Posted in Data analysis

Experiments with data analysis

Ed chat data visualisation using Gephi
Ed chat data visualisation using Gephi

In the Edx Research Methods introduction to week 7, Dr Sheail introduces the challenge of drawing trustworthy conclusions from data that is often “rich, specific, ambiguous and highly context-dependent”. Week 7 focuses on qualitative data, but the same sort of challenges could be said to beset the researcher using quantitative methods because although the data itself may be less ambiguous, the perspective from which it is gathered and the tools chosen to count, measure and analyse it, lend the same context-dependent aspects encountered when interpreting text.

This has been particularly evident to me this week as I have been analysing the Interview data in the text analysis option of our MScDE course and experimenting with Gephi to visualise social networks. For the text analysis I used bubbl.us, a mindmapping tool, and working with this and with Gephi has emphasised similarities in taking ‘empirical’ data and subjecting it to varied visualisations – pivoting the data around and viewing it from different conceptual angles.

The Second Life interview texts could be mapped and categorised in many different ways according to the research question,

“A rich source of ideas for categories can be found in the questions in terms of which the research originated and developed.” (Dey, 1993b)

With regard to the SL data, the text could be analysed with research questions about interviewing – how the interviewer and interviewee are placed in a particular power structure, what that means for the confidence of the individuals and how this is reflected in their speech, how the conversation is polarised to elicit and supply information, how the tacit rules of interviews operate and how these may change in different mediated and unmediated settings.

An alternative would be to consider space or location as a central research endeavour and to examine what the speakers say about “real” and simulated spaces and how they might ease, frustrate or otherwise subtly change what takes place in them. The interviews analysed through this particular lens would reveal questions of distance and proximity, of affective proximity as well as notions of familiarity, relocation and dis-location.

Presence could be regarded as central to these interview texts, with interview nodes decreasing in size and nodes named authenticity and creativity perhaps gaining in importance. Presence would have layers of meaning, denoting not only how it relates to spaces, but also to situations such as interviews during which an interviewee may be strongly invested and immanent in the moment.

The data should be examined with reference to Dey’s recommendations for interactive reading and category creation. As an example, “What if” analyses could be made by speculating on what might happen if the interviewer/viewee were to exchange roles, shifting the power balance from one to the other. What sort of society might we be inhabiting if the job seeker held the power? What if the interviewer were not only represented by an avatar, but was an actual robot? What if RL and SL were to swap and the interviewer interested in the candidates’ experience of the real world as the exceptional environment?

Experimenting with Gephi, I have imported both Facebook group data and the Edchat csv and started to get to know the software to visualise the data in different ways. Gephi enables manipulation of social network data to allow the researcher to ask What if questions in terms of centrality measures. These can determine the position or importance of an actor in a network:

  • Degree centrality – number of connections a node has
  • Closeness centrality – degree to which the node is close to the entire network
  • Betweenness centrality – degree to which nodes act or are positioned as bridges
  • Eigenvector centrality – degree of connection to well-connected nodes

In both these ways, raw data is taken, closely analysed and interpreted, tidied by splitting up text or ensuring consistent SNA datatypes are saved as a csv, and then manipulated or pivoted around categories and concepts to illustrate researcher’s theories or reveal new patterns and deepen knowledge.

Interviews
Starting to think about categories

On an experimental note, it would be possible to save the interview text in a csv, with each record or chunk of text having one or more categories assigned to it. I wonder if this could be imported into Gephi with the text excerpts as the source and the categories as the destination fields and thereby create a directed network of associations. I don’t know if it would work, but would be fun to try…

screenshot_160937
Ed chat data visualisation with Gephi
Step 1
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Posted in Statistics

News and views

‘UK wellbeing rises after Brexit vote’

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Getty Images

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-41893598

This BBC news item’s headline is in inverted commas alerting the reader that it is opinion rather than fact. However, this technique works to imply, disingenuously, that there is a correlative or causal link between Brexit and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) data which demonstrates “a small but significant increase in the population’s feeling of wellbeing”. This implication is reinforced by the image of two young adults wearing Union Jack sunglasses and waving the British flag and the use of the word ‘official’ in the subheading beneath the photo.

