Saturday, January 30, 2010

Visual Memos in Qualitative Research: Part III

Research. Olin Warner (completed by Herbert Ad...Image via Wikipedia
Began this morning with more thoughts about visual memos. 

Is a visual memo a cartoon?  Is it a story?
What is the form of the narrative of visual memos?
How do the elements of the narrative work?

Would qualitative researchers use visual memos for the same thing that they would use written memos for?  How does a researcher decide to insert the visual? 

This reminded me of single photos or drawings--artifacts from my data collection activities--that I came to refer to as memos becuase I found them so iconic and I used them repeatedly to talk about a concept/notion that had arisen in the interpretation.  An example is a photo of a 1st grade classroom that I have used many times to talk about multiple ways to read the photo and think about the cluster of things and practices.  One way I approach it is to talk about "reading the walls".  I can read the whole day on that one wall--from morning message through the day's schedule, to a host of other activities.  Another way to approach it is to look at the intersection of things (computers, record player, blackboard) and the things they imply...and the technological eras they represent. 

When photos take this relationship to the study, I no longer consider them an artifact, but a memo.  Do I have the right to do this?  Is this a legitimate way to refer to them?  Perhaps more important then if they are a memo or an artifact, is the peculiar transformation (in my mind) that has occurred to this piece of visual material.   Does a well used artifact become a memo when it has accreted experience for me...not just for them?  Meaning, do my experiences of explaining the photo from methodological perspectives facilitate the process of memo creation?

This reminded me of the kinds of problems that students in qualitative research class have with the notion of memo.  When first introduced, many struggle hard with it.  It seems very foreign to them.  They want to turn out business memos--something similar to ordering new office supplies.  The word memo seems like an impenetrable barrier.  I've tried changing the word, but it's like mixing medication in applesauce, they can smell out the duplicity.  They know there is something different here. 

I've examined many texts about memos in qualitative research--I suppose I should do something like Johnny Saldana's overview of coding--what are all the different ways qualitative researchers have of describing memos? 

This does not end here--there's more to consider. 
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Friday, January 29, 2010

Visual Memos in Qualitative Research: Part II

On January 4, 2010 I blogged about Visual Memos.  I shared a visual memo that had evolved as I was thinking about the distinction between academic prose and the journal prose (see earlier blogs on "The Journal Project"--a study of my journals from 2006-2008).  That was what I would call an "emergent interpretation" memo.  In Part II, I'd like to think about the use of visual memos in a different way--for a memo that is not a reminder about one point in time, but looks over a series of events to make sense of them.

This visual memo is titled "Evolution of an Image".  It's genesis was rereading a journal entry from December 2007 about the cancer of a dear friend... and then linking this entry to art experiences and finally back to the art and the life/death of the individual I am writing about.  The individual I am writing about has now passed away.  I am saddened by his death, but glad to be able to share with you about his impact on my thinking...and (and this would give him a chuckle)...his impact on my methodological thinking!  In sharing the visual memo with you in digital form it gives me a chance to annotate it electronically.


[This may be hard to read--we learn about the cancer and hold a laying on of hands ceremony at the church.]

These two events--cancer and Maggie Ayers are, initially, unrelated.  Maggie Ayers is a fantastic mixed-media artist from Northern England.  She has made a series of YouTube videos describing various art activities.  There is actually one on green/blues and her method of creating fiber cocoons.  You can learn more about her at: 

Felter's Fling--August 2009--is when I begin the pieces began to fall together. As I was looking for a link to Felter's Fling--I found this blog item by one of the instructor's--and my photo was on it!!  I am wearing the felt hat that won me an award.
However, if you want the real low-down on Felter's Fling...try this link: 


At this point, the original experience of the laying on of hands ceremony, the interaction with Maggie Ayers and Felter's Fling...has led to a new understanding of the life/death of my friend and has created a new form that symbolizes this life/death to me.  


Visual memos serve many different purposes (as do purely written memos).  Visual memos can range from all visual and no a load of text and limited visuals.  

I intend to think more here about their uses and the forms they take.  

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Discerment continued...

I have continued to think about discernment.  The good thing about a blog is that allows such conversations to continue within and beyond you.  It draws you back to the big idea that is so important to you.  Hence the pensive animal to the right.  Don't you love that fleece!

After the last post on discernment, I began to think about the critical importance of BOUNDARIES to the notion of discernment.  The process of discernment is about the determination and reshaping of boundaries.  Discernment is about the most elemental process of confuration. 

To determine a boundary you must become aware of its size, shape, thickness, and durability.  You must understand what it contains and what is outside of it.  Whether an individual or an organization, in discernment you must develop a sense of inside and outside.

Discernment is also about nourishment, and systems of nourishment--the heating, cooling, plumbing of any organism.  What does it ingest and why?   Where does the nourishment come from?  How does it enter the boundary? If I change the boundaries, what will I eat?  Where will it come from?  Will I like the taste? 

Discernment, then, as this bodily reconfiguration is about the fundamentals of time and space:  the mind-body and the body-mind. Past, present, and future drive discernment.  Abnormalities or injury to the perception of time and space wreck havoc with the ability to discern.  Note:  When Post Traumatic Stress erupts--the past and the present have merged to erase the present.  Note:  Persistent fantasy allows the future to eclipse the present. 

