Monday, April 12, 2010

Spinning wheels

I don't know if the hot yoga cooked my brain yesterday or what, but I had trouble thinking this morning as I wrestled some more with my categories. It has come to me that I can group a number of categories together under one umbrella, but I'm struggling with the name for this grouping. I can say with clarity that I have seen this grouping or dynamic from the very beginning of my coding, and in fact slice #2 focused almost exclusively on this cluster. I showed it to my wife, and she said it reminded her of what they call algorithms in her pediatric references--there are certain elements and the flow between them varies. Here is the graphic of this algorithm for writer's reviews again:
 I saw that I could chunk writing reviews into sets of these algorithms. A single WR would move from topic to topic and variously go through this sequence. For the most part they cycle toward the end point of "coming to know" and formulating a "revision goal." I think I will be redoing this diagram, but these categories that work together within this algorithm are:
--problem thinking
--feedback thinking
--coming to know
--revision/fixing thinking

What to call this cluster? I think this legitimately counts as a category because they all share these common elements, but at this point I can think of nothing more clever that "review topics." Categories are supposed to be conceptual in nature. That is not conceptual. What are they doing? What is happening? They are addressing writing issues and figuring out what to do about them. The one benefit of "review topics"is that it aligns with the prompt-determinism within all these Writing Reviews. Despite this prompt determinism, I can still see this dynamic at work. Maybe "addressing a writing issue." But sometimes the WRs ask to address topics that related to feedback or research. I'm still wrestling with this terminology.

I am also wresting with how to handle the "telling/reporting what is" vs. "considering/evaluating what is" dichotomy. This dynamic is important because I believe it marks the divide between awareness and reflection, between representing reflective thinking and engaging in it. It occurred to me in the shower (no kidding) that perhaps these two qualities operate on the dimensional level. I can have problem thinking on audience which could be reported thinking or it could be presently considered. The category or subject does not change, but it could be considered in either of these two ways. Hmm. I will have to see how this way of representing the data will work. I also have struggled about where to place the very important concepts of "fitting in bounds" and "essay/writing success." Are essay success and writing success sub-categories of "fitting in bounds." OR is the concept of essay success again something that operates on the dimensional level. Whenever a writing issue is considered or problem identified or plan conceived, EVERYTHING is gauged against the concept of essay success. It is the ultimate goal and arbiter of everything.

I'm just not sure how or where to fit "essay success" into the dynamic. I'm halfway tempted to make it the core category, but I'm this cluster I have talked about here might be the core category.

I'm struggling here because I feel that I am leaping out of open coding into axial coding and it hurts my brain.

I don't really like these terms as yet.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pushing down on mercury

I'm struggling with the slippery aspects of my coding right now. My goal is to try and nail down my categories (add any if necessary) and then work out properties and dimensions. It isn't easy. However, I am seeing in slice 5 so far a very familiar pattern revolving around problem identification and "resolution." This pattern is one I identified in slice 2, and I charted out the many paths a student follows as they move from problem to "coming to know" and then declaring a revision goal.

My mind is so full of all the stuff going on that I think for the moment I will focus on one aspect of this dynamic I have seen in the draft cycle from my 1301 student #2. He had four problem identification-resolution cycles in his Writing Review. The first was short, but the other three were fairly extended. This dynamic seems to center around conflicting views between outside and inside the writer, and the entire dynamic is mitigated or driven or regulated by the abstract criteria of "essay success" (which could be more general "writing success" outside of the particular goals/criteria for the essay task).

Here are the three

Sequence A: problem = thesis
Feedback--not there <<<>>> Author--thought it was there
-------conflicting views---------------
a--take authorities word for it (they are right)
b--self-check and confirm (COMING TO KNOW)
Revision Goal--make strong thesis

Sequence B: problem = contradiction
Feedback--you tend to contradict (id instance)<<<>>> Author--tried to avoid
*expresses doubt or disbelief they did it when they were trying expressly not to*
a--take authority's word for it
Revision Goal--fix contradiction

Sequence C: problem = to casual, use of generic "you"
Feedback--too casual/you <<<>>> Author--double-checks and agrees
*agreement on problem*
criteria of writing success--relate to reader vs. how to reach goal without using "you"
a-take authority's word for it
Revision Goal--avoid "you"

I can notice a few things in these three patterns. First, there seems to be more negotiation or consideration revolving around the problem. Only the third sequence had any sort of complication about the solution and that was more a matter of facing a goal and not knowing how to get there without getting in trouble. Little or no extended consideration is given to the revision goals. I could do this or I could do that. If I did this then it would result in X, but if I did that it would result in Y. I think Y would work better because... . None of this "reflective thinking" occurs. Instead, the writer like a compass pointing to true north follows the view point of an authority. I am calling this phenomena right now [taking authority's word]. I might call it taking other's word for it. Rather than taking my word for it.

