Tag Archives: PhD

Making a case⤴

from @ Cat's eyes

IMAG0006_1I am on a bit of a PhD roll at the moment. I’ve been working on methodology, trying to structure a chapter and write a little bit every day. A lot of the writing involves re-writing, so sometimes it feels like it doesn’t amount to very much, but I’m trying to stick to a little each day – even if it’ s only 500 or 700 words. Things got a lot more exciting on Friday, with a superb, workshop facilitated by Pat Thomson. If you’re reading this blog, then you probably already know about her, but if you don’t, and you are involved in any kind of advanced study, then check her out – her advice is invaluable. Then there was the Dewey conference at my place of work, with keynotes by Richard Pring and Walter Humes; both insightful and inspirational. Today I’m interviewing participants – I’m terrified I don’t ask the right questions, or get useful data, or waste their time. Next week I’m going to Warwick University’s Centre for Social Ontology for a workshop with none other than Margaret Archer, then another UWS conference – this time on Foucault. So for the first time in a long time, I feel if not fully immersed in my study, then I’m definitely having a thoroughly good splash around. Most  ideas circulating around here are going to be directly relevant for me; some are not ( I have no intention of using Foucauldian concepts, for example), but the opportunity for sustained thinking and engagement with scholarly  concepts and content has been a joy, and I need to make the most of it.

Here’s a short extract on what I’ve been writing about my methodology.

Methodology: case study design

The methodological intention for this study is case study methodology. This methodology lends itself to small-scale research, and it provides the scope for a deep understanding of complex phenomena within their context (Baxter and Jack; 2008). According to Stake, case study methodology applies a focus on that which is specific, unique and bounded (Stake, 2005).Yin offers a typology of case studies using various categories: single or multiple, descriptive or exploratory (Yin, 2014:11). As this study is considering the case of teacher collaborative working practices in different settings, this would be defined in Yin’s terms as a multiple exploratory case study. Collaborative events taking place within individual structures such as a school, with their inherent and individual cultural conditions lend themselves to this methodology, as it allows a detailed examination of a contemporary phenomenon (Yin 2014) as it takes place across a range of research sites.

Flyvbjerg  argued a coherent defence of case study methodology, outlining five common misunderstandings of this methodology, identifying these as: the lack of generalisability of the case-study; the perceived predisposition towards verification of researcher bias in this methodology and the perceived inherent difficulty of summarizing and developing general propositions and theories in case study (Flyvbjerg 2006).

Similar to Baxter and Jack (2008); Yin (2014) and Stake (2005,) Flyvbjerg (2006) celebrates the value of the case study in terms of richness, depth of detail and proximity to real-life situations description which it can help achieve. He draws on Wittgenstein and Goffman to illustrate how when properly conducted, the case study can provide the necessary examples of context-dependent social phenomena in all their messy complexity, as the researcher seeks to go beyond ‘what is available to public scrutiny’ (Flyvbjerg, 2005:24) and explore what is  less immediately visible within them; their underlying aspects. Thus, this case study seeks to examine in close detail examples of collaborative practices of teachers; going beyond what is visible and exploring their underlying mechanisms, the hidden aspects of the processes involved in context-dependent situations.

 

Boundaries

The boundaries of the case in question need some definition. As previously discussed, the phenomenon under scrutiny in this case is a practice. My intention was to undertake research in two schools involved in this practice. As discussed, LR are a form of professional learning communities (PLCs) for teachers, sometimes referred to as teacher learning communities (TLCs); Because of difficulties experienced which have been explained, this plan needed to change to include a wider interpretation of collaborative working practices. Thus the boundaries of this case had changed from that of a discreet identifiable practice, which was named and programmed to occur at specific times within the school routine, to the broader, more generic collaborative working practices undertaken in teacher learning communities. New boundaries were established. Little (2003) studied interactions inside teacher communities and established a set of parameters within which the wider interpretation of collaborative practices were located. These included: out of classroom interactions; teacher development in everyday work, and the intellectual, social and material resources that teachers supplied each other with through interaction. These concepts are helpful in identifying boundaries for this case study.

Out of classroom interactions can be formal (at planned and organised events or meetings, in school or out of school, for example), or informal (chance exchanges in the staffroom or corridor).  The resources that teachers supply each other with can be intellectual (a comment, question or reflection verbally developed through conversation) or material, involving a product such as a book, artefact or report. Teacher development in everyday work would involve articulating observations and reflections on aspects of practice. Thus, the case has boundaries which include planned meetings and discussions; documents, including archives from previous collaborative work, policy documents, reports and teachers’ reflections on practice.

 

Baxter, P. and S. Jack (2008). “Qualitative case study methodology: Study design and implementation for novice researchers.” The qualitative report 13(4): 544-559.

