Category Archives: Introduction to Qualitative Research

The Intro Astro 4 – Fall 2011


In our last class we began by looking back at the images of the representations you created for one another the week before. We revisited the “problem” of representation. We then looked at the images that you created the week before to represent the notions of positivism and constructionism. All of those are posted at Learn@UW as are most of the “All About Me” representation images. We also then looked at a website that offered “minimalist” images of particular philosophies or theoretical notions.  (You can see more of them here). Here we saw that certain assumptions were made in creating these depictions. There was the assumption of minimalism. There was the assumption of using “basic shapes” like rectangles, circles, and triangles. We also saw that there were some cultural assumptions. An upside down Christian cross, for example, represented atheism. A yellow star on a red field represented Marxism. This didn’t attempt to represent the ideas of Marxism but rather borrowed existing symbolism in national flags (Soviet Union, China, Vietnam). We also noted the American seal of the Masonic “all seeing eye” to represent deism and and upside-down pink triangle to represent hedonism! As we can see, a lot was brought into the moments of representation.

Wan-Lin and I have been playing with the idea of setting up a Wiki for the class as a way to explore definitions of terms. We are encountering a host of terms and as we see they are used in slightly different ways by different writers. Also, we’ve played a bit with visualizations which is useful but also useful might be playing with terms in a more verbal way. So we will work on this during the week and perhaps we will come up with something interesting. Suggestions?

Group Presentations

I asked everyone to sign up for a group for presentations. We will post that on Learn@UW. Hopefully the groups will be balanced in terms of numbers. I know that some of you particularly may want to present a particular methodology but consider that sometimes its nice to go after something that you don’t have a particular interest in. Getting out of your comfort zone can sometimes be very rewarding. In any case, I hope you enjoy this. Be creative with your group in how you come up with activities to share with your colleagues.

The Quiz

As I mentioned in class, for the quiz we will all have a collective experience in class. In other words… we’re going to do something together. Then you will be asked a couple questions about it. You will write out the answers long hand. Don’t forget to bring a pen or pencil. (No the quiz is NOT open book). Make sure in your answers to discuss the terms epistemology and theoretical perspective. Also consider the qualities of the qualitative researcher and why someone would use qualitative research in a study. All of this is discussed in detail in the readings especially Crotty and Maxwell. You should be able to write a bit about the implications of choosing a particular epistemological frame of reference or a particular theoretical perspective. You may remember that there should be some alignment between epistemology, theoretical perspective, methodology, and method. You may have noticed that Maxwell writes about “conceptual framework” as the second “component” of qualitative research and it is the topic of chapter three. Crotty uses the term “theoretical perspective” as the third “element” of qualitative research. I see these terms as being used interchangeably.  So don’t trip on that. Review pages 2-6 particularly.

Please remember that at this point we have looked at:

  • Positivism (a theoretical perspective)
  • Constructionism (an epistemology)
  • Interpretivism (a theoretical perspective)
  • Critical Inquiry (a theoretical perspective)
  • Feminism (a theoretical perspective)
  • Post-Modernism (a theoretical perspective) (see the Chart on Crotty page 5)

A couple of you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the “-isms” introduced by Crotty. It is a bit much if you’re new to this but don’t worry. Just ask yourself:

  • What are the fundamental propositions made by this perspective?
  • What does it assume, predict, or explain?
  • What does it oppose or speak against?
  • Who are the major players or famous people associated with this perspective?
  • What are the implications of this perspective for research?

If you can answer these questions, then you can be confident that you understand that perspective. We are finishing up this part of the course this week. We will be done with Crotty and we will be shifting gears and looking at different methodologies. We will start reading Creswell. This will feel a bit less philosophical and a bit more focused on the practices associated with the different traditions in qualitative research. We will also start looking at some examples of qualitative research articles and books.

Well…. enjoy and remember to do Quality work! 

