Friday, February 27, 2009

Week 8: Ethnographic Studies

Lauer & Asher:

Q1: In contrast with case studies, ethnographies observe many areas of their subjects, looking at the entire environment over long periods of time in order to identify, define and interrelate variables in context.
Q2: Triangulation impacts data collection and analysis because it involves a multiplicity of observations, including identifying & defining the whole environment they plan to study, planning ways of varying their observations, mapping setting, selecting observers & developing a relationship with them, and establishing a long period of investigation. And then, because this method involves a variety of techniques, it contributes to challenges in coding from a variety of sources for data analysis.
Q3: Validity comes for a "continual reciprocity between developing hypotheses about the nature and patterns of the environment under study and in regrounding of these hypotheses in repeated observation, further interviews, and the search for disconfirming evidence" (40). In order to ensure that data analysis is reliable, there must be "reliability among coders and the testing of schemas in new environments" (43). Beaufort states that it is not possible to measure reliability in ethnography (194). Researchers must also consider the common problems of interpreting qualitative data, as per Sadler (data overload, first impressions, confidence in judgment, etc...). Researchers must also contend with whether the data will be replicable and stable over time.

Q1: In keeping with observing the entire environment over a long period of time, D&F focused on a year-long process of collaboration among a group of computer software company executives (Microware, Inc. @ NSU) during the writing process of a vital company document.
Q2: The multiplity of observations of triangulation in this study included participant/observations, open-ended interviews, and discourse-based interviews (he also used field notes and tape-recorded meetings). Data collection came from 3 to 5 days a week of visits to the company for eight months. The data was analyzed chronologically using analytical categories, which linked to major themes.
Q3: Anderson ensured his research, which yielded results that were of a particular case, and "as such can be generalized only very tentatively" were valid by comparing his results with "the results of research cited at the outset of this report" (183). He also mentioned that there had been little research into the relationships between writing and the evolution of an organization. Although I did not find any evidence of how he coded all of these interviews, it appears that he concluded his research was valid because it met the same standards of the research he quoted.

Q1: Here the writer focuses on a segment of the ethnography of writing in a workplace setting (a medium non-profit agency, the Job Resources Center, with 50 employees, 300 students and an annual budget of $3 million) by showing how the goals of a discourse community connect to writers' roles and the socialization process for writers new to a community (in this case, Pam and Ursula). It examines this "window of culture" over a long period of time (for one year) (L&A 40). The data she reports is drawn from a larger ethnography of writing in a nonprofit center and reveals the socialization process of two writers new to the organization (187).
Q2: The triangulation impacts data collection and analysis because of the sheer volume of data that is collected and the coding from a variety of sources. Here she looked at field notes, interview transcripts, writing samples and social roles within JRC. She collected data weekly, observed client programs and the full range of activities at the agency, she interviewed the executive directors, interviewed each woman weekly, audiotaped conversations and photocopied all of the writing.
Q3: She uses the data to offer "a view of an informal process of acquisition of writing skills among college graduates who were learning new genres and the norms of discourse" and from this data she speculates on potential implications for managers with workplace communications responsibilities and for educators charged with writing curriculum and staff development programs (191). Using the areas of triangulation mentioned in Q2, she assured validity by "comparing different data sources to one another, compared different responses of the informants over time, and solicited the informants' responses to drafts of the research reports (194). She states that an N of 4 is not sufficient for generalizing from the data, nor is it possible for ethnography to measure reliability, but the findings were still rigorous and systematic.

Q1: This ethnography seeks to understand the standardization processes involved in the writing done (the Building Project) by a class of 7th grade students in Crayton, a city of 1 million, during an 8-week project. It became a political project, though not by design, as the survey results "must have caused concern." Apparently, after the school board voted to close the school, the survey of the Sanders community revealed that parents, students and staff of SMS did not want a new school.
Q2: Acting as a participant observer in a classroom, the author collected audiotaped classroom and group discussions, student writing, field notes, and texts, including a history booklet, a neighborhood planning book , two videos and census data. She examined the exchange of ideas to see how standardization as a process of production, consumption and distribution played into students' writings.
Q3: Validity comes for a "continual reciprocity between developing hypotheses about the nature and patterns of the environment under study and in regrounding of these hypotheses in repeated observation, further interviews, and the search for disconfirming evidence" (40). Sheehy hypothesized that standardized testing is dominated by testing rhetoric, and is a "play of power that can be charted both in the act of writing and in written forms' effects" (334). At the end of her study, she concluded that standardizing "forced involved direct teaching, genre memory, and several strategies employed to bring cohesion and unity to diverse ideas" (333). The findings of this research are "influenced by a major limitation of the research design, a limitation which Grossberg (1992) cautioned can happen with analyses of power" (366). As research becomes more abstract, it moves away from observable data to how power operates at the concrete level. She found she could not draw many connections to more abstract data as it was focused on the specific contexts of the Building Project. She could not make connections between the visible context and the history of the essay in schools, and her data, "as framed, had only one teaching connection to it: Audrie's relationship to the school board" (366). She was, however, able to demonstrate the contexts the 7th graders demonstrated in recontextualizing via "emotional appeal, veiling contradiction, and intertextual and interdiscursive alliances" (366). She concludes that her research is valid in the sense that it did shed light on the tensions of "centrifugal and centripetal forces in students' writings" (368).