The item continues by reporting that increase in feelings of wellbeing were only evident in England, further qualifying the attention-grabbing headline.

The news article stated that more than 100,000 adults were asked four questions requiring likert scale responses. The questions are not explicitly linked to politics or Brexit and respondents might well have answered them on the grounds of other factors influencing wellbeing. The article relates the ONS’ own suggestions for the interpretation of the results:

“Employment and job satisfaction, our health, the quality of our relationships and our financial situation are just some of the aspects of our lives shown to have an effect”.

None of these are directly linked to Brexit. In addition, the ONS graph showing the increase in reports of wellbeing displays a rising trajectory from 2011 and the date of the referendum was 23/06/16, with Article 50 triggered on 29/03/17. This further undermines the ‘suggestion’ that a rise in wellbeing is linked to Brexit.

The article reports that anxiety levels have increased “slightly but not significantly” but we are unable to judge on the basis of the article, what “significant” means in either claim:

  • “a small but significant increase in the population’s feeling of wellbeing”
  • anxiety levels have increased “slightly but not significantly”

The article continues by stating that the employment rate is at its highest level since comparable records began in 1971 and unemployment at its joint lowest since 1975. However, employment type is not indicated (full-time, part-time or zero hours for example).  A rise in zero hours contracts may have increased employment figures, but may also account for the increase in anxiety levels.

The article reports the ONS as stating,

“Considering this [various situations of uncertainty over the year], it may be surprising that levels of personal wellbeing are increasing. However, it is important to note these figures are only reported at a country and national level, and are presented over the year. It is therefore possible that any sudden or individual change in personal wellbeing may not be seen in the data”.

This paragraph makes me feel uncertain of any of the article’s claims or interpretations.

I tried to find out who were polled and how representative of the population the respondents were. I discovered that the ONS use these four wellbeing questions in 23 surveys. The data for this article came from the Annual Population Survey which also comprises data from the Labour Force Survey. This survey polls adult (over 16 years) UK residents, excluding those living in ‘community establishments’. Information can be found on the Annual Population Survey ONS Quality and Methodology site where a pdf of the survey’s Methodology can be downloaded,

https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/qmis/annualpopulationsurveyapsqmi

A paragraph from that document states:

As the APS1 is a sample survey, it provides estimates of population characteristics rather than exact measures. In principle, many random samples could be drawn and each would give different results, due to the fact that each sample would be made up of different people, who would give different answers to the questions asked. The spread of these results is the sampling variability. Confidence intervals are used to present the sampling variability. For example, with a 95 per cent confidence interval, it is expected that in 95 per cent of survey samples, the resulting confidence interval will contain the true value that would be obtained by surveying the whole population. The statistical methodology used to calculate the LFS1 sampling variability is published in the LFS Performance and Quality Monitoring Report8 can be found on the National Statistics website.

As far as I understand this, and the rest of the pdf, the APS appears to be rigorous and dependable (?) survey, but I am not sure what the impact of the wave samples would be on the supposed correlation between Brexit and increase in wellbeing. I am also unsure whether the survey is representative of the whole population by not including those living in community residences. It does not, of course, include the homeless. The fact that the headline was in quotation marks and the spurious connection between Brexit and wellbeing makes me think that at best this is lazy journalism and non-news and at worst, nationalistic fake news.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Qualitative, Quantitative

Focusing on food and housework

Alternative Food

Paddock, J. 2016. Positioning Food Cultures: ‘Alternative’ Food as Distinctive Consumer Practice. Sociology. 50(6). Available: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0038038515585474

  1. Why do you think Paddock chose narratives as a way of conveying the main themes in her research?

By enabling the reader to “explore participants’ talk” (p.1042) by providing excerpts of conversation, Paddock literally allows her participants to speak for themselves and reveal their social position by articulating what matters to them and how they experience the world in relation to others. Narratives can have a potent power, and in this paper they work to directly involve the reader in the researcher’s aims by aiding recognition of “processes at work” (p.1043).

  1. What is the impact for you of the way the interview talk is presented? What is the point of the researcher noting points of laughter, for example? What about filler sounds like ‘erm’?