Flyvbjerg, B. (2006). “Five misunderstandings about case-study research.” Qualitative Inquiry 12(2): 219-245.

Little, J., 2003. Inside teacher community: Representations of classroom practice. The Teachers College Record, 105(6), pp.913-945.

Stake, R.E. (1995). The art of case study research. Sage.

Yin, R.K. (2013). Case study research: Design and methods. Sage publications.


Researching Marginalised Groups Symposium⤴

from @ Cat's eyes

It’s been a while since my last post – embarrassingly long. Full time work and a hefty commute have eaten up any available time I had to do this, but in trying to sort out my notes from some recent conferences, I took the plunge and got back on the blog-wagon. This might be interesting if you are working with either ethnographic approaches or marginalised/marginalising groups. It was a cracking day for me – lovely people and great discussions.

This symposium gave me an opportunity to find out more about ethnographic methodologies and about research project that had take place in the SoE. The following scholars gave accounts of their chapter in a recent co-authored book of the same title.

Marginalised and silenced voices were surfaced. Extremist groups also considered within this definition as they are ones who marginalise and we need to understand what they do and how the operate as well.

Kalwant Bhophal raised pertinent methodological questions: no matter who we are we affect the groups we research (her area of research interest is travellers and Roma communities).

How have we used the respondents?
have we unconsciously exploited them?
How do we affect the communities?
Our subjectivity affects our research

Research should always make a difference even if. It’s small.

Ethics – compromises are sometimes necessary. Discourse is often nebulous . Needs to be more transparent – duty to respondents, university, disciple.

ACCESS- problematics rapport an trust are key.

Openness and recognition of the right time to stop when dealing with students  are essential!.

Member checking –  giving transcripts back to respondents to check is an important part of trust building process – before data is analysed or used. This is important esp with marginalised groups.  Reflexivity and positionality – power is dynamic, not static: it will change throughout  the research process.

Gavin Bailey: Research Associate, University of Leicester

Interested in the ones who do the marginalising – the extremist groups within working class communities. Are hard to reach groups really hard to reach or are the just hard to hear?

Researches extremism in a community context.

What happens if the residents assoc happens to be run by BNP ACTIVISTS?

Extremism and how it is conceptualised in research Community as a key analytical object.

Stereotypes are dominant representation of these extremist group- see Jeremy Paxman griffiths interview: the way demonstrationss are represented in media is always as confrontational.

Being on Paxman – this is not being marginalised , this is mainstream media- doing the marginalising. The doer and the subject – needs to b broken down a bit.

GB’s study avoided the public representation and focused on what they do in their day jobs the extremist groups are the unit of analysis . Beware the focus on the spectacular groups- counter terrorists focusing on different groups who actually do violence Are they unreformable? Is that why they are ignored?

Activists have chosen to become activists – lots haven’t but are still in the dynamic Geographies of danger of otherness- community and culture as explanation. In this paradigm the research starts with these places. But often activists drive into perform activism and drive away Assumptions are being recreated – seek and you will find Stigmatising communities some objects become indicators of extremism- we know what it looks like and where to find it – so they think anti fascist or anti racist- what was the question again? Is it part of this older debate Where is the concern with white middle class attitudes and actions?

Try the implicit association test – see link.

Tiago Neves

This I found really challenging. Tiago completely overturned my assumptions about researching people and asked lots of awkward questions like – are these extremist groups really hard to reach? They are easy to reach them compared to bankers!

Ethnographic work – non intrusive or the most intrusive?

You study people – that’s ugly! To put them under the microscope , intrude in their lives is disturbing. We go into places we don’t know much about and try to make sense of what they do. Maybe we should make sense of out own lives? !Intrusion can cause deception – definition Impression management – the work of successfully staging a character(see Goffman). In ethnography we intentionally create a character in order to pry into people’s lives- that’s the ugly bit ethnography: it can blur the divide between a social encounter and a sociologically useful encounter.

The naturalism of the ethnographer is an artificiality What is reciprocity ? – an illusion? Who reaps the benefits or should we base this relationship on something else? Relational quandary. There are different motivations What can we do – get real – no person is perfect so no researcher is either Get real – there will always be betrayal, hands will get dirty Get ample – write about all our experiences detail context sensitive accounts of ethical matters as they pose themselves in the field.