Basic questions abound:  Who am I?  Where do I end and where do I begin? 

Questions of process are critically important:  How did I establish these boundaries?  How have I stabilized them in the past?  If they are reconstituted, will the same processes work? 

Thus, the Journal Project proceeds...

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Teaching and the Fear Factor

Primary School in "open air", in Buc...Image via Wikipedia
1/25/2010: The beginning of Spring Semester. I am teaching three on-line classes. I know that the Blackboard areas have now been "peopled". They are there...waiting. And I am here, outside of that teaching space, wondering who they are and getting ready to make the plunge.

Fear, whether I realized it or not, has long been an accompaniment to my teaching life. What seemed very different about my fall 2009 semester (a decade into my higher education teaching experiences) is that, in retrospect, I seemed to be less fearful.

This realization was a highly Parker Palmer moment for me. His discussions of fear/not fear in teaching related in "Courage to Teach" came to mind as I thought about this.

While the realization about fear/not fear may have seemed sudden in nature, in truth the shift has been long in coming. The more I looked at the fear/not fear issues I could see how so many components of my teaching were connected to it.

My thoughts about fear/not fear over this last period of break, also reminded me of Jane Tompkins book "A Life in School: What the Teacher Learned". Yep, she struggled with similar fears.

When I looked at the before and now picture, this is what I saw:
Before: I was terrified of grading.
Now: I am more relaxed about grading--it's not as frightening.
Before: I was afraid of being unmasked, revealed as less than masterful.
Now: I accept the fact that I am not all knowing--who is?
Before: I was afraid of being attacked.
Now: I am more concerned about my students--do they feel safe? Have I established trust for them?
Before: I guess you could so I wasn't sure of who I was, and I worried that in the exchange with students I might lose me.
Now: I think I am more confident that me will remain despite the exchange.
Before: I talked more than I listened.
Now: I can go slower, focus in more on their needs.

Another thing I notice about the transition is that before, my instructional rhythm was much more chaotic and darting, uneven. I tried to do way too much. Now I find my rhythms a bit more organic...and even though I still try to do too much, I am doing less to get more.

I know that much of this change has to do with coming to grips with inner demons better not mentioned here. I'll wrestle with those in other spheres.

Having written this out, I feel much less fearful. I can enter Spring Semester 2010 with a lighter heart--looking forward to the encounter.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Discernment and The Journal Project

I wrote in an earlier blog on discernment…from the top of my head, but knowing that someplace on my computer I had stored “the real” memo on discernment.  I found it, of course, right where I put it—in the NVivo container of the Journal Project.  (Described in an earlier blog). So here is some of that earlier, and I have to say, richer thought about the notion of discernment. 

Looked at Oxford English Dictionary definitions; discernment is a word that emerged around 1500
It collected meanings from the Ignatious tradition, and from the Protestant tradition
(Amish, Congregationalists, Quakers). 

What does it mean to discern?
-to find a life's path?
-to hear the call of your soul?
-to hear God speaking to you?
-to join in a community to make sense of direction for a group
-to be able to achieve clarity, make distinctions, see

Discernment can be imagined metaphorically
-trying to find a pathway in a forest
-seeking to see the way forward in a fog
-trying to come to an answer in a judicial inquiry in which each plantiff has a different view of the event
-a congregation struggling with the pivotal issues of an era (shall we oppose slavery?  do we support the rights of gay, lesbian, and transgendered individuals?)
-an individual struggling with a private gnawing need, looking for resolution about life's dilemma's

In each of these examples, individuals or groups must find a way where the way is not clear.  Discernment implies a systematic and probably wearying interpretive process in which information is gathered, sorted, sifted, reviewed, reshaped, and eventually used to recreate an understanding of events, beliefs, future direction, meanings, and possibilities. 

What is the signficance of taking up this question as the focus of my Journal project—a study of two-years of my personal journals, 2006-2008? (see earlier blogs on this topic).
Is this simply a memoir?
It is a memoir, and it is document analysis undertaken from a qualitative research perspective.
It is a self-study and it is an exploration of qualitative data analysis software applied to humanistic directions in qualitative research?

I am insider on this study:  I wrote the materials.  I lived this life.
And I am outsider in this study:  I have distanced the materials through commiting them to written journals, then redistancing them by re-entering them into NVivo and analyzing them there. Now instead of following the chronology, I find myself working within various categories of meaning that span the time; obcession, my family of origin.   All of which has brought me close again to the moments and time in which I wrote. 

I have a special challenge in serving as both writer of the journals and qualitative researcher.  I have pledged myself to stay focused on the materials in the context of the two years that they represent. Many things have changed since then, and I look at my feelings and struggles from a different perspective today, but I have to try and screen that out...or make account of it because my emphasis is on grasping the emic perspective of me in that two year period. 

I am examining my process of discernment...and that itself is an act of discernment.  Me at one time and place; me at another--trying to understand how I moved myself forward to the next place in life. 

The central question to this discernment is:  As a middle aged female academic immediately life finished or beginning?  Are life's issues resolved?  How does tenure affect the post-menopausal? 

