Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What Constitutes Creativity in Qualitative Research Teaching?

Here is a set of related sentences:

What constitutes creativity in teaching?

What constitutes creativity in research teaching?

What constitutes creativity in qualitative research teaching?

Like stair steps, each one brings me closer to the thing that is at the heart of what I do--teach qualitative research in as creative of a manner as possible.  But, what is that? 

There is creativity in teaching and research teaching, both of which are necessary and related, but then there is creativity in qualitative research teaching. 

Before we get too much further into this conversation, I should probably mention that I love teaching qualitative research.  Maybe it is not coincidental that generally when I am teaching qualitative research, I feel I am deep in the flow of creativity.  So, it would stand to reason if I looked more closely at what feels like flow, I might gain some insight into the elusive notion of creativity in qualitative research teaching. 

When I thought about digging deeper, however, I worried that there would be nothing there specific to qualitative research.  In other words, was I simply being a creative teacher and/or a creative research teacher?  Is that really the sum total of what is needed?  But I persisted and here is a list of things I can identity as part of my practice:

1.  I like my students.
2.  I like my subject:  qualitative research. 
3.  I have been reading about it for quite some time.
4.  I like the mundane parts of my craft as well as the elevated parts, that is, the tedium of organization is as likely to get my attention as the theory, and I consider them to be related.  You can't have one without the other.
5.  I like to find new ways to put my students in charge of the doing and thinking, so I can sit back and watch them make meaning. 
6.  I don't mind trying out new or risky instructional activities.
7.  I never seem to get tired of the excitement that comes when I see students making new discoveries and shifting their understanding of what research is or could be. 
8.  I love it when students go out and find new methodology resources. 
9.  I love it when students identify and develop new efficiencies with digital tools or other items that support their research?
10.  I like teaching students how to write up qualitative research.

Looking over this list of ten items, I am hard put to see how creativity in qualitative research teaching is different than creativity in teaching.  I am not sure if that is a good thing or bad. 

To another academic year of qualitative research students, I say, "Thank You!"  It gets better year by year. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Wikipedia: Why should female academic qualitative researchers care?

I have been slow to come to the Wikipedia party.  I knew people who edited.  I had heard other academics complain, “never use Wikipedia as a reference in a professional paper!”  I used it regularly myself.   I realized it wasn’t perfect, and I took the information with a grain of salt, glancing over the references to see where the stuff came from.  Sometimes I quoted Wikipedia because I wanted to reference the information most people had access to at any given time.  But by and large, Wikipedia was backgrounded for me. 

That was until recently, when, thanks to my Library colleague, Sara Marks, I began to pay attention.  For over a decade, Sara has been editing Wikipedia, leading wikihackathons, and attending Wikimania, the international conference of Wikipedians.  She is deeply into it. 

So, when I went to her recently and said I would like to see if I could use Wikipedia editing as a practical means of using the information my advanced qualitative research class would glean from writing papers on methodological topics…her eyes begin to glow with a strange light.  It could be done, she promised me.  I should have realized she was choking back a smile, pleased to think she might be adding more Wikipedians to the institution. 

In anticipation of getting started planning a project, I began, on my own, to dip into Wikipedia and see what was already available on my topic.  The article on qualitative research was one of the first places I visited.  

It’s not a very inviting place.  There is a banner across the top warning the reader that the article has multiple problems—related to writing and references.  The topic seems to be “owned” by sociology, as it is linked to that project.  Based on some of the text near the beginning, I had the feeling it might have been written by a student of Robert Bicklin (of Bogden and Bicklin fame!)  At least, I thought, there is lots to do here.  Definitely room for growth as an editor. 

Interesting, but I wasn’t getting close to my key concerns which I would express like this:

  • Why does anyone care about Wikipedia?  Why is it such a phenomenon?
  • Why should I, as an academic, care about Wikipedia?  [Many academics hate it with a passion, so why am I hanging around here looking at it?]
  • Why should I, as a qualitative researcher, care about Wikipedia?  [If the generic article possesses warnings, what is the state of the other articles related to this topic?]
  • Why should I, as a teacher, care about Wikipedia? [Do I want students to struggle with poorly formed text and mis-information?  Is that learning?  Shouldn’t they be given the right information and the best models?]
  • Why should I, as a woman, care about Wikipedia? [I was already aware that there was a dearth of women represented on Wikipedia, but poking around I found that only 10% of the editors are female.]

