22 SES 11 C, Moving Beyond Interviews: Documenting Experience Through Weekly Activity Logs and Card-Elicitation
Research question: The goal of our 5-year research program has been to explore the nature of academic work and academic careers amongst early career researchers – doctoral students, post-PhD researchers and new lecturers. This is an area of increasing interest, regardless of national boundaries (Nerad et al. 2007; UK Council for Science and Technology 2007), given both policies to enhance international competitiveness, and concerns about individuals turning away from academic careers.
In considering how best to address this research question, we took up the challenge to collect diverse forms of qualitative data (Suzuki et al, 2007). How we addressed this challenge is the focus of the workshop in which examples of some of the tools we have developed will be available for individuals to try out and critique and to collectively consider as alternative methods.
Theoretical framework for the research: In common with others examining the experiences of early career academics, our work is framed within an identity perspective. Our underlying premise is that narratives, participants’ various stories of their experiences (Sfard & Prusak 2005), provide a means to capture the constancy of an individual’s identity combined with a sense of ongoing change (Elliott 2005). Narratives make connections between events; represent the passage of time; and show the intentions of individuals (Coulter & Smith 2009). We incorporated an emergent, responsive action-based design (McNiff & Whitehead, 2006) since we wanted to be attentive to how the emerging findings might inform future research and also how they might be pedagogically useful. Lastly, we envisaged a longitudinal perspective in order to build upon current research in the area, most of which depends on one-time surveys or interviews which capture moments-in-time.
Thus, we envisaged using more than interviews since interviews would draw forth only what had overall salience at the interview time – and might miss forgotten critical events, and shifts in experience through time. We chose to use a weekly activity log, the idea for which came from a survey done in Australia (Cullen et al, 1994). While little used in higher education, logs have been used in library studies for instance (Agosto & Hughes-Hassell 2005).
As well, we used semi-structured interviews. Such interviews are largely directed by the interviewer, and we wanted to offer the opportunity for participants to have more agency during the interview. Further, we wished to better understand the relationships between individuals, activities and emotions reported in the logs. Thus, we incorporated a form of photo- or image-elicitation (Harris, 2002) into the interview. The use of images can “enlarge the possibilities of conventional empirical research” (Harris, 2002, 13) and “elicit implicit knowledge and self-identities in a way other methods cannot” (Edgar, 1999, 198). We would characterize the approach we used as concept mapping (Novak & Gowin, 1984). Mapping is often used to elicit relationships among different concepts; individuals create a graphic organization of concepts and relationships and then describe what they have drawn. Mapping the relationships among concepts can prompt self-reflection (Amundsen et al, 2008).
Agosto, D., & Hughes- Hassell, S. (2005). People, places, and questions: An investigation of the everyday life information-seeking behaviours of urban young adults. Library and Information Science Research 27, 141-163. Amundsen, C., Weston , C., & McAlpine, L. (2008). Concept Mapping to Support Professors’ Analysis of Course Content. Studies in Higher Education, 33, 5, 633-652. Cullen, D., Pearson, M., Saha, L. J. & Spear, R. H. (1994). Establishing Effective PhD Supervision. E&I, DEET, Canberra: AGPS. Coulter, C., & Smith, M. (2009). The construction zone: Literary elements in narrative research. Educational Researcher, 38(8), 577-590. Edgar, I. 1999. The Imagework Method in Health and Social Science Research, Qualitative Health research. 9, 2,198-211. Elliott, J. (2005). Using narrative in social research: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. London, UK: Sage Harper, D. (2002). Talking about pictures: a case for photo elicitation. Visual Studies, 17, 1, 13-26. McAlpine, L., Amundsen, C., & Jazvac-Martek, M. (2010). Living and imagining academic careers. In L. McAlpine & G. Akerlind (eds.). Becoming an academic: International Perspectives. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 125-154. McNiff, J. & Whitehead, J. (2006). All you need to know about action research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Nerad, M., Rudd, E., Morrison, E., & Picciano, J. (2007). Social science PhDs - five+ years out: a national survey of PhDs in six fields (Highlights Report). Seattle: Centre for Innovation and Research in Graduate Education, University of Washington. Novak, J.D. & Gowin, D.B. (1984) Learning how to learn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Suzuki, L., Muninder, K., Ahluwalia, A., Mattis, J. (2007). The Pond You Fish In Determines the Fish You Catch: Exploring Strategies for Qualitative Data Collection. The Counseling Psychologist, March 1, 35: 295-327. UK Council for Science and Technology. (2007). Pathways to the future: The early careers of researchers in the UK. London: Council for Science and Technology.
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