Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Snow bound

I stayed in the office on Monday till five o'clock, when a colleague warned us that snow was coming south, and a blizzard was on its way, so I foolishly started home early. It's only twenty miles and takes 35 minutes on a good day, and rarely as long as an hour, but half way home the traffic stopped. I parked for an hour on a roundabout waiting for it to move round, while the radio said only that there were problems in Luton. It took another hour for the radio to give any news on our road, and then I could take action and take a back route.

It took me four and a half hours to get home - I should have stayed in the office.

Information allows decision making, and consequent action.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

CETL conference

At the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) conference on campus today and tomorrow, I notice the word engagement in a lot of places. For example:
  • MBA pathways: expectations, engagement and reality: does the MBA produce critically engaged managers?
  • designing learning activities in second life for student engagement
  • critical engagement in management and business education
  • student engagement with e-assessment.
Learning engagement is an area that people are researching. It's research that may overlap with my research that looks at the way people engage with each other on a mutual project, coming with different skills and that situation, like learning, requires elements of communication and knowledgeability. By knowledgeability I don't just mean knowledge transfer but an ability to transfer knowledge by teaching others or learning from others, an ability to learn, an ability to teach. You need communication to activate and use that knowledgeability. The combination is engagement; engagement between people on projects requires the same elements as engagement in learning.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Open and honest dialogue

Valuable relationships require "open and honest" communication, advises one of my interviewees. Such communication is needed to build up trust.

Trust was not evident last week when I had to deal with council officials on behalf of an aged auntie. I walked into a meeting with a couple of octogenarians, a friend who'd been helping and an official. The official did allow me to put my recorder on when I asked, which was just as well because I'd been given the wrong brief as to the purpose of the meeting. But the wrong brief was what everybody else had, according to the official. The official's voice got faster and louder, hurting auntie's ears. The official within five minutes of the two o'clock meeting as we attempted to clarify the purpose of the meeting told us that auntie didn't have to sign now, but she had to leave at three o'clock. We did not sign and arranged another meeting two days later. We came out feeling as if auntie was being bull-dozed into signing without having the information she needed.

At the next meeting, official had brought re-enforcements in the form of a higher line manager. When I asked if I could put the recorder on, she leaned across the table, told me no, that it wasn't appropriate to record the meeting and could she have the recording I made the other day. So we had adversarial positions immediately.

I like to think that my research participants had given me enough information to turn that meeting round, because we did turn it round. I shared information about myself, the officials gave me their contact details, then more calmly explained all the information that auntie needed to make a decision. I'd done my homework I needed to help her make that decision and could share it with the officials.

Everyone left with smiles, and information.

But I suspect the initial meeting went wrong through lack of information, through poor communication of information that both sides needed. The official hadn't known that auntie needed time to absorb information, that her brother couldn't read the papers because his eyesight is so bad, that neither of them knew what was involved and that the friend had no authority so say that auntie would sign. Relatives and friend hadn't known that the meeting was about signing, not about giving information on what the contract was about. So all went into a meeting that was planned for too short a time slot with insufficient knowledge. Here was an official who wasn't ready to work appropriately with such people, an official who hadn't understood the knowledge limitations and who had another agenda. This official didn't engender trust and although there are smiles, my elderly relatives and their friend now don't trust her for future dealings.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Telephone interviews

I have now spoken to over twenty people as part of my research but today I have a telephone interview to do, so am a bit more nervous. I've never met the interviewee and I can't see the interviewee's hands. But I'm even more worried about the technology. I've got a device for recording from the telephone and practised it yesterday on a couple of relatives. It works well. But will it be easy to transcribe?

We'll see.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Recording mistakes

I use a digital recorder when interviewing people. The department lent me one when I was doing my MRes and I liked it so much that I bought my own. It was a very reasonable price on Amazon.

However, interviews have potential for technical mistakes in recording:
  • battery goes flat
  • device is full
I now recognise the warning noises it gives me for these problems, but now I've added another; I didn't switch it on.

The recorder has two switches, one on the device and one on the microphone. I'd switched one on but the other overrode it. During the conversation, I wanted to make eye contact, so couldn't pick up the device and peer short sightedly at it to check it. I only realised as I went to switch it off. Bother!

Immediately I took extra time to think over and make notes on the meeting, switched on the recorder and spoke my thoughts. But my speaking took only six minutes and the meeting had been half an hour. What a pain!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Transcribing interviews

I've transcribed a dozen interviews myself and used to transcribe a dozen others. I have learned to:
  • secure a good quality of sound recording but that what is good quality to me may not be good quality to another transcriber.
  • clarify inaudible answers during the interview. But one interview in a crowded restaurant was totally incomprehensible. I couldn't transcribe any, just make notes immediately after.
  • listen immediately after to check sound quality and remind myself, in case the recording gets lost
  • pose clear questions that interview subjects understand (hence the importance of the interview schedule sheet)
  • listen to what is said and how, but also during the interview to watch hands and eyes because the movements add information that the recordings don't make. Hands are interesting. e.g. pointing upwards at the vision, or two turning together from left, then from right then to the middle to "form the middle ground", or a wave that means "switch off that recorder". Some movement then give information, I've "heard" it, but there're no words.
  • pay attention to the voice, pauses, sighs - see Kvale, 2007 p137, who suggests the voice indicates whether the topic is important or may be too sensitive to pursue
  • follow an interview with second questions - difficult when my reactions are not yet sufficiently gather to create coherent second questions
  • avoid the interview becoming filled with small talk to notice the interviewer's variations of question and styles
  • become aware of the differences between oral and written language. This really shows up when you try to add punctuation. Where do I put a full stop? Is that where the speaker would have put it? Sometimes when I've used a transcriber, the full stop has change the speaker's meaning
  • notice how new interpretations of meanings may arise when working with the recordings - I'm not sure that happens much but I do notice things that I didn't have time for or wouldn't have followed up with the interviewee.
See Kvale 2007, Box 12.1 which is very useful. He suggests learning to interview by witnessing others interviewing, which I've not had the chance to do, expect in the Doctoral training Workshops - I hate those artificial situations.

Perhaps as students we could get together to talk about our interview stories. I'll ask our MRes group next time we reunite.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Qualitative data analysis

I was talking with a fellow OUBS post grad about qualitative data analysis (QDAS). As she hadn't been using Nvivo, but Decision Explorer, she wanted to know if Nvivo would be more useful to her. We talked about its linking mechanisms, annotations and memos - those are what make NVivo really useful for me.

I demonstrated some of the ways I now work after doing that Silvana di Gregorio workshop.
We received a manual at the workshop, which is very useful reference. Do the course to get the manual too. Silvana di Gregorio also writes books on QDAS as well as giving workshops.

The linking mechanisms are what make NVivo really useful for me. I annotate as I transcribe, or listen the first time to a transcription, or whenever. I use memos to link to collections of notes on facets of engagement, so I'm linking what I find in the cases with what I've found in the literature. This will help my later analysis as I write up the case studies for the dissertation.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Procrastinating again

Enthusiastic for another yummy day, I rush to my desk, switch on my computer, and the enthusiasm stalls, like in this comic.

There are many different ways of putting off writing:
  • decorate the whole house
  • watch all the Harry Potter videos in a day
  • check Facebook
  • play cards
  • go for a long thoughtful walk.
  • a swim.
  • make Christmas lists.
  • make other lists.
  • Minesweeper.
  • comb the cat
  • watch the leaves
  • Lots and lots of things to do...