Saturday, December 24, 2011

Barbara Herr Harthorn...Nanotechnologies, Cultural Values, and Methodological Challenges

A depiction of a putative technomimetic molecu...Image via WikipediaI do not work in a nano-deficient environment.  At my university (UMass-Lowell) we have what we call the "Nano Queens", three female scientists who excel in this field, and a new building is rising on our North Campus that will be dedicated to nanotechnology, among other things.  So, I think of myself as nano-aware.  But, Barbara Herr Harthorn's article "Methodolocial Challenges Posed by Emergent Nanotechnologies and Cultural Values" in Hess Biber's edited volume--The Handbook of Emergent Technologies in Social Research (65-88)--has taken me to new heights.  Harthorn is definitely the nano-babe of social science research (in my eyes).

Her piece took me back immediately to the first article in the book, by Edward Hackett, and the issues he raises about researching in the new scientific and technological environment of today.  Her piece provides many specific illustrations to fill in the general ideas he discussed. 

Nano queens, Nano buildings, and Nano babes aside--Harthorn makes it clear that defining the nano is not all that easy, and, thus, researching it is just that much more complicated.  Nano is in the process of becoming, it is quintessentially emergent, so research of the issue is "upstream". In other words, you are in the business of identifying, finding, describing.  This danger is well noted when she says:

Social scientists and humanists recruited to study NSE processes for technological development are thus at some risk of creating the very object we are studying, of reifying a category that may have little inherent meaning outside the funding world (71)

As an ethnographic, feminist social science researcher, Harthorn has had a unique opportunity to be in on the beginnings of the nano world through participation in the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at the University of California at Santa Barbara.  Her article makes excellent reading because the social science that she is describing, she has lived! 

Of the points I take away with me from this reading, one is related to interdisciplinary research (a point Hackett also raises)...and this point is also related to the issue of researching those things that are "upstream" as she defines the emergent world of nanotechnology...and this is that true, dynamic interdisciplinarity is required to get at these forming masses that span science, social science, and the humanities.  Having scientists, social scientists (of diverse backgrounds and skills) and John and Jane Q Public together at the table is probably the only way to get at the potential good (and bad) of these extremely powerful, but as yet, emergent technologies. 

I am also drawn to her discussion of the importance of mixing qualitative and quantitative in order to be open enough to discovery of what you haven't imagined and, simultaneously, primed to track down what you have identified.  Harthorn recommends use of a methodological toolkit that is constantly evolving itself, always being honed to address specific questions and situations that may not have been imagined by methodologists from an earlier era.  This experimentation in methodology has led her to team to develop "deliberative forums" and to make use of "experimental deliberation" as well as  new forms of web surveys.  She charts an interesting pathway in the social sciences.  From lab-based experiments, social scientists moved out into the world to focus on behavior and practices in their real or natural locations, but now with new communication media we can move back into another kind of lab where we can engage with a much wider range of people in a virtual space (a kind of lab) asking them to reflect on their behaviors, practices, decisions, and potential outcomes (a kind of naturalized perspective). 

The article is worth much, just for the bibliography alone.  Harthorn's close connection with the development of this field--the social study of nanotechnology--has given her access to a vast amount of the material that is being released on this topic.  She shares her riches generously with the reader. 

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David J. Gunkel ... To Tell the Truth...

This image was selected as a picture of the we...Image via WikipediaI am returning to a project I had started earlier, before semester intervened, and that is the close reading of The Handbook of Emergent Technologies in Social Research (2011, Oxford University Press) edited by Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber.  Yes, I am still working on the first section:  Emergent Technologies in a Broad Social Research Context. 

This morning I re-read David J. Gunkel's article:  "To Tell the Truth:  The Internet and Emergent Epistemological Challenges in Social Research" (47-64).  Gunkel, who is at Northern Illinois University in the Department of Communication, has written a trim little essay that struggles with "truthiness" (an emergent Internet term he introduces us to in the beginning of the piece) as it is raised by the Internet and our new virtual lives. 

Gunkel is clearly a skilled teacher, as demonstrated by the careful way he introduces problems for us to chew on--from our day-to-day life (TV shows, Internet episodes) in juxtaposition to the classical stories or problems raised by philosophers (Plato's Cave; Heidegger's example of a statement about a picture being askew).  As I read, I felt myelf weaving thoughtfully back and forth between the worlds of popular and intellectual thought, and this is the hallmark of the best philosophical writing.  

