All entries for Thursday 07 November 2019
November 07, 2019
A reason why I have not fully developed the philosophical and methodological arguments yet is simply because there is a lot here to consider. There are probably things that need considering that I have not even thought about yet, and there are probably things that I gave only a passing glance that need further thought (I’ve come across this several times!).
From what I can currently understand and from what I am currently considering, further thought needs to be given to how the multiple uses of methods is compatible with middle range philosophical positions. I also need to further consider how the approach is compatible with hermeneutical qualitative methodologies. I also have to consider further how thematic, basic quantitative and pattern-based approaches complement each other with respect to the philosophical and methodological positions. I also have to think further about these considerations with respect to the research question and research objectives.
This is all ongoing work and will take a number of months to fully realise and elaborate. This shall obviously lead to the continuous need to edit and probably rewrite the research design chapter sections as deemed necessary.
I am also considering carrying out extra analysis of the data. I have found the essentials of the process of social learning and have developed a better understanding of the process itself, but I have also begun to understand and explain in the thesis what factors inhibits the process of social learning. This needs further work because I am realising that I am developing claims and hypotheses that I am not able to answer, and I am thinking that these assumptions can become more reliable and validated if I carried out further data analysis. This will of course impact the content and ordering of the findings chapter and the discussions chapter. In what way this could happen, what extra content or discussions could be made, and the way that existing discussions shall be amended have not been fully considered yet and won’t be till I decided what other data analysis tasks are required, and to think about the way in which they could affect existing findings.
The coding framework, which is a key deliverable of the research, is now complete but I am also in the process of testing the framework within different contexts. The aim of this is to improve validity and reliability of the framework, and to show its possible areas of application, which might have a profound impact on what has already been discussed in the discussions chapter. The desire is to publish these findings in a research paper in the future.
I also have other ideas for research papers particularly method papers that contribute towards the discussions of ‘multi-methods’ approach particularly with respect to the specific learning context. Papers based on the findings are also planned and I have ideas to publish papers based on each type of method and also in combination, but I am not sure at this time the way this is going to come about and I am going to think about this more next year.
Lots going on! The key emphasis now is on the continuous development and redevelopment of thesis chapters from what I consider to be complete draft form to formal thesis form. Another key emphasis is on testing the analytical framework for validity, reliability and applicability. The other key emphasis is on publishing papers, but this is not an immediate concern and can be left to some point next year. In the meantime between now and Christmas the focus shall be placed on editing and rewriting the first literature review chapter.
What a journey and there’s more to come!
Previously I had discussed the limitations of thematic analysis, and briefly indicated how these limitations could be addressed using quantitative and patterned based approaches with the aim of generating a better understanding of the process of social learning processes as well as its essentials or essences. Although, I could argue in the thesis that in order to understand the process itself it is important to understand the essentials of the process relative to the research question and research objectives. How can a process itself be understood if we do not know its essentials? This is a question I’m currently thinking about.
Going further into the discussions, what I had found with the combined use of thematic, quantitative, and patterned based approaches is a more effective understanding of the process of learning, but still not a complete picture of the phenomenon as a whole. I am in a better position to explain ‘what’ happens and possibly ‘how’ something happens, but not ‘why’ that particular learning event happens at a particular point because I would need access to resources that have been beyond the reach and purpose of the Ph.D. However, in the thesis I am explaining all of this as part of potential future work that could be carried out. As individual analytical methods, not only did each in part support the findings of each other, but each approach offered a different yet compatible perspective of the data.
I had not anticipated or expected such vastly different perspectives of the data, so this complexity had overwhelmed me for quite a while. It took a lot of working out of the meaning of each approach and the data that each produced in order to understand how each set complemented each other, and what exactly the data was trying to communicate (and, indeed, the way I was interpreting the meaning of each set of data relative to each other). This is still ongoing and, hence, provides a possible reason to edit the findings and discussion chapters.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the philosophical and methodological issues of the combined approach that I have been thinking about.
