All entries for June 2018

June 29, 2018

Ph.D Update: Venturing Back To Data Analysis

Since the previous blog post I have returned to data analysis: I have reanalysed previously analysed data, managed to organise my data corpus and where I can find more data to analyse if need be, and have begun to identify potential themes and their potential relationships with each other based on the observations made of the data and coding completed so far. These themes, once determined to actually exist through further analysis, shall then become the core themes of the phenomenon of interest and, therefore, become objects of further data analysis in the phase following thematic analysis. Because more coding needs to be completed I cannot say with any solid certainty that these themes will manifest into core themes that become the focus of the rest of the analysis process; however, I have made enough observations to potentially suggest that the identified themes will be the main themes and any other themes are likely to be sub themes. An open mind, however, is still required and as I code through the data and enter the next stage of thematic analysis, I could potentially identify more core themes.

What have I done in order to reach the current point of coding? The very first step before even coding the data is to become familiar with your data. This has been a journey in itself as I battled with different philosophical perspectives and the most efficient and effective lens from which the particular kind of text should be analysed. I am more or less settled with this now and in the thesis it is a case of detailing what my philosophical beliefs are, the way in which these impact the way in which I perceive, engage with, and interpret the data, and the way in which they relate to the research problem and research questions, and fit in with the rest of the research design.

Away from Philosophy however and onto the data level, becoming familiar with the data makes sense as this gives you the widest scope and the widest sense of the nature of the data. It is through familiarising yourself with the data that you can begin to view high level, abstract structures, potential hierarchies and forms of organisation within the data. The participants might not have intended their interactions with you as a researcher directly or with each other to produce such structures, but those structures do exist in an external reality and can be reflected unconsciously within certain parts of the data at certain times. The nature and composition of these structures, hierarchies and organisations however depend on the type of text being analysed: interview transcripts, for example, shall differ completely compared with group learning transcripts. What I am finding and have found however is that data familiarity can continue past this familiarity phase and onto the coding phase. From my own experiences, as I code through the data I found myself exploring the date closely and begin to be able to view these hierarchies, structures etc at a closer level. These realisations and characteristics of the data were not revealed immediately however, it has taken several rereads and several rounds of coding in order to fully understand the nature of the data (or at least begin to understand the nature of the data) and to therefore begin to understand the constructs and structures of the data’s particular nature. This is something I shall be talking about to a more indepth level in the thesis. It’s important to state that I am not necessarily observing both “macro” and “micro” structures as what I am following is a micro level analysis set within a particular context. It really depends on what you can observe in the data and it depends on the type of text you are analysing, and the purpose of your research. Sometimes interactions can be theologically and politically influenced, for example, and this can be reflected in the data. It’s arguably simply a matter of working through the data and carefully and comprehensively thinking about what it is you are observing.

As for the coding process I am a certain way through the coding phase. I have identified the data corpus and about halfway through the coding phase. The approach to coding I have adopted is what I call a segment by segment analysis. Some argue for a line by line analysis or a sentence by sentence analysis but I am going to be arguing the ineffectiveness of these analytical approaches within the context of my research. Sometimes, a single line or a single sentence is not enough to capture the event or action that you are observing in the data: sometimes you can observe events and actions within half a sentence or half a line, sometimes they can be observed at a greater level than a sentence or a line. Segment by segment analysis based on the interpretation or observation of meaningful events or actions is a more flexible and pragmatic approach for my research: it enables me to break up each block of data into meaningful segments that can be below or above sentence level. I define a segment as meaningful because that segment contains an event or action that is expressed, described, or in some way engaged with that holds a particular meaning for my research purposes. A single sentence, therefore, could contain multiple meaningful events and activities that would be missed by sentence by sentence and line by line analytical approaches.

I have assigned each of these meaningful segments a code, which represents or encapsulates the general meaning or description of the event or activity that is contained within that segment. Again what this event or activity or action is depends on what you perceive, of what’s important to you and your research, of what relates to your research question and research problem, and what the nature of the transcript is. Previously when I used Grounded Theory I generated many codes and as I went through the previously coded transcript I altered some of the codes, dropped a few, and added new codes in. This time of coding more than ever I feel that I have been able to capture the pure essence of each segment that before I did not capture; I can perceive and observe events and activities in the data and view relationships between segments that I had not been able to previously recognise or identify. This has helped during the coding of further transcripts and even then, I have been observing new occurrences, happenings, events and actions within the data that I had not previously observed in the previous transcripts. Unsurprisingly, I have generated many codes.