He opens with the problems of truth that the Internet has raised for us--what, for instance, makes Wikipedia truthful?  If it is open to be edited by anyone how/why, should we believe it as a source of truth?  The essay lays the foundation for considering this issue through returning to "the correspondence theory of truth" that Gunkel contends underlies all Western thinking.  Simply stated:  "the accuracy of an assertion to the thing about which the assertion is made" (50). 

What follows is the proverbial opening of the can of worms:   There are serious problems, Gunkel states, with the correspondence theory of truth.  It doesn't account, for example, for theories that are developed and used as truths before we can actually verify them with a comparison to the real (string theory in physics).  Nor does it account for the fact that many things we think are verified by the correspondence theory are actually a maze of reports on reports of the thing...not the actual comparison to the real again (Plato's cave is raised here and reference to the problem of identity cross-dressing on the internet). 

He presents two possible alternatives to the limitations of the correspondence of truth:  pragmatism and Heidegger's notion of "unhiddenness".  Pragmatism brings to the table the honoring of the process by which knowledge is created, and a recognition of "mental abstractions and other things" (p. 56...a la William James) as critical elements of truth.  Heidegger's concerns with "unhiddenness" also help to account for the value of ideas, theories, and descriptions that describe a thing, and through that description, create the meaning we attribute to it--or the truth by which it is seen and known.  Both of these perspectives are grounded in the social, cultural, intellectual contexts in which we are placed and the thing we wish to know is placed. 

In concluding, Gunkel's resolution to this issue of truth and the internet (and indeed the larger issue of truth as social scientists confront it in the digital age)  is that researchers must become explicity reflective about the process of knowing.

It is a method of research that makes its own protocols and procedures an object of its continually conceptualizes the place from which one professes to know anything and submits to investigation the particular position that is occupied by any epistemological claim whatsoever (62)

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Publication in "Qualitative Inquiry"

I am extremely happy to announce that I have just had an article published in Qualitative Inquiry. 
Judith Davidson

1 January 2012; Vol. 18, No. 1

This publication makes me particularly happy because "The Journal Project" and the Exhibit that grew out of it seemed like such risky work.  It was risky to study self in this way.  It was risky to fool with arts-based research.  It was risky to consider exhibiting--going really public in the way that I did.  
My thanks to Norman Denzin and the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry (ICQI)  for believing in my work and supporting me, as a qualitative researcher, to try the risky.  I was able to push my personal boundaries as a qualitative researcher.  I have come through the experience better able to engage with many qualitative research topics from a new and more informed perspective. 

QRN Brown Bag December 13: Steve Tello and Yi Yang

University of Massachusetts LowellImage via WikipediaTello and Yang presented the last Qualitative Resarch Network Brown Bag on the UMass-Lowell campus for the Fall 2011 semester.  The topic "How Nascent Entrepreneurs Leverage Networks in a University Network" drew a large audience from many corners of campus. 

The two are working with cases drawn from a university incubator for medical devices.  They found significant distinctions among the case examples, particularly between entrepreneurs who had prior experience with full product development processes and those who did not. 

What I particularly enjoyed in their presentation is their discussion of their process as qualitative researchers.  The description of how submitting to a presentation and getting feedback helped them to hone in on their analysis issues was very helpful. 

As in any field, even when a methodology is accepted (and in business qualitative research is a newer acquisition) each reader will come with their own pre-conceptions of that methodology.  We discussed the ways this affects the journal review process.

I can't wait to see where they will go next with this research.  I am sure there is going to be more to come.

Speaking of more to come...the Qualitative Research Network also has more to come in the next semester.  Plans are afoot for another great semester.  

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mobile Apps And Qualitative Research

English: A red Samsung Mobile Phone Svenska: E...Image via Wikipedia

Follow this link to learn about a challenge for the development of social justice apps.  The winners will be presented at this upcoming conference. 

3rd International Conference on Mobile Communication on Development in New Delhi 28-29 February 2012!

I dipped into some of the ideas that have been offered and was quite intrigued.  These have a lot of relationship to qualitative research/action research/collaborative action research and the ways people can use mobile applications for research. 

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

TQR: Bridging the Gaps Within Qualitative Research

This is an addition to the last post on what is happening in Marketing Research and Qualitative Research.  Absolutely not to be forgotten is the work that The Qualitative Report/ The Weekly Qualitative Report is doing to provide information on the full breadth of developments in qualitative research.  Marketing Research is not a forgotten country in their publication.

