All posts by Dylan Hirtler

Starks and Trinidad on Comparative Research

For our last week’s reading we checked out a comparative model between Grounded Theory, Phenomenology, and Discourse Analysis. This semester has gone in a direction I doubt any of us could have anticipated so it was nice to read this article, being able to pick up some threads from when we initially looked into these methods. But specifically the main purpose of this article, as stated by the authors, was to compare three different qualitative research methods as they were utilized for the case of health research. More specifically, though I will get more into this as the article does, health research into how physicians deal with decision making regarding prostate cancer screenings.

The article opens with an interesting diagram, detailing the similarities and differences between the three methods. The two important things to note about this diagram for me were its shape constituting more dissimilarities at the top and bottom, and a narrowing towards the center where the three methods became more closely resembling of each other. More or less, it gave it an interesting aesthetic. The other thing of interest for me in this diagram was the separation of the three methods with dotted instead of solid lines, depicting their “porous” boundaries as the authors state. Throughout this class it has become obvious that in using maybe some generalities, though here too some specifics, these methods, though they may not be interchangeable, may go hand-in-hand to really give a dynamic and full picture to a research question. At the very center of the diagram is the category of “Analytic Methods” in which the three methods are not even separated, and it expands outward to Sampling, Goals, History, etc.

There is then a short breakdown of each of the three methods. I enjoyed the inclusion of the Sokolowski quote to speak to Phenomenology which concluded with, “…They are not new information,but even if not new, they can still be important and illuminating, because we often are very confused about just such trivialities and necessities.” Similarly, and I am a sucker for a good quotation, the section itself concluded with Einstein’s remark on Relativity and despite being an article on the comparative qualities of research methods, I found myself smiling.

The Discourse Analysis introduction then followed. Discourse Analysis was labeled as having its roots in linguistic studies, literary criticisms, and semiotics. Its researcher utilize a careful study of language and as Gee attributes to it, the “seven ‘building tasks’ of language” to do achieve success with the method. The main idea, then, of the method is to see how language is affected by and itself alters cultural practices and norms.

Lastly, Grounded Theory was introduced. The article placed its roots in sociology, wherein the idea is that of meaning being derived through continual social interactions. Grounded Theory does not come into a research question with a theory in hand, but rather a question to which a theory emerges based solely, as much as possible, on the data collected for that research. Much like Discourse Analysis’s seven building tasks for language, Grounded Theory has “‘six C’s'” to help codify social processes to develop theories.

Once the three methods have been given brief, individual, introductions, Starks opens up the comparisons. This being an actual comparative study, the posing of the research into how physicians respond to a particular issue gave all of the conceptual nature of this article some solidity. The nature of the sampling choices between the three methods was initially discussed. Phenomenology, despite the potential for further and more broadly recognized data, chooses to suffice with up to only 10 participants. Discourse Analysis could use not only any particular sample size to fit the needs of the prompt, but also interestingly any particular sample population. As the article points out, it could be one person compared to multiple written sources, or it could be a large body of individuals. Of Grounded Theory, the sample size is entirely dependent on simply whether the study has concluded or not. Until GT’s data saturation has taken place in which the researcher can take nothing more from new subjects toward the research question, the number of participants will continue to increase.

The next section was Data Collection. The article’s actual discussion centered around doctors and patients, and utilized interviews with the doctors to fill out each research method. It stands to reason, then, that the mode for all three methods and largely that of qualitative research in general, is the interview. The difference is then in the approach to language. With DA, it is about parsing out the meaning of the words themselves and neither the interviewer or the interviewee are seen as being on the same page. With the other two it is about parsing out the experience, and understanding that the words speak for themselves. Further sections on Coding and Process were discussed.

Lastly, the authors tie the article together and convert the conceptual into the practical by comparing the methods against the physician-based research question. Each method’s section began with a qualifying factor to its approach. The phenomenological approach sought to contextualize the physician’s experience with something difficult and uncertain like prostate cancer screenings within the larger realm of doctor-patient relationship. Within Discourse Analysis the language between doctor and patient helped to clarify on a physician’s roles as they are constructed socially in those spaces. Lastly, Grounded Theory was used to create a theory based on these cancer screenings to determine what leads patients to discuss them with the doctors, as well as why. Although the purpose of the article is not to try to get any single researcher to approach the same research question three different ways, it does lay out how any gap in research up to that point may be filled with any of these three methods.

As someone coming from a comparative literature undergrad, I enjoyed this article. For one thing, as I mentioned previously, parts of this material came some time ago, and as I was interested in it then it was nice now to be reminded of some of the finer details. But more generally, I’ve always thought that through careful and intentional comparisons can we really better understand things. This is just one flushed out example, and I would not expect to find a nice selection of research methods practiced on a particular research question like this again, but having something like this at least allows one to see in what ways any question may be answered using different methods. The differences in approach, from what purpose they arose, who they choose to study and why, these are all things which honestly may differ, or they may not, as we saw how closely related these methods can be. Their proximity to each other in some areas and lack thereof in others does only serve to bolster my understanding and appreciation of these methods, as these were among some of my favorite of this semester.

Uniqueness vs. Similarity, Comments on Yu et al.

