#SOCRMx Week 7: Objectivity and Subjectivity in Social Research

The past two weeks in the Introduction to Social Research Methods MOOC (SOCRMx) have covered ‘How to Lie with Statistics’ (Week 6 Quantitative data analysis) and ‘Interpretation and Trustworthiness in Qualitative Data Analysis’ (Week 7).

Lots of resources have been provided for the Week 6 topic on quantitative data analysis. I have saved them for future reference, should I ever go down that track. It was interesting to see that more course participants got involved in discussion in the Week 6 forums. I’m not sure if that’s because a positivist approach comes more easily to those new to research, or whether it was because once again the resources were extremely good and the tutor for this week – Rory Ewins – actually engaged in the forums and provided feedback!

The resources for Week 7 on qualitative data analysis are very familiar given that all my research has taken this approach, but once more the resources provided on what we mean by trustworthiness and how to code qualitative data are helpful and thought provoking. Again I have saved these resources for future reference when I can explore them with more time. I think both these topics require and deserve more time than one week to get to grips with.

The topic of qualitative analysis reminded me of an excellent video that was shown in the first week of the course under the title of theoretical considerations in research design. This is a SAGE research methods video and therefore not open access, but if anyone from SAGE visits this post, I would urge them to make this video publicly available. I think both novice and experienced researchers would find it hugely helpful.

The video shows John Scott (Professor of Sociology, Plymouth University), Malcolm  Williams (Professor in the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University) and Gayle Letherby (Professor of Sociology , Plymouth University) discussing objectivity and subjectivity in social research, having published a book about this in 2014:

Scott, J, Williams, M & Letherby, G. (2014). Objectivity and subjectivity in social research, SAGE Publications Ltd., London.

These are the notes I made from watching the video.

John Scott starts by drawing on the work of Kant and Mannheim to discuss how subjectivity, objectivity, relativity and truth have multi-faceted meanings. We see the world differently according to our social location (our perspective) and we construct knowledge relative to that location. But if this is so, how, as researchers, can we present a truthful representation of the world. One way we can do this (which Iain McGilchrist has also discussed in his work on the Divided Brain) is to try and synthesise different standpoints (alternative perspectives) to achieve a better model for understanding the world.

The three authors each approach research from different perspectives. Malcolm Williams adopts a socially situated objectivity approach, Gayle Letherby a theorised subjectivity approach and John Scott, is somewhere in the middle of these two perspectives, and the point was made that it’s not necessarily a question of either/or, as shown by mixed methods approaches.

Malcolm Williams sees objectivity as a value which is socially constructed. The pursuit of truth is a key research value and he argues that a necessary condition of objectivity is to begin with subjectivity.

Gayle Letherby recognises the personhood of research and the complex relationship between researcher and respondent. From this perspective research is subjective, power laden, emotional and embodied. A theorised subjectivity approach is concerned with how identity plays out in the research process. Gayle Letherby tells us that interrogation of the self in research, with reference to the ‘other’, gets us closer to a position that we might call objective and that autobiography is always relevant. We need to interrogate our biases, but we should avoid demonization of subjectivity. Subjectivity is not a redefinition of objectivity, but starts from a different place. Objectivity and subjectivity are interrelated.

Whether we take a subjective or objective approach, social science research does have validity and needs to be defended. This does not mean that one account is as good as any other. Researchers must be responsible and explain how we got what we got and how what we did affects what we got. Research always involves a view from somewhere and we need to write about our subjective positions. Where did the research question come from? Why was a particular approach adopted? Can we justify why our findings are important? What is our ethical position? Have we acknowledged that ideas about knowledge can’t be separated from ideas about power? (Foucault’s work is relevant here) The social and political role of research means that there is no escape from issues of power.

Scott, Williams and Letherby conclude that the validity of knowledge depends on having:

  • Open societies (Karl Popper)
  • An ideal speech situation (Habermas)
  • Free discussion (Mannheim)
  • Leaving power outside the door as much as possible.

