Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Post grads as legitimate peripheral participants

Legitimate peripheral participants are participants in an activity (Lave & Wenger, 1991), but on the edge of the activity, hence peripheral. They are legitimate when they are meant to be there, involved and usually learning. Post grads are in training in research so are legitimate and peripheral, but I'm not sure that they get to participate in research activities.
Research activities include:
  • teaching,
  • analysis,
  • coding,
  • perhaps interviewing and transcribing.
Open University post grads don't get training or any opportunity to teach, as I've previously mentioned.

The doctoral training workshop (DTW) sessions provide some training, but not learning by doing. For example, the DTW includes a session on interviewing, but not on transcription, or on coding of qualitative data. It's up to the PG to read up. And if you don't realise the issues, then you don't deliberately read up on the skills. Until I read Kvale (1996), and then Tilley (2003), I had considered transcription a chore, not a skill that required reflection. I believed I could create an objective representation of the dialogue that had taken place. But now I'm not so sure and have questions:
  • where do I punctuate?
  • was that remark a query or a statement?
  • which transcript is more accurate - mine or that of the paid transcriber? For example, one of us heard "certain reviews" and the other heard "similar views".
As a legitimate peripheral participant, post grads could be learning from skilled teachers and researchers. For teaching, each PG should be assigned to an OU course with requirements to research relevant literature including web links and current news for the course team, perhaps also proof reading tutor marked assignment (TMA) questions and tutor notes. PGs could be trained on electronic asynchronous forums where they could moderate and be web masters for the course, They could learn about teaching through giving electronic tutorials - the OU uses Elluminate.

For PGs doing qualitative research, they need the chance to shadow experienced interviewers, observing how it's done. They could transcribe someone else's research, and then discuss issues arising from it, so having the experience to reflect on their own transcriptions.

I don't have enough experience to think yet what "sitting next to Nellie" experience a post grad following a quantitative approach would benefit from.

I suspect other universities not just the OU, fail their post grads on these skills, but if the PhD is really a training in research, then post grads must participate in research, and as trainees, they are peripheral. Universities that espouse learning, must legitimate that participation.

LAVE, J. & WENGER, E. (1991) Situated learning : legitimate peripheral participation, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Kvale, 1996, InterViews: introduction to qualitative research interviewing
TILLEY, S. A. (2003) "Challenging" Research Practices: Turning a Critical Lens on the Work of Transcription. Qualitative Inquiry, 9.

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