I thought this was a very interesting article. In some ways I tried to liken my various experiences with what was being discussed and with the data shown, as I’ve both taken online classes and have existed in many online communities in the past and do so now. I will admit that the density of findings and discussion on the results became a lot to take in, but I will attempt to give a reasonable description of the article nonetheless.

Yu begins in relating the purpose of the study, which is to attempt to place a preexisting psychological term, uniqueness-seeking, into the ways students interact within online course settings. Yu offers several terms which we see throughout the study, beginning with optimal distinctiveness, which is the most balanced state between uniqueness and similarity achievable for online participants. It is then how this uniqueness-seeking interacts with the discourse of an online course transpires which makes up the research here. If uniqueness-seeking is the conceptual basis for the research, it is computer-mediated discussion or CMD which makes up the mode of study for Yu. It is likely that most people understand inherently the properties of online discussion forums, but for consideration’s sake it is always helpful to explicitly consider them. As it is, those properties are the less formal language often used online, the lack of “extra-linguistic cues” found in face-to-face interactions, and the community fostered in those contexts. I find that last one particularly interesting to think about. One quality of the generation of a thing is how it does so in the face on any restrictions which may be put upon it. In considering that an online forum for academic discourse would be something created in the absence of some parts of what constitutes a typical interaction (tone, facial cues, physical community), CMD creates something unique.

Yu then discusses social identities and communities within the bounds of these discussion forums. Concepts like self-identity become important when there is more of a freedom to present yourself differently than you would necessarily be forced to face-to-face. This is to say that your identifying traits, your gender, ethnicity, etc., are optional parts of your online identity as opposed to necessary parts of your in-person identity (from others’ perceptions). What this affords is a different kind of what Short et al. calls social presence. Social presence being the importance derived from interpersonal interactions comes through in this setting more as a chosen level of participation rather than a compulsory one, as the setting is one of CMD.

The following section of the research goes more into the distinctions found in social identity, but also how those distinctions come together all the same. The two forces of “assimilation to and differentiation from others” make up social identity, according to M. Brewer. For Yu’s research, this point holds some significance. It is this very assimilation and differentiation which creates the trend of social uniqueness which will be spoken to later in the article. For now, social identity is more generally defined as being related to what level of personal affect is shown in online interactions and makes up a large part of enjoyment in the class as well as what is taken away by the student.

The method which Yu uses for this research is a case study. 13 graduate-level students were surveyed at the end of each class and their transcripts collected, as well as their having pre/post-course survey taken speaking to a perceived uniqueness scale. The specific method for the case study involved breaking down the group of participants into pairs, determined by similar levels of contribution to the discussion for class. The method of coding the data involved the construction of certain “moves” within the parameters of the research question. These moves were categorized as social, cognitive, and moderator. Further, social moves denoted instances wherein the participants related themselves as being real people and shared personal experiences, cognitive moves denoted instances of meaning constructed from interactions between participants, and moderator moves denoted instances of participants managing online experiences. All discussions were transcribed, and so the researchers formatted the data found in the transcriptions as “coherence graphs” which connected chronologically connected conversations the students had based on what messages related to each other topically.

The following section includes a quite lengthy, though perhaps thorough is a more fair way of putting it, description of the findings for each pair of students. I’ll admit that my effort reading through the findings and annotating them became a touch muddled after a certain point, but the final section of discussion and implications was clearer. What Yu indicates as to their findings is that there was a variety of uniqueness-seeking among the participants. Despite the variety, there existed a general trend of those different levels either remaining about the same throughout the semester or decreasing. Yu also states that cognitive moves were on average the most commonly seen codes found within the data. And as with any good research, a concluding openness to the findings and concerns for the research were offered. That the researchers can’t generalize findings with such a small grouping, some potential ESL restrictions, a high academic proficiency at the graduate level and how that may impact findings, unknown differences between people with prior understanding of material or none, that students in the study also met face-to-face in another class, these were all listed concerns.

As I mentioned initially about this article, I did enjoy it. I will say that for me at least, there was a certain density here which I think precluded my completely absorbing it all, but I believe discussing it in class will help with that. People having different personalities does of course affect the ways in which they interact typically, but how those interactions are further altered or how they are diminished in an online setting was something I enjoyed reading about. One potential contributor of how a student may take to online academics from where I’m coming from is comfort in online communities from the onset. The setting may be outside of the research, but how comfortable a student is in typical online discussion patterns may also change how they interact.

Ferenz and Social Network Impacts on Writing

Unfortunately in transitioning from annotating the notes for the reading and the writing of this blog for it, I needed to switch computers and cannot recover my Hypothesis notes. As such my looking back through the reading for points of discussion may be a little less in depth.

This article puts forth a few points centered around what it refers to as L1 and L2 writing, with L1 being native language and L2 being second language. The general focus of the study is how academic literacy of non-native English speaker may be affected through social networks. Academic literacy for this body of students is defined as “…[encompassing] knowledge of the linguistic, textual, social and cultural features of academic written discourse as well as knowledge of English as used by their academic disciplines” (Ferenz). The study was done using a body of graduate students from an Israeli university and conducted in the form of interviews and questionnaires.