Their innovative online dissemination now has them reaching 5,000 subscribers!  They are one place where this new business approach to qualitative research is blended with work from other disciplines.  Thanks TQR! 

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Bold New World: Marketing Research and Qualitative Research

Visualization of all editing activity by user ...Image via WikipediaLast Wednesday, 11/23/11, I took part in a webinar sponsored by Vision Critical and featuring Ray Poynter, author of Handbook of Online Research Tools and Techniques for Market Researchers.  It was my first official webinar (at home with computer and headphones) and it was also my first introduction to where marketing research has taken qualitative research.  It was a come uppance. 

I had a vague notion that things were going on online with marketing that I needed to know about, but it was very interesting to learn how marketing research had formalized their qualitative research approaches in this area.
Terms that were new to me:
1.  Community Panel:  Primarily quantitative 2-5,000 members.  Within the community panel a variety of activities can occur--surveys, autoethnography, and MROC's.
2. MROC's=Marketing Research Online Communities;Qualitative Research groups (short or long term) of up to 50 members.  
3.  Autoethnography as Poynter was using it.  In the MR world, autoethnography refers to data that others go out and gather as "slice of life" experiences--through cell phones, journals, etc.  This is not how I would have used this term, and it caught me by surprise. 

In terms of future directions, Poynter stressed:  the evolving possibilities of Bots and what they could be in a future generation.

He also talked about the crowd sourcing that "branded presences" are drawing upon, using the "My Starbucks Idea" as an example.

I have been struggling for some time with the idea of where does qualitative research fit within the world of Big Data.  It seems that MR has already taken on that issue with the ways they are thinking about combinations of online communities (quantitative and qualitative).

Gamification was another approach that is growing in the marketing world.  Researchers are seeking ways to make the processes of their research more engaging and allow them to get into greater depth with the responses participants give.

Hearing Poynter's talk set me off on a search for some of the resources in this area.  Poynter's blog is very informative:

Reading this took me to Mr. Netnography, Robert Kozinets.  His blog--is another goldmine in this area:

I also realized that I am actually a member of his netnography linked-in community, but I haven't been paying attention to the messages!  Egg on my face. 

I also made my way to the Lovestats blog (which is surprising for me), but on it I found this posting of a talk by anthropologist of social media Mimi Ito:

Finally, Power Solutions provided more information on the ways qualitative research is being used in marketing research:

It is a vast new world out there.  It's not reflected yet, that I know of, in much of the teaching of qualitative research in higher education.  I am amazed by what the business side of things is doing.  It makes me feel like someone who is still using a manual typewriter. 

I think my next step needs to be to find my way into an MROC and experience what it is like--unfortunately I am not a very conventional consumer, but I am going to search this out. 

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Journal Project Link

I blog about the Journal Project (described in earlier entries here), on my new fiber blog. 

Qualitative Research Network at UMass-Lowell: NVivo Tasters

A Pile of The Real McCoy's Potato ChipsImage via WikipediaThe Qualitative Research Network(QRN) at UMass-Lowell has revived the "NVivo Tasters". 

We did this several years ago when we had a bumper crop of doctoral students in the Graduate School of Education who were NVivo savvy.  Our site license was new and we wanted to get professional development out to the many people on campus who had been using the product on their own, sometimes unsuccessfully.  We offered a  1 hour session with an NVivo expert to all takers.  Your expert would help you where ever you were--if was project set up, project reshaping--whatever, you had 1 hour.  Well, it was like potato chips--most people couldn't stop at one. 

That group graduated, and things moved on, but with the shift of QRN to the Center for Women and Work, and new NVivo savvy grad students, we decided to try it again.  We are offering 12 one-hour slots to any takers on campus.  Myself and two doctoral students from the Graduate School of Education are the staff for this. Once the word tricked out, the response was immediate. 

I did my first taster last week with two faculty members from the School of Nursing, and WOW!!  did I have fun.  It's dangerous to loose a data hog like myself on other faculty members.  I so love to wander in the halls of data as they are available to one through qualitative data analysis software.  I twitch and slobber thinking about the thrills that are opening to me.  I don't care what the topic is, I just want at their data. 

These sessions start out with a description of the project from the person who has requested the taster.  As I listened I found my eye continually drawn to the computer where I could see the data set up.  Usually I start by looking at sources--but the real piece de la resistance--is always the node section.  I can't wait to get in there.  In this case there were lots of a priori nodes...that had an implicit connection to the protocols...but needed a push to make that explicit connection.  Piece of cake. 

