TQ2014 Blog Entry #3
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 TQ workshop.
Wednesday, June 18: Good Vibes and Phenomonography
It’s midway into the TQ Workshop Series and it feels like a good time to check in with some others about what they’re getting out of the sessions. I gaze around the room set aside for eating lunch at clusters of people chatting animatedly; friendships are forming and former workshoppers are catching up.
“It’s fantastic!” exclaims Deena Arthur, an MA in Gerontology at the University of Regina. A member of her committee urged her to attend TQ to inform her research into how women aged 60-75 remember going through menopause and how it impacted their lives “through a retrospective” viewpoint. “I needed to check out my methods,” she said as she gathered her things to head back to her all-day session on Advanced Grounded Theory with Karin Olson. “Through personal reading I became attuned to some conflicts in grounded theory, and I wanted to clarify some theoretical approaches and gain some practical, skills-based knowledge.” She said her sessions so far had given her that and more. She loved the fact that she was working with her own data in today’s session, and declared that she’d already gotten what she came for: “Everything feels much clearer.”
Katherine Hay, a 15-year practicing clinician in community mental health and addiction is doing a post professional Masters degree in the department of Occupational Therapy at the U of A. Like Deena, she too extolled the benefits of the TQ experience: “I came because I think the population I work with has very rarely had their experiences valued. There’s a ‘we know what’s best for you’ approach,” she says, adding that if a particular program isn’t working for a client, he or she might be told, “it’s because you’re not taking your medication” or other such reason. “But there’s a shift coming,” she says. “I’m reading papers where their views are valued and respected. It makes me want to do something like that.” Katherine says qualitative research is the portent of the future in her field: “I think that to understand their experiences—such as the diagnosis of schizophrenia— from their perspectives, will change our health care system.” But she added that research based on talking with people instead of counting numbers can be a hard sell: “Everybody wants you to quantify and measure. They ask me, ‘what scale are you going to use?’ I don’t want to use a scale!” Sweeping her arm in the direction of the workshop sessions and milling TQ participants, she quipped, I’m sure I don’t want to do that, now!”
Buoyed by all that enthusiasm, I headed to my own afternoon session called “Introduction to Phenomenography” with Marguerite Koole, Kari Rasmussen, and Jane Costello. I had picked it out of a sense of adventure; I had no idea what it was—and I was not alone. In the round-the-table introductions, most people said they’d felt equally curious and intrigued. Phenomenography, we learned, originated in Sweden and is well known in the U.K., especially in education.
Kari wrote a definition on the board: “The geography of experience of a collective relative to a phenomena.”That means, in a nutshell, a study that instead of trying to answer a reductivist question such as “what is the experience of a person with post traumatic stress disorder?’ instead goes for the “more granulated” answers behind this question: ‘What are the experiences of people with PTSD’? See the difference? Most of us finally got it about one-third the way in after a lively smattering of phenomenographical stories, exercises, and examples.
“We are really trying to capture the perspectives of other people,” says Kari. “We ask ‘What about YOUR perspectives?’” and they just listen. She says the phenomenography approach is underpinned by a “dualist” philosophical belief which holds to truths such as: “love can’t be there without loving something. They are not separate things.”
A researcher using this method typically does interviews with about 20 people and captures all responses using open, not leading questions and without privileging one experience over another. Neither does he or she try to find the ‘root’ or commonality of the experience. Rather, the researcher uses quotations heavily to support the findings that people experience a range of things, not one or a few things, given the same experience.
Kari gave an example of a study which explored why some students ‘succeeded’ and others did not within the same school program. The method allowed them to delve into the complexity of the issue rather than figure out (if it’s even possible) the general reasons behind it.
Notes Marguerite, “we’re looking for relationships of multiple experiences.” That is, researchers carefully record what people say and then sort the findings into categories, and report on that without interpretation or deduction. The method also encourages researchers to make their own biases overt and to reflect and even insert themselves into the study in acknowledgement of their inevitable dynamic role in the act of conducting the research. “I had to learn my own voice,” she says.
Another great, mind-expanding qualitative research day at TQ.