Friday, December 12, 2014

12 More Things I Have Learned About Qualitative Research

This is the second half of my brainstorming list regarding what I have learned about qualitative research.  Again, when the mind is under pressure--what comes out?

  1. Use project management one would for business insure you have the best ways to organize your information; a good timeline; appropriate communication between team members.
  2. Create efficient, well-structured electronic data bases for your information.  It’s misguided to say that real qualitative researchers shouldn't use up-to-date organizational tools.
  3. Collect data and conduct QR with the notion that you will be sharing your materials in an archive and with a larger world.
  4. When someone throws you a bunch of methodological arguments that seem over your head, it may not be you—it may really be them.  Go back to basics and leave the fancy new words out of it and see if it really looks like something new.  Figure out how it would really work with this method—can it be done; what does it add to the way you do things?
  5. Think art; let your brain process things in different ways—go away and come back to it.
  6. Use visualizations—in all possible forms to help yourself to see the materials in new ways.
  7. Coding is nothing more than creating an efficient data base that can be used in multiple ways for the next parts of the project. 
  8. Fracture and tag ideas and text; then use the tags to juxtapose and re-vision the same materials—that’s where interpretation begins. 
  9. Most projects code once and then code again in different ways;  think, rethink, think about parts, think about new wholes.
  10. Spend good time on your question; let it serve as a means to bound your focus; get a good fit so it won’t be too narrow or too expensive. 
  11. Write extensively at ALL stages of the project.  Organize these materials as efficiently as possible for connection and retrieval—they are secondary data and you will need them as much as your raw materials.
  12. Think with others; Interpret collectively; Honor the interpretive meeting.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Experiencing Community: How it Makes for Good Researchers

Fragment of a Felt Panel By the Author

 I have pretty much always felt that creating a strong, positive classroom community/culture is good for any and all instruction, from kindergarten through adulthood.  It's my background, my roots in progressive education, the 60's, you name it.  I knew it was important for developing good writers (yes, I had also been through lots of writing/reading process workshops). 

But I really hadn't understood until I got to the end of this particular doctoral level qualitative research course (Fall Semester 2014:  07.704) that community was equally important for developing excellence in qualitative research, not because it made the instruction "take" better, but because it literally made people better in the field doing the research.  It took my students, as usual, to show me how this worked.

We were having our very last discussion of the semester and talking about what had happened in the 14 weeks we had been together.  I asked them about the community we had developed in the classroom during that time.  As they talked about the importance to them of "being heard", "everyone being respected" "being able to share divergent opinions" "testing ideas out" "being allowed to speak their mind"--it suddenly clicked for me.  I realized that if they experienced these notions in the classroom, and if they embodied that experience of openness or safety, they would be able to go into the field and share that experience with the participants of their studies.  In other words, they would be able to talk to their researchees without fear, recreating for that person an open and questioning attitude, a characteristic of the best interviewers.  Or they would be able to observe a classroom with bracketed judgment, a trait of the best observers.

For the first time since I began to teach qualitative research (1998 is when I officially started down this path!), I began to see the entire scope of what happened in the classroom as pertinent to research training.  In other words, I broke down the barrier that had existed in my mind between teaching research and being a student or teacher, and conducting research and being a researcher or participant.

I tried to articulate this to the group, but I think they may have thought I was beginning to lose it!  It was a profound moment for me, and as usual I owe it to my students.

Urmitapa Dutta: "The Long Way Home" in Qualitative Inquiry

It's the end of the Fall Semester, and my doctoral qualitative research course was at the point of thinking about writing-up research.  They were reading about the possibilities qualitative research could offer for divesting themselves of the classical scientific paper design.  They were excited, but also daunted.  What would it look like to write something that didn't start with problem statement, question, and literature review before moving to methodology, results, and discussion.  They had read a lot of those over their years in the doctoral program, and at this point they were not sure they would have any legitimacy in they strayed from this pattern.

