--that's what Dewey's notion of situation has embedded in it.  I was thinking about the issues of interactions as issues of power.  This led me to the notion of balance (of power...power with) vs power that is out of balance (power over or power under; victimizer vs victimized).  When one seeks power with, you are working from a position of confidence and are power-ful.  When one seeks power over or under, you are working from a position of fear.  Power-ful is balanced, integrated, connected, calm.  Power-less is unbalanced, disintegrating, dis-connected and fearful.

This brought me back to Mark Johnson and Dewey as I thought about the ways these stances are embodied and how our feelings or reactions provide us with important information about the ways others around us are engaged in negotiating power.  I am so likely to think that I should discount physical information about how I am reacting or how I FEEL others are reacting, and yet this information is critical to understanding the structure and meaning of the power issues in an interaction. 

I've set myself the personal task of learning more about Parker Palmer's Circles of Caring work as it applies to higher education.  This seems like such a good fit with the notion of diversity in the the largest sense of that term.

Thank you to all my distant teachers!  

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Review

Collage BlendingImage by williamcho via FlickrI have just gotten word about a new review of the diGregorio & Davidson text:  Qualitative Research Design for Software Users.  The review was written by Dale Frick and published in Qualitative Social Work.  My thanks to Dale Frick (whom I haven't met before) for such a thoughtful review. 

You can access the review at:
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Thursday, August 5, 2010


Anthologize ScreenshotImage by MatthiasHeil via Flickr
Something very exciting has just happened in the world of academia and technology.  Thanks to Dan Cohen and his NEH funded group for developing a really interesting tool.  Take a look at: 


You can read more about the development of this project on Dan's Blog:

Dan Cohen on Anthologize

I think there is great potential for academic use here--turning blogs into articles and publications, providing students with new ways to write.  This was a tool that was waiting to happen.  Thanks to everyone who worked on it.  I look forward to trying it out. 
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Friday, July 23, 2010

The Journal Project Marches Forward

Beiteddine - mosaïque léopardImage via Wikipedia
I haven't posted for awhile, but that doesn't mean I have been inactive. Indeed, the Journal Project is marching forward. I've completed all the preliminary analysis and have been working on drafting a book outline and filling in parts of the chapters as that is possible.

Here is my tentative title (and this is one I've settled on among what seems like hundreds that I have generated):

Interior Conversations:  Technology, Aesthetics, and Qualitative Research

How is that for a pithy label for the work?! 

I've actually been having many good conversations with colleagues about the tentative outline and this has been extremely generative.  In addition to pointing out new ways of understanding the concepts, they have directed me to processes that have helped me to develop the materials in new ways ("That's interesting.  Write a memo about it!").  I have also been directed to some very good books.  Mark Johnson's The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding arrived from this last week. 

Questions I am skating around include:  What is a technology?  How is a technology a thing?  How do things (and technologies) compose practice?  How are aesthetics part of understanding, designing, and practicing with things (and technologies)?  How are aesthetics part of motor activity or embodied?  How is technology/things embodied? 

A rich area for me has been thinking about the ways qualitative researchers react to and avoid use of qualitative research software and related technologies.  I am beginning to see how these reactions are also embedded within streams of thought in sociology and other disciplines.  It appears that reaction to technology is often a confused response to industrialization and its ills.

Finally writing about family, provides me with new insight into the ways in which I am a living example of the tension between aesthetic and technical views as they were simplified and magnified in my family of origin.  Back to thinking! 

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bresler on Aesthetics...2

This is a follow-up blog on Liora Bresler's work.  (See Bresler to the right...It is amazing what you can find on Google Images!)

First, some information on where you can find these materials.
Bresler, L. (2006). Embodied Narrative Inquiry: A Methodology of Connection. Research Studies in Music Education, 27, 21-43.
The piece titled "Experiential pedagogies in research education: Drawing on engagement with artworks" will be a chapter in a book edited by Candace Stout which will be released in late 2010.  

This morning I realized that I needed to take more account of what Liora was saying about the differences between textual/visual and auditory/oral.  (Her piece on Embodied Narrative is where she speaks most strongly to this.] This has great importance to what I have been thinking about in terms of "artful computing".  Manufacturing text from interviews and observations is, in and of itself, a process of reducation and visualization.  Visualization has been at the heart of what Qualitative Data Analysis Software is doing.  Even with the new capacities for audio and video, the emphasis in QDAS is still on reduction towards text.  
Bresler draws upon the works of music educator Wayne Bowman and cultural historian Walter Ong in thinking about the nature of sound to illustrate how sound is a uniquely embodied experience, and one that exists in process and change as opposed to the visual which exists in a state of constancy outside of our bodies.  

Why do I say that text is reduction?  Well, it is the beginning of the process of shrinking, leaving out,  condensing, and reduction that makes it possible to transform experience into new sets of symbols and combinations of symbolic meanings that is necessary in qualitative research.  You turn it into text--reduction begins.  You code the text--reduction again.  You play with the codes and create tables or statements or models--reduction again...and juxtaposition.  
Well, there is much good to think with here.  Thanks again.  

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bresler on Aesthetics

Cecil Touchon, Fusion Series #2174, Collage on...Image via Wikipedia
My Journal Project is really percolating along and the outline and ideas are falling into place.  I've contacted several friends to ask for resources and feedback.  Liora Bresler from the University of Illinois sent me three great articles:

"Experiential pedagogies in research education: Drawing on engagement with art works"

"Embodied narrative inquiry: A methodology of connection", and

"Toward connectedness: Aesthetically based research" (this one was published in Studies in Art Education, September 2006). 