Emiliano Grimaldi

Positionality symbolic violence and critical ethnography Foucauldian influences Experienced uneasiness- chapter draws on critical moments reflecting this in two research projects. Foucault – power and knowledge are mutually constitutive fieldwork has an inherently political nature – symbolic violence is inherent in fieldwork? Every time we engage – esp with marginalised groups – we exercise symbolic violence. See chapter on symbolic violence. This author gave a worrying account of some researchers’ interview data with Roma groups in Italy. Their responses were counter-indicative to the researchers’ expectations, and the manipulation, constant rephrasing, rewording reiterating on the part of the researchers was blatantly driving at a pre-determined conclusion; the participants were making it very difficult for them to arrive at it. A lesson in interviewing.

Stephen Locke

This was the least helpful presentation for me – it was lacking a bit of coherence, although it was on an interesting question of giving a face to those we study. Should we be protecting identity or giving a voice? What are the barriers to making visible those who are invisible, and how seriously do we take this ethical question – does protecting identity deny voice and agency to some respondents?

Questioning the IRB ethics boards:

Institutional control of knowledge/ legalistic nature of IRB/ conflicting ideas of informed consent: these are represented differently in north south divide between USA and South America. As an illustration of this in reviewing ethics guidelines, the US took 130 pages to explain their guidelines compared to 13 pages for Costa Rica and they were mostly concerned with science.

Am I more or less ethical after this?
This symposium has extended my knowledge and interest in ethnographic approaches, and certainly raised some very probing ethical questions . My area of research interest is teacher professional learning. I’m not sure how easy or relevant ethnographic approaches are to this subject area, but the ethical questions raised here are valid for any methodology involving people.

Follow-up:

Goffman,
Gold’s typology of participant observation 1958
RossDeuchar
Hammersley on ethical absolutism.


Researching Marginalised Groups Symposium⤴

from @ Cat's eyes

It’s been a while since my last post – embarrassingly long. Full time work and a hefty commute have eaten up any available time I had to do this, but in trying to sort out my notes from some recent conferences, I took the plunge and got back on the blog-wagon. This might be interesting if you are working with either ethnographic approaches or marginalised/marginalising groups. It was a cracking day for me – lovely people and great discussions.

This symposium gave me an opportunity to find out more about ethnographic methodologies and about research project that had take place in the SoE. The following scholars gave accounts of their chapter in a recent co-authored book of the same title.

Marginalised and silenced voices were surfaced. Extremist groups also considered within this definition as they are ones who marginalise and we need to understand what they do and how the operate as well.

Kalwant Bhophal raised pertinent methodological questions: no matter who we are we affect the groups we research (her area of research interest is travellers and Roma communities).

How have we used the respondents?
have we unconsciously exploited them?
How do we affect the communities?
Our subjectivity affects our research

Research should always make a difference even if. It’s small.

Ethics – compromises are sometimes necessary. Discourse is often nebulous . Needs to be more transparent – duty to respondents, university, disciple.

ACCESS- problematics rapport an trust are key.

Openness and recognition of the right time to stop when dealing with students  are essential!.

Member checking –  giving transcripts back to respondents to check is an important part of trust building process – before data is analysed or used. This is important esp with marginalised groups.  Reflexivity and positionality – power is dynamic, not static: it will change throughout  the research process.

Gavin Bailey: Research Associate, University of Leicester

Interested in the ones who do the marginalising – the extremist groups within working class communities. Are hard to reach groups really hard to reach or are the just hard to hear?

Researches extremism in a community context.

What happens if the residents assoc happens to be run by BNP ACTIVISTS?

Extremism and how it is conceptualised in research Community as a key analytical object.

Stereotypes are dominant representation of these extremist group- see Jeremy Paxman griffiths interview: the way demonstrationss are represented in media is always as confrontational.

Being on Paxman – this is not being marginalised , this is mainstream media- doing the marginalising. The doer and the subject – needs to b broken down a bit.

GB’s study avoided the public representation and focused on what they do in their day jobs the extremist groups are the unit of analysis . Beware the focus on the spectacular groups- counter terrorists focusing on different groups who actually do violence Are they unreformable? Is that why they are ignored?

Activists have chosen to become activists – lots haven’t but are still in the dynamic Geographies of danger of otherness- community and culture as explanation. In this paradigm the research starts with these places. But often activists drive into perform activism and drive away Assumptions are being recreated – seek and you will find Stigmatising communities some objects become indicators of extremism- we know what it looks like and where to find it – so they think anti fascist or anti racist- what was the question again? Is it part of this older debate Where is the concern with white middle class attitudes and actions?

Try the implicit association test – see link.

Tiago Neves

This I found really challenging. Tiago completely overturned my assumptions about researching people and asked lots of awkward questions like – are these extremist groups really hard to reach? They are easy to reach them compared to bankers!

Ethnographic work – non intrusive or the most intrusive?