#SOCRMx Week 5: Data Analysis

In this second half of the Introduction to Social Research Methods course the focus shifts from data generation and research methods to data analysis.

 

(Click on image for source)

The main task for this week has been to look at the way in which the authors of two research papers (provided by the course) have analysed their data and presented their subsequent findings. One paper took a qualitative approach to data generation and the other a quantitative approach. Useful prompt questions have been provided to support this task.

For me, more interesting than this task are two points raised in the course text, with the suggestion that these are discussed in our blogs, but to my knowledge no-one has done this.

The first is related to the messiness of research which is drawn to our attention through a quote from Hardy and Bryman’s text – Handbook of Data Analysis – which incidentally is not open access.

This is the quote:

active researchers seldom march through the stages of design, data collection, and data analysis as if they were moving through security checkpoints that allowed mobility in only one direction. Instead, researchers typically move back and forth, as if from room to room, taking what they learn in one room and revisiting what was decided in the previous room, keeping the doors open. (Hardy and Bryman 2004, p.2)

This is very much in keeping with my experience, but I would suggest that it is even more messy than Hardy and Bryman suggest. Richard Feynman talked about living and working with doubt and uncertainty…

… and Paul Feyerabend argued ‘Against Method’. In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is written of Feyerabend 

‘…. whereas he had previously been arguing in favour of methodology (a “pluralistic” methodology, that is), he had now become dissatisfied with any methodology. He emphasised that older scientific theories, like Aristotle’s theory of motion, had powerful empirical and argumentative support, and stressed, correlatively, that the heroes of the scientific revolution, such as Galileo, were not as scrupulous as they were sometimes represented to be. He portrayed Galileo as making full use of rhetoric, propaganda, and various epistemological tricks in order to support the heliocentric position.’  

More recently Stephen Downes has also argued against method suggesting that traditional approaches to research do not account for the horribly messy, complex, always changing world in which we are now living and conducting researchSee Digital Research Methodologies Redux for his presentation.

A course like this Introduction to Social Research Methods necessarily presents an orderly sequenced set of resources and activities, but research ‘in the wild’ is far from orderly.

The second point made in the Week 5 course text that stood out for me was this one:

Hardy and Bryman (2004) ……  also discuss data reduction as a core element of analysis (my bold): to analyze or to provide an analysis will always involve a notion of reducing the amount of data we have collected so that capsule statements about the data can be provided. (p.4)

This for me is an enormously significant statement. As McGilchrist says (p. 28 The Master and His Emissary)

The kind of attention we bring to bear on the world changes the nature of the world we attend to ……… Attention changes what kind of a thing comes into being for us: in that way it changes the world.

It follows then that how we choose to reduce the amount of data we have collected will determine what research outcomes ‘come into being’, what we learn from the research and will have implications for how the findings are used.

Both these statements in the Week 5 course materials, concerning the messiness of research and the reduction of data, seem to me to perhaps warrant more attention than they have received in the course.

References

Hardy, M. and Bryman, A. (2004). Introduction: common threads among techniques of data analysis. In Hardy, M. & Bryman, A. Handbook of data analysis (pp. 1-13). : SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781848608184

McGilchrist, I. (2010). The Master and his Emissary. The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Yale University Press

#OpenedMOOC Week 6: The Triumph of the Immaterial

This is the final week of the #openedMOOC and my final post. Like Matthias Melcher I have surprised myself by reaching the end of this MOOC. When I first considered signing up, I thought the MOOC would be more about open education more broadly and discussions around open pedagogy, than about open educational resources. Also like Matthias I have not wanted to complete the MOOC tasks or meet the course objectives; instead I have followed my own interests.

Like some others – see the Twitter stream #openedMOOC – I have enjoyed the weekly videos of discussions between George Siemens and David Wiley, which succeeded in being very informative, and also Stephen Downes’ videos, because he always brings an alternative perspective.