What a treat!  And wow were they helpful.

Here is what I am taking away with me:
  • Connectedness is something that aesthetics and the arts can lend to qualitative research.  Connectedness in the arts offers a means for us to make sense of our relationship with participants AND the scholarly community.  Connectedness provides a means to fulfill qualitative research's desire for empathic understanding (verstehen) with which we have long struggled.  
  • Embodied Narrative drawing upon arts-based understanding of embodiment to inform qualitative research's use of narrative inquiry we will have access to a much richer conceptualization as researchers.  Embodied Narrative Inquiry allows us to make sense of silence/voice; musical/visual; self/other in new ways that can enlarge qualitative research.  Considering the nature of sound.. the possibilities of musical improvisation...and the characteristics or qualities of musical presentation--all of these offer ways to flesh out the notion of embodied narrative inquiry.  
  •  Qualitative Research Instruction:  In "Experiential pedagogies..." Liora shares a wonderful assignment from her qualitative research course.  Students do sustained observations of paintings--one they like and one they dislike.  She shares a large number of the comments made in students' journals or papers and discusses the issues in qualitative research that are raised through this exercise.  I want to do it in my class!  It's a winner.
Thank you to integrate all of this good stuff into my arguments. 

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Jer Thorp at IBM Cambridge

JerImage by johnnybelmont via Flickr
Yesterday I had the pleasure of hearing (and seeing) Jer Thorp, a kind of computer Renaissance man, who presented his work at the IBM Cambridge offices.  He is a scientist, computer programmer, and artist rolled into one.  His art, as he describes it, are the software that he creates to work with visualizations of data. 

He showed a range of examples of his work.  He has been exploring the NY Times archives using their API (Application Programming allows one piece of software to speak to another).  He explained that where Open Source was once the center of computer interest, that interest has now shifted to Open Data.  

With hundreds of thousands of data items from the NY Times--the articles--he demonstrated how small, simple programs can illustrate different aspects of the information.  One that caught my eye, was a comparison of the word strength and connections within two articles.  This is like IBM's "Many Eyes", but that tool is still related to a single piece of text.  It is not comparative in the way that Thorp's was. 

Of particular interest to me were the "facets".  The NY Times has been tagging their articles since the 1800's (using real live human indexers).  Facets are "parent nodes" in NVivo speak that relate to categories like description, geography, person, etc.  Within the facets there are "child nodes".

He demonstrated another interesting piece of work tracking people who say "Good Morning" on Twitter.  In this piece he turned to Magna Carta, a Google tool, that gives the Latitude and Longitude for a text.  As the globe turned and colors popped out at us, reflecting the time zones coming on as risers tweeted "Good Morning" to the world, he made the point that "huge amounts of data are trailing behind us".

His blog provides more information on his work. 

Oh--he also introduced me to an unusual off-beat artist Mark Lombardi, whose art consisted of graphs or node networks related to conspiracies he tracked.  These are truly like what one develops in Qualitative Data Analysis Software.  He, and his friends, considered them art.  Here's what Wikipedia said about it:

 Lombardi called his diagrams Narrative Structures [2] and they are structurally similar to sociograms – a type of graph drawing used in the field of social network analysis, and to a lesser degree to earlier artists like Hans Haacke – but in Lombardi's historical diagrams, each node or connection was drawn from news stories from reputable media organizations. The aesthetic impact is unique – the schematics are elaborate and delicate, yet precise and factual spiderwebs of illustrations depicting alleged networks of criminal conspiracies.

This talk gave me hope in regard to the ideas I've been playing around with regarding artful computing.

The talk was sponsored by the Center for Social Software at IBM.  Their new application, SAND, is looking a lot like QDAS.  I'm looking forward to learning more about it.  

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Autoethnography as Method: Heewon Chang

into the lightImage by »dolfi« via Flickr
My summer reading continues.  I just finished Heewon Chang's book:  Autoethnography as Method (Left Coast Press, 2008).  It's a wonderful contribution to the literature on qualitative research methodology.  With all of the hoopla about autoethnography over the last decade (and I don't mean that as critical) it was about time for a text like this to be written.  Thank you Dr. Chang for doing so! 

Heewon Chang has taken on the task of translating emergent ideas into concrete methods for the next generation of researchers (or for those in the field who haven't yet investigated these methods).  Her writing is clear, well structured, and easy to follow.  The contents of the book are informative and provide good grounding in the background that has been developing in this area.  Examples and exercises are included that help to make the methods concrete for new learners. 

I was particularly appreciative of her Part I:  Conceptual Framework which provides solid definitions of the topics she will be discussing, and a discussion of the context in which her work is situated vis-a-vis various literatures.  Her list of all the possibilities for terms for this kind of work was astounding.  No wonder it can seem a daunting area to enter!

It gave me good things to think about in regard to my Journal Project, which I am still trying to locate within this literature.  Interestingly, like any book that lays down the law (so to speak), it provides you with a backdrop for thinking about pushing the new boundary.  Personally, I am wondering about the boundary between me and them/self and other.  This will be my challenge, how to position something that is personal but professional within a discipline that is professional, with some hints of personal. 

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Tagging in my own blog

I have just had a revelation that has knocked my socks off.  I just realized that if I click on one of my designated tags, I pull up every blog that I have tagged that way.  I don't know what I thought they did (if they didn't do this)...I think I thought the tags were there so that others could search (say in Google or Bing) and find this particular piece of text.

