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What's my approach? Webber & McKinney


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Presented at LILAC 2019

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What's my approach? Webber & McKinney

  1. 1. Sheila Webber and Pamela McKinney Information School, University of Sheffield LILAC, Nottingham, April 2019 What's my approach? Deciding on the approach to use for your research
  2. 2. Outline • Introductions • Presentation: Key characteristics of research approaches: action research; case study; phenomenography; • Activity: Applying different approaches to an information literacy scenario – You will work in groups: each group seeing how one of the research approaches might be used • Sharing: Presenting how you would use your approach Webber & McKinney, 2019
  3. 3. Introductions Webber & McKinney, 2019 Pictures by Sheila Webber (mainly taken in Second Life, a trademark of Linden Lab) except where otherwise stated
  4. 4. Workshop objectives • To identify key characteristics of selected qualitative and mixed-methods research approaches, and to show what kinds of research questions and problems each approach is most suited to • To enable participants to understand the issues, advantages and disadvantages of different approaches, by looking at a practice-based information literacy problem, and asking participants to identify the implications of choosing one approach or another. By the end of the workshop participants should have an extended understanding of the research approaches available, what they should consider when deciding which approach to use, and the implications of their choices Webber&McKinney,2019
  5. 5. What do we mean by Research Approach? • That choosing that approach affects all the aspects of the research: research question or aims, data collection, data analysis, and possibly also how you present results • Sometimes referred to as research design (although all research should have a design) or research methodology (i.e. rather than research methods) Webber & McKinney, 2019
  6. 6. Case Study Webber&McKinney,2018 Case Study
  7. 7. Useful when: You want to explore a specific question or problem, in a specific context Webber & McKinney, 2019
  8. 8. A definition “Case studies are analyses of persons, events, decisions, periods, projects, policies, institutions, or other systems that are studied holistically by one or more methods. The case that is the subject of the inquiry will be an instance of a class of phenomena that provides an analytical frame – an object – within which the study is conducted and which the case illuminates and explicates” (Thomas, 2011b, 513) See also Thomas (2011a) Webber & McKinney, 2019
  9. 9. Case study Characteristics • Investigating a specific problem or question • Doing so in a “bounded context” i.e. you can tell fairly easily whether something is inside or outside the context you are focusing on • You collect multiple sources of evidence to get different perspectives on the problem • Start by describing relevant features of the context: can be useful in helping you to “step back” from familiar context Webber & McKinney, 2019
  10. 10. Case study Characteristics • Outcome may be a model or theory and/or practical recommendations relating to the whole case • Can be used in combination with other methods • Case study useful in setting the boundaries, focusing on the problem & its setting, and reminding you to look at the whole picture • Note the difference between systematically planned and researched case study and just describing one example or anecdote Webber & McKinney, 2019
  11. 11. Example: Dr Syeda Hina Batool • “System”: primary schools in Lahore, Pakistan • “Object”: information literacy, including its relationship to the Pakistani school curriculum and to relevant IL frameworks See: Shahid (2016); Batool & Webber (2017) Photographer:unknownUoSgraduate Syeda Hina Batool (l) and Sheila Webber Photographer:unknownUoSgraduate
  12. 12. Interviews with teachers Focus groups with children Observation, photos and field notes Curriculum documents, handouts etc. Each case = 1 school 6 schools, purposive sample of different types Material produced by children in focus groups Data analysis Also: description of the state of education in Pakistan, and an analysis of the Pakistani school curriculum, using James Herring’s PLUS model (Purpose, Location, Use, Self-Evaluation) Webber&McKinney,2019
  13. 13. Her analysis and outcomes • Rich description of each school, bringing out the context and distinctiveness of each case • Thematic analysis (teacher’s pedagogic approach; Physical environment; Conceptions of “library”) • Analysis of children’s level of skill in different aspects of information literacy • Proposed model of information literacy for primary school children in Pakistan • Situational analysis, putting the cases in the socio- cultural context • Proposed plan for developing IL in Pakistan Webber & McKinney, 2019