Again this week, Merle Hearns has done a really good job of pulling together this week’s content in her blog,  so there is no need for me to repeat it. Merle discusses Norman Bier’s video, which is well worth watching and from which I made these brief notes:

For Norman Bier the future of OER will depend on how technology is used to collect and apply data, and provide better feedback for students and teachers. He tells us that our practice is already data driven and this should raise concerns for open education research, particularly if that research focusses on static content. He warns that there is no visibility on how data is being used and that it’s important for the OER movement to understand and explore the algorithms in analytic systems. Algorithms are not neutral and if we can’t avoid the biases of the developers getting into the systems then we need transparency to mediate this.

So having written all this you may be wondering why this post bears the title – The Triumph of the Immaterial.

The reason is that this is the title of a clay sculpture by ceramic artist Phoebe Cummings, who today won the BBC Woman’s Hour Craft Prize 2017, with this clay fountain:

Screenshot from BBC Radio 4 Website

And this photo by Laura Snoad gives us a close up of the detail of the work

In this video Phoebe talks about how her work is temporary – making the raw clay sculpture as a fountain means that the water will erode the clay over time.

And in this short video clip we can see the effect the fountain of water is having on the clay sculture

For source of video see: http://alreadyshared.com/explore/medias/1632069198719374070_1663972413

In hearing that this sculpture (a piece of work that will no longer exist when the created fountain erodes the raw clay) has won the prize, it occurred to me that this may inform David Wiley’s 5 Rs of open content. Phoebe Cummings has created a piece of work that she expects to be reused, reworked, remixed and redistributed. She created it to be ephemeral, to enact its own performance and to no longer exist after a period of time, in this case the time it takes for the fountain water to erode the clay.

Phoebe Cummings has a unique approach and way of thinking about materiality and ownership and I’m wondering whether she has anything to teach us about open education resources and copyright. Maybe the success of open education will depend more on how we think about issues such as copyright and ownership, rather than what we do about them.

Thanks to David Wiley and George Siemens for the MOOC, and to Stephen Downes and Norman Bier for their videos.

 

#openedMOOC: CC licenses

In a recent post I mentioned that I have the attribution, share alike, non-commercial creative commons license on my Flickr site. I also mentioned that I sometimes get contacted with a request for use of a photo – usually by a tourism agency wanting to advertise their holidays. I know they are going to make money from their holidays, but I have never yet refused.

This week for the very first time I paused before agreeing to a request for a photo. This is the photo – an environmental sculpture in Cumbria, UK, where I live.

 Andy Goldsworthy – Tilberthwaite  Touchstone Fold

And this is a photo of the sculpture in situ.

Andy Goldsworthy is a well known English environmental artist and sculptor, who has worked on many sheepfolds. See this list http://www.sheepfoldscumbria.co.uk/html/info/list.htm  

This was the request I received by email:

Hello Jenny,

I am currently acquisitioning photos for a new Smithsonian Museum on Main Street (museumonmainstreet.org) exhibit titled “Crossroads” about the last 100 year change of rural America. It’s going to travel to 180 communities across 30 states and will be on view from 2018-2025. We came across one of your photos.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/jennymackness/27171284715/in/photostream/#

We would love to use this photo for our exhibit. If you would like to proceed, would you mind letting me know how you would like this photo to be attributed/credit? I will also send a license agreement 

I was puzzled by this request. I didn’t know anything about the Smithsonian Museum, so I looked it up and found it was genuine, but I didn’t know why they wanted this photo, which didn’t seem to fit with their exhibition. So I replied:

Thank you for your email.

The license I have for all my photos is CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. Could you let me know how you would be using this photo within the terms of this license.  I am a little puzzled as your exhibition is about rural America and this is the work of a well-known English Artist in rural England. How would it fit with your exhibition?

In principal I am happy for you to use the photo, but before agreeing would like a little more information.

I was concerned about how their use of a photo of Andy Goldsworthy’s work would affect him. Surely if they wanted to use a photo of his work, they should contact him.

In the event the museum decided not to use my photo, replying:

We have decided to not pursue this photograph anymore because of the outside range (as you pointed at, this art piece is in England).

Thank you for your time and I apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused.

For me this raises the interesting issue of whether the photo I took of Andy Goldsworthy’s work was indeed mine to put a license on.

