Sunday, March 25, 2012

What is a Qualitative Research Project?

This image was selected as a picture of the we...This image was selected as a picture of the week on the Farsi Wikipedia for the 13th week, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)I've been pondering this question this morning:  What is a Qualitative Research Project?

I think the question may have been provoked by a sub-conscious question that I have been holding in my head for some time now, which is, Is the Journal Project over?  Bringing this to the surface...brought me to:  What is a Qualitative Research Project?  and a host of other questions, such as...

What do Qualitative Research Projects contain?
How are they similar or different?
What are the visible, as well as the invisible, products of a project?
How is the data base counted as a product?
How do you conclude a project? 

As invariably happens when I start asking myself questions...I find myself sketching out my ideas in some visual form...and then searching for ways to compare one example to another. 

I ended up comparing three projects that I have been engage in over the last several years:
1.  The Journal Project
2.  Qualitative Research and Technology Project
3.  The Sexting Project

In comparing them I realized that #1 and #3 both required the development of a classical QR data base of some sort.  #2 was more focused on the research literature and the Internet--it was a study of methodology in transition. 

None of "the projects" were discrete in terms of their construction/contents/or relationship to each other.  They all bled across each other, and yet they were extremely distinct. 

Looking at the contents of the different projects got me thinking about the lack of attention/recognition/acknowledgement we give to the data bases of qualitative research.  They are recognized when peer reviewed publications emerge, but they are not shared nor made public.  As a result they often languish in the background.  I thought the emergence of qualitative research software would change this, but it hasn't.  For the most part, while the construction of the data base may take vast amounts of effort, we don't credit ourselves for that work--we only get credit for publications. 

Sketching things out and comparing products across projects, made me realize that different products emerge from different projects, and that many good products that come out of projects are not all that visible in the standard vita.  Vita are linear and organized by product, not project.  Yet, I find that I am organizing my life and my work by project.  Good readers of vita follow the ebb and flow of projects within the description of products fairly well.  However, given the ratings of different categories of products, they "see" some pages more clearly than others. 

Here's an example...Journal Project, outputs are
Blog Entries
Art Exhibitions
Integration of autoethnography and arts-based research in courses taught
Appointment as Associate at the Center for Women and Work

Here's the QR and Technologies Project
Co-Authored Book
Judge of an Award
Blog Entries
Integration of  QDAS in various forms of Coursework
Facilitation of Qualitative Research Network on Campus and Supervision of Campus-wide NVivo License
Chaired numerous dissertations that explored use of NVivo

Each project has completely different timeline and personnel configurations.  The Sexting Project is huge compared to the Journal Project, and it is externally funded.  For the Sexting Project there are many researchers, they combine in different ways to create products.  But in this project, like the Journal Project, the creation of an original data base was an essential component.  This is not to say that a methodology project like the QR and technology project doesn't have a data base--I actually don't know yet how to express that difference in clear terms. 

So my final conclusion is that as qualitative researchers we need to do two things:
1.  Start to acknowledge the creation of an original data base as a highly significant contribution on the order of writing many peer-reviewed journal articles (and recognize the responsibility this shift entails--sharing our data bases and making that available for review).
2.  Insist upon being viewed for our whole(s)--the projects--that center our professional work.  Let us find ways to make projects and their multiple products visible at the level of professional review (tenure/promotion/job selection). 

And so the day begins...

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dan McAdams at UMass-Lowell: A great success!

Last Friday, February 24, 2012, UMass-Lowell's Qualitative Research Network (QRN) sponsored the visit of psychologist Dan P. McAdams.  McAdams is Professor of Psychology and Human Development and Social Policy AND Director of the Foley Center for the Study of Lives at Northwestern University

About 50 individuals--faculty, staff, and students--from UMass-Lowell and other institutions in the area were present for a morning presentation...and an afternoon workshop. 

McAdams topic was his signature take on Life Stories.  His visit was timed to coincide with Black History Month.  He spoke specifically to his experience exploring the life stories of highly generative black and white adults.  This work is described in his book--The Redemptive Self:  Stories American Live By.  (Oxford University Press, 2006). 

I was fascinated to hear the way his work moves back and forth from qualitative to quanitative measures.  He undertakes intense one-to-one interviews, gathering thick descriptive data, but he also 'works' this data using various numerical tools.  He validates his qualitative work with the use of various survey instruments. 

In the afternoon, he listened to the research challenges the audience members faced and offered resources and thoughts based upon his experience.  He helped us to where and how our work might intersect with the life story approach. 

This is a picture of the group that joined him Thursday evening for dinner.  From left to right:
--MJ Kim, Graduate School of Education, UML
--Khanh Dinh, Psychology Department, UML
--Allyssa McCabe, Psychology Department (and the driving force bringing McAdams to campus)
--Dan McAdams himself from Northwestern University
--Andy Hostetler, Psychology Department, UML
--Judy Davidson, Graduate School of Education, UML

This event was sponsored by the Qualitative Research Network working with the Center for Women and Work (where we are now located).  The CWW administrative support was fantastic. 

McAdams morning presentation was videotaped by our media library and will be available soon on their web site. 

All in all, I can say this was an extremely successful event for the Qualitative Research Network.  Thank you to all whom were involved. 

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