You study people – that’s ugly! To put them under the microscope , intrude in their lives is disturbing. We go into places we don’t know much about and try to make sense of what they do. Maybe we should make sense of out own lives? !Intrusion can cause deception – definition Impression management – the work of successfully staging a character(see Goffman). In ethnography we intentionally create a character in order to pry into people’s lives- that’s the ugly bit ethnography: it can blur the divide between a social encounter and a sociologically useful encounter.

The naturalism of the ethnographer is an artificiality What is reciprocity ? – an illusion? Who reaps the benefits or should we base this relationship on something else? Relational quandary. There are different motivations What can we do – get real – no person is perfect so no researcher is either Get real – there will always be betrayal, hands will get dirty Get ample – write about all our experiences detail context sensitive accounts of ethical matters as they pose themselves in the field.

Emiliano Grimaldi

Positionality symbolic violence and critical ethnography Foucauldian influences Experienced uneasiness- chapter draws on critical moments reflecting this in two research projects. Foucault – power and knowledge are mutually constitutive fieldwork has an inherently political nature – symbolic violence is inherent in fieldwork? Every time we engage – esp with marginalised groups – we exercise symbolic violence. See chapter on symbolic violence. This author gave a worrying account of some researchers’ interview data with Roma groups in Italy. Their responses were counter-indicative to the researchers’ expectations, and the manipulation, constant rephrasing, rewording reiterating on the part of the researchers was blatantly driving at a pre-determined conclusion; the participants were making it very difficult for them to arrive at it. A lesson in interviewing.

Stephen Locke

This was the least helpful presentation for me – it was lacking a bit of coherence, although it was on an interesting question of giving a face to those we study. Should we be protecting identity or giving a voice? What are the barriers to making visible those who are invisible, and how seriously do we take this ethical question – does protecting identity deny voice and agency to some respondents?

Questioning the IRB ethics boards:

Institutional control of knowledge/ legalistic nature of IRB/ conflicting ideas of informed consent: these are represented differently in north south divide between USA and South America. As an illustration of this in reviewing ethics guidelines, the US took 130 pages to explain their guidelines compared to 13 pages for Costa Rica and they were mostly concerned with science.

Am I more or less ethical after this?
This symposium has extended my knowledge and interest in ethnographic approaches, and certainly raised some very probing ethical questions . My area of research interest is teacher professional learning. I’m not sure how easy or relevant ethnographic approaches are to this subject area, but the ethical questions raised here are valid for any methodology involving people.

Follow-up:

Goffman,
Gold’s typology of participant observation 1958
RossDeuchar
Hammersley on ethical absolutism.


Novice researcher encounters journal ranking: how does it work?⤴

from @ Cat's eyes

Flickr Photo: JoelMontes – CC BY-SA

Last week I took part in a seminar with colleagues in the School of Social Sciences where we discussed the PhD experience; getting published; post-doc employment and what we should be doing while we’re also doing our PhDs to support our applications for when we finish. (I posted about that in our Google+ online community so sorry if you’ve already heard about this). The discussion on getting published was interesting. The expectations on achieving this seem to vary a bit between the two schools but there does seem to be a common acceptance that it’s a really good thing to do, in fact it’s looking more and more like it’s an essential thing to do. That’s fine but to the novice researcher some important questions about it can induce a rush of panic, notably what to publish and where to publish. Dealing with “what” first – that’s the easy bit. I’ve revisited my M.Ed data with my previous supervisor and we have one co-authored paper in press, another one submitted and a third one in the pipeline. This is obviously one approach. There’s lots of ways to go about identifying what to publish. You might have a methodological innovation that could form the basis of a paper, or perhaps some aspect of your literature review that might be able to stand alone as a paper with some re-working. And this is before you get to your data. Again, picking out just one aspect or feature of your data might allow you to open up a new set of questions which you can work into a paper. This is what we did with my data from a very small study – there was more mileage in it that you’d first imagine. So how do you decide where you’re going to try to get it published? That’s perhaps a more difficult question and we spent a bit of time discussing this last week but not enough. Because journals are ranked by their “impact factor” there is an order of preference for where you might want to get published. Schools and departments are looking for publications in the four star high-ranking international journals with good “impact ratings” and citation indices. This gives good Research Excellence ratings. You clearly don’t want to get published in open access journals. Or ones that invite you to submit your work to a dubious sounding spammy email address. That seems obvious, but how do we know which are the high ranking ones? How exactly is the ranking calculated? How are any biases in the process accounted for? Would it be more realistic for PhD students to aim for “mid-range” journals rather than the high ranking ones to get their publication rates off the starting blocks? If so, how do we know which journals are “mid-range” and would they be happy about being identified as such? All of this has to be navigated before we even start dealing with feedback, rejection and if you’re lucky, extensive pinging back and forth whilst amendments are made. At the session last week one of the speakers mentioned an online way of checking journal rankings. I didn’t have much luck trying to search under the terms he gave but I have come across a few interesting links while searching in various combinations of the terms “Education research journal rankings/ratings.” One of the sites this search offered was Science watch – it seems to be an index of educational research journals, but there also seems to be a science orientation here. That’s fine but not exactly what I was looking for and I still don’t really know how the impact factor is calculated or what it means. I felt I might be getting a bit closer with the Australian Teacher Education Association but it ranks the Asian-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education second – is this because it really is excellent or is it because the list concerns itself mostly with southern hemisphere publications? I feel I could do with a bit of help and guidance here so if there are any publications-savvy experienced colleagues reading this please comment. Meanwhile I’m just trying to make progress with my study and feeling lucky about getting papers published in journals that I’ve read, that accept my work and there are authors names I recognise. For an early-stage researcher I don’t think that’s too bad, four star or no star, but I still can’t find out how this particular journal is rated if indeed it is at all.