Why is discernment such a crucial issue to an academic?  We are people who are supposedly responsible for our own paths, and yet we come to this place of so-called independence after years of careful socialization where all rough edges are chipped away.  The socialization of being accepted in a graduate school, of serving under mentors, of attending conferences and hoping to catch the eye of the stars of our world, of mind numbing interviews in small towns across the country (places where those darn land grant schools were located), of servitude in the position of assistant professor--smiling and hoping we don't make any blunders, worrying about angry students and grading, and updating the vita over and over and over again--a set of white papers that seem to contain all of our life...that may seem more real than we are. 

We are heavily socialized to be this thing and the socialization process is grueling and long and yet we are also supposed to be doing this to be independent thinkers—intellectual kings and queens who have the skills and knowledge to shape their own directions.  Discernment then is core to our work.  To discern who we are and what we believe is what the work of an academic is.  To say anything about anything, we have to have struggled our way through an investigative journey of some kind to a new meaning.  But the discernment of our professional work is not separate from the discernment that is further from public view, the discernment of our personal life. 

How does the life that sustains us--the living, eating, breathing, loving, caring, hurting, sleeping--how does this figure into the discernment process of an academic?  Do these things exist separately from the brain that tries to work out social theory, critique a dissertation, or write a journal article? 

As a woman, how do the challenges of menopause, of realizing the end of childbearing years, of mourning the children one didn't have, of coming to grips with the childhood that shaped ones views of female self--how do these figure in the trials of academic life, where academic children come and go, where the elements of family can be seen enacting new dramas on the academic stage?  How is shaping a female self in this workplace, a part of shaping one's female self in all dimensions of one's life? 

How does the new creation of family, the acquisition of husband, step-children, in-laws, and the grandchildren that come along--how do these figure in the notion of female academic?  How does the presence of step-daughter and daughter-in-law create new possibilities for understanding my aging self, my gifts and losses, and the work that I engage in as an academic? 

What is at the heart of my process of discernment at this period in my life?  What is significant about the challenges I faced?  What could happen to me if I failed?  Where would I land? 

What are the paths or grooves that were created by the past?  How do these shape my abilities to see the problems, find solutions, and move forward?  Deeply grooved.  Like the wagon ruts from the Oregon Trail that still exist 100+ years later, marks in the landscape that remind one of the Wagons lurching along with their battered cargos.  This is like the self that tries to move forward, carrying a few belongings. 

Anyone who has ever worked in an office knows that the personal and the professional are hopelessly intertangled.    Much as we talk about "I am a professional" or "I can't believe that--it was so unprofessional" or "The professional thing to do would be to..." as if this realm were vastly separate and that we all understood it as the same thing...knows that the so-called personal is constantly invading our professional realm.  Just as in marriages and families, our models--family and ancestors that went before--walk like ghosts in the halls of academia.  The dead mother is with us at the table of a dissertation defense; the critical father makes himself heard in an angry rejoinder in a faculty meeting; a beloved sybling can be refound in a trusted colleague.  Just as at home, they are there walking among us, shaping the ways we work with students, answer memos, and respond to Deans. 

A part of discernment then must be coming to understand the ghosts, calling them forward, speaking with them and then sending them back to their world.  This work reminds me of the Japanese O'Bon festival, where once a year the ghosts come back to our world.  They are welcomed, celebrated, and then sent back with dancing and bonfires.  I have memories of the dancers winding their way through the streets of Kyoto, and the fires lighting the mountain of Daimonji, which loomed above my room in the North of Kyoto near Kyoto University. 

In the Catholic tradition, discernment evolved as a task of the individual--to separate good voices from bad, to sort out the devil's promptings from the voice of god.

In the Protestant tradition, discernment evolved as a task of the community--to listen for and to identify the true voice of god as it is speaking to the covenanted community. 

As an academic woman, I am positioned (often uncomfortably) between the two, I must listen for the voice that will be my individual voice of scholarship--the muse that I will follow and need to be true to.  I must also listen from within my community, as a scholar who participates in a community of scholars, we are committed to listening for the true voice, the path of our discipline.  We are like a covenanted community, meeting through journals, conferences, and academic departments--we must try to separate the chaff from the wheat--in the ideas that come our way.  This, too, is a kind of discernment.  Like the early Protestant communities (Congregationalist, Quaker, or Amish) that took up this challenge, communities of scholars are by their nature engaged in ongoing struggles of change--conservatism vs liberalism--

Discerning discernment through the lens of one's own journals requires a good dose of humor and a recognition of the exceedingly self-centered nature of journals.  These are the least objective of documents, and yet that is a part of their value.  These particular journals were not written to be shared.  They were written to note pain, absorb hurt, celebrate a personal joy, and to provide a means of interpretation--writing is thinking, as thinking is writing. 

As I thought about discernment, I tried to get at the intricacies of this notion. 
How is the nature of my process of discernment represented in the two years of journal entries?
What shape does it take? 
What seems characteristic of it?
What are the elements that I combine within this process?
How is it balanced between personal and professional?
How is family--family of origin--developing a family of my own; a central theme in discernment? 
What is the movement of discernment? 
Does it have familiar paths?  repetitions?
Are there techniques or tools that are uniquely mine?  Which ones do I discover and make my own along the way? 
What kind of growth do I achieve in my ability to discerrn? 
What are the major events in these two years that my discernment processes must address?
How does my condition--female, middle-aged, academic, barely tenured--affect the ways that discernment unfolds in my life?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wikis and Electronic Portfolios

President Barack Obama and Senator Ted Kennedy...Image via Wikipedia
The snow is falling gently in Northwestern Massachusetts as voters head to the polls to choose the successor to Ted Kennedy--the liberal lion.  The semester is almost upon me, so what better way to spend the day than working on my online classes, and, in particular, on my plan for Electronic Portfolios.