#SOCRMx Week 4: ‘half-way’ tasks and reflections

(Click on the image to go to source.)

This post should have been made at the end of last week. We are now at the end of Week 5 and I am attempting to catch up.

We are now half-way through this 8-week Introduction to Social Research Methods course. I continue to be impressed by the content, but the course doesn’t really lend itself to much discussion. I am grateful that it is open and that I have access to the excellent resources, but the course has been designed for Edinburgh University Masters and PhD students – the rest of us must fit in where we can.

There are two tasks for Week 4. I have completed one – rather hurriedly – but will report on both.

The first task for Week 4 was to consider one of the research methods we explored in Weeks 2 and 3 and answer the following questions in a reflective blog post.

  • What three (good) research questions could be answered using this approach?
  • What assumptions about the nature of knowledge (epistemology) seem to be associated with this approach?
  • What kinds of ethical issues arise?
  • What would “validity” imply in a project that used this approach?
  • What are some of the practical or ethical issues that would need to be considered?
  • And finally, find and reference at least two published articles that have used this approach (aside from the examples given in this course). Make some notes about how the approach is described and used in each paper, linking to your reflections above.

So far, I have explored the resources related to Surveys, Working with Images, Discourse Analysis and Ethnography. All have been extremely useful and I have written posts about the first three. I will move on to Interviews next and hope to explore the remaining methods (Focus groups, Experimental interventions, Social network analysis and Learning Analytics) before the end of the course.

I have decided not to do this week’s reflection task which requires answering the questions above. For me these questions will be useful when I am working on an authentic research project, but I don’t want to spend time working through them for a hypothetical project. As I mentioned in a previous post I tend to work backwards on research, or at least backwards and forwards, i.e. I get immersed and see what happens rather than plan it all out ahead of time. That doesn’t mean that the questions above are not important and useful, they are, but for me they are ongoing questions rather than up-front questions. This approach to research doesn’t really fit with traditional Masters or PhD research.  I did do a traditional Masters but felt I was ‘playing the game’ in my choice of dissertation topic.  My PhD by publication was a much better fit with the way I work, but even that was playing the game a bit! My independent research has never felt like ‘playing the game’. It has always stemmed from a deep personal interest in the research question.

The second task for Week 4 was to review a “published academic journal article, and answer a set of questions about the methods employed in the study”. I have completed this task, but not submitted it for assessment, since I am not doing this course for assessment. The assessment is a set of multi-choice questions.

At this point it’s worth mentioning that there are a lot of multi-choice quizzes in this course and that I am hopeless at them! I rarely ever get a full score, although I think I have answered these Week 4 task questions correctly. Most of the quizzes in this course allow you to have multiple attempts and sometimes I have needed multiple attempts. Thank goodness for a second computer monitor, where I can display the text being tested at the same time as trying to answer the multi-choice quizzes. Having two monitors is essential to the way I work and even more essential for my research work.  I’m not sure that multiple choice quizzes do anything for my learning, other than to confirm that I have completed a section. I would prefer an open controversial question for discussion, but in this course there is so much content to cover that there would be no time for this.

But again, some excellent resources have been provided for this week. Particularly useful is reference to this open textbook : Principles of Sociological Inquiry – Qualitative and Quantitative Methods with specific reference to Chapters 14.1 and 14.2.

I am copying this helpful Table (from the open textbook) here for future reference: Table 14.2 Questions Worth Asking While Reading Research Reports