Here are some reasons that I have come up with to answer my questions:

Wikipedia is one of the top Internet sites in the world.  It has more unique visitors visit it every day than multiple of the world’s top newspapers and other communication sites.  It is developing repositories of information in languages from across the world. 

Wikipedia is a unique experiment in community knowledge creation, primarily driven by volunteers.  The information on Wikipedia is getting better and better.  It grows, changes, and is revised with great rapidity (in certain areas).  Some disciplines or organizations are taking on the task of vetting the information in their area of expertise.  As this happens, Wikipedia takes on a greater and greater role as a central source of information. 

Wikipedia is widely accessible, unlike many kinds of journals or books in specific disciplinary areas.  For many people in different corners of the world, Wikipedia may be a primary text.  If qualitative researchers want to make their topics known to the world, they probably need to care about the kind and quality of information that is represented about qualitative research in Wikipedia.  As with many things technological, however, I would bet that Wikipedia has not yet caused the hearts of too many qualitative researchers to beat faster. 

As I searched for resources about how to teach with Wikipedia, I realized that it was a phenomenal tool.  Higher education classrooms around the globe have begun to make Wikipedia editing a component of a dynamic class.  I was excited to see that I would not be alone if I undertook this effort.  Moreover, there were good resources available to help me hone my skills. 

This last week, Michelle Obama was featured on a documentary about the ways girls are losing out in the educational arena.  To be blunt, millions of girls around the world are not even enrolled in school.  If they were in school, maybe they would be asked to turn to Wikipedia to find information—where women are under-represented, and few women are participating in the development of what has become a universal text.  That’s not good.  Wikipedia clearly needs women’s participation.  I find it thrilling to think that I could be developing texts that could become part of the curricula for these unknown girls and women who may be about to begin their education. 

I realize that it might be a slow path, but I think I see Wikipedia in the future of this female, academic, qualitative researcher.  Tune in for more…

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Doing Qualitative Research Online by Janet Salmons

This semester I am teaching a class called "Advanced Topics in Qualitative Research".  This is the first time we have offered this class in our new Ph.D. in Research Methods and Program Evaluation in Education in the UMass Lowell Graduate School of education. 

In the first part of the semester, I am mixing topics I have selected with the development of students' methodological topics (which they will be presenting later in the semester).  I identified topics that I thought were cutting edge, of interest to students, or I thought hadn't been fleshed out in the first qualitative research course they had taken with me. 

Our first text in the "selected by me" category was Janet Salmons book Doing Qualitative Research Online (Sage Publications, 2016).  I selected this because I felt the first semester of qualitative research had used the traditional approach focusing on face-to-face interactions, which doesn't really represent reality for anyone in today's digital world.  We read the text over two weeks, giving us time to digest the points. 

Most important thing to report first:  Everyone in the class liked the text.  It is well organized, informative, and clearly written.  There are great charts and tables throughout that illustrate the points being made, and students appreciated this component.  No one mentioned going to the online resources that are also available (I think they were more concerned with developing their own topics.)  Figure 2.1 was our all time favorite table:  Designing studies to generate new knowledge--I think I will see a lot more tables like this out of our group in the future. 

As  I mentioned in an earlier blog posting, I love Salmons formulation of data as "extant, elicited, and enacted".  I think that moves us up a level of generalization to create categories that are very useful for organizing ideas about types of data. 

Personally, I liked it that she didn't belabor the discussion of kinds of research.  I also like the "Discussion Questions and Exercises" at the conclusion of each chapter, where she gave students suggestions for looking at the products of research, comparing the end results and how people describe their methodological approach. 

One thing I noted that surprised me was that sampling was discussed in Part III, as if this would be considered after you have done the design and received institutional permission to move forward.  At my institution that discussion would have to occur prior to IRB approval.  I wondered if the difference is that located/geographical studies in a fixed place are sampled or approached differently than many online populations.  This may need more discussion in methodological circles. 

As a QDAS nerd, I was disappointed that there wasn't stronger discussion of the integration of these tools. Her references to further resources in this area could have been stronger. 

Don't let me forget to mention that I particularly liked the way she set up her appendix in the "Do you want to learn more about..." form.  Very effective and much less distanced than the usual annotated bibliography. 

Although the title of the book has the term "online" in it, I think this text would make a good cross-over text, that is, it could be used to teach qualitative research in its emerging hybrid form that intersects hybrid and online. 

So:  Thumbs up!  from the Fall 2016 course in Advanced Topics in Qualitative Research.