By transcribing points of laughter or pauses with ‘erm’ the author offers a trustworthy account of interview conversation. In addition, non-verbal cues are relayed which allow a more complete understanding of the interaction which took place. The faithful and meticulous transcription of non-verbal information may also lend a quasi-scientific allure to the data, giving the impression that a researcher’s interpretations are correct because they have been transcribed so carefully. As Ross (2010) quotes Mishler, 2003,

textual display, a re-presentation of speech, is in itself a rhetorical device

  1. How does Paddock go about building a case for the interpretations she is making? How does she compel you, as a reader, to take her findings seriously? Share a specific example of how you think this is done in this article.

Paddock begins to build her case by first explaining the reasons for it; the burgeoning rise of “ethical, alternative or sustainable consumption markets” and questions of social fairness and justice. She reviews relevant literature and contends that her study extends the field by demonstrating how class distinctions permeate the sociology of ‘alternative’ food consumption. To give authority to her interpretations, Paddock draws particularly on the work of Bourdieu (1984) although she supports the claims she makes by referencing the work of many others,

Rather than claiming ‘ordinariness’ (Savage et al., 2001), Karen judges negatively the stasis of family ties that are historically characteristic of working-class families (Young and Willmott, 1957).

(p.1045)

The author is meticulous in supporting her interpretations by citing others’ work, even when describing complimentary or contrasting points:

While Bourdieu argues that expressions of taste betray social position, we see the other side of the coin wherein ‘disgust is one manifestation of a bourgeois project to distinguish the middle class from it others, a means of self-constitution’ (Lawler, 2005:443).

(p.1046)

and

In contrast to Savage et al. (2001), Ken not only articulates an overt class position …

(p.1048)

  1. Interviewees use many emotive words in the excerpts presented here, but Paddock has focused in on the use of the word ‘disgusting’, and developed this through her analysis. How does this concept help her link the data with her theoretical perspective?

The author employs Bourdieu’s argument that “expressions of taste betray social position” to her own advantage by looking at its obverse and examining disgust as a way of one class demarcating itself from another. Valerie characterises the ‘under proletariat’ by their revulsion towards breastfeeding which is regarded as ‘good’ by the middle class. Valerie goes on to summon ‘visceral responses’ in her interlocutor by talking about families who have “allowed their children’s teeth to go black” (p.1046) for example. Paddock supplants Bourdieu’s expression of taste with notions of disgust in order to show how it is used to uphold class difference.

  1. Paddock’s main argument is that food is an expression of social class. Looking just at the interview excerpts presented here, what other ideas or research questions do you think a researcher could explore?

A researcher could explore attitudes to breastfeeding as an expression of class divide.

Another research idea would be to examine what is now termed as ‘virtue signalling’ and explore the tacit social pressures which cause people to espouse ethical practices with, perhaps, limited conviction.


Housework 

Paper 2: Kan, M-Y., Laurie, H. 2016. Who Is Doing the Housework in Multicultural Britain? Sociology. Available: https://doi.org/10.1177/0038038516674674

  1. The researchers here conducted secondary analysis of an existing dataset (the UK Household Longitudinal Study https://www.understandingsociety.ac.uk. What are some advantages and disadvantages of secondary analysis for exploring this topic? (hint: there are some noted at various points in the paper)

An advantage of using a secondary dataset is that the data has, of course, already been gathered, saving time and effort.

In the Kan and Laurie paper a considerable advantage is the size of the dataset as information has been gathered from a whole population, enabling sufficient sample sizes to be drawn from it.

Although a disadvantage lies in the fact that the researcher has not carefully framed the survey questions himself, secondary data can be re-coded and weighted. Cross-sectional analyses may be made and derived tables created.

Secondary data may come from large census-type surveys which are regularly repeated thereby enabling longitudinal studies. This can be of benefit, but perspectives and emphases change over time requiring modification of questions or causing new ones added.

The researcher using secondary data cannot be sure that ethical issues were properly addressed but he should make every effort to investigate. A researcher using secondary data may have little knowledge of the original researcher’s standpoint, aims or research decisions.