The more you read through your data and become familiar with it, the more you learn about your data and therefore, with each reading session, new properties, events, dimensions and even higher level relationships and structures reveal themselves. There is much debate however as to whether or not these observations really do exist in the data, or if it is just what we perceive or observe in the data. This is a complex yet fascinating area of debate and shall be something I shall engage with in the thesis.

As I have been coding I have been writing short theoretical memos. The memos that are written at this stage serve the purpose of documenting continuous and evolving process of thinking and theorising about the codes and the data. The memos describe and explain the motivations, intentions, meanings, production, and context of the meaningful segments as well as the meaning of the code itself, and any other thoughts, hunches, ideas, observations and potential hypotheses, questions and predictions relevant to the research. These memos are very important as they ultimately form a substantial part of the chapters related to research findings and discussions, and, they assist you (along with any journals that you might have) with documenting your analytical and theoretical journey.

Your thinking, theorising, comprehension and understanding develops and progresses as you code through the data, and as you identify similar characteristics and the differences between them as well as, therefore, the similarities and differences between similarly coded data segments and, which can form the starting point of identifying and developing your themes, but that’s another aspect of the analysis to cover in another blog post!

June 22, 2018

Ph.D Update: Research Methods

Since my previous update, I have been reading more about thematic analysis and discourse analysis, as well as beginning to recode and reanalyse the previously coded data, a process at the time influenced by Grounded Theory.

The reading has illuminated text analysis to be a complex area and therefore, there is no clear or shared consensus of the way in which a specific type of text can be or should be analysed. Different methods and methodological ideas lean towards different type of texts to achieve different purposes and different outcomes; at least, that’s what is perceived from the research methodology textbooks. I think it’s more complex than even that because since I have ideas about methodological fluidity (check earlier blog posts) I think potentially any analytical method can be used for any type of text. The key to all this is to understand your data within the context of the research problem, research questions, research discipline, and your own philosophical beliefs and the extent to which you are consciously aware of the values and importance that your beliefs bring to your research. Within the context of my current thinking about my philosophical beliefs, the research problem and questions, etc. there actually isn’t a single individual approach that convinces me to be the absolute way to analyse data that achieves what I want to know.

This is a challenge because how can I possibly analyse data if I do not know which analytical method is best?

The answer comes from releasing your mind; from allowing your mind to be chained to this idea that a specific analytical method is required to becoming open and sensitive to the data; to allow yourself to become sensitised and to allow the data to speak to you. Obviously I am being guided by the research questions and I have a very general approach to what I am looking for based on the previous readings and analysis of the data via grounded theory, and identifying aspects of the data that grounded theory in my opinion is not able to capture (check previous blog posts). Beyond that I am allowing the text data to “speak” instead of me trying to apply any frameworks to it.

This is challenging, but my thinking is that I shall eventually arrive at either a specific analytical approach beyond the initial stage of thematic analysis, or I shall be able to pragmatically combine different aspects and ideas of different analytical methods in order to enable me to explore the data fully and therefore, enable me to achieve what I want to achieve with the research.

I have read through a variety of different analytical approaches, and what I am finding is there are aspects of these approaches that I think are relevant and aspects that are not. It is from these readings that I am leaning towards the possibility of adopting some sort of pragmatic, functional approach to analysing the data. This would involve the combination of different elements and aspects of different approaches, as long as what I do is relevant to the research purpose and questions, and aligns with my philosophical beliefs. What I will have to do in the thesis is to very carefully, reflectively, critically and analytically describe, critique, evaluate and explain what I am doing, how I am doing things, why I am doing things the way I am doing them, and also evaluate, critique, contrast and compare my approach with other approaches relevant to the analysis of the phenomenon of interest.

I could probably write eighty thousand words for the methodology chapter, nevermind the entire thesis………

This is effectively where I am with the data analysis! I have recoded the data that I have previously coded now under the thinking of thematic analysis instead of grounded theory, and I view no problem so far with the transition of thinking. The current task is simply to recode the data, meaning that I have dropped some of the previous codes and created new codes in order to better represent what is going on in the data. This has come from an increased understanding and awareness of the subject content and the way in which the content can be expressed. And also, I’m going beyond the data: I am beginning to visualise, theorise and conceptualise relationships and patterns within the data, which shall contribute towards theme development as the next part of the thematic analysis as well as the phase beyond thematic analysis. But before I get to that point I shall have to analyse more data than previously as I have changed the scope of data collection and data sampling procedures but I can discuss that another time and more specifically in the thesis.