I have to thank Buddy (Alan) Peshkin for this idea. As a doctoral student in his course on qualitative research interviewing, he had us create a notebook of all of our work that was set-up like a textbook with a Table of Contents and Introduction.  I still have that final notebook--it is a very precious document.  I was so intrigued with the idea that every time I take a class, I am writing my own textbook.  I found much value in having to think back over the whole as I did when I wrote the introduction to my textbook of the class. 

Over the years, I have tried to implement Peshkin's innovative idea in a variety of ways.   In the core course for doctoral students, a kind of educational foundations course, that I taught for several years, in some of the classes I had them create a similar hard-copy notebook. Students regarded those notebooks with great pride. 

As I moved into on-line teaching, I discovered a way to create a similar electronic portfolio in Intralearn (the first Learning Management System with which I worked).  While I would like to say my goal was good pedagogy, a large part of the impetus was simply trying to find better ways to manage the online texts.  My class assignments usually possess multiple components and unfold over time with peer review, and revision.  I like to be able to see where students started and the process by which they got to the end product.  This means that each assignment is really equivalent to a folder of work.  Another feature that has evolved in my classes is that most assignments build on each other and at certain times in the semester, you need to return to earlier assignments and work with that material to create a later assignment.  Thus, having access to the full corpus of the work you develop over the semester is important.  Intralearn was not designed to do this, so I had to figure out a work around, which I did by creating individual teams (I know that sounds contradictory, but that was the work around).  It worked, but barely. 

It must have looked good to someone because the description of what I was doing with electronic portfolios won a mention from the Sloan Foundation as a notable practice.  As luck would have it, however, shortly thereafter our online program switched to Web CT, which then morphed into Blackboard.  Try as I might, I couldn't find a way to create anything like an electronic portfolio in this new system, so I gave up for a few semesters.

But then wiki's came on the scene, and they are a lovely, flexible tool that can make electronic portfolios with ease.  Moreover, there are no problems allowing students access to each others' work because they are built around principles of access and collaboration, unlike Learning Management Systems which seem to be built on the model of some old prison system.  I am in heaven! 

This semester each of my three classes will have a wiki connected to our Blackboard workspace.  The wiki will be the site for the development of the electronic portfolios.  I'm still trying to figure out the in's and out's of this particular wiki system (see my earlier blog on wikis),  the right kind of shell/template for each class, and how to provide support for individual use. 

Having each individual's electronic portfolio visible to the whole class does several things, in my opinion.  First, it is a great teaching tool.  If you have a question about what is required, or what it might look like, you can look into a range of electronic portfolios and see what is going up and how others approach the same issues.  Secondly, you've got access to everything you've done in the course, which is valuable because I've found that many students do not know how to organize their work to get the full benefit of review and reflection.   Third, I think it sparks creativity as the electronic portfolios develop and become more individualized.  Fourth, your progress is visible to all--including you.  The old fashioned assignment submission system leaves everyone in the dark about who is completing what, but this system makes it visible.  If you are missing a whole section of assignments that everyone else has posted, it's not just the instructor who is aware, but the whole class.    In my classes, students need access to each others' assignments because we review drafts, etc., so the wiki makes access easy, but it also makes it clear who is falling behind.  I would call this technique:  Useful Shame.  It's a kind of silent accountability. 

So, on to the wikis.  Long live electronic portfolios in some form or another! 

For more information on Alan Peshkin, you may want to look at Vol 6, Issue 2 of Qualitative Research Journal for a special memorial section of discussion of his work. 
Special Memorial Section on Alan Peshkin

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Monday, January 18, 2010


Discernment is a topic that threads through a lot of my recent work.  By discernment I mean the slow (sometimes exilherating, sometimes painful) process of figuring out a life path.  Issues related to discernment are central to the Journal Project (see earlier blogs) and the work I am doing with undergraduates interested in education. 

In the Journal Project, I am trying to understand the process of discernment that I underwent during the two-year period post tenure. In the undergraduate work (Transitions in Higher Education is one title it's been given), I am trying to understand how discernment can be supported for college students interested in becoming teachers.  

In thinking about these projects, one source of inspiration has been the notion of discernment that is found in early Protestant churches in America (Congregational/Quaker and the like).  Discernment was a process of listening to diverse voices until the word of God could be deciphered.  It was a group interpretive process.  This is the impetus for much of our governmental process of debate, and it has led to such practices as the Quaker Committees of Caring. 

Tools for discernment has also been a shared focus of the two projects.  In the Journal Project, which is a retrospective work, I am seeking to understand the tools I used for my process of discernment--the journal being a major example.  Other tools include:  the arts, walking the dog, and participation in body arts--meditation and yoga.  In the undergraduate project, I am consciously trying to create tools that will serve the process of discernment.  Digital storytelling, collage, personal roadmaps, and paired interviewing are examples of some of the tools with which I have experimented. 

Over the past year, I have numerous journal entries that weave back and forth between discernment in my own case...and discernment and undergraduate prospective teachers.  What is discernment?  Why is it important?  How do we do it?  What supports the process of discernment?  How is discernment distinct from career counseling? 