Report section Questions worth asking
Abstract What are the key findings? How were those findings reached? What framework does the researcher employ?
Acknowledgments Who are this study’s major stakeholders? Who provided feedback? Who provided support in the form of funding or other resources?
Introduction How does the author frame his or her research focus? What other possible ways of framing the problem exist? Why might the author have chosen this particular way of framing the problem?
Literature review How selective does the researcher appear to have been in identifying relevant literature to discuss? Does the review of literature appear appropriately extensive? Does the researcher provide a critical review?
Sample Was probability sampling or nonprobability sampling employed? What is the researcher’s sample? What is the researcher’s population? What claims will the researcher be able to make based on the sample? What are the sample’s major strengths and major weaknesses?
Data collection How were the data collected? What do you know about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the method employed? What other methods of data collection might have been employed, and why was this particular method employed? What do you know about the data collection strategy and instruments (e.g., questions asked, locations observed)? What don’t you know about the data collection strategy and instruments?
Data analysis How were the data analyzed? Is there enough information provided that you feel confident that the proper analytic procedures were employed accurately?
Results What are the study’s major findings? Are findings linked back to previously described research questions, objectives, hypotheses, and literature? Are sufficient amounts of data (e.g., quotes and observations in qualitative work, statistics in quantitative work) provided in order to support conclusions drawn? Are tables readable?
Discussion/conclusion Does the author generalize to some population beyond her or his sample? How are these claims presented? Are claims made supported by data provided in the results section (e.g., supporting quotes, statistical significance)? Have limitations of the study been fully disclosed and adequately addressed? Are implications sufficiently explored?

Finally – some of the course participants have completed the first task and posted their reflections on their blogs. See

Now to see if I can make a start on Week 5 which finished today!

#openedMOOC Week 5: Research on OER Impact and Effectiveness

Click on image for source

I have not done any research into OER Impact and Effectiveness and I don’t, in my career as a teacher, remember ever heavily relying on a textbook that students would have to buy. I do remember having to buy them myself during my own undergraduate studies, but that was back in the mid 60s. When I was teaching in Higher Education at the end of the 90s, early 2000, we would recommend textbooks which the students could buy if they wished, or could take out of the library (we tried to ensure multiple copies were in the library), but mostly we wrote our own materials and gave students hand-outs in the sessions. I must have written many text-books worth of hand-outs during my career. It never occurred to us at that time to share these online, but even if we had wanted to it would not have been possible, because all the materials we produced belonged to the institution. Of course, we also referred students to open online sites where they could explore further materials and dig deeper. So I haven’t had a lot of experience of this heavy reliance on expensive text books for teaching, although I have in my own research had difficulty accessing materials behind paywalls (see below).

It seems that at least in the US, there is this reliance on expensive textbooks and that explains the push for further research that David Wiley talks about in this week’s video. He tells us that whereas in the early days of this research the focus was on surveys and finding out what OERs were being used, and what happens when you use OERs, there is now a need for more nuanced research into what difference they make to student outcomes. According to David Wiley research into OER adoption is still at an early stage and there is need for further research into how OERs are produced and used, and how they are used in teaching.

Stephen Downes in his video for this week once more gets to the nub of the issue when he questions what we mean by impact and effectiveness. He tells us that research has shown that the medium makes no difference to student outcomes, i.e. it makes no difference whether the student learning environment is open or closed. The obvious difference that OERs will make to the student is cost.

As an aside here, from my own perspective, I doubt I would be a researcher if there weren’t OERs. I remember when we submitted our first paper on CCK08 learner experience in 2009, the reviewers criticised the number of blog posts we referenced. There were two reasons we referenced blog posts, 1. At that time there were no research papers on MOOCs to reference 2. Even if there had been, if they were in closed journals (and there were not many open access journals back then), as independent researchers we would not have been able to access them. I still have these issues, particularly in relation to books, which I often cannot afford; there are not enough open access e-books.

Returning to Stephen’s video and the point where I think he really nails it is in his discussion of what we mean by impact. He thinks, and I agree, that impact is more than grades, graduation and course completion. For him we should be looking at a person’s ability to:

  • Play a role in society
  • Live a happy and productive life
  • Be healthy
  • Engage in positive relationships with others
  • Live meaningfully
  • Have a valuable impact as seen through their own eyes and through the eyes of society

He asks how does using open content change any of these. If OERs are only used by the teacher then there won’t be much change. He says open is how you do things, open is when you share how you work with other people, open is when you take responsibility for ensuring that knowledge is carried forward into the next generation. This is the long-term impact of your value and worth in society. Stephen asks where is the research on this – we need research on how open resources help society.  This seems to me like the big picture and quite a challenge for research.