But this let me talk about node trees, shaping and pruning your tree.  I remind myself of my mother's TV repairman who was possessed by model trains.  I have the same intensity about node trees--mine and every other one I can get my hands on. 

The hour flew by.  I was so disappointed to realize it was over (though my faculty friend may have been glad to be released to process the whole thing).

NVivo Tasters have been great for introducing faculty and graduate students to each other's work.  As you are discussing the set up of the project, you inevitably open up many other issues--from the problems with recruiting, hilarious stories about conducting research, and the struggles with interpretation. Sitting together looking at the project that is visible to both of you (thanks to the qualities of qualitative data analysis software) is like sitting around a campfire staring into the flames.  You are warm, relaxed, and available to sharing about something that is important to both of you. 

Long live the NVivo Taster!  And Happy Thanksgiving! 

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"I Smell Smoke": Blogging as an Endangered Species | HASTAC

"I Smell Smoke": Blogging as an Endangered Species | HASTAC

Convergence Culture, Qualitative Research, and the teaching of...

Henry JenkinsImage via WikipediaI have been reading Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins...and I also follow his blog now.  Convergence is about the ways that technologies/media are all coming together...even while they may be seeming to go off in different directions.  (That's the 2 second definition).

I have been thinking about these principles and how they apply to technologies in qualitative research.   If you consider the historical pathway of technologies in QR, you see how the introduction of a new technology (when it comes to be seriously taken up by researchers) leads to a kind of overdomination of that form of data for a period. 

Example:  Early anthropology is dominated by participant observation--the notebook/fieldnotes and the portable typewriter.

Example 2:  Enter cameras--and we begin to see photo studies that have a life of their own (Riis, Collier)

Example 3:  Tape Recorder....and the dominance of interviews.  This is something that still hangs over us. 

Well, now we have convergence culture--technologies in which everything is combined into one cell phone or other device,--audio and visual recording (photo and video), software for organizing materials, text facilities, and the phone and internet capacity for sending and sharing materials on the spot, geospatial tools for locating the data.  You can collect data, organize it, and share/represent it--all from one place. 

The digitalness of it makes it possible to merge and connect different forms of data with ease.  So, what does this imply for the ways we think about teaching qualitative research data?  I think it is fair to say that our qualitative research classes look much like, I think, they could have looked in the early 20th century (if they had had such a thing)...observations are taught as if we were in the South Pacific with Margaret Mead.  Photography is still suspect in many social science products.  I know I am going overboard to make my case...but you see what I mean.

For qualitative researchers my question is:  how do you teach methodology in an era of convergence culture?  How does the inter-connectedness of our data collection tools--the digitalness of it--reshape our notion of the separate pots of data.  Three trends that seem critical for me in overhauling my own qualitative research teaching are:

1.  Contexts:  All the data that is available to contextualize an issue or concern; all of the descriptive statistics, geolocating material, images--everything that can be drawn upon to understand the topic of inquiry.  How do you assemble this collection; curate the possibilities in service of understanding the issue?  YouTube, audioclips, photos, maps (GoogleWorld), articles, statistics, applications, blogs, tweets, etc.   This is a vastly different task than simply going to the library, looking in the card catalog (off or online) for the article you want, finding it on the shelf, making notes, and then putting the journal back on the vfc

2.  The data you make:  The many different forms of data that you make and how you make it.  What are the digital possibilities for being sensuously present in the world and with others thinking about a particular topic.  (Qualitative research is about the employment of the senses to understand naturalistic contexts...the senses that we are so uniquely endowed with, thus it is fair to say it is a sensuous activity). How are these forms of data collection now inter-related?  As interesting, how can we meet and greet in the virtual world?  This, too, is sensuous--as we use our eyes and ears to engage in social experience. 

3.  The data they make:  Now, more than ever, we can extend the senses and the forms of knowing by joining in collaboration with others (lay researchers, participants) to explore the data they collect on a project of shared interest.  They can tweet their experiences back to you; they can be mapped by their cell phones as they move through a day; they can photo and geolocate.  They can also join you in the process of trying to make sense of it.  Often they may have their own data collections, organized on the web as Flickr accounts, participation in communities of like-minded souls, or in blogs. 