  1. How does the concept of intersectionality allow the researchers to build on previous research in this area?

Intersectionality is an understanding of identity in which multiple social elements such as gender, ethnicity, age, sexuality for example come together and interrelate to ‘compose’ the individual. These elements can compound inequalities, creating complicated multiple layers of oppression. The researchers have been able to extend previous studies on gender and housework by bringing other social factors to bear such as ethnicity and first or second year migration status. This granularity enables deeper understanding of the factors influencing housework hours. The author’s state,

Most UK research on the domestic division of labour focuses on the white majority population or is ethnicity ‘blind’, effectively ignoring potentially significant associations between gender, ethnicity, socio-economic position and domestic labour.
(p.2)

  1. Choose a term you aren’t familiar with from the Analysis Approach section of the article on page 8 and do some reading online to find out more about what it means (for example: cross-sectional analysis;multivariate OLS regressions; interaction effects). Can you learn enough about this to explain it in the discussion forum? (if you are already very familiar with statistical analysis, take an opportunity to comment on some other participants’ definitions)

Regression Analysis

Regression analysis is concerned with modelling relationships between variables to enable forecasting.

It comprises a series of statistical methods used to explore the relationships between variables and can determine, for example, the interaction between a dependent variable and one or more independent or control variables. For example, the dependent variable y could be housework hours and the independent variable x could be education level or employment status.

In Kan and Laurie’s paper, data has been collected for each respondent relating to number of hours of housework and education level (for example). Each of these data points can be plotted on a scatter graph with the dependent variable on the y axis and the independent variable on the x axis.

To determine if there is a pattern in the dataset, a ‘line of best fit’ or regression line is calculated. If the dependent variable and the independent variable increase at the same rate there is a positive relationship between the two and the line slopes upwards, the reverse indicates a negative relationship with the line sloping down.

The ‘ordinary least square’ method of regression analysis is so-named because part of the calculation involves squaring x values.

Simplified, the least square method of linear regression equation is something like:

The estimated number of housework hours (dependent variable) EQUALS value of the y intercept (where the regression line hits the y axis – this is calculated) PLUS the slope of the line (this is calculated and this value is subtracted if the line slopes down) MULTIPLIED BY the independent variable.

Multivariate ols regressions enable exploration of the interrelationships between a set of variables including determining which variable is the best predictor of an outcome and whether it is still able to predict when the effects of other variables are controlled for.

Here is a youtube playlist of the most understandable explanations of Linear Regression I could find:

https://www.youtube.com/course?list=ECF596A4043DBEAE9C

  1. How do Kan and Laurie go about building a case for the interpretations they are making? How do they compel you, as a reader, to take their findings seriously? Share a specific example of how you think this is done in this article.

The author’s build their research case by describing previous studies based on time availability and resource bargaining theories which, the authors maintain, “neglect the role of gender norms and identity in determining domestic arrangements” (p.3). The authors offer intersectionality as a framework within which to further study of housework hours. In describing their key measures and analysis, the authors are carefully critical of their approach and attempt to address potential confounds or pitfalls,

While stylised survey estimates on hours of housework are not ideal when compared to more accurate time-diary estimates, the reporting errors are largely random (Kan and Pudney, 2008).
(p.7)

By describing these difficulties, the authors reassure the reader that they have thought about issues which could undermine the research. In this case the authors have not only described a potential problem, but one of them has carried out separate research to substantiate a rebuttal.

Ross, J. (2010). Was That Infinity or Affinity? Applying insights from translation studies to qualitative research transcription. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 11(2).

 

 

Posted in Qualitative

Ethnography Activity

Where are you? – describe the setting in as much detail as you can.
The place I chose as my ethnographic study setting is a small park near to my workplace. It is both a recreational space and a minor, quiet thoroughfare to and from the centre of the city. The park is bounded on one side by the river and by low attractive houses beyond a wall on the other. The space is divided into ‘rooms’ by bridges over a weir and another wall. There is a paved area, pathways, several benches, trees and flowerbeds. The setting has clear physical boundaries unlike an online space where the site limits might be more difficult to define.

Why did you choose this setting?
I chose this setting partly because of its proximity to work. This aligns with some of the practical considerations influencing choice of a research area. However, the most important reason for choosing the park lies in my interest and liking for the space which offers a little natural oasis in the city.