I clikced on "arts based research" and everything I tagged in this way became one seemless set of blogs.  I suddenly realized the breadth of posts that I had seen as fitting this tag.  It was far more than the set of items that I had associated with visual memos. 

I found this extremely help as a visual aid, particularly as posts mount up and I lose track of earlier items (with my limited brain power).  As is common with technology--serrendipity is all!

Bruce and Bishop: New Literacies and Community Inquiry

I have just had the opportunity to read Bertram (Chip) Bruce and Ann Bishop's chapter for the New Literacies Handbook "New Literacies and Community Inquiry".  Sorry I can't give you a better reference than that. 

It is typical Bruce, in that it, in a careful (and yet seemingly effortless manner) he (and Ann) take the reader on a gentle journey reflecting in great depth upon Dewey's contributions to our world and expanding our understanding about literacy, technology, community and the meaning of inquiry.  I always marvel when I read one of his pieces--How does he do it? 

The opening paragraph really says it all.  Chip and Ann--I have to quote it!

Community inquiry research focuses on people participating with others, on the lived experiences of feel, thinking, acting, and communicating.  It sees literacy as part of living in the world, not simply as a skill to be acquired in the classroom.  Inquiry is central, because as people live, they encounter challenges.  Through inquiry, people recognize a problem, mobilize resources, engage actively to resolve it, collaborate, and reflect on the experience.  Making sense of experience in this way, and doing so in concert with others in embodied historical circumstances, is fundamental to learning.
While Dewey is central to the story, Chip and Ann have also turned to Jane Adams (a contemporary of Dewey) as a complimentary pragmatic voice.  Reading this piece and talking to their colleague Jeanne Connell (also at the University of Illinois) who is doing work in Adams and educational philosophy, I am convinced that I have to read more about Adams soon. 

From a very person perspective, I am asking myself--what are the implications of this piece and its focus on community inquiry for my teaching and my research? 

1.  It takes me back to work I did with Sarah Kuhn on Thinking with Things in Qualitative Research...and the question of:  How do researchers, particularly qualitative researchers, appropriate technologies for their work?
2.   How does apprenticeship in qualitative research serve as a form of technology itself, one that defines the ways technologies of research will be encountered?  How does this apprenticeship establish the rules of technology useage?  As researchers mature, how do they appropriate technology?
3.  How do classes serve as communities of inquiry?  Are we providing good thorny problems of civic value?  How does coursework engage students as democratic communities engaged in understanding problematic concerns?
4.  How might Chip and Ann's discussion of technology as lived experience serve me in thinking about the technologies of qualitative research?

Chip--as always, it's been a good read!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Books from the ICQI conference

Pre-Columbian engraved copper plates from two ...Image via Wikipedia
It's been a long hiatus from blogging, but that's what the end of the semester will do to you.

A week ago I was at the ICQI conference in Champaign, Illinois (what fun!) and as my annual treat I picked up an armload of new books.  I feel strange carting off this much paper in this age of online communications.  I am not sure how much longer this tradition will continue.  I may find myself 'beaming down' the latest book into my I-Phone or some other device.  But for now I have this nice pile of fresh pages.

Here are my choices:

Erotic Mentoring:  Women's Transformations in the University by Janice Hocker Rushing (Left Coast Press).  This is the one I've started to read.  I like her invitational style (which she attributes to encounters with Ellis and like-minded qualitative researchers).  I was particularly interested in this book because of the possible connections to my own journal study.  There is a strong Jungian perspective here, something I haven't run into for a while. 

Autoethnography as Method by Heewon Chang (Left Coast Press).  I was very curious to see how a qualitative research methodology text would be translated through the eyes of autoethnography.  I also met Heewon at the conference--she was sitting near me in the session on coding organized by Ray Maietta--and it was then that I realized she was one of the winners of the first QSR teaching grant.  Now I am curious to talk with her more about the ways she is using NVivo with autoethnographic content.  You can do it, of course, but for the technophobic, technology is often frowned upon with more humanistic content or approaches.  Heewon--I will be calling! 

Guyana Diaries: Women's lives across difference by Kimberly Nettles (Left Coast Press).  I thought this book would be an interesting opportunity to read a real ethnography--not another methodology book--not that I distain methodology books.  In keeping with my journal project, it seemed like this would be a place to encounter some good feminist theory.  Nettles describes her studies of The Red Thread Development Corporation, a woman-run activist organization. 

Poetry as Method:  Reporting Research Through Verse by Sandra Faulkner (Left Coast Press) couldn't help but catch my eye.  Faulkner not only talks about representing research in poetry but also explores the ways poets processes parallel/intersect with similar processes of researchers.  She also provides guidelines for evaluating research poetry. 

Finally, I've been searching for a book(s) that would be helpful for moving students into doing online research, and that's why I came home with Janet Salmons Online Interviews In Real Time (Sage).  I looked at several other books on related topics, many with a more comprehensive approach but Salmons seemed the most engaging.  It is very hard to buy books about new technologies because once the book appears, you know the technology has moved on.  It looked like it offered advice that could hold with a range of technological changes. 

It's summer, so back to blogging! 

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Review of our Book

Mixed Media Painting (Detail) by Choichun Leun...Image by See-ming Lee 李思明 SML via Flickr
Ann Lewins' review of diGregorio and Davidson's Qualitative Research Design for Software Users has been published in Qualitative Research at  Thank you Ann for your thoughtful and informative review. 
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Book Review: The Collaborative Turn

Holding Pattern - mixed media paintingImage by crackedmoon via Flickr
My book review of W. Gerson's recent collection (2009):  The collaborative turn: Working together in qualitative research (Amsterdam: Sense Publication) has just been published in the International Journal of Education and the arts.