Approaches to educational research⤴

from @ Cat's eyes

Busy day today but thankfully it didn’t involve 8am pre-exam piano lessons for my son, a lost schoolbag, piano exams, bashed cars, builders de-constructing my kitchen, emergency visits to the optician and meetings with students about laggy attendance. Like yesterday did –  before lunchtime. It did involve a supervision meeting and a research seminar. My supervision meeting with both supervisors provided the right amount of inspiration, affirmation and questions about possibilities: it was really quite significant in that the discussion around the field work I’ve done so far points towards a possible re-framing of my project into more of an action/participatory research orientated one rather than a case study. I’ve assembled some methodological reading on this and am really quite excited about it as it’s turned up a whole new dimension to my project. However this research project turns out I really want it to make a useful and maybe even usable contribution to what we already know about teacher professional learning. That, I feel is the very least I can do to justify the time and effort it will take me and everyone else who invests in me by indulging my pursuit of something I’m interested in.
There is no baseline indicator of the usefulness of educational research. There are checks and balances which serve as quality indicators like the Vitae framework which elaborates SCQF level 12; review processes; the involvement of external examiners; peer review etc but usefulness or impact of a piece of work is not always the same as its quality. To be fair, the impact agenda in research is now a massive concern of funding bodies like the ESRC and of universities for formal research excellence assessment processes and maybe that’s the same thing, I’m not sure. I see impact as a changing effect that happens as a reaction to or interaction with something.
Capture
The impact debate in academia is heated and polemic and I don’t want to open it up here, but I would like to ponder for a moment the usefulness of educational research. If research isn’t useful and useable (to paraphrase Margaret Archer talking about social theory) does it amount to anything other than self-indulgence? I listened to a talk today about a study  from a post-human perspective in the HE context and I found myself asking this question more than once. Foucault, Barad, Deleuze and Guitarri, Lather, Neitsche, Lyotard, Haraway, Bennett, Heidegger and Kant among others were all referenced but I still didn’t really understand what this study actually found out and what its contribution was. I might be wrong, but I’d be surprised if anyone did because the presenter didn’t actually tell us. I didn’t really grasp what questions the study was asking. I’ve listened to talks about educational research projects like this before, where theoretical work eclipses the empirical to such a degree that the participants who took part in the study are barely acknowledged and their voices so feebly represented that they really might as well not be there at all. For me there is an ethical issue here about using people’s time as well as the usefulness question. I fully accept that some studies make a theoretical contribution and not an empirical one, but again I would refer to Margaret Archer’s axiom I paraphrased earlier- a social theory should be useful and useable. If this isn’t the case, there are questions remaining as to purpose and also for me the question of when in academia does usefulness stop and self-indulgence begin? I will make it my pledge to try to always stay on the right side of that line – if it exists.


On observations: 4 approaches from Harry Wolcott⤴

from @ Cat's eyes

I’ve been reading Harry Wolcott’s book “Transforming Qualitative Data” (Sage, 1994) and have really enjoyed the chapters on observation. Wolcot takes more of an ethnographic stance on observation than I do, but there is much to ponder in what he says, and lots of interesting questions .

Contemplatin

Wolcot relates how in discussion with students about conducting observations he is surprised at how quickly the conversation digresses into ethical issues about the process of observation and the role of the observer, and the “how” and the “what” are largely overlooked. I think that the role of the observer and the how and the what are closely connected. If I think about how I am going to observe teachers in learning rounds, I need to be aware of what I am doing. In the “doing ” of observation I can look around, look at, look for and listen, without needing to interact much with the others in the room. In schools, however,  there is a “prevailing institutional norm”   (Wolcot 1994:155) which usually turns visitors into passive observers, so I need to accept that in classrooms, observing teachers who are in turn making their own observations, my role will be passive, as will theirs, I suspect, but maybe a little less so.