I am interested in how much a designed, intended space dictates what takes place within it and the ways in which occupants of that place conform or ‘hack’ it by novel uses. This leads me to question if the space was originally intended as a park or whether this use has evolved over time. I think my research question would itself evolve over the time I spent in the park and the more I learned about it. I have started to question why I call it a park (a sign says Garden) and I am thinking about what each word brings with it in terms of associations and received wisdom and convention. I am interested in how I might have mis-defined it from the outset.

Conducting an ethnographic study I am very much aware that my knowledge and previous use of the park means that I will bring my own subjectivity to the research. I must ensure that I unearth and explore my thinking as well as observing what other visitors do and say as I think an ethnography is a synthesis and distillation of all these perceptions.

As well as setting out my position, I will need to keep in mind the necessity of ‘making the familiar strange’,

One of the guiding principles for researching and writing ethnography is to make the ‘familiar strange’
(Coe et al, 2017, p.87)

What activities are people undertaking? What interactions are occurring?
I sat in the park twice this week and observed people walking through (both directions), visitors sitting alone or with others on benches, tourists taking a rowing-boat trip along the river, a fisherman, some skateboarders, dog-walkers. The park is peopled by all ages but the majority I’ve seen have been teenaged or older and include students, tourists, vagrants, shoppers, workers.

My curiosity has been sparked by two things during my visits, both ‘ethnographic texts’,

• the ‘hardware’ of the place – paving, grass, flowers, steps, benches, railings round young trees, walls, the sign which says This garden will close at 6pm [does it?]
• people

I noticed a woman struggling to get up the steep steps to the weir bridge, aided by a partner who held her hand. I noted that skateboarders wouldn’t have been skateboarding if there were no paved paths. The fisherman fished off the raised bank of the weir. People sat on the low wall next to the river and the pace of the place seemed to me to slow as a rowing boat moved leisurely by.

The entire place and space, all of the people and interaction, all of the rituals and rules and the various forms in which they manifest themselves, are “readable” texts, suitable for observation and analysis by the ethnographer and writer – namely by you.

http://www.engagingcommunities.org/proposing-the-ethnographic-research-project/3a-examining-culture-as-text/

My curiosity was sparked by a couple talking animatedly on a bench near to the one on which I was sitting. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I got the impression they hadn’t come to the park together. My field notes said, ‘Look unlikely couple, may be chance acquaintance’. This purely subjective supposition seemed, however, to be borne out when they each left separately with their own pet in opposite directions at slightly different times. (Interesting blend of the interpretive (?) and direct observation.)

If I was new to this culture what might you wonder about?
This is an interesting question because it suggests that there may be a ‘park culture’, or many park cultures depending on, for example, location, socio-economic factors or park ‘artifacts’. It suggests, too, that the park might be a microcosm of a larger, national culture. This question is one of the reasons I am interested in the space and it prompts thoughts of a collaborative, comparative (?) or companion study of a garden in a different country.

I am interested in how the behaviours of the park’s daily visitors crystallise the community and its norms and values – not just local values, but wider national ones too. I’m aware that no one single person’s experience (including my own) is representative of the place. There are as many subjective responses to the park as there are not only different cultures, but also individual people.

Aspects of the park such as the Close sign and the protective railings round the saplings speak of rules as well as notions of community provision and support. They aren’t obtrusive, but they might work to co-constitute some of the behaviours observed, in both inclusive and exclusive ways (where do the vagrants sleep? Is the park closed at 6pm to prevent drunken revellers from the pub just opposite from falling in the weir?). Visitors from other cultures would react to the park according to their own norms and experience. They might wonder at the privilege and benevolence of the place (these words need unpacking), yet others might be shocked by the sunbathers in the summer.

If I was to continue studying the park, I would seek out secondary material such as information about it on the city website and County Council Rules and Regulations about community spaces. I would be curious to know if the park had a presence on the internet and explore the virtual dimension of the physical place. I would want to look out for the gardeners who must come to tend it. I would try and chat to people who visit the park, including tourists, to get their perspective and I would think carefully about whether I called them visitors, occupants, passers-by, tourists … The words I use might change as my study progressed.