As I code through the data, develop the themes and then begin to go deeper into the data and explore the contexts and expressions of these themes I shall be able to understand which analytical method is best used for the particular type of text (again, in the context of the research problem, research questions, and my own philosophical beliefs), or which aspects of relevant analytical approaches are best combined in a more pragmatic sense.

This is challenging but fascinating area of research and exploration!

‘till next time!

June 10, 2018

Previous Week's Update Part B: New Research Design

I have now settled on a new research design. The philosophical and epistemological perspectives remain the same (ontological realist; epistemologically, presently, a mix of interpretivism and constructionism but this needs further elaboration) and the methodological approach is the same (qualitative, possibly moving onto mixed methods methodology though should the need arise). But I have changed methods from a qualitative grounded theory set of methods to a qualitative multi- modal approach that incorporates both thematic analysis and discourse analysis. As a side note, multi-modal is different to a mixed methods: multi-modal is the utalisation of different analytical methods set within the same methodological approach, which in this case of my research the methodological approach is qualitative. A mixed methods methodology would include both qualitative and quantitative analytical methods. The reason for this change, as has been mentioned in previous blog posts, is because the data characteristics that I became interested are, what I argue to be, difficult if not impossible for grounded theory to capture and integrate into a theory of the phenomenon of interest.

During the previous week I have been reading more papers about thematic analysis and discourse analysis that consists mostly of the philosophical and methodological approaches to these methods. This has helped me to understand the way in which they align with my philosophical position, which is important in various ways. Firstly, from the philosophical level, it goes without saying that the use, value, understanding and application of research methods are situated within our understanding of the world, whether we are conscious or unconscious of our philosophical perspectives, and whether or not we make this explicit or implicit. More fundamental than the methods level however is the data level: our philosophical perspectives of the world highly influences the way we value and perceive different types and sources of data upon which we apply the research methods. Secondly, from a methodological perspective, the multi-modal approach has to consist of analytical methods that are used in a way that are compatible with and complements each other; where, for example, findings from each method either support each other, or extend or build upon each other in some way.

I shall be using thematic analysis and discourse analysis together in a way that findings are built upon each other. I am working this out though, and continuing to fine tune their utalisation and compatibility the more I read the literature and understand their application within the context of my philosophical beliefs, the methodological orientation, the wider purpose and objectives of research, and the type and source of data. There is a substantial need, therefore, to ensure that thematic analysis and discourse analysis are combined in a way that not only advocates a sense of unity and extended construction of findings, but also in a way that is methodologically rigorous, valid, authentic and sound. This is a huge topic that I shall engage with to a significant and detailed level in the methodology chapter (talking thousands of words and page after page after page after page after page…….you get the idea!) of the thesis with discussions posted on this blog. However in the meantime it suffices to say that I shall be carrying out a thematic analysis first, then a discourse analysis. It might be an idea, actually, and as recommended by some authors, to verify the products and results of a thematic analysis with existing published literature before engaging with discourse analysis. Either way, what is intended with thematic analysis is the generation of different themes of the phenomenon of interest through coding the data. Following this (and possible verification with published relevant literature), discourse analysis shall be utalised to analyse the discourse within and around these identified themes, leading possibly to a deeper and more substantial understanding of the way in which different social objects are used in certain learning contexts and also the way in which objects can relate to each other.

A reason why this topic is complex and vast is in part because there are various types of thematic analysis and various types of discourse analysis, aligning with differing philosophical and theoretical perspectives (a bit like Grounded Theory and near enough any other method) and therefore differing in process of analysis with each version. This is why methodological compatibility is important; that the variation of thematic analysis and discourse analysis are methodological compatible and are methodologically sound and valid, in part determined by whether or not they can capture and analyse the data characteristics of most interest regarding the phenomenon of interest.

