Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ah Ha moments

Don't ya just love those "ah ha" moments? You know, when a couple of things in your mind just come together and gel into a completely new idea? Especially when it's an idea that is useful? I've had a couple this afternoon and wanted to share them.

Both ah ha's go goes back to a conversation I had with a classmate recently about the difference between theoretical orientation and theoretical framework in the context of qualitative research reports (e.g. article, dissertations, etc.). We decided that a theoretical framework was a deliberately selected basis or grounding for a research project, usually based on someone else's previous research, and something that may inform one research study but doesn't necessarily inform all of one's research. A theoretical orientation on the other hand, was more like a world view, possibly constructed from one's social and cultural background rather than consciously selected. My classmate called it a lens through which research was viewed. Its something that a researcher can become aware of and acknowledge but not necessarily something that can be entirely set aside and definitely something that will inform all of one's research.

The ah has for me came while I was reading a dissertation that I'm reviewing for class. I'd been trying to apply our definitions of theoretical orientation and framework to this dissertation and I realized first, that the author was using the type of research he did (grounded theory) as a theoretical framework, not something I'd ever considered before. That was the first ah ha.

The second one was that he was using multiple theoretical frameworks. Not only was he using grounded theory as a theoretical framework, he was also using a number of other theories to frame his study. I had also not considered that before, everything I've read about doing qualitative research has talked about a single theoretical foundation for a research project, never more than one!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Research methods

I'm taking a class in advanced qualitative research methods this fall which I'm thoroughly enjoying. It seems to be dovetailing with my work at the library a bit which is both fun (or else I wouldn't be doing it) and informative because it's forcing me to look at a kind of qualitative research that I don't thing is covered directly in class.

One of the English professors at TAMUCC asked me to speak to her master's level Bibliography and Research Methods class about the different kinds of research. When I asked her whether she was looking for a particular focus she said she wanted a broad overview for them with an emphasis on research methods in the humanities. Well, what an exciting challenge! I know very little about research methods in the humanities having focused on the social sciences mainly with some peeks into the sciences for contrast.

So I began collecting books about humanities research and discovered some very cool things. For instance, research in the humanities places much more emphasis on the hunt for literature on a topic. There are loads of how-to books about how to find resources for humanities research (my personal favorite being Thomas Mann's The Oxford Guide to Library Research) but very few on how to "do" the discovery process and the criteria upon which how that process is judged by peers. Where as in the social sciences "research methods" books focus on a larger number of different aspects of conducting research including developing a research problem/question, selecting data collection and analysis methodologies, theoretical orientations, theoretical frameworks, guidelines for reporting results and judging quality.

At the moment, I think this is because in the social sciences (and the hard sciences), researchers create their own data (e.g. they measure something or transcribe interactions or write notes) whereas in the humanities, researchers don't create their data, they have to go out and find it (e.g. in primary and secondary documents). So the emphasis on "how to do" research in a discipline is focused on where the data comes from.

Anyhow, I managed to create a fairly general matrix comparing qualitative research and quantitative research for the class and spend about 45 minutes talking with them about the differences and similarities. Then I asked them to break into groups of three or four and gave each of them a research "type" from the matrix and asked them to develop a research problem/question and tell the rest of us how they would collect data to answer it. They all worked with the same issue: assessing learning outcomes for students in a first-year learning experience.

I expected pretty superficial responses given that they'd had all of 45 minutes of introduction but they accepted the challenge enthusiastically and came up with some really wonderful answers. What was really cool (for me) was how their answers provided me with material on which to expand my earlier explanations about qualitative and quantitative methods. For instance, one group described how they would use three different sources of data for a qualitative analysis of the issue which allowed me to expand on how qualitative projects are judged on trustworthiness and on some other ways to achieve trustworthiness (since they'd already described triangulation). I was inspired to create this exercise by John W. Creswell's book Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing among five approaches (Sage).

I had such a good time teaching this class that I had a hard time stopping and leaving. When I did I met one of the students in the hall. She told me about how much she disliked this class because she wanted to do creative writing, not research. So I told her about narrative research where the researcher's job is to tell the story of an event or phenomenon in an individual's life. I gave her an example from Creswell's book. When I was done there was this amazing spark in her eye. She thanked me enthusiastically and asked if I thought that she could use narrative research for her final project in class.

I CANNOT TELL YOU HOW COOL THAT WAS! There is no way I can describe how that made me feel. It is so thrilling to be able to spark a student's interest, to watch the "ah ha" in their faces. It reminded me of the feeling I had the first day of library school...this is awesome, I love doing this, why didn't I know this was possible?!?! And I can't wait to do it again!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Just when you think you know something

I've got an assignment to review an article that reports on qualitative research. The one I chose is a grounded theory approach to scholars' use of and decisions to publish in open access journals. After I read through the article once, I was taken aback at how little of what I know about qualitative research was included. There was more explanation of the method than description of the research.

Since I had been thinking of using grounded theory for my mock dissertation proposal later in the semester, I checked out the grounded theory "bible" (Strauss and Corbin, 1998) from the library. What they really say about it (and the way they say it, which, I'm learning, is just as important to qualitative research) isn't what I interpreted from what others (Patton and Creswell in particular)were saying.

Just goes to show that you really need to consult the primary source.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Lessons learned

When they talk about theory in math, look out! They don't mean theory the way I've always thought about it, or at least the way I've thought about it lately, in terms of theories of education or communication expressed in words with specific epistemological, ontological, and axiological perspectives. They mean formulas and proofs of formulas that prove not only the practical, realistically possible situations but all situations no matter how highly improbable.

Now I suppose you could argue that these two things are fairly similar. Theory in the social sciences are described with words, sometimes highly specialized terms and this is not all that different from theory expressed with numbers and symbols that are also a highly specialized language of sorts.

You could argue that and you'd be right but there is a world of difference in the preparation one needs in order to understand mathematical theory and theory in the social sciences so perhaps I won't appear too naive when I tell you that I didn't REALLY understand the difference until this week.

My degree at TWU requires me to not only complete the core library science courses but also several courses in a cognate area. I chose statistics as my cognate and included in my degree plan a course called Theory of Statistics in which I enrolled this semester. Sadly, and much to my disappointment, I have learned quickly that I am no where nearly prepared to succeed in this class.

And it hasn't been pretty. I started tripping over calculus and trigonometry after about the second class and it went down hill from there, which is disappointing because I was really enjoying learning about statistics from another perspective. However, I've come to my senses, realized that I don't have the mathematical background to understand the theory that underlies the statistical manipulations that programs like SPSS and SAS do for us social scientists, and dropped the class.

Maybe I can be a mathematician or a rocket scientist in my next life!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Podcast for FS6793

Today I learned how to podcast courtesy of an assignment for my Advanced Qualitative Research Methods class. Here's what I created for them...

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I am... a wife a daughter a sister/sister-in-law an aunt a reader a librarian a doctor a quilter a niece a grandmother ;-) a cat owner 6 feet 1 inches tall a yoga enthusiast a cook