Discernment is challenging and enlarging.  Even when you are dead certain about what you want to do, the path may not be straight and uncluttered.  Discernment requires integration, the movement from inner life to outer world and back again, weaving together diverse kinds of materials into new strands of fabric. 

The photo above is a piece I made at Felter's Fling August 2009, which I have used as part of a landscape art project.  To me it offers much food for thought in the area of discernment.  I'll leave it to you to think about! 
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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Kevin Kelly and blogging into books

Kevin KellyImage via Wikipedia
Yesterday, I was tracking down Kevin Kelly's (of Wired Magazine) Ted Talk "Next 5,000 Days on the Web" which is a fantastic resource I discovered last semester.  I will be using it in my Planning, Technology, and School Improvement course.  It really helped to get students' brains around this thing called the World Wide Web. 

In the process of going to his website ( I discovered that he is writing his current book through his blog.  This activity is unfolding at  With 3,000 plus readers (of which, since yesterday, I am one), he has an expert group of reviewers.  He writes about the process of writing a book in this manner. 

The notion of writing a blog that then becomes a book is one that seems to be coming of age.  I discovered the VirtualDayz website through finding a book of the same name, self-published, on  It was a unique volume on memory work and social media, culled from the blog entries of Elayne Zalis.

I thought about the projects that I am working on now and how blogging may be an interpretive step--part of the intermediate papers/memos--that would be part of creating a firmer or 'fixed' piece on what I learned.  Working in this way has a lot of similarity to doing a presentation at a conference on something that you are in the midst of analyzing...and yet what is also interesting to me is that you could do small components...smaller than what you would bring to a conference...and use them as building blocks for larger or more finished pieces. 

Hmm...another thing to think more about. 

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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Technology Ov erload

Yesterday I experienced one big technology snafu--unable to view my internet connections from my main computer because it had become confused after lunching with me at an internet cafe (how's that for anthromorphism).  This came on top of several other technology hurdles--synching Iphones with Outlook and Google (still unsuccessful) and the many technology challenges I set for myself this fall--wiki's in teaching, digital storytelling, etc. 

Suddenly I was overloaded and overwhelmed.  When will it end I thought?  What have we set ourselves up for?  Is this it for the rest of my life--nothing but electronic devices that have to coddled and cajoled into doing what I want?  I'm not an engineer.  This isn't the path I meant to sign up for.  How did I get on this track?  In hopes of creating some internal peace--I actually decided to go back to the paper calendar for the next six months.  I feel like a loser and a wimp for making this decision--but there is just too much of this darn technology and it is SO needy sometimes.

This morning, I realized that my technology overload meltdown had a lot to say about the things I've been thinking about in regard to the adoption, or lack of adoption, of qualitative data analysis software (QDAS) by most qualitative researchers.  Many have felt, like me, 'it's too much' 'don't force me to do this when I have so many other things to pay attention to' 'it's too complicated' 'I'm fine the way I am, thank you.'  After yesterday's flurry, I don't blame them. 

QDAS is complex software and, over time, it has gotten more complex, not less.  It's comprehensiveness has brought new layers of features that add immensely to its value, but baffle the newcomer, who asks:  How do I get started? How do you do it right?  Will I be able to learn this in one lifetime?  To its credit, each new version of QDAS takes great strides in terms of format and usability, but it's still a bit foreign to the first time user. 

Then Web 2.0 enters the scene and suddenly many new digital tools appear that are super-easy to use, have simple, intuitive interfaces, and are visually attractive, even catchy in appearance.  Web 2.0, I believe, has set up an entirely new standard of beauty and functionality for digital tools.  QDAS is aware of this challenge.  And yet, Web 2.0 is still that 'darn technology', which, as I experienced yesterday doesn't lack for its own challenges. 

This brings me to another, related story.  Last year, a really bright young qualitative researcher visited my campus.  A recent doctorate with excellent theoretical training in qualitative research, she was surprised when I started to talk about my work with QDAS.  "I don't know what that is.  I never encountered it in my doctoral training," she said honestly.  This surprised me because she was very technologically savvy, working with Web 2.0 tools in imaginative and creative ways, but she had totally skipped over the QDAS stage.  It reminded me, in a way, of countries that are jumping into cell phones without having experienced landlines. 

Right now we are in the QDAS 2.0 phase--a mixture of the two, but what is coming next?  Will QDAS simply be translated/uplifted into Web 2.0?  Or will Web 2.0 which seems more oriented to smaller, combinable units create new kinds of tools that are more adaptable by individual users?  Will we continue to need the large comprehensive, workhorse tools that QDAS represent?  How much will all of this cost?  Will individual researchers be able to afford any of it? 

I have to go now--I have a paper calendar to update! 

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Wiki's as Qualitative Research

Peg board setImage via Wikipedia
Yesterday I spent a good amount of time learning the structure of yet another wiki product.  Wikis are another point on the timeline in regard to my thinking about containers for qualitative research.  I have to thank Silvana diGregorio, again, for this one.  As we began work on a chapter about new developments in technologies in qualitative research for the Fourth Edition of the Handbook on Qualitative Research (Denzin & Lincoln:  Look for this at the end of 2010)...she suggested that we use a wiki and got us set up in PB Works.  My life hasn't been the same since. 

