Virtuosity 11.11

Where words become worlds…

Archive for the category “research”

Week 11 Thesis Countdown

Last week, I’ve interviewed over ten community members from my research site! Although I may need to do a few more interviews, this week is dedicated to writing the methods chapter of my thesis, parts of my findings chapter, and the theoretic analysis of my interviews.

The process of analyzing interviews can be rather slow. First, I contact people to see if they are interested in interviewing with me — these have been people who have offered to interview, or they are people who indicated on my learning survey that they’d be willing to interview. In order to select people, I do what is called purposeful sampling. In other words, I find people whose particular experiences (or lack of experiences) can help me understand particular questions that I have about the model I am developing.

Unlike research that we are used to (such as the physical sciences), qualitative research is about understanding how people define things on their own terms. Thus, even a simple term like “learning” may mean different things to different people. My interviews are to get at what people come to understand as “learning,” and how they learn at the Builder’s Brewery.

Once I’ve contacted people, and they have given me consent to interview them, I conduct a 1.5-2 hour interview. To help prepare my interviewees, I give my interviewees example questions ahead of time so that they know the things that I’ll be asking about. These interviews are recorded, while I’m also taking down notes about what they say. Afterward, I go back to the recording and transcribe the interview, so that I can pay attention to the exact words that participants use. These words and terms make-up the skeleton for my model.

Once I have the transcript and my notes, I code them. What this means is that I break up the interview into blocks, where each block signifies some code, or refers to a certain experience. I may have to go through transcriptions several times like this, because each time I go through a transcription, I may see different things.

Afterward, I put all my interviews side-by-side, and look for overarching themes and commonalities as well as differences. These get recorded, too, as thematic codes. This is what goes into my learning model.

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Summarize your articles

book-1091628_640.jpgI use a variety of things to keep track of what I read. Some things are more effective than others. One thing that I found VERY effective, however, was always summarizing my papers in one paragraph. I even have a template that I created (and you can download it blow) for journal article summaries.

The most inefficient use of your time is to read an article in detail, then forget where you put the information, forcing you to read the article yet again (not saying re-reading is a bad thing, but it’s bad when you’ve got to repeat your work). So, make sure when you’re done reading, that you’ve put what you’ve learned into a system that makes it searchable. There’s a variety of ways to do this, but find your flow!

As for the template, here’s a guide to start:

  1. Read the abstract and intro and discussion. Depending on why you are reading the article, this may be all you need.
  2. Skim the rest.
  3. Write a one-paragraph (yep, just one) summary of what the article was about. Be sure to include (along with the page number):
    • The research question
    • What they did, and to whom
    • How they did it
    • What they found
    • What they concluded

If you’re reading a particularly seminal piece of work, summarize each section and highlight important quotes –  don’t forget to list the page numbers you’ve found them! Mendeley has a nifty annotation feature in their program. However, I still use my word template for important studies.

Happy Researching!

Journal Summary Template

Search literature efficiently

There is no such thing as, “never been done before.” Humankind as written about every subject, and it is the job of the grad student to find out the extent to what we know, and push just a little further.

You can get so easily lost in the forests of knowledge that within a matter of minutes, you’ve compiled enough reading material to last for weeks. It’s not humanly possible to get though it all. Yet, it feels expected of us.

Today, I offer a breadcrumb trail to lead you to the cottage in the woods (we all know the story, but even though we know, we must follow, anyways, don’t we?). When looking for literature:

  1. If you are having trouble finding articles, look at the key words below the abstracts of papers, and in the titles of works cited in the references. Ask your advisor and fellow grad students for suggestions on a few papers to get you started.
  2. When you find the “magic words,” your search will change from being pithy to incredibly overwhelming. That means you’re on the right track!
  3. Look at number of citations, dates, and abstracts. If you know nothing about your subject:
    • Pick the papers with the most citations to start on first. Usually these will be older, yet key papers in your field. Use the abstracts to help guide you to what’s relevant.
    • Next, go by the recent (in the past year or two) papers. Skim abstracts. Usually they will tell you what’s hot/new/developing in the field.
  4. As quickly as possible, bracket your search. This can be difficult if you’re still learning about the field. However, the faster and more definitely you can define what you are looking for, the easier it will be to look for only papers that pertain to you.
  5. Avoid jumping down rabbit holes. This is coming from someone that spent a year in critical discourse analysis before switching to a year reading about online learning. Still, if I were talking to less experienced me, I’d tell her: STICK TO YOUR BOUNDARIES. It can be hard to do! Save interesting articles to read later, when you have time (HA! We never have enough time!)
  6. Prioritize what you will read first. Start with broad, theoretical papers to get a feel for the field. Then go to the narrow, empirical studies, ordered by most relevant to your topic.

By the way… it is normal to feel completely overwhelmed and lost. It is part of the cycle of being a grad student (think of a roller coaster). Get yourself “unlost” as quickly as you can, but understand that even when they are calling you DOCTOR, you’re going to have moments where you’re going to feel lost. That’s how we grow.

Happy Researching!

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