TQ2014 – Blog Entry #1
Written By: Christina Grant
Christina Grant is a U of A instructor who will begin her PhD studies in Secondary Education under supervisor Dr. Olenka Bilash in fall, 2014. A longtime journalist, she is keen to start her mixed methods longitudinal dissertation project exploring writing studies knowledge transfer in ESL learners who take WRS 101—Exploring Writing, a U of A course unique in Canada. Each night for the next five days, Christina will post a blog entry that captures snippets of thoughts and ideas from the Thinking Qualitatively (TQ) Workshop Series..
As I settle into my chair, I get a sense of the United Nations; around me are people from France, China, the Unites States, Brazil, Jamaica, Saudi Arabia, and beyond. The room buzzes with anticipation.
Opening speaker, IIQM Advisory Board Chair and researcher, Dr. Alex Clark, snappily dressed in a suit and grey, red-tipped tie, addresses the packed room: “TQ is vibrant, friendly, and sustaining,” he says, and he thanks organizers Bailey Sousa, Yvette McWatt, and Denise Giles for their “scholarly gift to us” in organizing the 14th annual event. Then he wins us all over by declaring, “you are the smartest people in the room” who will no doubt create “research that is crucial, pivotal, and urgent” and will “make the world a better place.”
Thus opens a week of sessions that attracted me—a neophyte researcher—
and others from a huge range of fields and places to discover, or learn more about, everything from case studies, interviewing, and managing data to getting scholarly articles published. A session on phenomenography especially caught my eye— since it’s in my field of Education. However, there’s something here for everyone. I can feel a heavy week of brain work ahead.
After his opening address, Alex passes the podium to Dr. Maria Mayan, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Extension, for her full day workshop called “Introduction to Qualitative Methods.” I discover the meaning behind terms such as ontology, epistemology, grounded theory, coding, theoretical sampling, ethnography, phenomenology, and of course, exactly what qualitative enquiry is (understanding naturally occurring phenomena in their naturally occurring states)and why it’s so tricky—and fun—to do. I’m getting more hooked by the moment as I finally grasp these concepts, which before today were shrouded in mystery.
After hours of lively discussion, hand-on exercises, and breaks for food and drink, Maria says her final remarks: “What’s really important at theend of day is to know you are doing good science. There is our proposal and then what actually happens; we may have to change a whole bunch, but that is the pleasure and pain of qualitative research—working with people, hearing what they feel is important to tell you. Be flexible, be creative, and enjoy your data.”
Everyone claps, and people close their laptops, toss used pop cans into the recycling bins, and file out the door.
“I’m tired,” sighs psychology professor Sherri Pataki of Westminster College in Pennsylvania. “But it was fantastic. I don’t have any background in qualitative research and this was a great starting point. It helped clarify all these words I’ve been hearing.” Greg Williams of Fielding Graduate University in California said he was “glad to get some different perspectives” on things he’s been working on. U of A Masters nursing student Chioma Aribeana said the avalanche of information left her feeling overwhelmed. “I’m struggling to get a handle on what I’m doing,” she said, but she was hopeful the fog would clear by week’s end. Farzana Haq of Queens University, on the other hand, experienced an epiphany: “Now I know what method I want to use for my qualitative study!” she exclaimed, “Exploratory or Descriptive qualitative research.” Her work will examine “to what extent children in school perceive hunger as food insecurity,” and after Maria’s talk felt she’d found a methodological match—at least for now. She’s staying open, she said, to further ideas.
Relaxing after her session, Maria said the range of responses was expected, noting the challenge of delivering an introductory qualitative methods workshop to 64 people from all over the world and at every level of research expertise—each of whom “might have a different idea of ‘introductory.’” It was natural, she said, that beginners like Chioma and I would feel—after an intense first day—like we’d been dunked into a deep pool of new ideas without quite knowing how swim. “That’s okay,” she empathized, citing a relevant truism: “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.” Our challenge over the coming days, weeks, and months, she added, would be to make our new knowledge our own, to tailor it to our “projects, passions, values, pragmatics, and PhD supervisors.”
For her part, Farzana shared a workshop tip for tonight and the end of each day this week: “When you learn so many things in a day, it’s good to reflect on what you learned, exactly, that applies to your own work. If you can’t, then there’s a gap in knowledge translation.” After all, she concluded, “learning should be for a purpose.” Good advice! I’m going to do that after a long, hot shower and a quiet walk around the block in Edmonton’s almost-summer-solstice long evening sunshine. But already I can’t wait to get back at it tomorrow.