Monday, August 17, 2009

Tools for analysing qualitative research data

Jane Hart is compiling a list of most useful / most used tools for research. Many of the ones listed are unfamiliar to me!! Most of these are search engines, although there are also bibliographical archiving tools. I have been trawling the databases the last couple of weeks. Basically doing the ground work for my Ako Aoteoroa funded ‘teaching craftsmanship’ research project. So it was a good opportunity to try out a few of these tools. I find Google Scholar to be a good way to source ‘key words’ & starting material which I can then use in the standard academic search database to find references pertinent to the topic I am researching. Due to the nature of the topic ‘new trades tutors & their perceptions of teaching’ I have to rely on journal articles. A few books are available on Google books but only as previews so I have had to request interloans via our helpful CPIT library.

I have also started data anaylsis, learning my way through nVivo. I need to use NVivo so that I am familiar with the software in order to be able to support other staff in using this research analysis tool. Will provide more feedback later in the year on how I feel about using nVivo to replace my usual mixture of iterative data analysis using ‘copy & paste’ & find features on Word, along with summarising, collating and reorganising themes / threads into tables. My first impressions are that nVivo imposes a way of doing (& thinking) which is slightly out of synch with how I usually approach my data. I need to have a handle on the ‘big picture’ & how other themes relate to the overall scheme of things. An article by Elaine Welsh (2002) presents both the advantages & disadvantages of using nVivo for qualitative analysis.

Helen Colley & Kim Diment’s article on ‘holistic research for holistic practice: making sense of qualitative research data’ is part of the UK’s teaching & learning research programme ‘ building research capacity’ site. Their interpretation and recommendations on qualitative data analysis does resonate with my approach to undertaking research. I am often after the ‘whole picture’ of why things happen & am constantly trying to work out how the various themes that immerge from the data ‘fits into the whole’. It is also important to view the data as a holistic ‘narrative’ rather than just focus on its atomistic parts. Telling the story which research participants try to impart via their involvement in interviews etc. is an important role of the research process. I need to distil rather than filter & at the moment, I feel a software tool like nVivo is causing me to filter & sieve rather than to distil, refine and sharpen themes. It could be because I am working solely with digital sources instead of a mixture of digital & hard copy. Will persevere for the moment with nVivo & evaluate what eventuates in a couple of months. I can always do a manual collation as well after the nVivo process to see if anything different comes through.

The TLRP site is one I constantly dip into for interesting, informative and mostly practical / applicable suggestions on doing research. The Teaching & Learning Programme itself has been a source of many articles and research reports of relevance to the work I am doing towards by PhD thesis. In particular the projects completed under the ‘further & post 16 education’, higher education, workplace learning, professional learning, lifelong learning and technology enhanced learning sections.

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