The Intro Astro 3 – Fall 2011


Hey… didn’t we have a good time with the Gallery activity?! We turned our space into a gallery of representation. I don’t know about you… but I really felt the tension. Again I say that it is a heck of a thing to represent someone. Many of you interpreted the assignment and did some creative things. We saw several true works of art.  After looking at the questions in the gallery guide while looking at one another’s’ representations, we talked about the representation first with the dyads and then in small groups and then as a large group.  We discussed how we felt about representing and being represented.

How can we say that the person is truly like this? How do you position yourself as a researcher when you represent others? I was happy to see the diversity of the ways you choose to represent others. How does it feel to be represented in a particular way?

We started to talk about member checks. We will talk more about this when we get to the notion of validity in qualitative research. The accuracy of a portrait and the notion of consequence are important. Some of the consequences are minor but some are big. Later on, we’ll talk about “member checks” as a way to increase the validity of your representation. Note that there are numbers of reasons that may get you thinking that you may not want to do member checks).
Another thing is “properlining.” People properline when they feel a bit insecure or at risk. Basically they say what they think you want to hear. I gave the example of my wife who, when I turned on a tape recorder suddenly changed in her tone and manner of speech.

We also noted the trust is a major issue in research.

Concept Map Activity

A "temple" concept map visualization

As an activity I asked everyone to draw a concept map of positivism. I asked you to think about the research process and the role of researcher and the researched when you do this. Then, contrast that with a visualization. Before this we had looked at the Periodic Table of Visualization Methods. This got us thinking about the representation of ideas visually. A concept map creates an abstract depiction of a concept.

Then in groups I asked you to create concept maps of both Positivism and Constructionism. This is not so easy but you came up with some really great, thought provoking contributions. I’m sorry that we didn’t get to all of them. We will go over them a bit more next time. There are images of all of them on Learn@UW. We also posted images of the representations there as well.


On one of the Maxwell slides there were indicated four main sources for conceptual frameworks: experiential knowledge; existing theory and research; pilot study; and thought experiments/ think-up theory (ex: Einstein, Marx). Einstein used ingenious thought experiential to explore the consequences of movement that approaches the speed of light. This helped him to conceive his now famous theory of relativity. Freud and Marx used theories that were generally “think up” theories. I mean that they did not derive from very systematic research but were very powerful theories nonetheless that are sill profoundly influential.

Someone asked, “Do people ever switch their Conceptual Framework in the middle of their research?” I said, “Heck yeah! It happens ALL THE TIME.” I then launched into an admittedly self indulgent autobiographical story. During my dissertation work I had two advisors because I was a double major doctoral student. One of my advisors was really into “Activity Theory” for a while and urged me to use it in my analysis of technology implementation in schools. Well… I did lots of reading about it and I was really “gung ho!” But…. when I tried to explain it to my other advisor… he didn’t understand it and asked me to clarify. Alas! I COULDN’T!!! He laughed and so did I sheepishly. Long story short… I dropped it and then everything went well with my study. Activity Theory in this case was a fifth wheel. I simply didn’t need it.

Activity Theory

Next time we are going to get into some fun stuff. We will explore Critical Theory and Postmodernism. We will also do more on interpretivism that we didn’t really talk about enough in class.

I wanted to say “Thanks” to all of you who wrote something in our little exit surveys. I find this very useful. It is a way for us to think about what we’re doing in class and well or how poorly we might be doing. I very much appreciate your comments and suggestions!

And remember…. Do “Quality” work!

The Intro Astro 2 – Fall 2011

Wow…. we have already done so much. As you can see, this class will move quickly and we will cover a lot of ground. Make sure to get to the readings before class so that you’ll be ready to talk about the concepts that we will be dealing with. Please let me know if, for some reason, you can’t get to any of the readings. Many of the activities that we do in this class will be of the break out into groups sort of thing. YOU are a valuable part of this course for your colleagues and visa versa. When you are well prepared, you will be even more valuable. Don’t forget to sign the attendance sheet every class period. Let me know if your name isn’t on it. I think I’ve got everyone on it who is registered but I may have goofed somewhere. Don’t forget to sign up for the ethnography that you will read. We will post the list at Learn@UW.