What exactly will I observe? There are problems with approaching this and  knowing what you’re looking for so strategies are necessary, and awareness of  the context is also important.  Wolcot talks of the dangers of over-familiarity with the observational environment. I think this could be something that teachers conducting observations might need to acknowledge as Wolcot points out the tendency in teachers to want to evaluate, not observe when they are in their own familiar environments. Being  aware of this might mean assuming a “business as usual” understanding of the situation (e.g.  business as usual in classrooms might be: teachers give instructions, students follow instructions and check for clarity, accuracy until task is complete, or something similar). What might be interesting to focus on using  this model would be the interruptions to “business as usual” – the events which disrupt it; specifically what constitutes an interruption? How are interruptions dealt with and what are their effects?

Wolcot describes 4 approaches to observation which are helpful:

1: Observe and record everything. It’s fair to imagine that this will result in a mass of data, which quickly prompts the researcher to be selective, and also to be reflexively aware of observing and recording habits, which can be a useful exercise in itself. Observing everything especially in the early stages, Wolcot suggests also allows for the researcher to provide a broad overview of the observational situation. It may be helpful to revisit this at the writing -up stage for the purpose of  offering a new-comers’ viewpoint to potential readers who will need some orientation towards the project, while  the researcher having been immersed in the project may be well beyond this stage and overlook that need.

2. Observe and look for nothing in particular. If the situation is too familiar (as in the classroom situation describes above) or too unfamiliar ( e.g. perhaps the green room in a TV studio; inside a petro-chemical refinery; somewhere you’ve never been and had no experience of) this might be a useful approach. It acknowledges that too much might be occurring too quickly for the unfamiliar observer to make sense of so instead of trying to take everything in, imagine the  observational landscape is flat and focus on the “bumps” the things that seem to stand out. I can see how this might work in the classroom situation for a teacher, but I’m finding it difficult to imagine separating out the “business as usual” from the disruptions in an unfamiliar situation – how do you know which is which?

3. Look for paradoxes. Wolcott’s idea is that there is  interest in the contradictions and dilemmas of observational situations. He gives an example from his experience observing a  fishing community, but I can imagine this will be something I can work on. The obvious paradox for me will be the observation/evaluation problem. In previous research I found that in spite of clear intentions and statements indicating that they would not evaluate practice in observations, teachers in all situations I researched used judgemental language and expressed concern about reporting their findings to colleagues. This was useful data for me as the study was looking at what teachers do when they say they are doing learning rounds, but for this study the focus is more on the processes -what actually goes on inside a learning round so the observation/evaluation dilemma will play a different part perhaps revealing the nature of some relationships, the purpose of the LR within the school/LA national policy context etc.

4. Identify the key problem confronting the group.

As far as I understand this relates more to interview questions than the process of observation. Wolcott gives an example of medical students who come to realise they cannot learn everything they need to know to practice medicine in medical school, so they focus on what they need to learn first, to be able to stay in medical school. For me I understand this as:  If LR is the answer – what is the question? What need/ requirement is this collaborative learning activity responding to? What are people’s reasons for engaging with it and what are their expectations of it?  What questions might it answer for them? These are questions I will be seeking answers to in my interviews, I’m not sure observation would be the method for eliciting these answers.

The context for observation is subject to past present and future influences. Future because the observations always serve a future purpose – the paper, thesis, film etc that results from the study. Present influences can often be limitations (or enablers) imposed upon the study by contextual factors -e.g. time or funding constraints. Past influences will be found in the body of literature surrounding the focus of the study, and the culture of the organisation where the observations are taking place.

All in all this chapter offers good guidance and pointers on framing and  conducting observations which I’ll try to make good use of in coming months.

 

Wolcott, Harry F. (1994) Transforming Qualitative Data: description, analysis and interpretation. Sage Publications


Hierarchical focusing in interviews⤴

from @ Cat's eyes

Tomlinson, P. (1989). Having it both ways: hierarchical focusing as research interview method. British Educational Research Journal15(2), 155-176.

I am steadily working through methodology issues from my review and have submitted a more extended piece of writing on it for a forthcoming supervision. I’m still working on interviews however and am hoping to pilot some very soon.  My supervisor has suggested I investigate Tomlinsons’s (1989) method of hierarchical focusing in interviews, and having finally managed to track the paper down, I think it is worth a try. Given I have some, but not huge, experience in interviews, and no experience with hierarchical focusing I think a pilot is essential and I’m hoping to set some up immanently.

What is hierarchical focusing?