Q1: Using autoethnography of her own experience on a plane headed to the Dulles Airport on 9/11, Ellis shows that everyday stories merit telling from those not directly involved in the attacks. She uses this story (her "chaos narrative" to find personal and collective meaning in this tragedy (377). Her goal is to have others put their stories into words and "compare your experience to mine, and find companionship for your sorrow" (378). A case study, in contrast, would closely examine subjects in a natural setting and would use content analysis to develop and quantify variables in communication data (L&A 31).
Q2: The only triangulation in this tale appears to come from the multiple stories that intersect around the experience of 9/11. Her aim is understanding, which "offers the possibility of turning something chaotic into something potentially meaningful." She wishes to heal personally and collectively through personal narrative: "As a qualitative methodologist and civic-minded person, I feel a calling to bring personal stories to cultural situations. I offer this approach as a way to understand and heal ourselves and the nation" (401).
Q3: This researcher does not attempt, other than seeking legitimate 9/11 stories, to determine whether the stories are reliable and valid.

Q1: Using the analytic ethnographic paradigm, Anderson seeks to "clarify an approach to autoethnography that is consistent with traditional symbolic interactionist epistemological assumptions and goals, rather than reject them" (378). Here he identifies 5 key features of analytic autoethnography, and draws upon several realist ethnographic texts (for example, Robert Murphy's The Body Silent, which is an "illness ethnography," and unlike a case study, features a sustained focus on this tradition) that exemplify these impulses, and lastly, he draws upon several examples from recreational skydivers from his own research.
Q2: In keeping with the triangulation aspect of ethnographies, Anderson mentions that the "autoethnographer...must also record events and conversations, at times making fieldwork 'near[ly] schizophrenic in its frenzied multiple focus'(380). He mentions that while skydivers prepare for a jump by mentally rehearsing the jump, conducting checks on gear, and joking with other jumpers, he uses the time to consciously observe and etch conversations. He accommodates the problem of "multiple foci" by alternating simpler jumps where he can be more attentive, with fully jump-focused rides (380). He also mentions that such multitasking creates "potential pitfalls, exacerbating certain problems endemic to field research" (389).
Q3: The limitations of analytic autoethnography include that most researchers do not find research interests that are deeply intertwined with their personal lives, as "autoethnography requires" (390). This research is apparently undergirded by a "quest for self-understanding" and an opportunity to explore aspects of the researcher's social life in a "deeper and more sustained manner" (390). He mentions that the methodological advantage "relate to the ways in which being a CMR facilitates the availability of data" (389). Although Anderson mentions little specifics on how validity and reliability were instituted in the studies he summarizes, he does state that "the ethnographic imperative calls for dialogue with 'data' or 'others.' He also mentions David Karp, in Speaking of Sadness, as he was "always disciplined by the data collected in in-depth interviews" (386). Specifics, however, were not given.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Week 7: Sampling & Surveys

Appropriate Purposes for Surveys
Surveys can appropriately be used to make large descriptive tasks possible with a minimum of cost and effort. (Sampling surveys describe a large group (population) in terms of a sample (smaller part of group). It concentrates on a few variables of small groups, which can be representative of a larger group.) It allows researchers to obtain readily observed or recalled behavior, and can be related to several major demographic characteristics. It helps reduce large populations to a manageable size because of sampling procedures and provides a valuable means of obtaining representative descriptive information (not cause/effect).

Surveys make the research effort more reasonable. Researchers should look into the question of feasibility (# of units) from which they can collect good data and also adequately analyze it.

Subject Selection
The simplest and best strategy for subject selection is random selection, in which the number of the population selected for study is put into alphabetical order, and then selected randomly by hand (long and involved), or ideally by calculator or computer (using a random number function). Data is collected using questionnaires (scored, and open ended questions). Other types of sampling include systematic random sampling (useful when the population to be studied is already organized in a sequence in the data); quota sampling (helpful when a researcher knows the % of specific features of the population); stratified samples (when some parts of the population are of more immediate interest); cluster samples (when the researcher wishes to study individual units within a large population. This type of sampling should be avoided unless the researcher is using or is a strong statistician).