One of the strengths of this research is, as they point out at the beginning of the rationale section, that the research is done based on an “interconnection” of theories. One of the most powerful moments for me of writing (or in this case for doing research) is synthesizing different sources into a unique document and idea. Here, one of these sources is a theory that the social environment influences social practices. It follows, then, that because the social environment of a school is academic in nature, that the general environment of these L2 students is an academic one. The study then described how it may be difficult for these students to thrive in the realm of academic literacy if, as is noted, there is an L1 to L2 translation in their minds when they are doing work. But the study goes on to comment on findings which speaks to that initial concern.

The second concept which Ferenz uses for the study is the idea that social networks, which is more specifically featured as a student’s “discourse community,” impact a student’s writing and academic ability as well as their socializing and “enculturation.” Ferenz goes on within that section to clarify that although people make their own choices based on self-actualization and individuality, they often seek social groupings to enhance and strengthen these beliefs in themselves and assist in solidifying their identity. Here as I was reading this is when I became particularly interested. I’ve always felt there is something of a give-and-take to a person’s identity in a given place based on where they are coming from as well as who they are with. But apropos of this theory, Ferenz postulates that some students do not socialize for their identities in settings which are analogous to the social settings which would help their academic literacies.

Working into the Methodologies section, the author specifies on procedures and concerns. Interviews were used because this study involves largely experiential-based data, so self-reporting is likely one of the best avenues for data collection. The author then clarifies that, as a qualitative study, the data and conclusion to the research question is not intended to be taken objectively. Six graduate students from an Israeli university from different departments were selected from previous studies done to participate in this research. The importance of selecting students of varied departments I believe is that, as the research eventually documents, there is found a variety of social environments the students choose to exist within, as well as different personal literacies which impact their speech and writing. Of six interviews for each participant, of which the lengths varied, two distinct segments occurred. In the first interview segment, general and personal questions were asked to allow the participants to clarify on where they believed they stood academically as well as socially. The second segment then focused on questions pertaining to academic literacy and norms within the different networks with which they engaged in school. The two settings which the study was concerned with were academic settings, relating to instructional mediums, academic contacts and literacies, etc., and social settings, relating to contacts and situations outside the academic. At the end of the Methodologies section, Ferenz again relates the theory that who people choose to socialize with, as it intrinsically relates to goals that person has and who they are, who also have an impact on that person’s sense of self, is a direct factor in what academic literacies that person likely has.

As a second language for these students, English seems to exist academically for them in different ways. There is a gradation of what extent to which readings and conversations are held in either English or Hebrew academically, which does impact L2 acquisition. For instance, one participant, Miriam, is a psychology student who cites how her readings are primarily in English. Her learning was facilitated largely in English, and she claims to retain her thinking in English for these times. Conversely, a student like Leah claims to translate from English to Hebrew when storing information. The study goes on to say that the social settings these students are in, both academic and social, lead them to utilize their friends and academic supports to more or less specific and rigorous academic means.

What this means is that different groups of people within social circles function differently for students in how they help with academic literacy. If academic supports like professors and academic advisors are a student’s primary means of discussing L2 material, as was the case with a few of the participants here, then higher-level academic discussions are typically had. Things like ideas, structure, and methods are the takeaways. In contrast, if peers are the participant’s primary social avenue for discussing L2 material, more basic topics are covered instead. But the study goes deeper into the reasons behind these social choices. For some of the participants, like David who is a computer science student, the choice of with whom he communicates is not random but based on both academic and professional considerations. This is one of the main takeaways of the research I believe, which is that some fields, and some students really, approach their social networks not only from where they exist as students but where they exist as students relative to their careers. Those like David who utilize social networks within their professional fields in tandem with their scholastic ones, as opposed to some whose singular social network is academic, have different methods of L2 acquisition.

As the study approaches its latter findings and conclusions, the takeaway from the research seems to focus on goals. Ferenz points out that “During the process of writing, it may be said that language use is dependent upon the language in which knowledge was acquired and mentally stored.” Much of the interview material centered around how the students in the study took in, stored, and recycled information, much of that even based on what language the students did all of that in primarily. This information was then further specified on in what goals the students set for themselves in their L2 acquisition as graduate students. What the conclusion of the Results section has to say ultimately is that if the student questions their L2 usage in the efficacy of their work, or translates L1 to L2 in their work, then their academic literacy may not be as substantive as the students who immediately integrate L2 into their material and do not translate native to secondary language. It is then for the environment of the university to promote a higher level of L2 acquisition through sustained, meaningful advising from staff, and the goal-driven mentality of the students to seek peer-to-peer discussion.

I did enjoy this reading, certainly. On my own time, my leisure readings sometimes center around what effect socializing has on one’s sense of self, and how one’s self likewise impacts others. If I believe that there is a mirroring of humanity in each other then it stands to reason that in specific ways this would be true. What goals we have for ourselves as they translate to whom we choose to socialize with, may necessarily create social-academic environments. If people we socialize with for the sake of bolstering our academic literacy are either in academic advisory roles or professional-personal ones, then what we glean from them will differ.