I hope this doesn't frighten off the next semester of qualitative research students...hopefully, by then, I will have thought it through a bit more. 

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Qualitative Research Network at UMass-Lowell: Another Great Brown Bag

PAS stain of a coccidioidomycosis spherule.Image via WikipediaToday our qualitative research brown bag featured Pia Markkanen from the Department of Work Environment at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.  Pia made a presentation on the mixed method study that became the Journal of Occupational Environmental Medicine (JOEM) article--"There's No Place Like Home: A Qualitative Study of the Working Conditions of Home Health Care Providers".  It was fascinating!

Pia described the qualitative to quantitative to qualitative interactions of the study like a dance.  Project SHARRP,as she called it, Safe Homecare and Risk Reduction for Providers, was funded by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Like it's name, Project Sharrp focused on accidents with sharp instruments in home health care and the issues related to blood borne pathagens. 

Her audience of qualitative researchers was interested in all the nitty-gritty detail, from how she selected participants and gained informed consent to the development of focus group questions and integration with quantitative data.  For more informationon this excellent study, contact Pia!  

In the course of this work, Pia has become a daily user of NVivo.  We didn't get a chance to look into her project, but she showed how coding was reflected in the article's charts, and she shared an NVivo model with us. 

Our last brown bag of the Fall 2011 semester will take place on Tuesday, December 13 from 12:30-1:30 pm.  Steve Tello and Yi Yang from Management will present.  We will be meeting in Southwick 240 on North Campus. 
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Friday, November 18, 2011

QRfrag...My Blog List

I have been threatening to do this for some time...and now it is here: My blog list. This is the eclectic group of blogs I call my professional reading list. There are a few more to add, but this is pretty much the scope of it.

I find it interesting that it is almost all about emerging technologies. Qualitative research, per se, is not strongly represented here. My hunch is that this has more to do with the fact that mainstream QR is not moving too quickly into the use of blogs.

Of course another equally promising theory is that finding blogs is kind of like hunting for mushrooms in a forest. A lot of it is luck, and once you have found an area that seems like it produces this is where you go back for more.

these blogs I have been following yield good results for me. I hope you might find something in here that you like also.

Now the next task is to figure out how to. Move these sidebars into the place I want them to be.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Qualitative Research Network at UMass-Lowell: Brown Bags Fall 2011

Qualitative Research Network (QRN):        Fall 2011 Brown Bags

Bring Your Own Lunch
No Reservations or RSVP
Just Come and Engage!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011,  12:30 pm-1:30 pm
Rm 513, O’Leary Library:  South Campus
Pia Markkanen
Research Professor
Department of Work Environment

Using Qualitative Research Methods in Occupational Safety and Health - A Case Study on Bloodborne Pathogen Exposures in Home Healthcare. 

Dr. Markkanen’s Brown Bag talk focuses on using qualitative research methods in occupational safety and health (OSH) through a case study on bloodborne pathogen exposures in home health care. The talk describes through a case study how qualitative research methods (i) strengthen quantitative findings in OSH, (ii) help characterizing hazardous occupational exposures; and (iii) lead towards better understanding of the cultural context in which the study population experiences occupational hazards. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011, 12:30 pm-1:30 pm
Southwick 240:  North Campus
Steven F. Tello, Ed. D.
Associate Professor
Management & Entrepreneurship

Yi Yang
Assistant Professor
Operations & Information Systems

How Nascent Entrepreneurs Leverage Networks and Resources in a University Incubator

This study utilized the setting of a technology incubator  to analyze how nascent entrepreneurs develop and leverage networks to secure resources as part of the venture creation process. Over the course of one year, we interviewed, observed, and tracked the progress of six medical device entrepreneurs as they accessed the resources and networks associated with this incubator.  Using qualitative methods, we examined how nascent entrepreneurs use networks to obtain needed resources, the types of internal resources and external networks pursued by hese entrepreneurs and differences among entrepreneurs based on their level of network skill.   We will discuss our methods, our use of Nvivo, as well our findings.

The brown bag lunches are purposefully informal.  These are places to bring your half-baked ideas, excitement, concerns, and hopes about the projects with which you are working.  Participants are present to listen, learn, and support. 

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Qualitative Research Network at UMass-Lowell: Brown Bag on "Giving Birth to Theory in Qualitative Research: Adolescents and the Sexting Continuum"

Land and SeaImage by Sally L. Smith via FlickrThe UMass-Lowell Qualitative Research Network sponsored its third brown bag for the Fall 2011 semester (November 8, 2011: 12:30-1:30).  We (the Sexting Project) were the featured project.