References

Coe, R., Waring, M., Hedges, L. V., & Arthur, J. (eds), 2nd Edition, (2017). Research Methods and Methodologies in Education. London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Dyson, J & Mills, D. (2017). David Mills and Jane Dyson discuss ethnography (video). SAGE Publications Ltd., London.

http://www.engagingcommunities.org/proposing-the-ethnographic-research-project/

 

Posted in Post-qualitative

Unfinished reflections on subjectivities, sociomateriality, temporality and post-qualitative research

Since beginning the Research Methods course, notions of objectivity and subjectivity in research have been sparring together in my imagination. They dance nimbly around in the ring, sometimes landing a glancing blow here or connecting quite well there, but neither delivering the knockout punch. At other times they aren’t fighting at all, but huddled inseparable in one corner. Sometimes the fighters are jostled for space, having been joined by other, competing subjectivities. Inexplicably, I have obtained a ringside seat, but my view is foreshortened.

Letherby states we have to be subjective in order to approach notions of objectivity and that all our practice is suffused with who we are and where we stand (Scott, Letherby & Williams, 2014).

Williams (ibid.) exemplifies scientists’ value-laden choices via their selection of units of measurement, but without quite unseating his champions. He is talking about particular subjective applications of objective methods (or misapplication/misunderstanding if we read Borenstein’s explanation of NHST and effect size (Coe et al, 2017), not refuting the possibility of approaching objectivity itself.

Both Williams and Letherby emphasise the importance of researchers giving full account of their epistemological viewpoint and their chosen methods. They stress the value of a high degree of reflexivity plus detailed explanation to give clarity to research decisions and standpoints, thus enabling fair evaluation. The two are urged to reconcile by Scott’s appeasing synthesis (Scott, Letherby & Williams, 2014).

Where are subjectivity and objectivity located in a sociomaterial perspective of research? Such an understanding of the world pulls other contestants inside the ropes; the subjectivities of the animal, the technical, the biological, the material – and the mix – all exerting mutating and contingent influences and for whom/which we cannot really speak without claiming the sort of anthropocentric and objective stance the posthuman works to dismantle. Such a dismantling shifts temporality from accounts of a monolithic past to a dynamic engaged present and vital trajectory towards an imagined and ‘better’ future.

Who stands apart to bear witness to the bouts? How to chart the ‘mess’? Are these the right questions?

Digital education practice and processes, research included, are best understood as such complex entanglements of the material and the social which resist reduction and finite explanation. Gough (2012) tells us that,

complexity invites us to understand that many of the processes and activities that shape the worlds we inhabit are open, recursive, organic, non linear and emergent. It also invites us to be skeptical of mechanistic and reductionist explanations …
(p.42)

Ross (2017) counsels a notion of ‘Not-yetness’ as a ‘conceptual handle for digital education approaches’ (p.214) to enable us to better research and ‘perform’ possible futures,

Speculative or ‘inventive’ research: ‘is explicitly oriented towards an investigation of the open-endedness of the social world … the happening of the social world – its ongoingness, relationality, contingency and sensuousness’.
(Ross, 2017, quoting Lury and Wakeford, 2012, p.215)

Not-yetness is offered by Ross as a willing, open, investigative and imaginative position embracing the complex. Not-yetness rejects reductive empiricism and generalisation claims with their own inherent, hidden politics. Such a stance welcomes ‘paradigm proliferation’ and a readiness to ‘engage productively as research users and creators with varied epistemological and methodological approaches’ (p.217). In these investigations, subjectivities are expanded to include the material and the technical in rhizomatic chance and irregular emergence.

One such approach may be Pedersen’s zooethnological study of vet students (2013) in which the subjectivity skirmish has shifted to an altogether more bloody and violent arena. (No sign of Haraway’s Companion Species here.) Pedersen emphasises the impossibility of accounting for animals’ subjectivities, (zooethnographic representation), because of the unbridgeable ‘ontological gap’ between the human and the creature, forcibly made manifest by the author as she follows the animals’ ultimately lonely path to slaughter,

Our safe position as privileged species in the setting creates … a physical proximity to and an infinite ontological distance from the cows moving towards the kill floor (Pederson, 2013, p.718)

We cannot speak authentically for the animals, but we can trace the human and material agency which leads inexorably to their demise and in which student affect and pedagogy themselves are ‘recruited’ as part of a ‘prosthesis of slaughter’. Pedersen shows us how the animals’ own behaviours are cynically exploited by the human who orchestrates the entire assemblage as a one-way passage to death. For the cows, there are no Deleuzian ‘lines of flight’ offering possibilities of change. She demonstrates how the ‘modulation of affect … produces subjectivities’ which work to maintain the status quo,