Improving my Proposal

I’ve had a bit of work to do catching up to where I feel I should be lately. It’s led to me scrutinizing what I think the good and the bad of my proposal is thus far so I can definitely offer some thoughts. I know it isn’t exactly what this blog needs to be talking about but I’m hopeful that my literature review is strong. If anything, it is too long per text. Delivering information pithily is not particularly my strong suit so in a general sense I imagine I could certainly work on this. I think the best way of tackling this is showing the proposal to someone for feedback, since I have a difficult time seeing my own writing from anyone else’s perspective than my own. This lends itself to my having a pretty intense sense of self in my writing but I fear it can make my work isolated from other people. Getting some feedback on the structure more than the content would probably help level me out a little, or maybe it would make me double down, it’s hard to say. But I actually also believe that reading other people’s work would be of benefit to me as well since it would allow me insight into where other people are coming from and how they are expressing the same things I am in their own way.

But to be more specific of what in the material of my proposal I feel needs work, it would be the methods. The problem I’m having is that I can generally assess the research I want to do, and I can assess literature on the subjects of mindfulness, reading, mindful education, mindful reading, different populations, statistical analyses of previous research, etc., but to make it my own research proposal seems challenging. That is to say, generating the research as it would be mine instead of someone else’s, while also using other people’s research to contextualize mine, is difficult. Figuring out exactly what the “gap in the research” is and coming up with the method of approaching filling that gap is tough. It feels like I’m approaching quantitative and qualitative research, since the prompt involves collecting numerical data and testimonials. I guess what I mean by all of this is turning my idea and my research into an actual research prompt complete with methodology and practical application is a connection I am struggling to make. In this, I also think investing in my classmates’ proposals would help, since it might give me an idea of what I could do.

A Commentary on Autoethnography

Here the reading I’ll be focusing in on is Ellis et. al’s Autoethnography: An Overview. I’ve felt a good vector has been run along in this class with the course of readings we’ve done, and more specifically with the ordering of these methodologies. It feels like every week the knowledge picked up from the previous weeks’ classes have given context into this field and allow for some modicum of an opinion on the standings of these methodologies relative to each other (of course with the understanding that one week’s worth of reading into them is practically negligible in the grand scheme of the field of research).

In any case, it has become something of a staple of my blogs in this class to allow for some part of my writing to be dedicated to where I believed the method would fit in at a glance when beginning the reading, and where it may fit in after the reading. We’ve dealt largely with qualitative methods, some of which I’ve felt more inclined towards than others, but it has given me this insight: I should not pass judgment on a method before giving its (introductory) research its fair dues, as well as carry out a conversation in class about it. That being said, autoethnography is one which I was very lukewarm on going into this week. It felt to me that this method in particular is one of the most singular research experiences that we have encountered thus far which, though it serves its own purpose, it did seem somewhat exclusive. This was only really because of the conflation of ethnography and autobiography, as the reading states. But let’s now see about the reading.

Ellis lays out the method as being “an approach to research and writing” (my own emphasis). I’ll return to this “and writing” point later but it speaks to an angle of autoethnography which I ended up feeling allowed for its personal nature. Beyond this, the definition continues with the method being describing and analyzing personal experience to better understand a different culture’s experience. Ellis concludes with it being “both process and product” – not unlike grounded theory, which is later mentioned. The specific term “grounded theory” is mentioned later, but the thread of this similarity continues for the paragraph as Ellis clarifies that autoethnography is a method which recognizes and integrates the “innumerable ways personal experience influences the research process,” as well as the subjective state of the researcher. And while this is true, there is still a demand for an analytic bend towards the research for, as Ellis quotes Mitch Allen in saying, “Otherwise [you’re] telling [your] story—and that’s nice—but people do that on Oprah.”

The writing team then breaks down autoethnography into its roots autobiography and ethnography. One of the interesting parts of this article was when Ellis likened the autobiographical process to a collection of “epiphanies.” I mention this mostly as an aside, because I rarely, if ever, read autobiographies, and though I suppose if I were probed for a definition of a style of the genre I may describe this, its being put this way assisted me in understanding autoethnographies. Ethnographies, Ellis then says, are research done to assist insiders as well as outsiders better understand a culture’s practices and experiences.

The next section focused on the “how” of autoethnography and is broken down into “showing and telling.” The showing aspect of autoethnography often involves dialogue to give insight into emotions and experiences. The telling, then, is when the researcher takes a step away from the narrative and informs the reader on particulars as well as to allow the reader some space for more “abstract” considerations of the research. One very interesting bit which Ellis included in this section was the consideration for second-person narrative in autoethnographies. As I mentioned in my annotation around this point, second-person is something I so rarely encounter that this method of research, for the sake of apparently including it sometimes, became immediately more appealing to me for the literature of it all. As a quick aside I will say that this is when things began to click more with this method. It had been described in the article previously which I did not specifically cover here, but certainly when discussing the uses of second-person to carry out the findings of a method of research it became obvious that autoethnography is a research-writing hybrid. It made the very personal emphasis of the research more understandable and easier to reconcile, and I dare say a bit more interesting as well.

The fourth section, headed as “potentials, issues, and criticisms,” begins with a lengthy breakdown of subcategories of autoethnography. Nine of them to be specific. Without quadrupling the length of my blog, I’ll suffice to quote Ellis on the advent of these multiple forms of the method as well as give a few thoughts on a few specific ones. Ellis says, “The forms of autoethnography differ in how much emphasis is placed on the study of others, the researcher’s self and interaction with others, traditional analysis, and the interview context, as well as on power relationships.” Now of my specific notes… Of Layered Accounts we see mention, as I alluded to earlier, of grounded theory. It is a sub-method which “emphasizes the procedural nature” of autoethnography. Sounds like grounded theory to me. It comprises a search for questions and comparisons rather than truth, as Ellis states. But its dissimilarity as I understand it from this section, is that its focus is broader than grounded theory; more communal, while then showing “emergent experiences” of said communities and cultures.