The Sexting Project is a three-state, interdisciplinary study of teens views of sexting (and the parents and educators who work with them).  It was funded by the Department of Criminal Justice.  We are about 2/3's through our data collection activities (surveys and focus groups).  We have collected data from 20 youth focus groups (123 individuals); 4 parent focus groups (5 more to go); and we still have 3 groups of educators and criminal justice professionals to interview. 

Our focus for the brown bag discussion was "Giving Birth to Theory in Qualitative Research:  Adolescents and the Sexting Continuum".  The topic was an answer to the hardball question musicologist Alan Williams lobbed at me at the end of the last brown bag--"How do you create a theory from your qualitative research data?" 

To explore the question, our group decided to trace the evolution of our notion of the sexting continuum.  The sexting continuum is our understanding of teens' responses to why sext?  We were surprised to learn that many had positive or unagressive reasons that they thought one might sext (you don't get pregnant or std's, for example).  On the opposite end, there was limited discussion from teens about overtly agressive behavior in regard to sexting.  The teens we talked to were not at all interested in relationships with strangers on the Internet...their connections were about people they knew.

What was very interesting is that the largest category was the squishy stuff in the middle--that wasn't quite one or the other--it implied agression or coercion, but teens were reluctant to label it that way.  Instead, they talked about joking with each other, trying to attract someone. 

So, the continuum is our theory that is growing as we delve more deeply into the data and talk with others about the meaning of what we are finding. 

Those who attended raised some very interesting questions that included:
  • thinking about the narratives in which sexing is embedded (discourse formations)
  • thinking about the technological literacy that is required of teens
  • the notion of sexting as a rite of passage
  • the aesthetics of sexting (how do people chose how to present themselves in these situations)
What was very exciting for me was to hear our two Emergent Scholars on the project, talk about the work they have been doing.  They did a great job describing how they were working with the project in NVivo and what they were learning about research in the process.  Nice job Mary Ann and Lindsay.

 Thanks also to Shanna, our fantastic graduate assistant, and the special insight she brings to the work.

We have two great talks coming up in the second part of the semester...more on that next!  

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Qualitative Research Network at UMass-Lowell: Brown Bag on using NVivo as a tool for organization and analysis with undergraduates

Solvent Image and ink on tissue.Image by Imajica Amadoro via FlickrOK--the title is way too long, but the presentation was just right.

Today:  Tuesday, October 25, 2011 from 12:30-1:30 pm Ellen O'Brien, Graduate School of Education and instructor in the undergraduate Honors Program, did a brown bag presentation on using NVivo software to help students prepare to write their honors theses (or capstone projects).

Ellen described her goals and tasks for the class and the way it unfolded.  Her class is a cross-section of majors on campus, but without significant experience with literature reviews, development of a thesis or in-depth research.

In this course, NVivo is an organizational tool.   Identifying a topic and developing an understanding of its components included drawing or modelling a "web".  These were imported into NVivo and students coded the ways that each "webbed" their ideas, leading to a rich discussion of how they used thinking tools. 

Literature searches were conducted, articles identified, and uploaded into NVivo where students used the query tools to further refine their understanding of the topic.  [This is a great way, I thought, to teach about the query tools using a nice, relevant little data base of your own selection.]

It was interesting to hear how engineering students brought in computer models and coded them--adding a new tool to their arsenal.  It sounds like in her class she has been able to generate some cross-campus, inter-disciplinary thinking in just a few weeks.

Her talk led to thoughts about--how could NVivo be used to help undergraduates develop electronic portfolios?  How can we help faculty who are not qualitative researchers, per se, to use this tool for things that are appropriate for their area?  What would make it safe for them to listen and get the message?

An undergraduate was actually at the Brown Bag, one of our "Emerging Scholars" and she said that if she had learned this tool early on in her undergraduate career... "It would have made me a more rounded 21st century student."   She is now learning about it in her senior year and considering developing an electronic portfolio of her undergraduate work that could help her in her bid for a doctoral program.  She hopes that knowing this kind of technology will help to set her apart on her application for graduate school in the social sciences.  

The next Brown Bag will be Tuesday, November 8, 12:30-1:30 pm in 513 O'Leary Library and UMass-Lowell.  I will be presenting on the Sexting Project.  I have a special request to think/talk about:  How do you generate theory?  Join us--it's fun. 

