Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Journal Project meets Felter's Fling or Qualiative Research goes sheep!

I have spent the last several days outside of North Hampton Mass in the company of a whole crew of Felter's. Chad Hagen was my first instructor and I learned much as about dye resist and book binding. Today is our switch day and I had the opportunity to share my Journal Project with members of the group. These are the same works I brought to the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry.

Wow! What an experience. I had an hour for my exhibit: 9-10 am. I laid my materials out near the wood working room, on the lawn and picnic tables. A very green background for the works. people rambled out to look in ones and twos. I was glad I could talk as they made their way around. over the hour the sun moved across the sky uncovering the works in another way. Woven Piece I hung on a tree. I really liked seeing it against a massive swath of bark.

The response was extremely satisfying. Everyone seemed to have enough experience with something scientific that they got the irony of the art and computer split. The poster of the Nvivo screen shots was of interest and the idea of analyzing journal material with these tools. this being an artistic group, many said they felt more comfortable drawing their thoughts than writing.

I got a great suggestion for a book I will look for: The Alphabet and the Goddess. It's about imagery vs words. I look forward to it.

It's been a full circle for me now. I have shown this work to artists (Contemporary Practice class). Then to social scientists (ICQI). And now to Felter' what have I learned? basically everyone has responded with intensity to the themes. It gives them relief or release. It does. What art should do. it evokes a response, and the response is to many parts of the message and the materials.

So I now prepare to throw myself back into the fray with Erma Yost's workshop--more surface design. Live long and felt!

They seemed to like the fact that I was trying to work thematically. Many people responded to the emotional content.

A couple spoke to me about pressing forward and sharing the exhibit more widely

Friday, August 19, 2011

Upper Merrimack Redevelopment Committee Goes on a Fieldtrip

Tuesday of this week-- August 16, 2011--I had the pleasure of joining UMass-Lowell officials, Lowell community activists, and members of the Lowell city government--on a fieldtrip to Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts to learn more about the incredible community redevelopment work that has been going on there over the last couple decades.

UMass Lowell has just purchased the old St. Joseph's Hospital which will become a new hub at the end of Merrimack Street--University Crossing.  We wanted to learn how Clark University had used their presence and property to engage with the community to make things better for everyone.

I was so inspired by the commitment of the various individuals we met--how long they had been working, how many steps it took, and how they cheered each other on.

Clark is a beautiful campus.  This is where we pulled up.   Not bad, huh?!

One of the really wonderful people on the trip was the Director of House of Hope in Lowell, which works with homeless women and young families.  (sorry I didn't write down your name!!)

We had a really royal welcome--beginning with an introduction from Clark's President David Angel, who talked about the guiding vision for the long partnership work that has been going on to renew the Kily Gardner Hammon Neighborhood. 

That is Dr. Angel on the left with Marty Meehan, Chancellor of UMass-Lowell to his right.

We also had the opportunity to hear from the Mayor of Worcester, Joe O'Brien--Mayor O'Brien is on the his left is Micki Davis, Director of Clark's Center for Community Engagement and Volunteerism.

The person who shepherded us through the visit was Jack Foley, Clark's Vice President for Government and Community Affairs--he needs to be cloned and distributed to all universities--his commitment was so deep and so real.  It was really a pleasure to learn of the long attention he has given to the issues of community/university partnership.

 Jack Foley is the man with the open computer.  To his left is Barbara Haller, District City Councilor for the area (and another long time champion of the neighborhood). 

During lunch we heard from a panel of people engaged with the Worcester schools in the area.  Here's the line up:

 The man on the left is Tom ElPrete, Director of Clark's Hiatt Center for Urban his right is an official from the school district.  The woman next to him is the Superintendent, Melinda Boone, and she is flanked by Ricci Hall, principal of University Park Campus School.  The Hiatt Center is endowed and focuses specifically on issues related to urban education.  They have taken on the schools in the neighborhood for a long term commitment--a lot to learn here, too.

Finally, we wrapped off the day with a visit to the neighborhood--to look at the extensive real estate development that Main South Community Development Corporation as been spearheading...and to visit the Worcester Boys and Girls Club, smack in the middle of the formerly notorious Kilby Street neighborhood.

 The Boys and Girls Club was the piece de la resistence.  The director was so enthusiastic--and knew his club inside and out.  I was impressed with the fund raising that comes from so many committed volunteers... Many Clark Work Study students are used at the Center...more food for thought.

