Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Blogging about Teaching Qualitative Research

[Back in my archives of things I meant to upload to the blog, I found these two entries about teaching qualitative research.  I’ve mashed them together here for simplicity’s sake.  Surprise, surprise, they are now two years old…and I’ve switched from the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 assignment strategy to something called Specifications Grading that I will have to describe at another time.]

Teaching Qualitative Research

I have been teaching Qualitative Research to doctoral students, officially since 1998.  I teach it unofficially to everyone else, whatever I am doing. 

If qualitative research is supporting people to inquire with whatever is available, where ever you are, then I am your woman.  I wallow in the data they bring to me; I chortle at the theoretical quandaries that one can spin within this paradigm; and I laugh heartily at the storms that come with the use of qualitative research software.  Give me your best, your worst, I am ready for it! 

This semester my qualitative research class is on Tuesdays, and I look forward to the full day.  I am teaching across the day from preparation and grading to developing assignments and, finally, teaching. 

Teaching qualitative research is so much fun that I hesitate to call it teaching.  It’s been well over a decade, but it still is not old.  But yes, it has been changing all along.  Qualitative research has changed as the world changes.  Tonight we will be discussing some of those changes—the dilemma of research strategies or frameworks.  My students will grapple with the meaning of those tried and true categories that everyone thinks doctoral students should know—case study, ethnography, grounded theory, and phenomenology—but they will also learn about others that may not be so much in the news (arts-based research, narrative analysis, or action research). 

Today is a big paper day, for part of the session, which means we will get out big pieces of chart paper and markers—and students will work visually to create ways to share what they have learned about these kinds of research.  Working visually is a powerful way to create mnemonics that the entire class can refer to as the discussion moves forward.  

At the end of today’s class, a group of my students are going to go off with some articles about new ways of looking at the dilemma of how to say what kind of qualitative research one is using and will report back to us next week on what they learn.  The problem of qualitative research frameworks (what to call what and why) has been bugging me for some time, and I hope their upcoming discussion gives me new ideas on the problem. 

I’m experimenting with a new kind of assignment in both of my classes; 1/3, 1/3, 1/3.  Assignments are given out each week to 1/3 of the class.  Assignments are different every week as the class pushes forward in to new topics.  The assignments come back in a week, which means I am grading 1/3 of the group at a time—much more manageable.  We use the assignments as review and extenders for the beginning of the next session.  In this way, more students get more attention from me, have more experience presenting to the group and reviewing their ideas, and I think I really like how this is evolving. 

Last week’s assignment turned out to be an excellent one—I won’t forget this one—interview someone who finished or is about to finish a doctoral dissertation in qualitative research; ask them a set of questions about the process (which I provided), and report back to us in a short paper.  The papers have been very interesting, and I will bet the interviewee also enjoyed the conversation.  It was a good way for doctoral students to get an introduction to the process of the qualitative research dissertation.  Nothing is ever as good as hearing it from someone who has done it. 

Off to teach! 

[10/2014—I continue to think with issues related to the class.]

Blasting Qualitative Research Kinds Out of the Water

Today in my qualitative research class, several students will be reporting on articles that take up the topsy-turvey world of what is called:  research kinds, research strategies, research frameworks—and probably a number of other names.  This is a follow-up to last week’s class where we looked at a number of these from grounded theory and case study to ethnography, narrative analysis, pragmatic qualitative research, and a couple dozen more. 

If you haven’t noticed—in the last two decades, qualitative research textbooks have been getting heavier and heavier around the middle.  They have been adding pages and pages every edition in the section on research kinds.  It’s not pretty.  Indeed, I think is distorting the picture of qualitative research for beginners—its key issues and concerns. 

I had gathered a number of articles on this issue...and then Norman Denzin put out his most recent edition of Qualitative Inquiry (20, 6) with a number of papers making powerful critiques of this same issue.  So, today is a kind of festival of articles on the contradictions that are emerging regarding research kinds in qualitative research. 

There are five papers being discussed today, and each paper has a paper written about it by a student in the class.  These five represent 1/3 of the class...the other 2/3’s get to listen and enjoy this week.  I’ll share some of the highlights the students raise in these short and pithy papers. 

Lauren read Paul Atkinson’s 2005 paper—Qualitative Research:  Unity and Diversity—in FQS 6(3), Art 26.  Atkinson is one of the earlier voices being raised on this issue.  She says he “identifies several limitations both on how qualitative data is collected and how it is analyzed.”  In particular, she noted his concerns about the overuse of the interview, and the need across many forms of qualitative research study to attend to the issue of context.  Lauren picks up on the critique in Atkinson’s work of the American dominated theoretical arguments that may not reflect the European concerns or other world regions. 

Jeanne selected the introduction to the Qualitative Inquiry issue mentioned above, an article by E. St. Pierre and her colleague A. Jackson.  Jeanne provides a cogent description of the St. Pierre/Jackson critique of coding, as it has been presented for many years, as a kind of pseudo-scientific algorhythm that will make qualitative research more trustworthy in the eyes of a quantitative establishment.  She points to some of the very challenging questions these two authors (and other authors in the special edition) are raising:  Should all interview data be judged equally worthy?  Can you analyze data without coding?  Should theory or question be required to step up and take a more dominant role?

Douglas, Kathleen, and Danielle dove into the special issue and read pieces by the contributing authors.  Their papers help to put flesh on the overviews described above. 

Douglas investigated Holbrook and Pourchier’s “Collage as Analysis: Remixing in the crisis”—sharing those three fascinating characteristics of the approach—hoarding, mustering, and folding/unfolding/refolding. Kathleen takes us into Murphy’s “Living in a post-Coding World: Analysis as Assemblage”and the notion of rhizomatic where “concept/data interrelationships are considered horizontal in nature, heterogeneous, and resistant to hierarchical categorizations” (Kathleen—that is heavy!)...Danielle’s review of Brinkman’s “Doing without data” is bringing us into new thinking about abduction and the pragmatic notion of ‘the situation’ as a way to get our heads out of the old research framework notions. 

Thank you all for the articles on the articles.  As I look across the different authors and their arguments, I can say that I really think there is a there...there.  In other words, they are on to something important.  There is a shaking and shuddering going on out there within the qualitative research community.  We are not happy with these muffin-top textbooks with their gigantic inflated center sections on research kinds—it’s gone too far! 

The critique of research kinds emerges from a variety of corners of the qualitative research world—we notice we are focusing on words (interviews) at the expense of context; we notice that one small part of the world is dominating the discussion; we notice that the ways we actually conduct interpretation differ considerably from the descriptions we were taught...and that we continue to teach others.  It all screams for a new kind of congruence.  I think this is the challenge ahead of us in the field.

Thanks to my great students who have begun the discussion, and I hope will continue to engage with it. 


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