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Discussion of NVivo Project with UMass-Lowell Center for Women and Work Research Associates

This morning I was privileged to be the object of attention of my fellow Center for Women and Work Research Associates at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.  We meet on a monthly basis to discuss our research projects and learn from the discussion of an interdisciplinary group of scholars.   This is my second tour of duty with this group.  [Meg Bond, CWW Founder to Right]

During the first tour (two years), I was working on my Journal Project.  Thanks to this internal research support, I was able to conduct some very risky and experimental research around the integration of arts-based research and qualitative computing...and that work is now being exhibited, published, discussed, etc.  Centers like this are critical on universities to provide encouragement for faculty to germinate new ideas, take those first steps, and work through a project--the in-kind support they offer is every bit as important as a financial award.

As I said, this is my second tour of duty, and in this period I am working on the sexting project, a three-state, interdisciplinary study of teens and sexting.  I am the official qualitative researcher on the project.  PI Andrew Harris from our Criminal Justice Department joined me.  We described the initiative, showed the NVivo Project, and shared our notion of the continuum of what sexting means in the teen mind.

As I explained to them in showing NVivo...leveraging the transparancy and portability of this tool--and showing you what the coding looks like--makes me vulnerable.  Most people don't publicly share their research in this way, but its a commitment we have that goes along with using the software.  [It is scarey...a project is like the inside of your brain, it's like letting people into your file cabinet, your closets.]

Then the group asked us questions--really good questions (as they always do).  The group ranged from psychology and sociology to economics; there were qualitative and quantitative researchers.  They were awestruck by the size and amount of materials--number of sites, focus groups, students involved (9 schools; 3 states; 123 students...and that's only part 1...I know we went "data heavy"...but when you are a data hog--it's hard to set boundaries!)  They were pleased with the way we were building up from the emic perspective.  That struck them as important.  And, they asked for some things we need to dig for in the data to better set the cultural context for understanding the responses:

1.  What are the opportunities at each school to hear messages about sexting?  Where do they occur?  Are they in separate places or integrated in any way? 
2.  What are the school's written policies about technology use?

They, like the students we interviewed, had a range of views about what sexting was--"Is it this?"  "Is it that?"  Everyone gets confused, whenever we start talking about the project...but they asked very astutely, what do these messages/photos actually look like?  That's not for this study--we are looking at views expressed in interviews (and I hate to think of the IRB issues related to procuring young people's sexting examples...), but it was an excellent thing to think about--because that is truly where the rubber meets the road! 

Thanks to CWW for providing opportunities for this kind of discussion! 

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

UMass Lowell Emerging Scholars and Qualitative Data Analysis Software NVivo

Last night I had the wonderful opportunity to be present at an NVIVO training workshop for the Center for Women and Work's (CWW) Emerging Scholars Program (undergraduates working with faculty mentors).

My former doctoral student, Stuart Robertson, NVivo trainer par excellence, led the three hour event. It is so exciting to see our UMass-Lowell graduates taking on the qualitative research world as consultants, trainers, and leaders in the NVivo world (In addition to Stuart, Stacy Penna, and Cindi Jacobs are also NVivo experts working for QSR).

The software continues to grow and complexity but Stuart makes it seem so easy and natural. He calms all fears and answers all questions--but he was doing this even as a graduate student. What a gift.

I am excited to see undergraduates thrown into the NVivo soup pot and seeing what happens. It doesn't seem to hurt them to start their learning about qualitative research from this place--a software. One told me that he hadn't been formally been introduced to qualitative research before, but from figuring out the software he could extract the ideas about qualitative research. [This would be anathema to some researchers...but really do we need to have all that theory and philosophy before we start doing it?]

My two emerging scholars have been working for the last few weeks in the software...same's what you need to do, here is how the tool works...and I wrap in comments about qualitative research as we go along. They don't seem to be the worse for it, and I feel like I am teaching in a very fluid and natural way. Focusing on the project (sexting) keeps us organized. It makes me wonder how could I move classes that are formally named "Qualitative Research" more toward this model of "do".

An exciting evening. But then any time spent with our Emerging Scholars is time well spent.

Qualitative Research Brown Bags on the UMass Lowell Campus

The Qualitative Research Network (QRN) on the UML campus is going to sponsor a series of brown bags across this year. For the Fall 2011 semester we are meeting the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month. For the first few sessions we are in Rm 513 O'Leary Library from 12:30-1:30 pm.