Authority's word is like a trump card. What is the source of their trumping power. Well, it is the power to grade and it is their power as arbiter of the criteria for essay success. They possess both the vision of this abstract essay success, but presumably they possess better skills at enacting that success than the student so when they speak you'd better listen.

I don't know if I am getting at anything interesting yet, but I am working at it. I am targeting getting materials ready to do a round of peer debriefing on my categories as soon as I can do it. Soon!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Coding: Of Categories, Properties, and Dimensions

As Ian Dey notes, the conceptual elements of categories, properties, and dimensions can be a muddle and the distinction between them can get confused. Since one of my main goals with this slice 5 will be to code categories and sub-categories for their properties and dimensions, I am seeking with this post to clarify distinctions and definitions (so I know what I’m doing). I hope to establish a loose anchor to guide my coding in this post: that is, a framework for analysis that is not too rigid or mechanistic, but one provide general guidance that allows for flexibility in discovery. Yet, I don’t want this framework to be so loose that I wander through my analysis making contradictions all along the way.

Guiding Principle
Let it happen.
“An analyst is coding for explanations and to gain an understanding of phenomena” (Strauss and Corbin 129).
Strauss and Corbin describe the confusion that exists for analysts as they rigidly try to categorize things/events into the boxes of their coding, especially when they code the same event or happening in two different ways. They state, “We realize that beginners need structure and that placing data into descrete boxes makes them feel more in control of their analyses. However, we want them to realize that such practices tend to prevent them from capturing the dynamic flow of events and the complex nature of relationships that, in the end, make explanations of phenomena interesting, plausible, and complete” (129). They advise “to let it happen.” Rigor and vigor, they say, will follow.

A category is an abstract label used as a heading or name for a class of objects, events, happenings that share similar characteristics. It is the most logical descriptor for what is going on. The distinction between “concept” and “category” can be confusing. In a sense, all coding (categories, properties, dimensions) is conceptual in that you are creating an abstract representation of the phenomena. Categories are said to be groupings of concepts that are labeled or named phenomena by like or similar characteristics. Dey presents a good critique of this generation of categories through groupings according to similarities and differences, and says we must be more reflective about how we generate and use them (255).

Strauss and Corbin--
“Categories: Concepts that stand for phenomena.” (101)

“Category—used as a way to identify or distinguish something based on comparisons with other things.” (252)

Sub-categories specify a category more by denoting information such as when, where, why, and how. It seems like the notion of sub-categories and properties might be confusing. If for example, we had the category “drug using” (example from Strauss and Corbin), then a sub-category might be “types of drugs.” Grouped within “types of drugs” would the different drugs (cocaine, pot, ecstasy ect.). These sub-categories would then have properties such as forms, effects, how used. We shall see about sub-categories. (I think I need to see more examples.)

Strauss and Corgin offer a definition of sub-categories:
“Subcategories: Concepts that pertain to a category, giving it further clarification and specification.” (101)

Properties are the recognizable characteristics or attributes or the phenomena. These attributes determine how it is classified or categorized.

Strauss and Corbin simply state properties are the
“Characteristics of a category, the delineation of which defines and gives it meaning.” (101)

“Property—used to ascribe a quality or attribute to something based on analyzing its interactions with other things” (252)

Again, I am somewhat unclear how to distinguish a sub-category from a property.

Dimensions represent the location of a property, that is a characteristic or attribute, along a continuum or range. Dimensions measure degree, not kind.

Strauss and Corbin--
“The range along which general properties of a category vary, giving specification to a category and variation to a theory.” (101)

“Dimensions—used to measure extension.” (252)

So we have a few examples of the category, property, dimension breakdown:

Category: Color
Properties: shade, hue, intensity
Dimensions: high/bright----low/faint
(from bright shade to faint shade, from high hue to faint hue, from high intensity to low intensity)

Category: Orange (as in fruit)
Properties: size, color, shape, weight, cost
Dimensions: high/big/bright----low/small/faint
(large size to small size, bright color to faint color, big shape to small shape?, high cost to low cost)

The problem with these examples of categories, properties, and dimensions is they are of THINGS and not PHENOMENA. Still they are helpful in seeing the relationship between properties and dimensions. Dimensions provide the description of variation and degree of phenomena.

Dey ends his book by quoting what Strauss and Corbin identify as the central features of the grounded theory methodology. I will present these in list form:
1. the grounding of theory upon data through data-theory interplay
2. the making of constant comparisons
3. the asking of theoretically oriented questions
4. theoretical coding
5. the development of theory (269)

So my quest in this next slice of coding will be to articulate the properties of my categories more explicitly and identify the dimensions or range that these attributes fall within. This post has helped my establish distinctions I can use in my analysis, but I must remember that these distinctions remain a loose anchor and my overall goal remains to “coding for explanations and to gain an understanding of phenomena” as best I can.

My goal will be next to begin my coding discuss my own categories along these lines of properties and dimensions.