It was as if we were sharing the same office--a magical room that both of us could step into from our very different geographical locations--she in London, and myself in Massachusetts.  It took me a while to learn to navigate, but as I did so I was acutely aware of how I was building on the skills I had honed learning qualitative data analysis software (QDAS)--thinking about organization, standards, efficiencies for a transparant electronic shell.  We started with a single item --Norman Denzin's instructions about the chapter--and from that it grew and grew.  We created memos, added resources--articles and powerpoint presentations, and then we began to write the article...and rewrite...and rewrite.  When feedback arrived from the reviewers that went in too.  It was our file cabinet, our work table, and our editorial meeting room.  Ironically, we found ourselves writing from the bowels of Web 2.0 as we were trying to understand the role Web 2.0 would play with qualitative researchers and their analysis tools. 

This wiki experience felt a lot like QDAS to me, and we began to look for ways that other qualitative researchers might be thinking about this.  Luckily, we'd both been active in planning the Day in Technology in Qualitative Research for the Fourth Congress on Qualitative Inquiry where we had the opportunity to hear a couple of sessions that pointed in this direction. 

  Kakali Battacharya is an innovator in this area--check out what she has been doing. 

Melanie Hundley of Vanderbilt University has also experimented with these tools.  

As a teacher, I am particularly interested in the implications of these tools for students who are rising qualitative researchers.  Last semester I begin to use wiki's with the three face-to-face classes I taught.  This semester I will use wiki's with three online classes I am teaching, which will require me to find a way to work across Blackboard and wikis. 

Thinking about Wiki's as qualitative research technologies AND thinking about how to use wiki's for teaching qualitative research has made me more aware of how the discipline of qualitative research serves as a pedagogical model for me.  The way I teach has much to do with the ways I have been socialized as a researcher:  we explore issues through observations, interviews, and other qualitative like data; we focus on the interpretation non-numerical texts; and extremely important, we DOCUMENT!!  We document our observations, impressions, feelings, and we integrate our ideas through continued documentation.  Wiki's are phenomenal tools for documentation in a qualitative research way. 

Wiki's and QDAS...there's a lot to think about. 

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Poet of the Semester

When I got up this morning there was a book waiting for me on the kitchen table.  Jane Kenyon's Collected Poems.  I was excited to get started preparing the Poet of the Semester. 

This will be my fourth experience with Poet of the Semester.  The Previous Poets of the Semester include:

1.  Mary Oliver
2.  Kay Ryan
3.  Rumi

Each week, I introduce my classes to a new poem (Poem of the Week) from the Poet of the Semester.  I have selected poets that I think would be accessible to a wide variety of students--poetry lovers or newbies to the world of poetry.  I usually introduce the poems at the end of class.  They serve as a centering and transitioning practice, from the world of the classroom and its discussions to the wider world of students' lives. 

My goal is multi-fold. For students, I think it reminds them of another medium that can convey meaning and enrich our thinking about the topics we encounter in class.  I don't choose poems to match the content.  I prefer to let students stretch themselves from the content to the poem and see what they come up with.  Sometimes the reading leaves a silence or pause, and then everyone leaves.  Sometimes there are comments.  Anything's OK. 

For me, the practice is a way for me to transition between the states of active teaching and leave taking.  It is also a practice that allows me to connect to poetry again.  I've now worked in some depth with three going on four poets that I hadn't been all that familiar with before. 

The poems come back to haunt us in different ways.  Reading Mary Oliver prompted one student to purchase a copy for a loved one.  Kay Ryan's short, sharp poems really hit the mark in the Qualitative Research Methods class, where we were working on autoethnographic and visual responses to our data collection experiments.  At the conlcusion of the class, I created a book that tried to capture the experience of this class, and, of course, Kay Ryan's poems found their way into the book.  Here is a sample from that piece in which Ryan's poem "Gaps" led to a collage thinking about the notion of gaps in interviews and the purposes they serve.  The collage was then cut up and reshaped into the book.  And thus it goes....

Rumi was Poet of the Semester for Fall 2009--and he had to work across many levels...undergraduates, advanced graduate students, and doctoral students at the conclusion of their program.  I can say that he was more than up to the challenge.

I like it that my classes listen to language carefully for the brief reading of the poem.  For the online classes, I teach I have used a podcast feature to share the sound of the poem. 

I definitely think it is worth the time spent, finding the poet, gathering the books, and sharing the poems.  It adds some special mist to the proceedings. 

Try it:  I highly recommend the practice. 

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Qualitative Data Analysis (QDAS) and Web 2.0: Which Way?

Qualitative Data Analysis Software (QDAS or CAQDAS) grew up over several decades.  Designed by qualitative researchers to serve the unique needs of qualitative researchers, it is fantastic stuff.  Each brand (and there are quite a few out there...if you don't believe me look at the list maintained on the CAQDAS web page (CAQDAS Networking Project)  does some similar things...and sometimes some different things.  What is common to all is the nice little digital container you get to store, organize, and work with your materials; a means of tagging or coding those materials, that is, breaking them up into small findable bits and pieces; and a means of reorganizing them, juxtaposing, linking, etc. 

But like much stand-alone software, QDAS is now having to face the challenge of Web 2.0.  They are not the only ones (consider Microsoft Word up against Google Docs or Wiki's) and you get the idea.  Suddenly the world is a lot wider; there are more possibilities; and potential gains and losses. 