  14. 14. Phenomenography Webber & McKinney, 2018
  15. 15. “Phenomenography is the empirical study of the differing ways in which people experience, perceive, apprehend, understand, conceptualise various phenomena in and aspects of the world around us.” (Marton 1994) Marton at the SIG Phenomenography conference in 2016 Webber & McKinney, 2019
  16. 16. Useful when: You want insight into how different people are experiencing or conceiving of something The phenomenon (the “something”) could be: the library; a specific learning experience; using the catalogue … you are looking at it indirectly, through the interviewees’ eyes Webber & McKinney, 2019
  17. 17. The research question will be in the form of: What are the qualitatively different ways in which [the population] conceive of/ experience [the phenomenon] Started with investigating learning, but wide variety of phenomena have been investigated in different disciplinary contexts (e.g. the operating theatre; the environment; solubility; research; healthy aging; e- assessment) Webber & McKinney, 2019
  18. 18. Data collection and analysis • Data collection: – Usually interviews, participants chosen to maximise variation – Interview circles round the central question – Important for interviewers to put their own views to one side • Analysis – Analyse all the transcripts together as one “pool” – Have to end up with a small number of categories, that are distinct, and between them describe the qualitatively different ways people think about or experience the phenomenon (unlike some other approaches in which you look for similarities) – Also look for dimensions of variations (a few factors which are important in all the categories, but which are seen differently in different categories) Webber & McKinney, 2019
  19. 19. Example: Categories from Emily Wheeler’s research into librarians’ conceptions of themselves as teachers of information literacy: librarians conceived of themselves as ... Wheeler & McKinney (2015) Dimensions of variation are: identity (teacher/ not a teacher) and perception of practice (I teach/ do not teach)
  20. 20. Applications of phenomenographic research • Variation theory: having identified how learners’ conceive of a subject, you design learning that enables them to experience the variations • Workplace training & education e.g. Masters students at the Sheffield iSchool were able to use Wheeler’s framework when reflecting on their own development as teachers of information literacy • Understanding people better, so you are better able to engage with them: the interview itself can be a learning experience for the interviewee and interviewer Webber&McKinney,2019
  21. 21. Action Research Webber & McKinney, 2019 Action Research
  22. 22. Useful when: You want to improve existing practice
  23. 23. Action Research Characteristics • Start with an aspect of practice that you want to improve • Only feasible if you have to power to make changes to practice; usually you would be involved in that practice (e.g. you want to improve your own practice) but might be invited in as a catalyst/facilitator of change • The participants are the people affected by, or observers (key informants) of, the practice • Multiple sources of data e.g. observations (yours and others’); reflections (e.g. a reflective diary); documentary evidence (policy documents, course descriptions, learners’ work & evaluations, recordings of teaching sessions etc.); focus group and interview data Webber & McKinney, 2019
  24. 24. Classic cycle is: Plan, Act, Monitor, Reflect Levy’s (2003; 100) representation of the process At each stage you may be drawing on existing data and creating new data Webber&McKinney,2019
  25. 25. • Data analysis will relate to the research aims & may use other frameworks or theories (e.g. educational theories) • Malenfant, Hinchliffe and Gilchrist (2016) introduce special issue or C&RL with action research projects from the Assessment in Action initiative • Describe it as “an emergent developmental form” (p143) (improving practice and developing the community of inquiry involved in the action research) Webber & McKinney, 2019
  26. 26. Example of using different approaches to tackle a similar problem
  27. 27. Over to you! • Form groups of about 4 • Each group takes one of the research approaches • Follow the prompts on the handout to decide how to use your research approach • Make a Google slides /flip chart poster with the key points • Be prepared to present in the final part of the workshop Webber & McKinney, 2019
  28. 28. Sheila Webber Information School University of Sheffield Email: Twitter : @SheilaYoshikawa Pamela McKinney Information School University of Sheffield Email: Twitter: @ischoolpam Orcid ID 0000-0002-2280-9519 Orcid ID 0000-0002-0227-3534 Image: Barry Mangham [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], from Wikimedia Commons