I heightened the tension by asking them to take a piece of data and turn it into one tiny creative piece of their choosing--poem, micro-story, drama, etc.  They shared the results, which were as interesting in and of themselves as were the stories of the processes of development. 

To give them a chance to learn from someone who had gone before, I had the brilliant idea of having them read a piece of research using creative non-fiction techniques to tell the story.  The piece I asked them to read was written by the smiling face to the left:  my colleague at University of Massachusetts Lowell, Assistant Professor Urmitapa Dutta of the Department of Psychology.  It was a great choice!  Not only that, Urmi was able to stop by the class and discuss the paper and her dissertation process (always of great interest to doctoral students who are reaching this point in their program).  What a wonderful evening! 

To share this experience with us, I suggest you read:

Dutta, U. (2014).  The long way home: The vicissitudes of belonging and otherness in Northeast India.  Qualitative Inquiry, Online version at: Sage Online Version

The article is a sophisticated and very intellectual exploration of issues related to the meaning of home and its loss, racial and ethnic differences and strife, and regional political and economic strife with global implications.

It is also a deft use of autoethnographic material, as Dutta grew up in the location of study--Northeast India--and has experienced these issues in first-hand, hands-on manner.  My students were in awe of the manner in which she moved between self/experience and other/literature.  They were amazed to see how personal quandries and pain could be the pathway into discussions of such seemingly dry issues as the "Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution".  After reading Dutta's piece, they, too, felt a part of them to be residing in the Garo Hills, a location they may never have encountered before. 

Our discussion with Urmi was rich and provocative.  As always, it is one thing to read about a technique--like autoethnography or creative non-fiction--in a textbook, but it is a very different thing to read a good example of it and then to talk with the author about how she did it.  Urmi's advice to them was to write and keep writing in these different modes, building up a cache of materials upon which you could draw. 

Thank you Urmi and thank you to the Fall 2014 Semester Qualitative Research class. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

My article appears in E-Learning and Digital Media

It's official. 

My article has appeared in Volume 11, Number 5, 2014 of E-Learning and Digital Media

The title is:  "Bruce's Magnificent Quarter: inquiry, community, technology and literacy--implications for renewing qualitative research in the twenty-first century".

This piece was first presented at a retirement bash for Chip Bruce--a truly memorable day at the University of Illinois in Champaign.  A selection of those papers are now available in this edition of the journal--E-Learning and Digital Media

In the article I describe what Chip's magnificent quartet--inquiry, community, technology, and literacy--came to mean to me through my work with him.  In my work as a qualitative research methodologist, I would add the term--aesthetics--to make a quintet of terms that have relevance to me in thinking through the ways qualitative research can renew itself and make itself relevant to today's world. 

10 things I have learned about qualitative research

 I took a writing workshop not too long ago and one of the tasks was to brainstorm a list of things you know about doing the work you do.  Here are the first ten items on my list when I brainstormed with myself regarding what I know about qualitative research.  Interesting to see what pops up first when you are in a timed situation.

  1.  It can be hard.
  2. Not everyone appreciates QR in a quantitative world.
  3. You have to be as organized as an Information Specialist. 
  4. Two-thirds of the project is often in the collection is actually the least of your worries.
  5. Don’t get hung up on the kind of research or research tradition you are following—ground yourself in strong notions of inquiry...research traditions are like salad dressing; who wants to eat a salad without it.
  6. Think with...not at...your participants.  Think about relationships, partnering, learning. 
  7. Ethics are a process...they are always with you; you are always interacting with them:  Don’t leave home without them! 
  8. More is less.  Use qualitative research for what it does well—going deep; understanding perspectives; deciphering context.  Don’t make it do the job another kind of methodology could do better. 
  9. Make timelines realistic and flexible. 
  10. Make analysis ongoing; question yourself when you find that you are doing massive data collection...followed by processing...followed by analysis—why did it happen that way; was there another way to stage the work?