At this point in the reading, the writing group was discussing some of the cautionary tales associated with autoethnography, one of which is “relational ethics/concerns.” This is one of those points which, in a way seems somewhat obvious, but its “goes-without-saying” nature does create an atmosphere to be potentially overlooked. What I mean by this is that within this method, because it is based heavily on real-life accounts, there are necessarily implications. As Ellis describes, if you include someone in an account of something, and that event is negative, or that person’s participation negative in some way, that person is then held negatively in the minds of the readers. There is a responsibility then to protect the people involved in the research, but not to abstract the research in the process. If, as Ellis describes, you conceal or abstract people or even specific events for pseudonyms and “like-events,” you risk making relative your research.

Lastly for this section, I must comment on the usage of one of my favorite words: verisimilitude. Great word, but also a good point on the method: that the validity of the research is in its verisimilitude to the life experiences of the people reading about it. Since these are accounts as documented vis-à-vis the experience of the researcher, they need some likeness to other communities or groups of people. This put a lot of the method into place for me.

So now I feel between two points with how I feel about autoethnography. I can appreciate, as Ellis cautioned, that too often this method is dissented on by those in both the autobiographical and ethnographical fields as being a bit too unkempt for them, but I am still uncertain what research potential there is for the method. If anything, I do appreciate that writing, in one of the ways in which it best serves people, is employed here – that being to empower. There was an earlier section in the article about how writing gives a voice to those who have difficulties expressing themselves otherwise, and that there is often a personal evolution for the researchers in this method. But it also attempts to bridge the gap between art and science, which Ellis phrases as being “erroneous.” More subtly though, and perhaps most interestingly, it is not only the gap between art and science which this method seeks to bridge, but that of process and product (again not unlike grounded theory) which are merely “…’difference(s) to be lived with.'”

A Start to Discourse Analysis

The opening chapter to James Paul Gee’s offered mostly the context for discourse analysis and some basic terminologies. To not quickly before going into all of that, allow me to myself contextualize this research method as I have done so for the past few blogs. I was pretty new to discourse analysis leading up to the readings this week, and I can’t well say I’ve got much down about it. But it does interest me. The structure of language and the meaning of a phrase or a sentence beyond its utterance are both things which I have studies personally so I felt that this method may prove of value to me.

That said, let’s discuss a bit what was in Gee’s reading. As a final aside I must say I really do enjoy hypothesis. There wasn’t the ability to annotate specific phrases this time but I did create some page notes along with the reading and imagine I’ll be using it moving forward to further assist me in keeping things in mind. But I digress. Gee sets up the crux of his approach by introducing the three “particles” of language so to speak, saying, doing, and being. Saying is informing, doing is the action, and being is one’s identity. He then goes into what I imagine is both a suitably amusing example of this breakdown as well as apt. He describes some ways in which the swapping out of various particles of a sentence can drastically alter its real-world meaning. The one that stuck out for me was the way in which a doctor indicating that you “look tired” might be coming from a friend or a medical professional, in which cases the connotation differs.

Now, I must go back into personal asides here because to not do so would be a betrayal of my own writing this as a blog. In my other classes I have found that such hobbies and personal nexuses that I would not have thought would appear in academic contexts, have indeed been appearing. Here, for instance, Gee evokes Yu-Gi-Oh! and it did in fact bring me back to the early 2000’s for the duration. I found his discussing the finer points of trap cards and special summonings to be amusing since I have some recollection of those things (I played the game heavily in middle school). But I did understand and appreciate his point. I further appreciated the idea which he mentioned of how one could look up a word in a dictionary (“word” here interchangeable with a set of rules or even a recipe in a book) but just the definition alone will not serve to give you the real-life application of that word etc. There is more to the word than just its definition.

Gee likens Yu-Gi-Oh! to a “game” in the context of having rules which people choose to follow or not (understandably, as it is a game), but also segues this example into a broader scope by way of introducing the idea of “practices.” These practices are more generally the “games” we play in society – he cites things from business meetings to casual conversation – but that still have winners and losers and are the things by which language actually derives its meaning.

A few pages later, Gee offers a basic definition of discourse analysis: “Discourse analysis is the study of language-in-use.” Pretty simple! But of course its simplicity belies its depth of being I am sure. He opens up the branches of content vs. structural discourse analysis, being either the analysis mainly of the themes or issues discussed in the language used vs. the grammar and shaping of the use of the language relatively. He then gives another example of the way in which the “same” sentence can be utilized to different effect by portraying a sentiment on the good old hornworm either in a casual or an academic way. The point here is to show how the saying-doing-being of two sentences concerned essentially with the same thing can alter perception on the sentiment as well as who is uttering it and for what purpose.