Read and enjoy--it's a fascinating collection! 

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Review of our Book

I am pleased to announce that a review of the diGregorio and Davidson book--Qualitative Research Design for Software Users--has just been published in FQS or Forum: Qualitative Social Research, on an online journal.

Thanks to Alice Mattoni from the European University Institute for her careful read and thoughtful comments. 

Alice--  I look forward to meeting you at some point!

Mattoni Review

FQS Book Review

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Intuitiveness...Thomas Muhr...and ATLAS.ti

Digital Elevation Model (DEM) from which a wat...Image via Wikipedia
This is a 'reprint' from the Qual-Software Mailing List.  It is a message on the 'notion of intuitiveness' in qualitative data analysis software.  It was written by Thomas Muhr, developer of ATLAS.ti.  I reprint it here with his permission.  To contact him or to learn more about his work, please go to

I felt that his comments on intuitiveness in qualitative data analysis software bore repeating and disseminating. This issue has long been a matter of contention in comparing quantitative and qualitative software packages AND more recently in the discussion new Web 2.0 tools in comparison to the more robust stand-alone packages.  As a developer with long experience in the field, Muhr's comments are particularly important for those of us who are advocates for QDAS software to hear.  


Dear readers of qual-software,
this post was intended as a reply to a discussion that emerged in early
February. However, when thinking about a specific issue I decided to make
this a separate thread.

The notion of "intuitiveness" is intriguing but has its limitations.  If it
is used as a lense to evaluate tools such as software systems, the inherent
complexity of the domain augmented by the tool must be taken into account.
Intuitiveness has its obvious benefits; for one, it is associated with a
shallow learning curve, and as a corrollary, efficient and economical.
Nevertheless, I would like to raise a few points with regard to this
increasingly popular standard and expectation, and in particular question
its universal applicability.

For starters, assuming that the addressed domain (to be analyzed) is
adequately understood by the potential user (no matter if the methodology
was or was not sufficiently intuitive to abandon any manuals or courses),
the steepness of the learning curve does in fact depend on how well,
completely and congruently (emulating natural workflows) the concepts and
methods of the domain are represented in the tool. However, in reality, and
not only in the QDA field, learning a tool and learning a methodology are
often intertwined.
This can often lead to a bias and making it difficult to isolate the
learning curve for the software. Ultimately, discussions about the relative
ease of learning QDA tools often overlook that fact that essentially two
things are part of the curriculum. In some cases, users expect that a
software program might even replace proper training in methods.

Intuitiveness is not neccessarily bound to how well a given software system
intended for one domain resembles a standard in a completely different
domain such as one used for writing and reading emails. It may come as a
surprise how many users of standard email/calendar tools experience
difficulties regarding the accessibility or "user-friendliness" of important
And the functions provided by such tools, e.g. Outlook, are far less complex
than what tools in the QDA area may need to offer. The situation is even
becoming a bit more complicated with tools like Outlook. While receiving and
responding to an email is quite intuitive, changing the style of your
responses, adding or modifying mail accounts or creating a meaningful series
of calendar events is already another thing. While we expect and require a
broader range of functions, expectations of ease-in-use also continue to
grow, prompting the question of whether there is indeed a budding paradox in
the software field.

Even if all engineering efforts have been invested in making a tool as
"intuitive" as possible, there will still be a difference dictated by the
complexity of the modeled reality. t is relatively easy to create
anintuitive tool for calling a taxi with an iPhone (which I recently
installed: activate big yellow button; enter number of passengers; make
payment and voila, the taxi is on its way). Such tools obviously do not
require a manual or a two-day workshop. By the way, good examples for
intuitive interfaces are some adaptations of web sites to the limitations of
mobile devices. Modelling more complex relations obviously requires a
broader spectrum of commands, all of which the user must be at least vaguely
aware in order to benefit from them. 

And if users plan to use a tool that allows them to work on text, images,
audio, video, GIS data, (native) PDFs, as well as one that can create and
manage selected segments in each of these media types; a program that
enables the user to create and define links between codes and segments,
codes and codes, segments and segments (hyperlinks), create and manage memos
that can be associated to any kind of concept available, group concepts,
synchronize media data and transcripts, create queries & hypotheses, decide
and/or create relational prototypes modeling the methodology used, offer a
vast array of analytical tools, offer standards for importing and exporting
project data (-> 1)... and so on and so forth... comparing this type of
broad-spectrum functionality - with regard to intuitiveness - to a tool
primarily dedicated to the analysis of video and the display of an
associated transcript (i.e. Transana) is questionable, at very least.
Without a doubt, the latter tool will suffice for any task or phase
constrained to the ingredients just described.

A tool's intuitiveness can be taken to impressive heights, but if a variety
of methodologies and styles are to be supported, the increasing number of
tool functions and workflows may conflict with this effort. And of course,
personal styles and intellectual habits are also involved in the process of
getting acquainted with a tool. ATLAS.ti has always tried to be as open as
possible with regard to exploring, navigating the emerging "context of
discovery" while concurrently remaining systematical when it comes to
representation and analysis.