We’re slightly behind according to the syllabus. Next time we will do the All About Me exercise. What will happen next week is that you will break into dyads and interview one another using the “All About Me” sheet to do a little schema activation. Then what you will do is create a written “representation” of the person you interview. They will, in turn, create a representation of you. There are instructions for this at Learn@UW. Bring the representation to class and we will have a Gallery of Representations! It’s going to be cool. But beyond coolness, it is a way to get at feelings of what it means to represent someone… and to BE represented. In qualitative research and in research on humans generally, we are in the business of creating representations. It is a heck of thing to represent someone. Are we creating representations that are fair? Are the warranted? In what ways are our own “biases” entering into the representation. Does it feel “insulting” to be represented? As we may find, a representation is in some ways a simplification. What gets lost in the simplification? Part of this problem of representation is the notion of validity but we will talk about that more later. Someone asked about calling this a “problem.” I think of representation as a problem. How do we do it right? It creates a sense of dilemma. You might say to yourself as a researcher, “I feel what I’m saying is correct but I’m a bit uncomfortable because something about it is also not quite right.” Representing can create moral problems. Do you really want to portray someone’s culture as being like this or like that? Conducting any research requires a high tolerance for ambiguity and quite a bit of courage.

I said in class… and I say again now that I believe there are not many differences between quantitative and qualitative research if you go below the surface. The difference between research traditions quantitative or qualitative lies in their epistemological assumptions. Ontology has to do with what we believe reality is. Epistemology is about how we come to know that reality. How do we know that our propositions are fair or appropriate?

Crotty in chapter1 writes about the alignment that takes place between epistemology, theoretical framework or theoretical perspective, methodology, and method. A methodology is a philosophy of integrated methods. What integrated set of methods or tools are used in a study to answer research questions? A study should thoughtfully put together and integrate these four elements in a way that aligns them congruently.

A word about Maxwell: He calls himself a realist. He is very pragmatic. He is even a little bit conservative. The entire book is written in the direction of completing a research proposal using a qualitative approach. This is a very nice tool for those who are planning to write dissertation or thesis proposals now. The big deliverable for the class will also be proposal so I feel this book you will find very useful whatever your research focus or theoretical/ ideological commitments.

I mentioned that there are two tracks in this course. There is a general approach track and an applied track (apply a concept to a study of your choice). We’ll decide on the track next week. Let me recommend that if you’re about to do your proposal, do the research track (applied track).


Crotty lays out the distinction of epistemology, theoretical perspective, methodology, and he then writes about one particular theoretical perspective, that is Positivism.

A foolish question: what is “truth”?

We talked about this for a while and you all brought forward some interesting propositions. In talking about this we got into the notion of falsifiability.

We can only prove that something is false. We don’t prove something is true. Much of statistics is bounded by this system If we do hypothesis testing we end up saying something like “If I fail to say it’s false, it could be true.”

In positivism there is the existence of meaningful reality. Reality is value neutral; it is ahistorical (it is all the same regardless of the culture or history. It is cross-cultural.
This is really the dominant paradigm of our time. We think that “rational” is good and we shut down things that are irrational or illogical.

Another important point is the distinction between Deduction and Induction. If we say something that is inductive, it means that we have observed it happening over and over again in the past. We call this a “pattern.” We can make predictions based on what happened in the past (e.g. weather report/forecasting). That’s an inductive way of knowing. Most of the things that we know is through induction. Inductive knowing generalizes from lots of examples to a rule. Theories become “more true” and robust by way of more examples in the past. Hypothesis testing uses deduction and generalizes from principles to events.

Game Time

After our break we played a game. I like games. I got game.