Lastly I’ll note what I believe one of Gee’s main jumping-off points with discourse analysis is. Earlier in the section he mentioned politics. He was quick to identify that in the space of discourse analysis, politics were not the kind of politics that we would generally associate with the word. He identifies politics to be the idea that with language, everything is political. Language, in Gee’s mind, and in his research methodology, is power; and with that power there is the constant “threat” of denying someone in a real-world way. He later brings up that theory and practices are really one and the same, because there is no practice without theory. It seems that that stands apart, say, from grounded theory, but that’s just a random thought I had whilst reading through this. The point is, that because discourse analysis is based on the notion that language carries all the practices and theories inherently in its saying-doing-being, that as he puts it, “language has meaning only in and through social practices…”

So how did I feel about this? I am unsure, of both this method as well as my actual feelings about it. I do sometimes wonder about the “staying power” of the context of language. That is to say, I wrestle with the idea that we make our own context for language. If we make our own context, then it is not for anyone to really instill in their words a “doing” or a “being,” as those things immediately lose themselves in the context of Gee’s discourse analysis as soon as they are brought into the world. They would instead be the “doing” and “being” of the person reading or experiencing them in whatever way. But like I said, this is something I have been thinking about actively for some years, and am not entirely set on it. I read some postmodern literature, and this is a postmodern thought, but one which I have never been entirely comfortable with. At the very least, I will eagerly approach our discussion about this method as it may well help me understand how I feel about anyone’s personal power in using language, as well as language’s “personal” power as well.

A Response to Case Study Research

Unlike with grounded theory, I did at least come into this week’s readings with the belief that case studies of course have a significant roll to play in research methodology. What I can say, however, is that I had either the wrong impression of case studies or at best one which did not account for its depth. As a final forethought before I get into discussing Zucker, I found myself surprised at the philosophical depth that these studies get at, and would be interested in learning more about them.

Now then, the matter at hand of discussing the content of the reading. The first thing that was discussed was the plethora of definitions and connotations which case studies have. Zucker initially cites the definition of a case study as being about a “systematic inquiry… which aims to describe and explain the phenomenon of interest.” Well, that sounds just vague enough to be about right for many forms of research, but sure enough by the end of this reading it became apparent just how “systematic” the inquiry is. But Zucker does take a moment to relate to the reader how case studies in the education of research is not well-regarded and is also considered “neither quantitative or qualitative,” which I found particularly interesting. As I read these articles and book chapters I ask myself how the information I’m going through stacks up to my knowledge going into the readings as well as how I feel about them. Without jumping too much to the discussion part of my blog, I will say this: I thought case studies were more quantitative than they are. For what reason exactly I cannot say, but perhaps due to how intensive they are with regards to what I knew of the research done for them. But then when I read this comment it occurred to me that indeed, they are not particularly quantitative but encompass so much raw data that they also come off as not entirely qualitative.

But I digress. Or, not entirely I suppose, because Zucker does take time to shed light on an important point about case studies that I did not entirely consider but that does make sense. She refers to their potential as a means of doing philosophical and “didactic” research. Both of these things are interesting in the schema of research, as they can or do strictly refer to morality. It seems based on the reading even within the first few pages that case studies can be done with a moralistic purview. Interesting.

Zucker then goes into the various paradigms and study methods. She cites Yin, Stake, Guba, and Lincoln throughout the chapter. She mentions Yin’s five criteria: research question, propositions, unit(s) of analysis, how the data are linked to the question, and how the findings are interpreted. Stake describes case studies as being broken down into instrumental, intrinsic, and collective case studies. But Stake also acknowledges other types of studies as holding specific purposes as well. Guba and Lincoln, Zucker further cites, have case study types that they postulate, those being factual, interpretive, and evaluative. I think this is all to say that there’s a great deal which case studies can do, and so as with any field there are different people who do it differently.

One specific point I’d like to touch on was on page 5/17 in the section detailing a specific methodological guide. Under the “Analyze findings…” section, Yin includes “Write up the case from an emic perspective.” Never one to miss the opportunity to learn a new word, I searched up the meaning of “emic” and added the annotation “Emic, from within the culture, as opposed to etic, from without.” Methods like these, and those of a more qualitative bend, do seem to prioritize the experiential, which I like. They seem to specifically give credit to the relative cultural/personal experiences of the people involved as the subjects of the study. This is furthered when some paragraphs down, Zucker quotes Bromley as saying, “Various reports… have studied the individual as the unit of analysis… [to] develop rich and comprehensive understandings about people” (6). But to this end, as I alluded to before, it was clear by this point in the chapter just how extensive the basin of information in a case study can be. To point to another of my annotations, on page 7 Zucker states, “Thinking in metaphors, and creating simplistic models and thematic maps were essential activities in data management,” to which I responded, “Management is the key phrase here, and it’s no wonder when the expanse of data is so incredibly vast.” It was just a moment in the reading when I had to almost laugh, as you know you’re giving a lot over to data collection when an entire facet of the research method is how to better manage collecting and inscribing that data (more, it seems, than other methodologies).

Zucker then introduces the specific three stages of conducting a case study, those being Describing Experience, Describing Meaning, and Focus of the Analysis. My previously mentioned quote was part of Describing Experience, so allow me to jump straight to Describing Meaning, which itself was one of the most interesting parts in the reading for me. Zucker has “meaning” broken into three layers: micro (meaning of signs and symbols), mid (meaning of people, things and events in a person’s life), and macro (the meaning of life as a whole). These layers, though somewhat denoting abstractions of a system, are also sequenced. The micro is the beginning of the process of deriving meaning, the mid builds on that, and finally the macro is the culminating effect of meaning. I was particularly stricken by the inclusion of “the meaning of life as a whole” as a fundamental research point in regards at least to the particular study mentioned (the experience of CHD patients). Perhaps it should not have come as much of a surprise to me since this study involved the experiences of people with a potentially fatal disease, but I was really surprised to find this level of consideration to case studies. Further down, this point is given some context: “This level of analysis assisted in bringing together the notions of experience and meaning as seen within the context of life” (13). Seen within the context of life… Powerful stuff, honestly.

