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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