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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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Coding Evolving: QDAS to QDAS 2.0

Graphic representation of the WWW.Image via Wikipedia
This blog is a memorandum of understanding with myself.  These are dog walk ideas that I've been pondering and want a place to store them, knowing that I will be coming back to them.

What's been on my mind are issues related to the qualitative research quandries of:  what is coding?  how is coding enabled by different technologies?  how is qualitative research coding evolving between QDAS to QDAS 2.0? 

Manual Coding:
In the cut-and-paste world of traditional, manual qualitative research, coding was done on paper with pen.  The act of coding was to denote/label pieces of text--abstracting them from a larger document, which would eventually be the site of multiple codes.  When xerox came into being, you could cut up the larger documents into small pieces and move the pieces around to cluster ideas from a variety of places in one text and/or multiple larger texts.  It is a movement from contextualization to decontextualization to recontextualization. 

As the Internet came into being, it allowed for hyperlinks--electronic bridgeways from one virtual location to another.  This feature would lead to coding in software (or so I think--I'm not a computer engineer). 

Coding in QDAS:
 Qualitative Data Analysis Software (QDAS) is standalone software with the capacity for the user to input a variety of texts...that can then be tagged with a location or electronic address, and items located at a similar address can then be viewed together and recombined.  All of this happens within the E-Project, a virtual shell that holds the materials and tags together in a nice, neat package that sits on your computer.  So it's like "project in a can".

Linking in QDAS:  
QDAS allows for tagging/coding described above, but it also allows for a similar kind of tagging or bridging that is known as linking.  You identify one location in a text and jump to another location in the same text, another text, or a specific place in another text.  You can link internally or externally (to an outside digital location).  You may snicker, but this was pretty hot stuff when it first came out.  I can remember being REALLY impressed with all of this. 

As software is developing, so, too, the internet is developing and tools to work with it.  How to tag things in this gigantic world and put the tags in a safe place led to bookmarks.  Bookmarks are doing much the same thing as coding in QDAS.  In bookmarks you identify the address of the location, label it, and stick it in a file, which is located on your computer.  Thus everything is saved on your computer.  

Tagging takes two big steps.  With systems like D.elicious, coding moves onto the Web (Web 2.0).  You identify an item, which is stored using an alphabetical system.  AND you identify words that describe, allude to the item to further help you find it later--it's a cross-referencing system.  These are stored in private/public combinations on the web.  You alone can get to them or you can make them visible to others.  You can investigate the tags of others. As I write this I am looking at a list of tags (202) that I have identified in Delicious.  This is the old QDAS coding of others gone wild. 

Tagging within Systems:
Many Web 2.0 programs include tagging, and now we start to head back, in some sense toward the enclosure of the E-Project in QDAS.  Blogs, micro-blogs (Twitter, Tumblr), and Wiki's and other social networking spaces, all offer tagging services.  Now even MS Outlook has come around to tagging (with the bookmarking). 

Wiki's have given me much pause for thought in regard to QDAS/QDAS 2.0.  They are an enclosed space to house texts of many sorts.  The possess tagging capacity and hyperlinking capacity that looks akin to QDAS.  However the tagging in the wiki is document or item to item, it is not the fine grained coding of QDAS.  QDAS thrives on the full text, whereas, Wiki's (and much of the Internet) thrive on the short, abbreviated text that can be given one label...if you need another code you make it into another text.  I think this has important implications for qualitative research--maybe our text length will start to decrease as our texts begin to leave the world of 19th and 20th century travel literature style and begin to reflect the texts of the 21st century.  This will probably accompany a change from coding to tagging. 

Silvana diGregorio has been doing some very interesting experiments in this area:  Her Dave's Farm ethnography uses several tools that have potential for qualitative researchers.  Take a look! 
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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Congress on Qualitative Inquiry: May 2010

2008-10-12 University of Illinois at Urbana-Ch...Image by JanetandPhil via Flickr
An update on some upcoming fun for qualitative researchers.  I will be attending the Sixth Annual Congress on Qualitative Inquiry in late May.  I will be making two presentations:

1.  "Qualitative Research and Technology:  In the Midst of a Revolution" Davidson & diGregorio.  We will be talking about a chapter we have written for the fourth edition of the Handbook of Qualitative Research (Denzin & Lincoln). 

2.  "Wikis as a form of Qualitative Data Analysis Software" is a paper that will be part of a panel titled:  "Innovative Areas of Inquiry with Qualitative Data Analysis Software:  Adapting to Improve Research in Diverse Global Seettings". 

I invite you to join me at the University of Illinois, Champaign Illinois for these and many other interesting discussions.  This meeting is always a great opportunity for good connection.  My thanks to Norman Denzin and his crew for creating this opportunity for qualitative researchers. 
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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Higher Education Financial Woes

Foellinger Auditorium detailImage via Wikipedia
I received an unsettling email this week.  It was from the Chancellor of the University of Illinois in Champaign-Illinois--directed to University of Illinois alums.  Here's the opening paragraph:

Dear University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Alumni:
Due to an excessive delay in the payment of our appropriation by the State of Illinois and uncertainty over what lies ahead, your university is facing unprecedented fiscal challenges. In the coming weeks and months, we will be taking a critical look at all aspects of our campus operations, re-examining everything from our administration to small academic units assembled years ago to meet specific needs. An extensive review process will underwrite each decision we make, and every decision will be strategic - designed to transform your university to meet the challenges of the future.

I had heard about the Illinois fiscal woes in other news media--the state hadn't paid bills for six months and agencies with shallow pockets were closing down programs  because they couldn't pay for staff and other services.  But this email brought it home.  I had never received a message like this in the years I've been an alum and thought that the circumstances must be dire indeed. 

If I can send one message out to the world, it is:  FUND EDUCATION!!  Give more, not less.  Don't let institutions like this falter.

As I went on to think about this plea, I thought about the concluding phrase "...designed to transform your university to meet the challenges of the future."  My interest in QDAS and QDAS 2.0 has given me opportunity to give a lot of thought to where technology might be taking education.  

The university of the 20th century was a thing of bricks and mortar (note the photo above).  You think back to the grounds, the buildings, and the trees.  The university of the 21st century is going to be much more diffuse, located in multiple virtual settings as well as physical settings. 

I imagine that the 21st century university will include:
  • Much more online learning and virtual experiences
  • Far more emphasis on personal learning plans; and the individual clustering of personal tool kits for learning
  • More individual competency and performance assessments, coupled with group standardized assessment for baseline information
These changes are going to require teachers who are flexible, knowledgeable, and CONSTANTLY retooling.  I think that the spatial and temporal structures of higher education will be significantly restructured.  We see the first stages of this now.  

The struggles of the University of Illinois are going to be the struggles of all in higher education.  I have no idea of how it will come out in the end. 

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Visual Memos in Qualitative Resesarch: Part IV

Visual memos are haunting me.  I'm looking back into my computer files and finding more and more evidence of them hanging around.  This blog entry is sharing another example of the genre.  This visual memo came at the end of a semester of my doctoral course in Qualitative Research methods, where we had created visual memos to accompany each data collection activity.  The handmade book I created blended visual responses, data collection activities, and the ways these were heightened by the Poet of the Semester, Kay Ryan.  Visuals, texts (mine and Ryan's), and the juxtaposition collage affords to make statements by disjunction and conjunction come together to remind me of the semester and help me to think anew about the pieces.


OK--sorry about the pathetic's the thought that counts!











   won't let me upload the last image, so I guess this is where it will end. 

I will come back later to annotate the pages.  My homage to Kay Ryan and to whoever else's work might be blended in here. 

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