My personal feelings on this reading were that I did indeed enjoy reading it. A lot of these readings thus far have challenged my understanding of research. I suppose that’s only to be expected and honestly, it’s what I would hope for. Last week I found a lot of assistance from the article in helping me to answer my question of the purpose of grounded theory in research, and this week I was just totally caught off guard with the depth and scope of case studies. By way of some of the loftier considerations exemplified in this reading (i.e., the meaning of life to each individual “unit” in the study), I would be very interested in reading into some case studies – I’d just best prepare myself for the mountainous sum of data and meanings discussed.

Responding to a Basic Look at Grounded Theory

To start, I wasn’t sure how I felt about grounded theory going into these readings. I felt unconvinced that theories based solely on research done – without itself even being done with other research in mind – could provide much in the ways of solid research. But let’s first break down some of what was in the reading Grounded theory methodology.

The reading was largely introductory to the world of grounded theory. It involved a number of concepts and key terms to assist us in familiarizing ourselves with the method, and gradually introduced some of the finer points about the method and lastly concerns regarding it. The very basic principle of grounded theory is that the research question being brought up is typically one which is rooted in a social phenomenon and uses qualitative data to propose answers and theories regarding that question. To this end, categories are at first loosely given to bits of data, and are eventually strengthened when research continues or is concluded and the data are more intensely focused on. The reading indicates “key strategies” used by grounded theory researchers including constant comparative analysis, theoretical sampling, and theoretical coding. The reading makes quickly clear the distinction between content analysis and categorization in grounded theory as being the difference between categories which preexist (as is the case with content analysis) and categories which are generated (as is the case with grounded theory).

As grounded theory is mainly a qualitative form of research, methodological concerns have arisen. This is jumping around a bit, but from 1967 when the method was first brought up there were diverging paths that its practitioners took it on. But from the beginning the main concern was over the “coding paradigms” used to construct meaning from data. Coding paradigms in grounded theory are the ways in which questions are asked of the data gathered and the meaning taken from the answers derived. But these questions are split conceptually between axial and theoretical coding/codes. Axial coding looks at the processes and changes that occur within data over the expanse of the questions posed which derives it, but are focused on contexts provided by researchers for those processes and changes. This is contrasted by theoretical codes which are broad-based and apply to low-level categories, but which are based solely in the data and do not approach the results of experiments from without. This is all to say that what values and what contexts are felt by researchers to be relevant to the theories derived from data is a contention in the method itself. As was discussed throughout the reading, the quality of grounded theory as being free from prior engagement with other theories and research, as well as biases of those involved as it does not appear strictly from the research, has always been difficult to reign in.

The reading then goes a bit into the procedure of creating a research document for a study done using grounded theory. As the reading indicates, because grounded theory is itself rather qualitative, the report does not have to be as austere, we might say, as a report done using a quantitative method. If I could break from the deep dive into the article for a moment to opine on this specific point, I must say that it sounds quite alluring to be freer with how I could structure a grounded theory report.

But to quote a portion of the actual “Method” section of the breakdown of a grounded theory report, it “should also contain ethical considerations and, where appropriate, a discussion of reflexivity” (74). This term “reflexivity” becomes the hot button issue for grounded theory later on. If I understood the article correctly, this concept of reflexivity is that of openness of the researcher to acknowledge and reconcile for their own social aspect in the research. Reflexivity then, being an “ethical consideration,” was a poignant concept as I read this chapter and something I would like to discuss further.

The reading then brought up an interesting point. In a following section, that of the “Discussion” portion of an analysis of grounded theory research, the question of “Was our initial research question the right question to ask?” (75) was alluded to. This is a moment in the reading when I again found myself hitting on something I believe to be true of this method: this type of research seems to be a lot about orientation of direction towards the “right” answers and contributory to existing research or may oppose it, rather than to give concrete answers to those questions (this taken straight from my annotations). Grounded theory seems to concern itself with itself, which may seem either a strange thing to say or perhaps obvious given the self-generative nature of the method (or what is supposed to be self-generative), but this was a moment in which this became clearer to me.

As the introduction to terms and some examples began to run their courses, real theoretical discussion then began; and with the foreword I offered on the contentions some researchers had with regards to different codifications used in the research, we can now discuss it. In the section “Versions of grounded theory,” we see the major topic: “There are three major issues around which debates have evolved in grounded theory research, and around which the different approaches to grounded theory methodology have evolved. They concern the role of induction in grounded theory, discovery versus construction, and a focus on social processes versus individual experience” (76)(bold added by me). The “classical,” “structured,” and “constructivist” versions of the method which exist are results of those three bolded issues. The main differences between those versions, which occurred over time, are found largely in what allowances the researchers have in adding criteria, meaning, and research structure to grounded theory. If originally the method involved only an open-ended question which was researched and codified, and to which no particular attention was paid regarding researcher bias and experience, over time those codes and biases and experiences became factored in. But it led to the research becoming easily swapped out for phenomenological studies or attempts to have it relabeled as something else entirely.

