Monday, May 18, 2009

Processing the Annual Review—2009

I want to write out some notes from my talk with my committee. Overall, my impression is that the actual researching (the doing of grounded theory) may be longer and harder than I envision. I got a better idea about the flow of doing the chapters, so I’ll summarize it below as a list:
• Come back to chapter 1 AFTER the research is complete
• Don’t wait until after research is complete to do the Lit Review section (this was something I had planned to wait to do)
• Chapter 3 may take longer than I anticipate because I may change things that I am doing
• Chapters 4 and 5 (findings and implications) will come more quickly after research is complete

We talked a fair amount about timeline and the flow of work. First drafts will flow through Rich until they are acceptable to go out to the whole committee. I expressed the desire to try to get an entire draft completed first and then work on revision. Now that I look at it, it seems to me that this goal may be wrong-headed. First, it puts a massive text in Rich’s lap, and second, moving chapter by chapter may be more realistic. Anyway, I have my first goal of getting a draft of the lit review done soon. I had the impression that the lit review is good for the entire committee. The most important thing about the timeline is that the dissertation needs to be all done at least one month before the defense (and preferably sooner than that). That means I should shoot for a January 1 completion data. Oh, my! I hope I have a productive summer.

We talked for quite a while about my research methodology. A big topic was the hybrid nature of my research where it is grounded in the traditional sense of analyzing slices of data, by hybrid in being able to go back to the massive database. One point that Rich brought up that I thought was interesting is about what a failed study would reveal. By failed he meant that what would be revealed if the findings from my by necessity narrow look at the database (I will actually be sampling a very small portion of what is available) and my findings were shown to be wrong or not to carry out? So much of our research in Composition is based upon making conclusions from small samples, but this result would indicate that this practice is perilous. We shall see. The big question is whether I will be able to take an emerged core category and query for that throughout the entire database. Right now, Fred says he doesn’t know how to query the text inside the database. The labor involved in taking out the separate texts and putting them into Atlas or Nvivo would be immense! Hmm… . I wonder about Nvivo. I believe it has a SQL database on the back end, so I wonder if I could import the entire database into Nvivo? Now that would make NVivo worth using. I can hardly imagine that it can do this large scale importing, but I’ll check it out.

Rich and I have talked about how the eventual methodology I will use will be noteworthy and worth an article when I’m all done. I have to admit that I don’t see it yet. I think it has to do with the back and forth of both sampling the database and then wide-scale querying of results inside the database. So it is how this database is used for research that is significant. That is what I am seeing at this point.

All and all I am beginning to see the enormity of the work to come like a large mountain to climb. I have to remember that mountains are climbed one step at a time. I think it helps to have a clear path, and though I feel pretty clear about my path, I need to clarify it more. And start walking!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Of first codings

I'm near the end of my first round of coding my first slice of data. I've been engaged in what is called micro-analysis, a line-by-line (even word by word) look at these textual artifacts. In this blog post, I want to write about my experience doing this micro-analysis (and not get into what I am seeing so far).

My initial task has been to underline sections of text and ask "What is going on here?" I'm looking at objects, events, acts, or happenings in the text. I've struggled mightily with the concept of categories—what is a category? That is what I am supposed to look for. Ian Dey specifically distinguishes them from names or labels. Gratefully, Strauss and Corbin have a helpful section on Open Coding. I looked at what I was doing, and I would say predominantly I was labeling what I saw. I had a lot of continuous tense verbs—showing evidence, affirming success, looking at draft, fitting in bounds. I see now that I was doing a lot of identifying and naming of what is happening for the students or happening in what they are doing.

The difficulty I have found is finding the right words for the labels. Often there are subtle shades of difference. What's the difference, for instance, between "showing evidence" and "offering specifics?" I'm using different language to describe the same essential thing. I saw a lot of where students would point to some fault or problem in either their draft of how they understood the assignment. Is it "admitting a fault" or "not fitting in bounds" or is there a better language to capture this form of self-assessment. But, as this last sentence illustrates, I have begun to categorize (I guess that is what I am doing) what is going on. I have grouped both pointing to faults or errors and point to successes as a form of self-assessment. Or should I call it "assessing the performance?" The problem of finding the right language to describe and label what I am seeing is difficult. It all seems a muddle, and it gets more muddled if I use different language. I've tried a few times to put aside the data and try to code the next set of artifacts with fresh eyes to see if I use different language. More muddle.

Let me describe two other things I have done as I did this first-level of micro-analysis. With most all the artifacts, I wrote a short note describing in a larger sense what was going on in this writer's review and what I thought of it. I also tried something Strauss and Corbin suggested, and that is to dig deeply into key words. For instance, I took the words "I believe" and "I realized" and wrote a string of synonyms beneath them trying to open up what the student may be really meaning when they say those words. This was helpful in places. I also noted what I considered "in vivo" names for what is going on. "Fit the assignment" is one example of what I marked as an in vivo term, though I have not decided to use it as a code yet.

Once I had coded all the artifacts, I took another blank sheet of paper and tried to determine classes of labels or what is going on. I was then able to fit a number of other labels within these classes. "Assessing the performance" became one where I could fit both self-assessment and peer assessment under that larger term. But things seem to be nested in loose ways, and how do I know when a sub-category should be its own category. For instance, I used the term "processing a problem" as a category which I had also put as a sub-category under "assessing performance." Both involved self and peer assessment. So where does this self and peer assessment go?

I'm used to from my literary analysis background to doing close reading, and I find myself slipping into this mode. I am not sure how to describe it, but at a certain point trying to process the muddle I feel like I have abandoned the identifying of categories, properties and dimensions.

I know that "constant comparative analysis" is a cornerstone of grounded theory, so I have attempted to do some comparing as I have reprocessed my initial micro-analysis. After I had spent some time just pulling together a comprehensive list of labels and groupings of labels (categories?), I decided to zero in on one common move I saw students doing and that was what appeared to be an end point generally described as "what I see now" or "what I realize" or "what I now know or know to do." Or even what I see to do next.

In writing a short memo about one of my artifacts, I saw that the student was telling a story, a narrative of sorts, of getting to this end point of what I labeled "knowing what to do." I'm not completely happy with the language of this term, but it works for now. Then I looked for this move or story in the different artifacts, finding it in pretty much each one. I diagrammed this narrative as a kind of flow chart. It seemed that there were different paths students took to get to this point of "knowing what to do." The diagram is messy at this point with some redundancies and I will next need to clean up this flow chart. What I am not sure of right now is whether I am on track by creating this diagram (is it an emerging theory) or am I going off-base. Drawing the chart along with examining the data made me see that this end point is really a middle point in some cases. Not only is there a sequence leading to this "knowing what to do" but there is a forward looking projected action in many cases, and these "what I will change" or do next are not all the same.

The goal of initial micro-analysis and open coding is to begin to identify categories and develop some emerging thoughts on theory (or what is going on here). I believe I have nearly accomplished this task with what I have done, but I'm uncertain of what to do next. How do I approach my next slice of data? I know that I need first to do some memoing to process my analysis so far to see where to go next. For me, especially, this reflective writing is very useful. I think I will do another round of micro-analysis on a set of writer's reviews done by students further along in their freshman comp sequence (1302 students) and see if similar patterns are evident or others are there.

I'm thinking right now that muddle is not all bad. I need to embrace the muddle and keep "muddling forward" and not get too stuck in figuring everything out at this point.