As animals are made to comply with the slaughter process … multiple subjectivities are worked upon simultaneously. Those subjectivities are the subjectivity of the animals, the subjectivity of the public sensitized to the idea of ‘humane’ slaughter, and the subjectivity of veterinary students who are taught the technique, its economic imperatives, as well as the ethology science necessary to assist the implementation of these strategies.
(Pedersen, 2013, p.722)

The pedagogic experience may have no lines of flight, nor the animals hope of escape, but the ethnographic account, recounted in first person vignette style, mobilises the reader’s subjectivity as intended by the author as part of the inquiry,

The zooethnographic approach in this article is located within the research area of critical animal studies.
(Note 2., p.728)

Yet, for Pedersen, to no avail,

While post-qualitative research may highlight the shifting and creative modalities of machinic oppression, … it does not show us the exit.
(p.728)

Where to go next? What can the post-qualitative achieve? What does it set out to do? The post-qualitative eschews representation and the Cartesian subject/object binary to depict emergent, unstable performances in the now and the nearly, where the subject is embedded, distributed and surrounded. Notwithstanding this complexity, research seems to have become more overtly political and more concerned with shaping subjectivities by a ‘responsible knowing’ which ‘explicates the boundary-making and the exclusions crafted through its own processes, and [that] traces the entanglement of the researcher in the vital swarms of the researched’ (Fenwick and Edwards, 2013, p.60)

Martin and Kamberelis (2013) offer Deleuzian mapping as means of baring ‘political teeth’ and they celebrate an ontology of becomings,

This ontology of becomings enables (even urges) us to see things differently – in terms of what they might become rather than as they currently are
(Martin and Kamberelis, 2013, p.670)

and

Ultimately, mapping discloses potential organizations of reality rather than reproducing some prior organization of it
(Martin and Kamberelis, 2013, p.671)

These sentiments echo Biesta’s comments quoted by Ross (2017, p.216),

He invites us to think about research of all kinds as a support for ‘the intelligent selection of possible lines of action’.

The post-qualitative finds roots in traditional research methods (ethnography, action research, critical animal studies?) and ‘borrow[s] methodologies’ (Gough, 2012) such as Actor Network and Complexity theories (Fenwick and Edwards, 2013). These come together to support Fenwick and Edwards’ ‘performative ontologies’ which challenge

assumptions that a subject is separable from an object, or a knower from the thing that is known, and in some instances, that a learner is necessarily human
(p.52)

The post-qualitative retains just enough shade of the subject/object dualism so that some shared understanding is possible and not just ‘anything goes’ (Ross, 2017),

Without a shared understanding of how some knowledge or insight or understanding about the world is obtained … how will such knowledge or understanding be warranted? And how will it be of any meaningful or constructive consequence in the world?
(Ross, 2017, quoting Greene, 2013).

So, here am I, the last straggler in the ringside seats, tired from the excitement and confusion of the fight; no longer waiting for a tally of points, just ready to leave. But, was I part of the audience or flung about on the ropes myself? Wasn’t I in the midst of the action, conjuring the contestants and influencing tactics, bounced by the ropes, hitting the floor, weaving my own subjectivity amongst the rest and neatly stepping over objectivity, out for the count? I’m uncertain, but that seems not to matter as I embark on a new route home.

Gough (2012, p.47), quoting Biesta,

As Biesta (2009, p.40) argues, education contributes not only to qualification … and socialization … but also to processes of subjectification – of becoming a subject – or what he previously referred to as the ‘coming into presence’ of unique individuals.

 

Yet, I still struggle to understand how any of our work, as educational and social inquirers, can be other than representational, at least in the forms we use to communicate what we have learned to others. I fully recognize that representational form shapes what is being communicated, and I fully embrace multiple forms of representation (Johnson, Hall, Greene, & Ahn, in press), from text to dance to interactive theatre. But is there any defensible alternative to or escape from representation? How else can we communicate our experiences and what we have learned to audiences who matter?
(Greene, 2013)

 

References

Coe, R., Waring, M., Hedges, L. V., & Arthur, J. (eds), 2nd Edition, (2017). Research Methods and Methodologies in Education. London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Fenwick, T. & Edwards, R. (2013). Performative Ontologies. Sociomaterial approaches to researching adult education and lifelong learning. European Journal for Research on the Education and Learning of Adults. 4(1), pp.49-63.