Before I even get to this stage however, the very first task that I shall be engaging with during the coming week, along with the continuing to elaborate on my philosophical and theoretical thoughts and approaches to the research design, is to check the work that I have done so far. Because various authors have suggest that thematic analysis is similar in approach to the open coding aspect of grounded theory (both approaches use an initial coding phase), I have to check that the codes that I have used whilst using grounded theory are compatible or are in whatever way suitable for thematic analysis. From what I can currently understand, the only real difference between thematic analysis and grounded theory is that thematic analysis’ intention is not to develop a full theory but can contribute towards theorisation as a beginning phase of a multi-modal qualitative project. Also, I have to check that the codes I have created can be formed into themes, which are, from what I can currently understand, conceptually different to Grounded Theory categories. At the moment I cannot imagine there being any substantial differences in the coding engines of thematic coding and the initial stage of open coding, or initial coding as other grounded theory writers call it, but obviously this needs further checking.

I am just scratching the surface here with this blog post! It’s going to be a very busy summer with data analysis and the rewriting and further construction of the methodological chapter(s). It’s going to be challenging but exciting, and it helps that I am feeling more confident and happier with my approach compared to grounded theory.

It’s a challenging task alone to work out your research design and the methods to use especially in qualitative, emergent based research. But the best thing you can do is continue to be guided by your data. My research design is data driven: I have come away from grounded theory and onto a combined approach of thematic analysis and discourse analysis exactly because of what I have been observing in the data and coming to know that grounded theory is not able to capture what I really want to explore in the data.

Keep going!

Previous Week's Update Part A: Thesis Writing

I have now switched for the time being from the literature review to the methodology chapter(s). Unsurprisingly, there shall be a substantial amount of editing and rewriting of existing chapter sections as they were written at a time I was using a pure grounded theory approach. I think it would be a mistake however to focus any allocated time frame on just a single thesis chapter because, in my opinion, the construction of a thesis is not a linear process particularly in qualitative research. There is fluidity in the intellectual movement across thesis chapters as they are being constructed and / or edited. As you are reading and writing for a particular chapter, ideas and thoughts relevant for earlier or later chapters might be revealed. Do not fight these happenings and occurrences: record them in whatever way is convenient at a particular time, even if it’s just a few words written down quickly on a piece of paper, so that you can follow up on your ideas at a later time. We all develop a strategy for doing this: for example, I write more extensive ideas down on paper before transferring them to the computer and extending and amending accordingly; any terms I want to explore further I simply type some key words into a search engine and save the results for future exploration. Whatever you do, do not dismiss or undermine any ideas that come to you, because during the Ph.D. so far I have found a lot of value in keeping ideas, documents, papers, word processed pages of previous ideas etc. as it was proven recently that lots of previous work has suddenly become quite relevant. Don’t dismiss or discount anything that comes to you!

The current methodological writing process at the moment is on paper instead of on the computer. I find this beneficial because with writing on paper sometimes I feel that I can explore my own ideas and play with my ideas better than I can on the computer. You could call this experimental writing of ideas, where try to carefully elaborate on my ideas and test according to what is suggested in the literature, and to think carefully about the way that literature supports my ideas. I obviously cannot write a thesis chapter on paper, but what I can do more effectively is to experiment with my writing and with my thoughts. I can also do this on the computer, but I feel that it’s best to start with on paper, but that’s just my preference! Opposition is welcome too, because if you engage with opposing views you can carefully construct a reasonable response that continues to support your views. As long as what you construct is logical and counters the opposing claims in a reasonable way with well grounded elaborations and explanations, supported where necessary and appropriate by relevant literature.

The topic of my current methodological writings is philosophy; more specifically, my ontological beliefs and the way that my ontological beliefs are shaping and guiding the utalisation and perspective of the newly assigned methods, as well as the way they are shaping my views of the type and source of data. Briefly, I consider myself an ontological realist (more moderate than staunched), which impacts, as mentioned, the way that I perceive the value of different types and sources of data, and explains the way in which research methods shall be utalised. Being a realist impacts what I perceive to be real, what I consider to be a more truthful or accurate representation of reality, and therefore the way in which different types and sources of data are to be engaged with in order to best understand this reality. These are the topics I have been writing about and obviously there is much more to think about and, therefore, this is an ongoing process. Obviously as time goes on these notes shall be extended and amended in various ways.

What I intend to do is write the methodological chapter as I go through the analysis process. At least, the sections that more closely relate to the utalisation of these research methods, as the methodology chapter(s) contain sections where you have to explain and critique your own understanding and utalisation of whatever research methodology and methods you use for your research. In the meantime however, I shall be working on elaborating on my philosophical beliefs and their relationship with the research method, and the source and type of data before progressing onto engaging with the first stage of analysis, which shall be reanalysing the data.

More on this in the next blog post!

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