Collecting and Analyzing Data
Questionnaires (scored and open ended questions) and surveys can be used. Prime consideration should be given to the capability of eliciting a high response rate. Response rates are part of analyzing data, and depend on following sampling size, and paying attention to the nonresponse to questionnaires (remember to chase the data - make phone calls, and try to make two or three attempts to obtain the data). 3 types of data can be collected in a survey: nominal (simple counting/#'s and %'s); interval (usually comes from test scores w/large #'s of items); rank (subjects placed in hierarchical order, which is assumed to be equal order) (p.70-74 L&A).

Possible Generalizations
This is descriptive research, so one must be careful drawing conclusions from the results, as it is often difficult to make cause/effect statements. These generalizations should be made only to the population from which the sample was drawn (p.78 L&A).

(Material taken from Lauer & Asher)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Week 6: Case Studies

At the very heart of a descriptive study is the observation of an environment or analysis of data without affecting the nature of the situation under scrutiny. So we can analyze using surveys, ethnographies, case studies, prediction studies, etc..., all of which are qualitative descriptive studies. The strength of this study comes from the observance of a specific situation with clearly defined variables, and of course the weakness of this type of study comes from analysis that can not be replicated because, for example, it may lack explicit instructions, or from coders who do not agree beforehand on the importance of category development, or from researchers who do not question the theoretical assumptions underlying their research, all of which weakens the significance of the findings.

The purpose of case studies is to identify important aspects or variables in natural conditions through the study of individuals, small groups, or whole environments. It is not cause and effect, but rather allows researchers to form theories and hypothesis from observing a small number of subjects in the natural environment. Subjects can be selected, for example from the classroom of a researcher, of from the interviews of researchers. In Lauer & Asher, Emig chose 8 subjects from various types of schools, and Graves selected 8 students from a larger study. In keeping with the small nature of these studies, Deborah Brandt interviewed over eighty people born between 1895 and 1985 and then chose two subjects born sixty-eight years apart to study - both of whom had striking parallels in their lives.

The data is collected a variety of ways, including letters, speeches, TV shows, essays, etc. Emig, for example, collected conversations, tape recordings of students composing aloud, accounts of processes, discrete observations of composing, writing samples, and school records (L&A 26). Graves used folders (these contained tests of intelligence and reading, assigned and unassigned writing, study records and observances of the student both in and out of school) and observations of 53 writing episodes, in addition to interviews. Overall, the researcher of this type of study uses the data to seek out patterns and identify operationally definable variables, and then asks how they relate to one another (L&A 27).

A major aspect of case study analysis is content analysis (which includes coding, or the setting up and labeling of categories and variables). Content analysis, according to Lauer & Asher, is a "major measurement procedure" that allows researchers to substantiate that materials and observations are ultimately quantifiable (27). Here communication data is analyzed, patterns are noticed, and variables are identified. The kinds of generalizations possible include extensive descriptive accounts. These studies should optimally "relate their findings to the research of others," thus increasing their ability to generalize about their study (L&A 33), and as with Graves, furnish questions for subsequent research, which is an approriate and valuable feature of qualitative study. Deborah Brandt notes that her aim is to "extract from their experience lessons that can be applied to literacy learning in other economic configurations - not in order to predict particular outcomes, but to understand better the struggles that economic transformations bring to the pursuit of literacy" (377). So, in essence, she notes that her study is not a cause and effect, but rather an observation that allows a hypothesis that can create further understanding.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Week 5: Internet Research/Ethics

One obvious issue with internet research and its impact upon human subjects is that there is little anonymity. Once information is entered on a computer, it is a permanent feature of the memory banks and only needs a skilled computer hacker to find it, and the same can be said of internet storage and the myth of anonymity for research subjects. The memory banks are endless and long-lasting. Curtis might like to know, for example, that when I researched CITI, his blog entry was listed 4th on the Google list. It is uncomfortable when one realizes that the internet helps us retrieve information but also takes away our privacy.

I have to laugh at the notion that CITI has created a site to train us in the ethics of working with human subjects. Really? A computer training site that teaches ethics? If Aristotle had known computers were coming, he could have taken a vacation instead of writing the Nic Ethics. I understand that its objective is to guide researchers in what is and isn't permissible, but we all know that the ones willing to listen are the ones that probably aren't going to be the problem. I'm worried about the guys out there who took the CITI training and are secretly attempting to clone humans, or the ones who are out in the open and checking on how genetic mutations of seeds affects humans, or the ones who are cloning animal parts to be used in humans. There is no way that CITI can train scientists to stop hurting mankind, as science has never acknowledged an existence of the soul (indeed, couldn't find it or measure it or statistically calibrate it). I'm not anti-science, but we sure do spend a great deal of time cleaning up the mess of the crazy ones, and I'm not sure that we can turn ourselves around from the worst bits (nuclear weapons, manipulating crops and animals without long-term investigation of the consequences, pollution from plastics, coal refineries, and the list is endless). So I'll take the training, but at the end of the day, if this is all we've got, why bother?