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What's my approach? Deciding on the approach to use for your research


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These are slides from a workshop given by Sheila Webber and Pamela McKinney, University of Sheffield, UK, at the European Conference on Information Literacy on September 26 2018. The objectives of the workshop were: (1) 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. The research approaches covered were: action research; case study; phenomenography; ethnography; autoethnography.
(2) 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."

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What's my approach? Deciding on the approach to use for your research

  1. 1. Sheila Webber and Pamela McKinney Information School, University of Sheffield ECIL, Oulu, September 2018 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; ethnography; autoethnography • 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, 2018
  3. 3. Introductions Webber & McKinney, 2018
  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,2018
  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, 2018
  6. 6. Case Study Webber&McKinney,2018
  7. 7. Useful when: You want to explore a specific question or problem, in a specific context Webber & McKinney, 2018
  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, 2018
  9. 9. 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, 2018
  10. 10. 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, 2018
  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
  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,2018
  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, 2018
  14. 14. Ethnography Webber & McKinney, 2018
  15. 15. Useful when: You want to understand a group or culture in more depth: not just behaviour, but how the people feel, how they interact socially, their context Dent Goodman (2011: 1) cites Fetterman as describing ethnographic writing as “the art and science of describing a group or culture” Webber & McKinney, 2018
  16. 16. • Data collected: Observation, participation, the researchers’ field notes & memos, interviews • Analysis will result in a rich picture or narrative of the culture or group • Popularised for librarians by the ERIAL (Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries) project (Asher and Miller, 2010) & UX (User Experience) conferences & seminars (e.g. or research-impact-your-library-ux) (though, in particular, some significant ethnographic information behaviour studies well before this!) Webber & McKinney, 2018
  17. 17. Khoo, Rozaklis and Hall (2012: 86) talk about the “growing complexity of the social and technological environments within which libraries are situated” and other factors “prompting libraries to think about how to describe their strengths, not just in terms of performance and metrics, but also in terms of the wider social cultural value they offer to users and communities” Can be used directly to guide policy and improve services Can provide vivid human stories which may convey the library’s value more effectively than bare numbers Webber & McKinney, 2018
  18. 18. • Regaldo and Smale (2015) investigated how students used (or did not use) the library for their coursework (City University of New York) • Data collected: Mapping diaries; student photos with elicitation interviews; interviews about the process of doing an assignment • Notable finding: students liked private, individual spaces e.g. carrels: a large number commuted and did not have a quiet space to study at home Webber & McKinney, 2018
  19. 19. “I live in the library. The library is, like, my fulltime job. When I don’t have classes, I still come to the library because there’s too many distractions at home and in order for me to be a successful, productive student, I have to come to school, to remain dedicated and driven” (p908)
  20. 20. Autoethnography Webber&McKinney,2018
  21. 21. “an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno)” Ellis et al. (2011: 273) Webber & McKinney, 2018
  22. 22. Reflexivity of the ethnographic researcher, questioning and identifying their own stance in relation to the object of study Reflexivity of the autoethnographic researcher, examining their own practice, feelings, interactions, in a specific cultural or social context Webber & McKinney, 2018
  23. 23. ethnographic researcher, focusing on a group or culture, but making it plain how the researcher functioned in, or influenced, the group/culture being studies autoethnographic researcher, focusing on their own thoughts, feelings, & practice, but aiming to give social/cultural insights that are interesting to more than just the researcher Webber & McKinney, 2018
  24. 24. Autoethnography is about... • Understanding better one’s own practice, motivation, feelings, place • Providing insight for others in a similar situation • Making the librarian visible in whatever context they are in • Providing others with insight into the library’s and librarian’s role • Gaining better understanding of the social and cultural context Webber & McKinney, 2018
  25. 25. What do you do? • Identify the aim or research question (thinking about - what is the “cultural experience” you are illuminating through your autoethnography? • Data will include memos or diary entries that you write for the project: may also include existing documents, videos, photos... • Focused on you, but others may be implicated: you are still likely to need ethics review (depending on your place of work) • Data analysis involves making sense of the data to tell your autoethnographic story: may include more traditional approaches such as thematic analysis, though that should not dominate • You can incorporate reflections on how your narrative connects with other research literature • Autoethnographies can be presented as semi-fictionalised narratives, poems, pictures, dance .... Webber & McKinney, 2018
  26. 26. • Grace and Sen (2013): community resilience and the role of the public library • Patin (2015): role of the school library during the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita • Deitering, Schroeder & Stoddart’s (2017) book of academic librarians’ autoethnography (some chapters available open access) • Useful to identify a writing group you can work with to support each other’s work Examples Webber&McKinney,2018
  27. 27. “This chapter is formatted to represent three separate narratives: • conversational, represented by the italicized, indented text; • analytical, represented in the traditional text body and supported by scholarly literature; • and self-reflective, represented by the text box insets” Webber&McKinney,2018
  28. 28. Phenomenography Webber & McKinney, 2018
  29. 29. “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, 2018
  30. 30. 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, 2018
  31. 31. 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, 2018
  32. 32. 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, 2018
  33. 33. 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)
  34. 34. 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,2018
  35. 35. Action Research Webber & McKinney, 2018
  36. 36. Useful when: You want to improve existing practice
  37. 37. 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, 2018
  38. 38. 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,2018
  39. 39. • 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, 2018
  40. 40. Example of using different approaches to tackle a similar problem
  41. 41. 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 poster with the key points • Be prepared to present your poster in the final part of the workshop Webber & McKinney, 2018
  42. 42. Sheila Webber Information School University of Sheffield Twitter : @SheilaYoshikawa Orcid ID 0000-0002-2280-9519 Pictures by Sheila Webber Mainly taken in Second Life (a trademark of Linden Lab) Pamela McKinney Information School University of Sheffield Twitter : @ischoolpam Orcid ID 0000-0002-0227-3534 Reference list at scim7Uy- a6KjlL9YJ1OGysD0hb2YfC0N9T_mrZ3 uzA/edit?usp=sharing