Tomlinson’s argument is that nterviewing in research is far from straightforward data-gathering and can be complex and problematic. The possibilities for misconstruing language and interpretation, the social and relational dynamics of the interview situation, the possibly competing agendas of researcher’s concern with their topic and interviewee’s responses all represent dilemmas and tensions which have to be navigated in the interview situation. Hierarchical focusing is a method of interviewing which attempts to mitigate these tensions by attempting to achieve a balance between  “emergence of the interviewees perspective [and] the researcher’s own research agenda” (Tomlinson 1989: 155), hence the perspective of “having it both ways” from the subtitle of the paper.

Hierarchical focusing starts with acknowledging the need to be aware of differences in variations of humans understanding of phenomenon under research, including reflexive awareness of the researcher towards their investigation. It strives to balance the need for an open approach towards interviewees’ construal of the event with the necessity for the researcher’s requirements to be met without their agenda exercising excessive influence on the situation or the interviewee. It advocates a five stage process involving:

  1. outlining the content and structure of the research domain as seen by the researcher
  2. Identifying the research focus within the domain that is to be elicited from interviewees
  3. Devising a hierarchical framework of questions for the interview which move from conceptual to contextual or from more open/general to more closed/specific
  4. Carry out the interview using the hierarchical model in an open-ended way; adopting a non-directive, non-judgemental style and not paraphrasing what is said but sticking to terms used by the interviewee.
  5. Transcribe and analyse.

What does this look like in practice?

Start with the outline of the domain. What are the main concepts involved in this piece of research? What terms are being used? How do these ideas inter-relate? This will provide a hierarchical structure for the interview to be built around. To try to give a very simple example this could be: the nature of learning rounds; the outline of the different stages of the process;  the relationships between participants; the actions and interactions at each stage; the effects of these interactions.

So our main concepts are outlined here and would need to be elaborated in a fuller rationale. The next step is to prioritise content and what I want to elicit in the interview. Thus the hierarchical structure begins to take shape:

From this I would work on questions which are designed to ensure that all aspects of my concepts as illustrated above are elicited. This schema shows that there is a movement from generality (conceptual) to specific( contextual) understanding of the research problem. This clearly requires a thoughtful and fulsome approach to question construction. The conceptual provides the starting point in hierarchical focusing. Encouraging open-ness and deploying a non-directive approach all aspects of the Only when all possibilities and any spontaneous development of the themes concerned with this set of questions has been exhausted do  I move to the next  more specific level in the hierarchy, where the same process is repeated.

I also need to construct a recording framework to annotate spontaneous, prompted or partial responses. This serves as a reminder to return to questions which elicited only a partial response before moving to the next level, and also to track spontaneous, prompted or partial responses in order to remind me what to return to for more developed answers before moving on. This also sets up the beginnings of a system for analysing the data.

There is lots I need to refine about this, but I’m feeling hopeful that it will offer a robust, systematic and justifiable method to support my forthcoming interviews. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s already used it.


Progress!⤴

from @ Cat's eyes

My progress review was two weeks ago and I passed. I knew where I would be challenged, and I knew where I was strong. The challenges left me feeling a bit exposed (in methodology and analysis especially) and this is where I need to focus my attention. Even in the short time that’s passed though I’ve gone back to some readings and papers and feel more secure in my understanding of critical realism. In the last post I mentioned I needed to do more work on  methodology.  Post – review, I know I still need to explain methodology in clearer terms, and in particular to highlight the ways in which it relates to my research questions and how both of these inform the methods I choose. Therefore, a piece of more extended writing on methodology, a clearer articulation of my research questions and a set of methods which will elicit the answers to the questions I want to ask is now required, with a degree of urgency as I’m hoping to get started on the empirical work very soon.

Structure, culture and agency

In discussion with my supervisor today we talked in detail about the key concepts of critical realism of structure, culture and agency and how to define them. Culture in CR terms is an independent realm of  ideas and knowledge (Archer 1995) which can sometimes conflict with each other, as in for example, a new set of cultural forms such as a new curriculum. This can offer a challenge to existing cultural forms and ideas ( i.e. existing ideas about curriculum) but  can also result in complementarities and/or tensions. The new cultural forms might  replace the old ones ( archetype A in Archer 1995) but a straightforward replacement is unlikely. Alternatively the new ideas could be entirely rejected, but this is also unlikely; what tends to happen is a hybridisation, mixing and matching of old and new, where existing cultures might change as a result of exposure to the  new culture.

Structure is a bit more slippery.  Social structure means systems of human relationships  amongst social positions (Porpora 2000). The relationships within a system can be understood by the ways in which the connections operate i.e. the relationships can be strong or weak; symmetrical,  where power, trust or respect passes back and forth between two individuals, or asymmetrical where power flows in one direction only. What passes between two individuals is an emergent property of their interaction. Structure exists independently of culture, but there is interaction between the two. The interactions will be key to my study.