As with most things in our technologically fast-moving world, the horizon on this issue moved toward us very quickly.  Silvana diGregorio and I published our book on QDAS in December 2008 (Qualitative Research Design for Software Users, which focused on a suite of well known software packages.  Since that time, we've become increasingly aware of the fast-paced change out there as Web 2.0 moves forward with new tools for qualitative researchers...and QDAS developers are pushed by Web 2.0 innovations in new directions to meet user demands. 

As a result of these changes, several issues arose for us:

1.  What do you call this new stuff?
Currently, we have settled on QDAS 2.0, which stands for the hybrid situation that currently exists while the field uses a mixture of both QDAS and new Web 2.0 tools that do qualitative research types of things.

2.  Who's Who is this area now?
Whereas QDAS developers used to be a cozy world unto themselves, the field is wide open now.  In addition to QDAS developers you now need to keep track of:
  • the big companies in Software and Web 2.0 development.  (Google, MS Labs, IBM--and many more of the big, hardy group are conducting research and developing prototypes for tools that will do a lot of things qualitative researchers will like and want to use)
  • Government funded research tools--pay attention in particular to the UK's Economic and Social Research Council activities (ESRC)  
  • Wild West of new independent developers who are developing web-based tools and new Apps.  Take a look at Annotate, Ethnosnacker (where you can learn about the Everyday Lives application for the I-Phone).  
 As I write this, Silvana is in Hawaii (lucky lady!) delivering a talk "Using Web 2.0 Tools for Qualitative Analysis: An Exploration" at Hawaii Int'l Conf on System Science (HISS-43).  Good wishes for a great talk! 

I'll be writing a lot on the QDAS/QDAS 2.0 challenge in the upcoming months because it is so near and dear to my heart. 
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Monday, January 4, 2010

Visual Memos in Qualitative Research

In yesterday's blog, I talked about the Journal Project and my attempts to stretch myself using arts-based research.  Today, I'll share an example--a Visual Memo

As I was writing in the Journal about the Journal Project, I was led to consider the issue of how the journal is a very different container from the academic prose into which I've been so deeply socialized.  Later I extracted this set of entries (xeroxed them out) and sat down to work with them in visual form.  The result of which is what I would consider a Visual Memo.  

Here's where it starts.  I used an old collage.  I cut it up and used the back of it.

My next thought, see below, was about the way I conceptualize the two genres.  Imaginatively speaking, I see the containers as different looking. 

 Within the genre of the journal, I see the contents represented in a different way from that of academic prose.  It's colorful, filled with curved lines.  It has accents, punctuation, and places of heat, depth, and surfacing. 

Academic prose, on the other hand...well you can see for yourself in this visual that is dominated by the structure of the outline, the lines of text, and comments that are carefully separated from the body of the text.
Two things that seem particularly different to me between these two genres--are at the heart of the Journal Project--emotion!  [Feelings, subjectivity, sensitivity, personal concerns and reactions--how else can I name thee?] 
In the journal--I would refer to it as emotion, and it feels, like it looks like, this:
In academic prose, specifically the world of qualitative research, I conceptualize it as subjectivity, a boxed item that has a place within the outline.  Within that box, there seems to be emotional content, but it is carefully contained--like a kind of hazardous waste!

A goal of the journal project is to help me bring these two different worlds of prose (and ideas) together in some meaningful way.  I imagine that this will have to be a process. In this illustration they are just beginning to touch, but they are being drawn together by some kind of surrounding net. 

Over time, I can assume that the forms will create a closer and more integrated merger.  In the merger depicted below--the outline and text of academic prose are distinct and yet one with the curves and colors of the journal...the journal content is held within the framework of the academic prose, which has also expanded in new ways. 

 Thinking about the containers of the journal vs the kind of container formed by academic prose...leads me to my other big container:  the E-Project.  As mentioned earlier, this is a term that I am using to describe the electronic container that Qualitative Data Analysis Software provides as a place to store, organize, and interpret qualitative research materials.  I've given a lot of thought to how I, and my students, came to visualize the E-Project as we used them over time for different kinds of qualitative research work.  Here is a visualization of my sense of the E-Project:

 And now the trick for me is going to be how to think with visual memos in the E-Project.

If you are interested in the notion of Visual Memos, I highly recommend the graphic novel and work available on illustrated journals.  Two sources that I really like are:
1.  Linda Barry's book:  What It Is

2.   Danny Gregory's book:  An Illustrated Life♠

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Journal Project: Containers for Thinking

Ten Indus characters discovered near the north...Image via Wikipedia
Douglas Harrison has an interesting piece in the Fall 2008 NEA Journal--Thought and Action.  "Scholarly Voice and Professional Identity in the Internet Age"  He blogs at  and this piece is about the issues related to being a blogging academic.  It certainly spoke to the excitement and fear that I have with this endeavor--how dare I do anything without anonymous peer review!!  How dare I communicate in new containers?

Actually, blogging exacerbates the problem of containers for thinking...but for me, it didn't start there.  It's been a long slow process.  You can think of me as a Crockpot on low.  The Blog was the moment when you lift off the top of a dish that has been simmering for 8 hours.  Before you could just smell it, but now you can taste it. 