Human reasoning and creativity does not often fit well in a tiled
hierarchical windowing scheme, even if it is sometimes comfortable and
tidier. (-> 2) The task we have solved (and are steadily improving) is to
provide a workspace for the user in which all ingredients of a research
endeavor, including the primary data, the concepts that arise in the
process, the memos to be recorded, the linkages between the data and the
"theory", the short cuts between the conceptual level and the indicators in
the data in their original context, can be easily queried and navigated. It
would be an interesting research question itself to find out which
methodologies and which tools match which intellectual and emotional
preconditions - while of course using ATLAS.ti for the analysis!-) While I
agree completely that our system would and should benefit from certain
improvements - and we are constantly working on improvements, which by the
way, we return to our users not only in (costly) major releases but in a
constant evolutionary process, I disagree that adapting to a more standard
(i.e. "Outlook"-type) interface would make things much easier.  Our current
efforts are focussed on the different roles and levels of expertise of users
working with our tools and how different needs can be modeled in the user
interface. And in this process of change we include our users as well as our

Thanks for your patience - comments welcome!
- Thomas Muhr (CEO ATLAS.ti GmbH)

---- end notes ---

(1) By the way, it is only the fact that ATLAS.ti exports project data in a
standard format (XML) that makes the feature "we are able to import ATLAS.ti
projects" possible. It would be much better - at least for the scientific
community - if ALL (!) makers of QDA software would finally agree to support
an open standard or at least an XML based export/import technology. Our XML
compatibility means we allow our users to "leave" us, which may not make
much sense business-wise. But with only proprietary data structures,  the
migration path to alternative and/or future tools will be long and bumpy,
not to mention the chances for smooth longitudinal designs. My advice is to
check your current system if it also gives you the freedom to say "goodbye".
If not, ask for it.

(2) When I look at my desk and desktop, I personally get the impression that
a messy environment can be quite inspiring at times!-
"Convolutedness" at first sight may indeed turn into familarity once the
main concepts and procedures are understood. Instant intuiveness on the
other hand is great, but if you need to drop important properties of your
research requirements it isn't really helpful, i.e. conducive to complex

"Computers, like every technology, are a vehicle for the transformation of
tradition" (Winograd & Flores, 1987) ATLAS.ti Scientific Software
Development GmbH - Berlin -

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Dissertations vs the IPad

Page from the Kelmscott Press edition of Laude...Image via Wikipedia
Recently my program has taken up a discussion of the dissertation--what can we agree upon about the form, contents, style, etc.  In other words, what are our standards for this culminating piece of work in the doctoral program.  We are looking at a rubric that another institution developed, and I have to say that it makes the dissertation look pretty darn BORING. 

[Ironically even this ancient manuscript to the right from about 1200 has more color and design interest  than today's dissertation.]

I have nothing against the notion of a strong literature review, compelling question, thoughtful theoretical intersections, excellent methodological description and well described findings and discussions of implications.  Although, I am not sure that we can agree on what this means cross paradigm.  I think what will be even more difficult is how to figure out what this means in light of new digital forms.  I have already run into a variety of difficulties with issues related to discussions of qualitative data analysis software (QDAS), and this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to addressing new forms. 

I think one of the most important challenges to the standard black and white dissertation, though, are the new visual formats.  For the last few weeks, my Google Reader has been bringing me video advertisements of the new Apple IPad and the kinds of content news media are developing for it.  The New York Times and Sports Illustrated are two I've seen, which are dazzling in their color and flexibility.  It's like a newspaper or magazine and a website combined.  But what is even more interesting is that it feels like it has jumped out of the old computer monitor and into a new kinesthetic mode with the ability to touch the screen and make things happen. 

This is not anything like the way the old dissertation looks even in digital form. Take a look at it.

Apple IPad

You'll probably notice as I did that there is not a single woman in the ad...all male speakers. That aside, (and I am sure they studied their demographic carefully before the release) this is how print of the future will look.  The dissertation looks dingy and sad beside it. Visual images are at a minimum.  Indeed, the height of visual orientation in the standard dissertation is the robust use of APA headings! 

Interestingly, though,  the Apple IPad  is loaded with skeumorphs--references to earlier times and technologies.  You turn pages, select a photo from a pile of photos, select books from bookshelves.  You feel like you are in the world of print and furniture of the late 20th century.  Things work in the same way, but they are all virtual--opening, closing, sliding forwards and backwards with the touch of a finger. 

In such a world it appears on the surface that the standard dissertation can find a place, but my question is why?  By this, I don't mean that we should give up and go on as we have for so many years, creating these five chapter documents that get shelved for eternity.  Rather, why, go on with the old form?  What's stopping us from jumping ship? Trying new forms? 

At the University of British Columbia (UBC) College of Education they have been doing experimentation with arts-based dissertations.  This may be the direction to consider.  

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Three Cases of Visual Memos

Henri Matisse, The Snail, 1953, Gouache on pap...Image via Wikipedia
I have blogged thrice about visual memos I have created:

Visual Memos in Qualitative Research
This is an example of a visual memo developed from writing in my journal about the journal project.  I was thinking about the ways the journal project and its writing was different from formal social science writing.

Visual Memos in Qualitative Research: Part II
 This memo describes the way an image or art approach (prayer ropes) developed through a series of experiences related to the death of a dear friend. 

Visual Memos in Qualitative Research: Part IV
 This memo (a handmade book) developed as a reflection on the experience of teaching a qualitative research class in which visual memos were integrated with every component of the course experience. 