Methodologically, the inclusion of multiple analytical methods does not constitute a mixed methods approach. Briefly, a research project could be considered mixed methods if each method is used with different types of data (e.g., qualitative and quantitative) leading to the production of different sets of data that is to me merged or combined in some way. Within this research, the qualitative thematic, basic quantitative and patterned-based approaches are being used with the same type of data and within the same type of general methodology (hermeneutic qualitative). A key question that I am currently exploring is whether or not this sort of approach can be considered ‘methodological triangulation’ or ‘analytical triangulation,’ or ‘multi-mode’ or ‘multi-methods’ research. Regardless, philosophically the multiple uses of methods is arguably compatible with middle-range realist perspectives as it is to my understanding that subtle realism (considered a middle range philosophy, and is a realist position I draw upon within the research) support multiple different types of analytical approaches within the same project in order to enable understand of the complexity of a phenomenon. I am still fully working out the compatibility between middle range philosophies and multiple uses of analytical methods within the same project, though I am arriving at the point that middle-range philosophical positions supports multiple analytical methods.
What does all this mean? What does or could this mean for qualitative research? My methodological position is hermeneutical and whilst most literature I have come across focuses on how hermeneutics assists with the interpretations of text, I am not convinced that this excludes some form of basic quantitative analysis. I am currently developing explanations and ideas about this, but my current thinking here is that because hermeneutics is compatible with middle-range realism, and because middle range realism advocates reasonableness and rationale development of concepts, the interpretations that are hermeneutically constructed can be supplemented or supported in some way by a form of quantitative analysis. This, of course, depends very much on the context of what is being explored. Because I am exploring a process of learning through accessing the process directly and not through some mediated access through, for example, the perspectives of learners, I can ground the research within a particular form of objective reality that can be supported in some way by the use of the quantitative. Through thematic analysis I can present a series of themes and codes, and make assumptions about a process based on those codes and themes, and then use the quantitative to provide a form of validating the reasonableness of at least some of these assumptions and interpretations, in conjunction with the pattern-based approach. This is again something I am currently figuring out.
The pattern-based approach provided a perspective of the learning process that differed widely from the thematic and quantitative approaches, and provided insights into the patterns and processes of interactions among participants that I had not previously anticipated and considered. This, admittedly, completely overwhelmed me as mentioned and for a while I was stuck and muddled, but I persevered and slowly, progressively, sense and clarity was being made out of the uncertainty. I am not yet in a position where I can fully elaborate on the way that the different approaches complement each other and build on the findings of each other, and what I have already explained might need editing. But I do believe that my philosophical and methodological arguments are becoming clearer as my understanding grows, and I do feel much more clearer on the meaning of the findings and the purpose of each approach compared to a few months ago when I felt completely overwhelmed with the differences in the perspectives that were afforded by the different analytical methods.
I still feel I have a long way to go, yet I also feel I have come really far. It is very wrong to think at any time that you are absolutely correct and absolutely close to where you need to be, because you can never really fully tell the distance that you are at compared to the complete whole. All you can to is track and trace the distance you have travelled, and if you can observe real difference and real progress in your understanding of everything that you do, then you’re on the right track!
Long term blog followers will probably remember my discussions about grounded theory and discourse analysis, and the reasons why I shifted towards thematic analysis following the identification of their unsuitability. Whilst thematic analysis has been very useful for achieving certain purposes of the research, thematic analysis had not provided a complete picture of the phenomena of research interest. In fact, I came to realise that some of the problems encountered with grounded theory were also encountered with thematic analysis.
Thematic analysis was used in this research to develop a coding framework that can be used to code for particular and similar patterns across the data with reference to specific characteristics of social learning processes. From the codes, themes have been developed that characterises the process of social learning. However, a problem that was encountered was that, similar to grounded theory, whilst thematic analysis was able to identify the key concepts and conceptualisations of social learning process, it could not enable a full understanding of the process of learning itself. In other words, thematic analysis can describe and present the key essences of social learning in accordance to the specifics of the research question and research objectives. It cannot, however, explain how learning takes place within the context of a social and cognitive process. In order to achieve this, I had to go deeper into not just the essences that describes and captures essential social learning, given particular conditions and contexts, but also deeper understanding of the process of learning itself. Learning is a process, not a product, regardless of the context of this learning and it is arguable that to understand learning within any context is to understand it as a social and cognitive process.