Wan-Lin and I passed out cards with words on them and asked you to categorize them. Your group had to decide whether it was an epistemology? A theoretical perspective? A methodology? A method? We then asked you to write the terms on a whiteboard.
A photograph of the whiteboards are now on Learn@UW. Many of these can be found already categorized on page 5 in Crotty. Some were not in the book at all and we hoped to provoke some discussion with terms like “astrology” and “phrenology.”

There is one more item of Home Work and that is the researcher identity memo (5 paragraphs to post to Learn@UW discussion). This exercise is in Maxwell page 27-28. The point of this again is to reflect on representation. What do you bring to your research?

See you next time and remember to do QUALITY work!

The Intro Astro 1 – Fall 2011

Welcome again to 719 – Introduction to Qualitative Research! Last Thursday we talked about the course itself and we went around the room and got a good look at some interesting artifacts that people brought in to share. By way of these artifacts, I asked folks to get to know each other briefly. Then I asked small groups of students who did this to appoint a spokesperson to represent each person in the group by offering a short introduction.

Who is the researcher? Who is the researched?

Kurtis showed us a birch bark basket which was pretty interesting.
Kaitlin’s conch shell made me think of Lord of the Flies but a wonderful artifact as well.
Xue showed us a little bag from her mother.
Julie showed us the Geko which was a powerful one for me. Having lived in Malaysia, I saw geckos running on the walls and ceilings all the time.
Kirk had a compass to show us the way!

Lots of folks showed and mentioned interesting things and the ones I’m mentioning here are just a few that I’m mentioning randomly.

In thinking about Becky and the Eiffel Tower, here’s a picture of my wife and I there not too long ago. Now I’m into planking which is more fun than just standing there. Why stand and take pics at a famous place when you can plank?!

I showed three pictures in the PowerPoint last Thursday and this generated a considerable amount of discussion about the problem of “REPRESENTATION.” Many questions came up.

  • How can we be confident that our research representations are accurate?
  • How can we be confident that our research representations are fair?
  • How can we be confident that our research representations are appropriate?
  • How can we be confident that our research representations are good?
  • How can we be confident that our research representations are ethical?
  • Just by saying hat we are doing research what are we saying?
  • Who gets to portray by way of research?
  • What is the role of the participant(s)?
  • In what ways are power and privilege expressed in research representation?
  • Who are the consumers of this research?

Participant observation??

There are many other questions we can ask about this. I want to emphasize that ALL researchers must wrestle with these issues. It doesn’t matter if the research is quantitative or qualitative. These issues are always present and should be engaged by the researcher. Yes…. that means YOU!

We did not get to do everything on the syllabus last time. We will work on that this coming Thursday (September 15th). In the meantime, think about what book to read for your ethnography. Also, next time you will choose a track.

I made a couple correction to the Library reserves and added one article.

A big part of what we talked about last time was the difference between quantitative and qualitative research. Again I will make the claim that they are not very different. What is MORE IMPORTANT is the other stuff that we talked about and that is the ontological and epistemological underpinnings of research. That’s where the intellectual action is.

Last time, Wan-Lin and I prepared a game/ exercise on the alignment between epistemology, theoretical framework, methodology, and method. We ran out of time so we will do it next week.

The next chapter of Crotty and the next topic we will really delve into is the notion of Positivism. Positivism is a theoretical foundation and makes certain assumptions and has implications for epistemology, methodology, and method. I think it is a very east one to understand so I’m glad we’re working on that one first. Positivism aligns well with what we think of as “science.”  It is a way of knowing a reality that is generally an objective reality. This reality is knowable and we may experience it with our senses. Generally, people experience the same reality and while there may be variation in the experience of reality, the reality itself is not different for different people. The reality itself is not subject to alteration because of culture, language, or anything else. There are universal truths that are apprehendable.

What is the role of the researcher? Who is the "consumer" of the research? What are the goals of the research?

I also asked you to post a pic as your profile in Learn@UW. If you like, you may deposit one in our Learn@UW dropbox instead.