As I think across the visual memos themselves, some of the patterns I see in this work are:

  • They are narrative.  They tell a story, reflect on a chain of events, connect diverse strands of thought.  
  • They are combinatory.  They bring together diverse elements or thoughts in a single location. 
  • They lead to strong juxtapositions.  Bringing together the different pieces leads to new positioning of ideas in relationship to each other.  
  • They are sensual.  I react to the nuances of color, texture, shape, line.  Text, too, is sensual for the dedicated reader, but in a different way. 
  • They reveal things to me that were hidden from me when I operated solely in my textual mode. 
I've mused about visual memos in this blog also:

Visual Memos in Qualitative Research: Part III

I've also given thought to the visual qualities of different forms of qualitative research analysis--manual modes vs. computer modes. 

Getting Visual With Qualitative Research Analysis

This week I started to think about the literature of memos in qualitative research:

Memos and Qualitative Research: Kathy Charmaz

This is a beginning for me.  There are others to examine.  What I want to bring forward from Charmaz regarding memos is how they exist in the space between data and fixed/mature interpretations.  They are the thing waiting to be heard, to take form.'s a juicy topic. 

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Walter Gerson and "The Collaborative Turn"

Run.  Don't Walk.  To get your copy of

The Collaborative Turn

edited by Walter Gershon. 

I've been reading this book over the spring break in anticipation of reviewing it for the

International Journal of Education and the Arts

I don't want to give away the show, but truly--take a good look at this book! 

Monday, March 15, 2010

Memos and Qualitative Research: Kathy Charmaz

String TheoryImage by darkmatter via Flickr
Since I started this blog I've written several entries about visual memos.  For some time I've meant to look at the discussion of memos/memoing in texts that I consider classics in this area to see how these descriptions might help me understand what I am trying to get at with the visual memo.  So here are some of my favorites on memoing:

Charmaz, K.(2006).   Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage Publications.

Emerson, R., Fretz,R., Shaw, L. (1995).  Writing ethnographic fieldnotes.  University of Chicago Press. 

Maxwell, J. (2005).  Qualitative research design:  An interactive approach (2nd ed.).  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. 

Miles, M. & Huberman, A.M. (1994).  Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage Publications.

(Oops...just realized I left out one of my favorites by Anslem Strauss--I'll catch up with that one later.)

Today I am going to write about one of these:  Kathy Charmaz's discussion of memos. 

"Memo-writing" is the title of Chapter 4 in Charmaz's book.  It is an elegant description of memos in grounded theory.  It will really give you shivers. 

"Memos catch your thoughts, capture the comparisons and connections you make, and crystallize questions and directions you want to purse."  (p. 72)
Here are some of the functions memos fill for her:
  • "conversing with yourself" (p. 72)
  • "explicate and fill out categories" (p72) 
  • "serve as the analytic core" for subsequent writing (p.76)
Her primary advice in creating memos is to "do what works for you" (p. 80) and "...engage a category, let your mind rove freely in, around, under, and from the category..." (p. 81)

Charmaz explores the ways the techniques that writers of many sorts employ to get themselves off the ground--clustering, freewriting, etc.--can all serve the qualitative researcher at the stage of memo writing.

She gives special attention to "Using memos to raise focused codes to conceptual categories" (91)  This seems to me key in thinking about the ways memos can assist in the refinement process, that is, the process of making a clump of data into something called evidence--that's like spinning flax into gold. 

One thing that cannot be ignored in talking about memos and qualitative research is that the discussion of memos is always right in the middle, squished between data collection and coding on one side...and products, representations, and presentations on the other side.  Memos, in the written textual mode, are always about refinement of raw data and leveraging preliminary interpretations.  As Charmaz says, the construction of the memo is the "pivotal intermediate step between data collection and writing drafts of papers" (72). 

For the novice researcher, I think that the notion of memos is hidden behind flashy things that catch their attention like coding or interviewing--things that stand out as if they have neon lights on them.  Memos, for the qualitative research connossieur, however, are like a fine wine.  They are swished around in the mouth and savored!  The tastes are subtle and learned.

I think I will stop here with Charmaz and take on another one of the classic memoists next. 

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Qualitative Computing: Diverse Worlds and Research Practices

Istanbul Birds in Flight (Color)Image by Oberazzi via Flickr
Today I received this notice about a conference to be held in February in Istanbul.  It sounds like a great opportunity to think globablly about the ways computing has evolved in qualitative research.  
Ankara University Sociology Department, Turkey and Sociology Department of Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Iztapalapa, México invite you to participate in the Seminar “Qualitative Computing: Diverse Worlds and Research Practices” to be held in Istanbul, February 24-26, 2011.  The Seminar aims to bring users from the North and South, from the East and the West and from the centers and the peripheries. This is an excellent occasion for CAQDAS users from all disciplines to share their experiences with qualitative software. 
“Qualitative Computing: Diverse Worlds and Research Practices” focuses on how research practices from diverse worlds have fostering qualitative computing. Such research practices has to be analyzed from methodological perspectives and the epistemological roots of each national way of practicing qualitative research must to be discussed as well. Thirty years of CAQDAS influence into the social sciences methodologies are not a simple issue and this Seminar is a great chance to discuss about the diversity of such influence.
More information at . Or contact Elif Kuş or César A. Cisneros 
Warmest regards,

César A. Cisneros Puebla
Departamento de Sociología
UAM Iztapalapa
San Rafael Atlixco 186
Col. Vicentina
México DF 09340
Tel. (52 55) 5804 4788
Fax (52 55) 5804 4789
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Friday, March 12, 2010

Getting Visual with Qualitative Research Analysis

Depiction of an arbitrary game tree being solv...Image via Wikipedia
Yesterday I spent time in the bowels of my Journal be specific the bowels of the project are located in NVivo, my Qualitative Data Analysis Software package of preference.  I was working on specific codes.  "Coding on" as we say in the trade, that is, taking a larger bin of references and hacking it up into smaller identified chunks as well as reorganizing codes--merging, deleting, etc. 