Dave Elder Vass (2007) develops this conception of  social relationships to include both the people in the relationship and  the emergent powers of the interactions between them. He uses the term “people in community” to signify this more developed idea of  social structure.

Archer’s model of analytical dualism offers a  way of understanding structure and culture as autonomous systems whereby culture influences interaction through ideas; structure influence actions through power and individuals influence interactions through their own capacities, skills or knowledge. The interaction of these three separate but connected domains is central to this model. Interactions between the three domains is described in CR terms as  morphogenesis/morphostasis. Interactions are key here as they provide a methodological point of entry (Scott, 2009), and for my study, this will be a major focus.

Morphogenesis describes what happens when the three domains act upon each other. In the social interaction whereby an individual meets cultural forms and social structures, each element acts upon the other, and in the process of interacting,

Ideas can therefore be held in place by power structures, but the power structures can also reinforce the ideas. Think of South Africa pre-1996, for example. Change happens in the interaction between all three domains. So a series of interactions of individuals with structures and cultural conditions might result in emergent properties or powers which may bring about change in each domain. This could be described in Archer’s terms as a morphogenetic loop or cycle which over time,  might result in significant change.

Morphostasis would represent the same interactions resulting in reproduction, not change of existing norms, ideas (culture) and structure (relationships).

I need to develop a method that is systematic and congruent with CR for my study. My research questions need to reflect this more clearly. The task is underway!

PS: I knew my evidence of critical literature review was strong; they asked me if I’d be happy for a section of it to be made available to a final module in one of the professional learning programmes going on for teachers in the school. Of course I was: it’s here if anyone is interested:Excerpt from doctoral review report 2014 Please cite appropriately if you feel the urge :)


Supervision meeting 26th May 2014⤴

from @ Cat's eyes

The pace of things is increasing in advance of my forthcoming review and the agenda for this meeting was focused more or less on my draft report which I need to submit 2 weeks before the meeting. My date is August 28th, so I have all summer to stress about this.

So as my project gathers pace I need to think more and more concretely about it, tighten the focus on what questions I am going to ask and make sure the methodology supports and articulates with the literature and questions I’m asking.  I’m hoping for a successful outcome to the review – this will mean that I am deemed competent enough to conduct the research I’m proposing and the decision will be made on how well I can justify the choices I’m making about every aspect of the project design so far. So all going well I’ll be able to pilot some methods early next school session and begin fieldwork sometime after that, hopefully around September.

I submitted a draft report for discussion at this meeting. Discussion with Mark was as usual hugely helpful and encouraging. There is work to be done but apparently it’s about 90% of the way there.  I know what I need to do. Certain parts of its need re-structuring or refocusing and I need to align my research questions more closely with my methodology. And I need to flesh out my methodology.

I will be doing a case study which is underpinned by critical realism as a theoretical framework and the methodology will be congruent with this.  I’ve been skirting around critical realism for a while and it’s only now that I am really beginning to see how useful it will be for me. I think part of my avoidance has been the language and expression of some of the writing – not the most accessible, but in terms of theory and philosophy I guess it’s never going to be easy.

So after discussion I have a clearer understanding of what purpose it will serve. What I want to look at is learning rounds as social processes – interactions among humans within existing structures and conditions. Critical realism, and in particular Margaret Archer’s model of analytical dualism gives me a way to frame this study and analyse the processes involved in these interactions and observe what changes might or might not be taking place. . From what I know about the literature around professional learning communities so far is that most of it is  a-theoretical, only some of it is empirically based and little of it looks at the actual processes involved in the work these PLCs do. My study aims to illuminate these processes. It will hopefully provide some new empirical knowledge which is supported by social theory for an under-researched area. Having already conducted a literature review into learning rounds and instructional rounds I can say with certainty that no empirical studies have been carried out into this and reached publication. Only five peer-reviewed papers were identified to consider as part of this literature review.  I hope that the work I’m about to embark on will ultimately provide something useful for the profession that will be recognised as an academically sound piece of research. Let the grafting begin!


Conference season⤴

from @ Cat's eyes

Conference season

Been a bit laggy on the updates – it’s busy conference season in academia-land coming up so I’ve been preparing for two forthcoming events: the Stirling School of Education Doctoral Conference and ProPEL. The doctoral conference is an internal one for all the SoE post-graduate research students and ProPEL is a big international conference for professional practice, education and learning. I’m working on my presentation about my study for the doctoral conference, but here is a wee preview of the poster I’ve prepared for ProPEL – it’s my first one! Hope you like it. Please leave a comment if you feel the urge!