These are meant to be informal, not polished, opportunities to discuss research in the rough.

Our first presenter was Alan Williams from the music department. In addition to being a skilled musician and sound recording expert, he is also a darn good ethnomusicologist. We had a fascinating discussion with him about work he is doing to build an international group that will examine the dynamics of sound recording (something he looked at for his dissertation). It's so much fun to hear about qualitative research in other realms.

Coming up next week Tuesday 10/25/2011, Ellen O'Brien from the Graduate School of Education will be talking about how to use qualitative computing software (NVivo) to support undergraduate honor's students to learn to conduct a literature review and write academic papers based on that review.

On Tuesday November 8, I am going to be talking about the Sexting project I am working on and showing what an NVivo project can look like in a mature stage. I hope to be joined by some of my colleagues on the project...and our Emerging Scholars who have been working in the NVivo Data base.

We have two dates for the end of the semester 11/22/11 and 12/13/11 that I am looking to find presenters for.

Every time I attend one of these I get goosebumps again, to think of how many good and innovative qualitative researchers we have on campus. If you are in the area, come join us!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Qual/Quant Dilemma: Post 2

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 05:  Leaves are stuc...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeI just deleted my last post, because as I continue to think about this issue I am beginning to create a more readable understanding of it.  What I am trying to do is understand how quantification is part of all thinking...from the most emic to the most etic perspective.  So here is my framework:

1.  Emic/Lived/Insider:  Embodied/Narrative quantification or logic

2.  Qualified Perspectives:  Semi-formalized quantification
-sits at the boundary between the emic/insider and the etic/outsider, meaning that it has privileged access to insider accounts AND to disciplinary and methodological discourses
-Semi-visible quantification or numerical accounts

3.  Quantified Perspectives:  Formal/Disembodied Logic
-this kind of research sits outside and at a distance from the naturalized account
-it focuses meaning within disciplinary and methodological accounts
-Fully visible quantification or numerical accounts

My notion of narrative or embodied logic/reasoning/theories is drawn from Lakoff and Johnson's work on the role of metaphor as the basis of thinking.  They demonstrate how metaphor is built from bodily experience of time, space, distance, speed--the very basics of being and organism moving in space...and this leads to metaphors and comparisons that undergird all thinking from the most mundane to the most complex.

My argument is that narrative or embodied reasoning is an act of quantification, meaning, thus, that all thinking is...we are identifying more and less, and from that forming patterns, describing size, shape, connection,  intersections--this is both algebraic and geometrical...underneath it all.  This ability to quantify (mathematicize) is in natural settings embodied, narrative, visual/observed...and is increasingly more formal, drawing upon resources of literature/methodologies/ and disciplines--what others have observed about what it is and how to understand it. 

An issue for qualitative researchers is that we are trying to distinguish ourselves from the pack--it's very clear what the difference is between the subject/participant...and the quantitative researcher, but we are sitting in the middle...with permeable margins on either side. 

Part of this difficulty is that on the margin/boundary between them (the participants/natives/subjects/objects of investigation) and ourselves...there may be very little difference.  People have always observed other people and commented upon their behavior.  People have studied social issues from the beginnings of time.  We are quite good at it...

Qualitative research formalizes this capacity with knowledge and tools related to a particular era.  It takes us a step away from the other, a slight bit of distance.  But in today's world, many people are serving as "lay" anthropologists and sociologists and doing a very good job of it.   They have access to the thinking/logic of qualitative research and they employ it, with or without a Ph.D. 

Rather than despairing about the fact that we may, as qualitative researchers, be actually indulging in a sport of quantification, I think we can exploit it to our benefit.  But it will require that we talk openly about our analytic processes.  Our tendency is to say--"It's a different paradigm."  "You couldn't possibly understand."  "It emerges."  "This is not quantifiable."  A lot of our arguments are recursive in nature.  I think we need to turn ourselves around and head back into the thicket where we think that lion is located...and see if it is really real? 

For instance, how do we locate patterns?  How do we translate text into code?  How do we move from emic understanding to the first 'qualified level' of distanced understanding?  What are we actually doing?

Critical to being able to do this is leveraging the new possibilities of transparancy that are available to us through digital tools.  Qualitative data analysis software (QDAS) offers us this opportunity, and so do other tools.  What would REAL transparancy look like in qualitative research?  

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