The issue of what kind of container I will use for my thinking has emerged for me on several fronts.  It has been a crucial part of my exploration of Qualitative Data Analysis Software (QDAS or CAQDAS, which ever you prefer) and the notion of the E-Project, that little womblike electronic container that these software create for one to stow research materials in and to grow interpretation.  It is also an issue with my investigation into Arts-Based Research, which forces me to ask myself--what are other ways (containers) that I could use to express my thinking?  How are these different from ye old academic/social sicence genre?  What happens when I start using a different kind of container?

The Journal Project

These two ideas merge in the Journal Project.  Post-tenure I came down with a familiar academic malaise characterized by a sense of surprise at the positive outcome of the tenuredecision and a feeling of survivor guilt--why me?  As I cast around for answers, I wrote--I am a perpetual journal writer.  I write every morning and have done so for years. The writing has always been totally for me, a way to center myself, understand the world in which I move.  It is a place to explore the past and try to discern the future.  It's addictive.  I feel strange when I don't do it --like starting the day without a cup of tea, I can't seem to wake up properly without it.

I'm not sure now how it happened, but the use of QDAS and the interest in Arts-based research came together in the Journal Project.  I decided to enter two years of my journals--from the receiving of tenure in August 2006 to two years from that point--into my QDAS of choice--NVIVO.  I would analyze it there and see what I learned from studying myself from a distance with a tool devoted to the interpretation of qualitative research texts.  It was a mixture of autoethnography, self-study, document analysis, middle age angst, and several other approaches.  It goes slowly--like the proverbial Crock Pot--I devote about two hours a week specifically to this project.

In undertaking this study of self through documents one thing I have asked of myself is that I stretch the ways I interpret and represent what I am learning --within and beyond the confines of the alphabetic text.  As I type and code the entries (yes, I write my journals in longhand in composition books--what could be more retro), I seek out naturally occurring poems and stories that I separate out to review and work on at another time. 

No surprise to me, this being a  journal, the codes are highly emotional in nature.  It was a painful time during which I wrestled with hard personal issues.  I imagine, at some point, extracting the coding tree and working it into a piece of art.  Perhaps I should do some code weaving a la Johnny Saldana.  (Johnny Saldana in Methodspace)

But what has been most intriguing is trying to use methods of visual art to better understand the issues that are arising for me.  As a person who works with fiber and collage, mixed media, spun fiber, and felt, I have challenged myself to use the visual as I would use a memo in qualitative research....and to see what this does for me, and how it helps me to see the material.  I also ask myself to incorporate the ideas that are emerging from the journal project into different art pieces.  This has created pieces that are different from visual memos, but equally memorable in their own way. 

While I am enforcing this new method on myself, I have also been using it with students.  Each semester I try to find new ways to expand the possibilities available for data collection, interpretation, and representation using a range of arts-based methods.  

As time goes by I want to share my work in this area with the blogosphere...maybe tomorrow. 
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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Homage to Undergraduates

Title page to Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning...Image via Wikipedia
On this second day of 2010, I have been thinking back with fondness to the last term of school, and, in particular about my undergraduate course:  Understanding Education, 01.391, the first offering in a new minor in education that my program is offering. This entry is written in homage to the 18 young people that joined me in that journey Fall 2009.  May their futures be bright, and may they light the lives of the young people with whom they work.  

It was the second undergraduate course I have taught in my time in higher education--the first was 10 years ago!  I developed the course with a university colleague.  We were both intrigued with the idea of digital storytelling and how it might serve as a bridge between students and their educational pasts and futures.  We were anchored in a good text
(Educational Foundations: An Anthology of Critical Readings by Dr. Alan S. Canestrari and Bruce A. Marlowe) that asked ask good, big questions like:  What is a good teacher?  What does a good school look like?  Why assess? 

For 15 weeks we joined together--students and two instructors--to explore the basics of education and the educational experiences of these young people and to consider a future for them in education.   Many of the what and who about education were new to them (Coalition of Essential Schools, progressive education, etc.).  As they learned about these movements and individuals for the first time, I heard and saw this known world in new ways--it was exciting to hear them debate the qualities of good instruction or consider what components they would add to a good school.  

But what I am pondering this morning as the snow builds outside are the words they wrote to us in the last reflective memo.  Three things stand out in my mind from their comments. 

1.  It was inspiriting.  
My co-teacher and I were excited about education, its possibilities and potential.  We were promoters and advocates for the field.  We believed that education was a good field to go into and we wanted to recruit them for this honorable work. 

2.  The instructors enjoyed themselves.  
We were excited and pleased to be there every class. We enjoyed the class, the content, the activities, and the discussions.  They said they felt this.  They noted that we smiled and joked, and that it made them happy to come to class because we were happy to see them.

3.  We treated them like human beings.   
Students noted that we didn't keep an uneasy distance between them and us (a distance often reflective of fear or uncertainty).  We treated them as real people--caring about them, listening to them, and showing concern about them...not just our class goals.  

Sure--I think they did learn in this environment, but these words written at the end of the semester remind me of the basic elements that we/they must provide to every student: safety, care, respect, trust, dignity, truth, and hope.  I am honored that they thought we were able to do this.  My thanks to the students of UE 01.390 for reminding me of what is needed in every class...and my thanks to Kerry, an incredible educator who undertook this journey with me.  

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