In order to achieve this level of understanding, along with thematic analysis I also used basic quantitative approaches, and patterned-based approaches. From the use of thematic analysis, I developed several assumptions about the process, but could not use thematic analysis to test these assumptions. The use of basic quantitative analysis and pattern-based analysis led to the testing of these assumptions and further explorations of the data in order to better understand social learning as a process and as a pattern between individuals. This has added considerably to the research not just in terms of better understanding the essences of the phenomenon, but also of understanding its process. The addition of multiple methods has, not surprisingly, also led to the need to rethink of some aspects the research design to ensure compatibility and cohesion between the research design components. These considerations are important, because without these careful considerations the research design is going to appear disjointed and illogical, with incompatible parts that could generate incorrect or inappropriate data leading to unreliable and unverifiable interpretations of the data.
What actually happened during this process is the observation and construction of insights of the learning process that I had not previously anticipated, and that which I had no idea I considered possible to perceive. I shall explain this further in the next blog post.
The thesis chapters are now complete, at least to the point that the foundations, the arguments, the insights, and all points of discussions have been laid out in a logical and progressive way across each chapter. I would not suggest that the thesis is complete as there is a need to edit and rewrite various chapters and chapter sections. The process of editing and rewriting aims to improve explanations of the research design and the recent amendments that have been made to it, as well as to aim to better explain and develop arguments and insights of the data that have been made since amending the research design.
To achieve this current status of the thesis has itself involved numerous rewrites of each chapter, but I am at a point now where I am not expecting a serious rewrite and reconstructions of each chapter. Of course I cannot make this an absolute claim, because what exactly I edit and the extent to which I edit depends on the way I make further sense of the research findings in accordance with the research question and the research objectives. The edits to all the chapters over the past few years, and the edits that are currently continuing, are as a result of my changing understanding and conceptualisations of the data, and of the phenomenon of interest, and of changes to how I explore and investigate the phenomenon of interest. The thesis has been and still is an evolving document that simply cannot be written ‘as is’ in any first setting, because it will go through as many changes as you consider best to reflect your changing understanding and changes of research approach. This continuous change and amendment is, in my experience, an integral part of engaging with qualitative research and writing a qualitative based research. This is because qualitative research is based around the understanding and interpretation of text based data, and our understanding and interpretation of the text changes continuously particularly though arguably this depends on our philosophical positions. Regardless of our Philosophical positions, it is impossible to identify all possible concepts at the initial stages of your research because concepts are interpreted and constructed during your research analysis process. As I have discussed several times throughout this blog, my conceptualisations of the qualitative data have changed numerous times, which impacted research interests and directions, which impacted the characteristics of the data considered most interesting, which impacted how the data were explored.
An interesting area of debate refers to the way that our conceptions of the data are formed, and the way that concepts of the data appear. This, again, depends on the philosophical position of the researcher because a concept can be argued to emerge from the data, be discovered or identified in the data, or be constructed through interpreting the data. Concepts that are constructed through interpretation can arguably be situated in the middle range position of philosophical stances where concepts are a construction through the process of interpretation, but the interpretations are considered reasonable and reliable. This is something that I am currently working on.
The analytical framework is complete and whole, and from my current understanding I do not need at this time to engage with any further developmental work. Again same as with the thesis, I cannot claim this as an absolute but I am fairly confident now that the framework is complete. The analytical framework consists of the codes, categorised into different themes, needed to assist with exploring specific social learning processes. Because it is complete, it needs testing, therefore a current task involves testing the coding framework within a different context from which it has been constructed.
I am in the early stages of testing the framework and I am not completely sure how I am to report on this in the findings and discussions chapters at this time. What I am thinking about is to test the framework within the context and to publish a paper on this testing, and to perhaps compare what shall be conceptualised with what had been conceptualised in the original research. This is ongoing work so I shall return to this at a later stage.
In addition to the testing of the framework, philosophical assumptions are also being developed, some of which are also being tested, as well as explanations of the different contexts within which the framework could be used. These assumptions and explanations are likely to be reshaped and altered as I go through the framework testing process, and as I engage with further literature.