But the main issue became this: that theories were not emergent, but rather that they were constructed. This is what the text refers to as “social constructionist” theory. And it is this shift towards what part is unintentionally played by the researcher that became the focal point of grounded theory in the years which followed it; what data shows is not what data is “saying for itself.” What the researcher is saying for the data is what is being exhibited, and because of this thought, a call for the reorienting of the process of the method was made. Ultimately, to pull once more from the reading, “From a social constructionist perspective, grounded theory does not capture social reality; instead, it is itself a social construction of reality” (80). Grounded theory seemed to largely always be based and most appropriately used to document and demonstrate generated theories in social contexts; in psychological ones even, as was discussed. But how then, truly, could things be without human social bias?

My discussion on the reading has been perhaps a bit lengthy. But I think the length of my discussion of what the reading said is at least in part a reflection of the interest which it generated for me. To return to my initial concern about how I felt about this method of research, I must say that although I am still uncertain about its place in the world of research methodology, I would not mind undertaking a study done in this manner because of this reading. It reminded me of some questions I have long held about human perspectives being intrinsically felt in everything we do, and how these perspectives are all but inescapable. Inescapable yes, but important nonetheless. What reality we derive from raw information is a human, individualistic one. Bits of information do not speak for themselves but are spoken for by people. I think that acknowledging where any single researcher is coming from, maybe not within the bounds of the actual research done, but in a general sense, is what can reconcile bias for this method of research. I’ll enjoy continuing to discuss grounded theory moving forward.

Response to Braaksma, et al.

This paper served to introduce concepts related to improving student writing through three individual studies. The method for said improvement primarily being tested here is “hypertext writing.” Hypertext writing as defined in the paper involves the construction of nodes of information based on links which comprise the actual hypertext function. What Braaksma et al. are proposing as is claimed at the beginning of the paper, is that writing in ways other than lists and sequenced narratives connected one by one is a “major problem” for young writers. This initial difficulty is paralleled by said group’s “lack of linguistic means,” meaning intra-textual connectivity, grammar, and punctuation. One of the arguments for hypertext writing given by Braaksma is that it is effectively generative with regards to one’s arguments, as contexts and content is created when drifting between nodes; this as opposed to a more traditional linear text which, the authors claim, serves more as an information dump and allows less for creativity. But there were many postulations on the efficacy of hypertext writing in a general sense, some of which I will elucidate on when I discuss my feelings towards the paper. As it is, the main focus of the paper beyond some of the technical terms and prefaces were the two studies.

The research question of the first study is introduced as such: “Is hypertext writing more effective than linear writing for students’ 1) content knowledge, 2) self-efficacy for writing and 3) text quality of linear essays, especially for learners who scored initially low on these respective variables?” In said study the distinguishing variables included the independent, being the lesson taught, and the dependent, being the linear-model student group and the hypertext-model student group, and their testing materials. The results of the study showed mainly this: that students with a lesser amount of content knowledge benefited more from hypertext writing than did students with more content knowledge, who did better with a linear format. Procedural changes existed between the first and second studies (pointed out in class as having been done at different times), but the main point being tested the second time around was the efficacy of observational learning by those who subsequently perform hypertext writing exercises. Three groups were created, one linear, two hypertext, with one hypertext group using traditional learning and the other using observational learning, in which they observed learning done by others to attempt to improve their own functional learning. The results? “…observing versus performance is not decisive.” Indeed, in both studies the researchers found that several of their initial expectations were proven false.

So what did I think of it? I was challenged, to say the least, but I actually really enjoyed it. Having no statistical-knowledge background, the large chunk of the paper dedicated to the finer points (though still basic in the world of statistics and research I have to believe) of the findings of the studies went a bit over my head. Looking into it in class helped, and the sections describing the findings were clear enough, but true enough I have a bit of work to do to improve my research literacy. As for some of the theoretical concepts, they were what kept my interest. I think one of my favorite things presented by the authors which got me really thinking was the bit describing the “constraints that create a production process.” The idea of hypertext writing as presented here is that it could assist in improving one’s ability to transform knowledge, rather than simply to display it in a linear format. One of my annotations was of a passage from this section whence I remarked “Creativity through constraints,” which has been a long-held belief of mine. I think there is a lot of interesting work that can be done researching the wonderfully creative results which arise from constraining, if not even difficult and sometimes hostile environments.

In a similar vein, a little ways down the paper, the authors indicate how “…new content… is generated as a side effect [of hypertext writing].” The context here was that the structure of nodes relating to the hypertext wellspring invites the positive side-effect of content being created between them. In my own writing, though I cannot say much of it has been hypertext in execution, I do find myself referencing multiple sources as I go, and upon revisions of my work I find myself forming new thoughts in synthesizing different “nodes” of my paragraphs and research. It is a truly exciting and inspiring thing to plant the seeds of ideas by tying together paragraphs or individual ideas and come out with something new. I was somewhat sorry to see that their research did not turn out the way they had envisioned, but if it did anything it was give me insight into something interesting which I will further contemplate.