As I did this I found myself so satisfied with the visual process of how the tool was showing me the changes that were being made.  Over and over I would create a new child node, drop materials into it and see the label of the sub-node pop up underneath its 'parent'.  It was a visually satisfying process to see the shrinkage or collapse of materials, along with the relief of organization appearing.  It put me very much in mind of Bruno Latour's discussion of "cascades" of paper, graphs, charts, etc.  that emerge in modern times. 

I couldn't help but think back to the coding processes of yore.  Actually, I liked the old cut and paste, too.  (At the time I didn't know there were alternatives.)  But what I appreciated was different, visually.  I remember the importance of the wide right margin (or sometimes you put the column of text right in the center to given you a wide left and right margin)...and using the line numbering function so that you would be able to create a more exact reference.  As you can see I am describing a computer word processor based form of data analysis...which is, itself, represents a brief period at the end of the 20th century. 

I would write my codes by hand in the margins, xerox the pages later (making more copies for those pages with overlapping codes), and then cut them up, making sure to put a page # on each fragment, and then file in a file drawer full of files with little fragments of text.  I thought this was highly efficient, and I found it to be visual and satisfying.  Just as now, I feel satisfaction watching a list of codes emerge in a nice little line. 

I'm not arguing about which is best here.  Rather what has caught my attention is how, in both cases, there is a deep reliance on visualization in the qualitative research analysis process.  This is a kind of visualization that is not captured by pictures or in photos--it's not a drawing. 

I think back to Anselem Strauss' book on analysis (the white book I have always called it--because of the color of the jacket)...and Miles and Huberman (the large gray book)...and I think about the ways they describe data representation.  They are talking about text, but text that mixes the meaning of the text with visual formats that help us to move the blocks of text around in our heads:  A table with codes organized; a schematic map of social relationships or connections between events.  These qualitative researchers honed in on the ways that the work of analysis was reliant on visual constructions. 

Both manual and computer based methods of qualitative research analysis are highly visual.  It's not that manual was not and QDAS is.  QDAS, however, does have new visual affordances.  As I was working on my "dream" code, I found myself in the source bin exploring the three ways that references can be viewed:  summary, text, and icons.  I found the summary helped me to understand how much and where it was located.  I worked in the full text of the code and the view with multiple icons to choose from and single text. 

I do have to say that working in QDAS felt more efficient.  If I'd never experienced it, I wouldn't know.  But I do know, and I know it is easier to move my materials around and that the visualization of the text through terms and positioning is richer than what I had available to me before. 

Now my question is--how is this form of visualization different than the kind of visual that I was talking about earlier in the blog--drawings, collage, and other non-text creations?  It's something to think about!
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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Qualitative Research Dissertations: A decade of experiences

I have been giving thought to dissertations over the last few weeks and thinking about the experiences I have had as a qualitative researcher working with a variety of dissertations.  One thing that comes to mind are the sticking points I have run into between my qualitative research expectations and the expectations of other committee members who may or may not have qualitative research training. 

In raising this issue, I have to make it clear--this isn't meant to point fingers.  Many times the questions raised led everyone to better understanding of a particular feature.  In many cases, it led to better language and descriptions, richer theoretical contextualizing. 

Here are some examples: 
1.  The use of "I" in the proposal or dissertation.  Over the years I have heard many objections to the use of the first person singular. 
2.   Accounting for subjectivity.  A reflective section on how the researcher's subjectivity is engaged with the topic, what the strengths and dangers are, and how the researcher will make themselves aware of their feelings and reactions and how they might be influcing the course of the research. 
3.  Inclusion of the researcher's own story as part of the narrative.  This is why I am passionate about this topic!
4.  Accounting for the use of software in the organization and management of the data and the analysis.  Why do you need detailed technical descriptions?  Just say what you did without reference to the software. 
5.  The use of visual data.  To the credit of other committee members, they called for better theoretical contextualizing of the use of this data, that is, providing a methodological background for the use of this data. 

Interestingly, long before the dissertation defense is scheduled, many students self-censor as they try to develop a dissertation that looks like the examples to which they have been exposed.  I have to beg for a stronger person voice and inclusion of examples of the visual data they've collected.  I cajole them to add a rigorous description of the use of their software tools, and I insist upon a section where they reflect upon their subjectivity in the conduct of the study. 

When I started off into academia post-graduation, I thought I would face challenges as a qualitative researcher, but I am  not sure I anticipated that these particular issues would persist year-after-year. 

Year-after-year, I go off to the International Congress on Qualitative Inquiry and attend sessions and workshops on experimental techniques in qualitative research--performance ethnography, new directions in technologies and qualitative research, arts-based research, soul searching in regard to subjectivity, and visual data uses.  I breath in the heady atmosphere of new ideas and approaches.  I am glad to know that these ideas exist.  But I am more knowledgeable now of the path by which ideas move from the center to the margins. 

My deep thanks to the doctoral students who have joined me in the exploration.  It has been a privilege to work with each of you. 