I came away pretty excited for what we could do in Lowell.  I live blocks from the University Crossing area, so this has a lot of importance for me--above and beyond being a faculty member.  It seemed like we have many of the pieces that they have initiated in Worcester, but the question for us is--what's the glue?  How do you bring it together?

Thank you Paul Marion (Communications) and Bob Forrant (Center for Family, Work, and Community) for making this experience possible. 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Qualitative Research in a World of Big Data: Debunking the isms of Qualitative Research

A segment of a social networkImage via WikipediaOK--I am going to take a flying leap into space.  Qualitative research had its beginnings in the late 1800's with the first steps of anthropology, sociology, and related areas in which non-numerical studies were being conducted.  As often happens in the early stages of a field, many of the conversations about methods and terms occurred in silos--disciplinary and otherwise.  Thus, ethnography was seen as separate from phenomenology.

As time went by and the field of qualitative research matured, more connections were made across fields, and yet methodological discussions were still emerging as separate 'isms'.  So now we have case study, grounded theory, ethnomethodology, discourse analysis, narrative analysis--you name it!

Today researchers, graduate students, reviewers of articles and proposals--try to sort out these various isms.  I have graduate students who spend hours trying to differentiate case study from ethnography in hopes of answering the questions of an ardent dissertation committee member.  I get email from fellow faculty members who want help answering a reviewer who thinks their piece should be described as grounded theory.  I know of proposals rejected on similar grounds--lack of specificity about the qualitative research method being used.

Over time, exposure to these various conversations, and most important long experience with qualitative research software--I am coming to realize that all these isms are bogus.  Yes, you heard it right here--they don't really amount to a hill of beans.  Rather they are artifacts of our colonial and post-modern past.  They were needed to flesh out the field of qualitative research, but we are at the point of a major paradigm shift which will allow us to consolidate these ideas and reorient ourselves in a more productive way.

The impetus of this change is big data, computers, globalization, and everything that is going along with this data revolution.  I am coming to believe as Tim Berners-Lee, the so-called founder of the Internet, has suggested--that it's all about data.

What I've learned from qualitative data analysis software (QDAS) is that these various isms are critical background, they give us the pieces that we can now ask about from a more synthesized perspective.  The question is not whether the work is ethnographic, case study, grounded theory, or phenomenology...those were the old questions--the new questions are more generic:

  • What is the unit of analysis?  A cultural group, a geographic location, a case (meaning an event, a particular issue, an instance, a specific problem), a role group (teachers, nurses, etc.)...Does the analysis incorporate several connected units?  
  • What kinds of data will I collect?  
  • How fine or gross will my analysis be?  
  • What kinds of sorting mechanisms will be involved--do I need cases and attributes?  Or will simple thematic codes be appropriate?  
  • What kinds of numerical data will I be integrating with the non-numerical data, if at all, and how do I need to strategize my use of tools?  
Quite frankly--the isms of qualitative research--are, at this point, antiquated relics.  They are artifacts of the build up to where we are now.

I am often told that these isms are essential because they determine how I will analyze and what I will find--prove it!!  What the isms often mean is that my jargon will be different.  I will couch my presentations in different styles of the professional genre.  After having overseen many studies, I don't find that the studies turn out so differently because of the ism that is assumed, rather they turn out differently because they have a different unit of analysis, they collect different kinds of data, they rely on different forms of sorting, and they work at a gross/medium of fine level of analysis.  Seeking and creating patterns is informed by reading about various isms...but in the end it all kind of comes down to the same thing.

What we need now is to collapse the isms into a system that will place us within the conversations that are occuring about data of all sizes, all units, all forms.  The discussion is about data.  The discussion is global.  The discussion is jumping around in and out and making hash of the isms.

I've reached the end of my patience with these isms--individually I love them in their own way--but I (and others around me) are being strangled by the isms of qualitative research.  Let's take a stand against ism madness in qualitative research, and join the bigger conversation that we have been avoiding through our technophobia.  Come on qualitative researchers!!  

Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, August 15, 2011

Qualitative Research: What is a project? What are mixed methods?

Illustration depicting thought.Image via WikipediaI began to ponder these questions recently as I was comparing my two current projects in my head:
1.  The Journal Project:  A study of 18 months of my personal journals using qualitative data analysis software (QDAS) and arts-based approaches; and,
2.  Sexting and Teens:  A 3-state multi-disciplinary, mixed method study of teen...and adult view of teens views of sexting.