Gough, N. (2012). Complexity, Complexity Reduction, and ‘Methodological Borrowing’ in Educational Inquiry. Complicity: An International Journal of Complexity and Education, 9 (1).
http:// ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/complicity/article/view/16532

Greene, J. C. (2013). On rhizomes, lines of flight, mangles, and other assemblages. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 26(6), pp.749-758.

Martin, A. D. & Kamberelis, G. (2013). Mapping not tracing: qualitative educational research with political teeth. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 26(6), pp.668-679

Pedersen, H. (2013). Follow the Judas sheep: materializing post-qualitative methodology in zooethnographic space. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 26(6), pp.717-731,

Ross, J. (2017). Speculative method in digital education research. Learning, Media and Technology, 42(2), pp.214-229,

Scott, J., Williams, M. & Letherby, G. 2014, Objectivity and subjectivity in social research, SAGE Publications Ltd., London

Posted in Quantitative

Experimental intervention research example

Davis, J., Crabb, S., Rogers, E., Zamora, J., & Khan, K. (2008). Computer-based teaching is as good as face to face lecture-based teaching of evidence based medicine: a randomised control trial. Medical Teacher 30(3), pp.302-307.

DOI: 10.1080/01421590701784349

This study sought to assess the educational effectiveness of a short computer-based learning session compared to a lecture-based teaching session of ‘similar structure and duration’.

The authors state that randomised control trials ‘can provide robust evidence of educational effectiveness’ indicating a post-positivist epistemological position. They enumerate the possible difficulties and confounds:

  • Difficulty standardising the educational intervention(s)
  • Contamination between the two arms of the study
  • Inability to blind the study participants and the teachers
  • Difficulty measuring outcomes due to lack of valid and reliable assessment tools

The researchers’ chosen methods sought to address these issues by

  • randomising students by computer sequencing and envelopes coded by a third party
  • simultaneous administration of intervention to prevent contamination
  • educational content consisting of the same material delivered by the same tutor, ‘the only differences related to the methods of delivery” (p.304)
  • use of ‘previously validated assessment tools’ (p.304)

The authors developed a questionnaire using ‘previously validated assessment tools’ giving references and they include mention of face, concurrent and content validity. As Coe (2013) notes in his chapter on Inference and Interpretation in Research,

If claims about the interpretation of one measure can only be supported by presupposing the validity of another, we are left with a chain of claims that are dependent on each other and hence at best conditionally valid.
(p.48)

They discuss sample size, power and type I error to ‘exclude a difference between both groups greater than the equivalence threshold’ (p.304). They used ANCOVA to compare the dependent variable in both groups taking into account the variability of other factors.

The authors state that their study represented ‘a good quality protocol for a randomized control trial … able to comply with CONSORT’ (p.305).

http://www.consort-statement.org/consort-2010

The study concluded that ‘there was no contamination of interventions, the assessment was validated and blinded and the power was sufficient to demonstrate equivalence’ (p. 305).

The authors reported a substantial drop-out post-randomisation in the computer-based group giving as the ‘most likely reason’ the ‘absence of direct supervision by a teacher’ (p.305). They continue, ‘The observation of a large drop-out rate may be indicative of student preference for tutor delivered lecture over computer based teaching’.

The study found that knowledge and attitudinal gains were similar in both treatment groups. The study concluded by recommending that

Computer based teaching is an alternative to lecture based teaching in EBM for undergraduates. For cost and logistic reasons, computer delivered lecture methods may provide a way to achieve standardisation of content delivery for the widest possible audience. (p.306)

From this acknowledged small study the authors have taken the similarity in ‘gains’ between the two methods of ‘teaching’ as reason to suggest further study and development of computer based teaching. They acknowledge a need to ‘improve student engagement with this educational medium’ (p.306).

However robust and well-designed, a quantitative research study could only hope to count, not account for, the drop-out rate observed here.