Ph.D Update Of Work Part C: Multiple Perspectives Of Data
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!