I was thinking about the characteristics of the two.  The Journal project is very internal--individual--inside of me. It's insular, no doubt about it.  No teamwork, no communal nothing.  It's very QR, meaning that it doesn't use cases and attributes in focuses on written texts and coding. 

The Sexting project is extroverted, communal and interactive.  A team project that uses mixed methods--meaning it uses cases and attributes in QDAS, AND written texts and coding. Quantitative data is organized in SPSS.  

Comparing the two got me thinking first about:  What is a project?  And this led me to think about:  What is mixed methods--and how is QDAS re-defining that term?

In re: project:  I asked myself--How do we live a project?  Where do we find projects?  How is a project like a family, relationship, book?  How near or far do we place ourselves? 

Then, the inevitable comparison to computer methods came up:  What is a project vs an e-project?  Are they different?  How does QDAS circumsribe the project?  Is a project a question?  a case? a place? a people? a culture?

One of the things that irritates me about working with people who know a little about qualitative research, enough to get themselves into trouble, is the inordinate amount of concern they expend on trying to define what kind of qualitative research a project is:  Is it case study?  Is it ethnography?   Is it grounded study?  These concerns never seem to make sense to me, and I realized that one problem is that I am more focused on "the project" or "the e-project" in my case.  My focus leads me to ask, how am I going to best organize within this tool?  What is the best granularity in terms of analysis--should this be broadly or finely coded?  And, most importantly--is this a study that will need cases and attributes or am I going to stick in the texts and codes area?

This morning I woke up and realized that, in part, what I am thinking about regarding the e-project is actually a discussion of the continuum of mixed methods as it is shaped by QDAS.   Discussions of mixed methods have to date been pretty much siloed, in that you can't actually connect the two because the quantitative piece is done with software and the qualitative piece is done with manual methods.  So the notion of the two "informing" each other can only be very loosely applied.  This is pseudo-integration. 

Only with full computerization for both quant and qual do you get mixed methods.  Without QDAS you cannot leverage variables against text(s), which is the real hallmark of what 'mix' could mean.  You do this in QDAS with cases, attributes, and searches.

Here is a simple continuum of the three methods (it runs top to bottom not left to right because of the funkyness of Blogger--sorry)

Quan/SPSS or other computer tool
-numerical texts
-fixed information/

QDAS/Mixed Methods
written, visual, and audio texts
codes (pre-assigned and/or emergent)

Qual/QDAS or Manual Methods
-written, visual, and audio texts
-preassigned codes....evaluation
-emergent codes...ethnography, phenomenology, etc. 

In looking at the continuum, it seems to me that the sorting approach is the critical piece and the form of text one uses.  With the quantitative perspective, you are using numerical texts and sorting by case and attributes; With the mixed methods approach you are using both numerical and non-numerical data and sorting by cases and attributes AND coding.  In a truly mixed method approach, you are importing the cases and attributes from the numerical data into the non-numerical data base and using those as a means of sorting the non-numerical data (or using a QDAS package in which numerical data can also be handled).  In a more strictly qualitative approach, you are sorting without reference to cases and attributes but focusing primarily on coding (which can be pre-assigned or emergent). 

My two studies represent two aspects of the continuum.  The Journal project is deep into the qualitative research end of things--code and retrieve, baby, forget cases and attributes.  The Sexting project, on the other hand, is shaping up to be an excellent example (if I do say so myself) of the truly mixed method approach in which computer technology is leveraged on both sides of the divide--quantitative and qualitative.  We are using SPSS and NVivo 9...and the SPSS numerical data is being imported in Excel to serve as the cases and attributes for the non-numerical data--connect it to the coding, and you have a data base that has real search capacity.  You can ask questions of many sorts.

This brings me to my final point, which is that, efficiency increases (and you significantly extend your reach) when you stop doing it all in your head and transfer some of the heavy lifting to a reliable tool.  This is a warning to both quantitative and qualitative researchers.  It's a well known fact that qualitative researchers have been ducking the use of QDAS, but it is less well understood that mixed methods researchers are doing the same.  In marketing and other forms of evaluation, quantitative data is being organized in Excel or SPSS, but qualitative data related to the study are processed entirely by manual methods.  This leaves no technical pathway by which to connect the two and do meaningful comparisons.  The comparisons can only be gross, intuitive, and guesswork.  What I am saying is that QDAS is the elephant on the table for both mixed methods and pure qualitative researches.

Hmm...I think this bears more consideration.  

Enhanced by Zemanta