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Chip (Bertram) Bruce: Ode to a Dissertation Advisor

When I entered my doctoral program at the University of Illinois College of Education, I was assigned an advisor.  Chip Bruce was new to the Curriculum and Instruction faculty, having spent the earlier portion of his career in a Cambridge based think tank.  Thus began a mentorship with a truly Renaissance man, creative and intellectually challenging, kind and humorous.  Loath to leave his fold, I went from doctoral advisee to dissertation advisee, completing my doctorate under him four years later. 

Chip has just announced his upcoming retirement from the University of Illinois (he is now located in the School of Information Science).  It seems like a fitting moment to consider the many gifts he brought to me and the others with whom he worked, and to offer a digital thanks to him.

This is not meant to be an obituary, because Chip is headed off to many new and exciting things, but rather this is an opportunity to think about the qualities of excellent doctoral advisement.  Here's what I learned from Chip:

  • Be kind:  Respect each student.
  • Be curious:  All is inquiry
  • Be open minded:  Try to understand all sides.
  • Be intellectual: Engage in theory.
  • Laugh:  Appreciate the humor in life.
  • Seek Community:  It is good to work with others.
  • Love Dewey:  Only good can come from Dewey.
  • Enjoy conversation:  It is the fruit of good community.
  • Be practical:  Test all propositions against the world of practices.
  • Be well organized: You get more done.
  • Explore new media
  • Be a global participant
  • Don't gossip: Avoid sarcasm
Thank you Chip for these excellent rules of the road.  Good wishes with the next stages of your journey...

Chip Bruce's Blog
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Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Journal Project and Qualitative Data Analysis Software (QDAS)

A chimpanzee brain at the Science Museum LondonImage via Wikipedia
The Journal Project (where I am analyzing two years of my private journal entries 2006-2008 using NVivo Software) is a place where I am challenging myself to use the two sides of my brain, so to speak: 1) the side that appreciates qualitative data analysis software (QDAS); and 2) the side that loves the humanistic, arts-based research, autoethnographic side of qualitative research. 

Many people think these are diametrically opposed--that QDAS represents a scientific style of social science analysis...and that non-QDAS represents the other side of qualitative research.  I'm exploring this assumption in the journal project.  I know that for some people in my field, the use of precious, personal, private materials like your own journals...well, it just doesn't belong in that hard, scientific container known as QDAS. 

Now that I am getting toward the end of the first stage of analysis in this project and have done basic coding (in NVivo) for most of my materials, I come back to the question:  What difference does it make to use QDAS to examine any text, but, in particular, what difference has it made to me in analyzing these deeply, personal, totally autobiographical texts?  Has it improved the analysis?  Does it add objectivity to what is flagrantly subjective?  Did I learn more by the use of these tools than I could learn without them? 

I think yes, but the reason isn't very fancy--it goes back to the most basic ways that led people to take up technologies in the first place--it expands the finite power of our bodies, muscles, brains, and senses.  My brain is finite.  My memory spotty and kind of soft at this point.  I can remember the big ideas and patterns and some of the particulars, but I only hold on to what I think is most important.  Without technical aids I would simply relegate the other stuff to the big black bin in the brain. 

QDAS is first a foremost for me a visualization tool.  It is a place where I can build a structure that allows me to connect all of the bits and pieces of experience in containers and limbs that have a relationship to the larger world of ideas.  Coding, tagging, hyperlinking, modeling, relationship building--all of these things that you can do with efficiency in QDAS  are tools for visualization. 

 Using these tools I create a structure that I impose on the materials/data I have collected.  This structure is different than the natural context of the text.  The structure I impose relates to structures, arguments, disciplines that have evolved in human intellectual history.  "Discernment", a key concept to my journal work is a word that comes with a history and cultural experiences.  I took this term and imposed it on my material--using QDAS to create a bin where I could stuff things that I would make 'speak' to this notion. 

Analyis then is kind of violent-it is an imposition.  I thought about the other terms that have floated to the top as I developed a coding tree.  Meltdowns/flashbacks/post-traumatic that's a fat, juicy category.  Then there is Japan (lived there from 1974-76).  Ohh...Family of Origin...we won't unpack that yet.  You get my drift.  A term like "Family of Origin" didn't occur in my journal (I don't think).  I impose it...and as I impose it, it allows the intellectual ideas associated with the term to intermingle with my real life experience with people. 

QDAS makes the structure visible, and it does a better job at this than manual methods.  It is more efficient at allowing me to create categories...organize, mix them, remix them, separate them, rebuild them.  I imagine what I am doing when I analyze with this tool is to create a kind of skeleton--an animal that has a backbone, ribs, skull (these are the codes and my theories) texts are the flesh, hair, blood that are stretched around and over the skeleton.  I create organs and link them with vessels. 

This reminded me of a video I saw of artist Barbara Moody creating a painting, one of a series in which she had drawn a goat.  She drew it over and over and over again, adding to it, shading it, unshading it--the time lapse of the video made the picture change quickly and jerkily, but it seemed like a long recursive process.  This feels to me like the interpretive process in action, trying to find the structure for the emerging piece.

This also reminds me of my many visits to Natural History Museums--and time spent pondering the skeletons of dinosaurs, amphibians, and early mammals.  I look at them and recognize them as beasts with locamotion and common functions...yet they are strange.  Not really things of my world.  The structures created from analysis have that same sense of recognition and strangeness. 

So--was QDAS important to this effort?  Yes.
Would I have gotten the same thing with manual analysis?  I don't know.
Which was better?  QDAS has to be better.  Don't even talk to me about xeroxing, cutting up papers and the rest.
Can QDAS be used for non-evaluative qualitative research studies that are really squarely in the middle of autoethnography and self study?  Absolutely. 
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