#openedmooc participants have responded to this week’s resources in different ways.

Matthias Melcher has questioned what we mean by research effectiveness in his blog post for this week.

Geoff Cain also reminds us to not forget the role of Connectivism and the role of history in open education (See also  Martin Weller’s recent post. Katy Jordan has done some amazing work in relation to this. I wish I had her technical skills!).

Merle Hearns  has done a great job of commenting on this video A review of the Effectiveness & Perceptions of Open Educational Resources as Compared to Textbooks  and further discusses Martin Weller’s paper The openness-creativity cycle in education as well as sharing her own work.

Benjamin Stewart keeps plugging away asking for a more critical perspective, both in his tweets, e.g. https://twitter.com/bnleez/status/924735752336039936 and in his blog.

For more blog posts see the course site

Finally there are some great resources provided this week, which I have copied here for future reference. These are links to publication lists. For anyone doing research into OER, they would be a great help.

#SOCRMx: Week 4 – Discourse Analysis

 (Click on image for source)

In Week 4 the Introduction to Social Research Methods course requires participants to move on and 1) reflect on a chosen method, and 2) test our ability to identify specific information about methods in a given research paper. I hope to get round to this but I am behind and am not ready to do it yet. I still want to explore some of the methods that I haven’t had time to engage with yet and take advantage of the resources provided.

In this post I will share my notes from watching Sally Wiggins’ video introducing Discourse Analysis. I have not attempted to complete the associated task, or to synthesise the other resources and information provided by the course.There are many more resources in the Week 2/3 materials of the course site. And some participants have tackled this as a course task. See for example these blog posts:

http://lizhudson.coventry.domains/general-blog-posts/research-method-option-1-discourse-analysis/

https://screenface.net/week-3-socrmx-discourse-analysis/

http://www.brainytrainingsolutions.com/discourse-analysis-facebook-conversation/#.WfL87hNSxTY

http://focusabc.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/discourse-analysis-in-focus-example.html

Discourse analysis is not a method I have used, but it seems to be relevant to the research I have done and my interests.

My notes

Discourse analysis is a method for collecting qualitative data through the analysis of talk and text. It constructs rather than reflects reality from the premise that talk is a social, and talk and writing are never neutral.

Sally Wiggins in her video introducing discourse analysis tells us there are 5 types:

  1. Conversation analysis
  2. Discursive psychology
  3. Critical discursive psychology
  4. Foucauldian discourse analysis
  5. Critical discourse analysis

She explained that conversation analysis and discursive psychology approaches look at the detail of discourse (with a zoom lens), whilst critical discursive psychology and Foucauldian discourse analysis are interested in a broader perspective (wide angle lens). Critical discourse analysis is between these two. Before using discourse analysis as a method, we must decide which lens to use.

Conversation analysis (CA): uses tape recorders and other technologies to capture the detail of conversation. All aspects are captured, including body language, to explore how social interactions work. CA is all about illuminating the things we take for granted, all those intricate everyday social actions, and exploring them in great detail.

Discursive psychology (DP): examines the detail of interaction but also explores issues such as identities, emotions and accountabilities. Like CA it also uses technologies, such as video, to record interactions, but is used to explore how psychological states are invoked.

Critical discursive psychology (CDP): seeks a perspective which is somewhere between the zoom and wide angle lenses, blending the detail of interaction with broader social issues. It can’t be reduced to a line by line analysis, but instead examines patterns in the data in terms of culturally available ways of talking (interpretative repertoires). It explores familiar ways of talking about issues that shape and structure how we understand concept in a particular culture. It uses interviews and focus groups to explore everyday, common sense ways of understanding and issues produced in everyday talk.

Foucauldian discourse analysis (FDA): emerged from post structuralism. It takes a wide angle perspective on how discourses are connected to knowledge and power. It draws on textual and visual images, such as advertisements, as well as conversations, interviews and focus groups. FDA is interested in the implications of discourse for our subjective experience, how discourse and knowledge changes over time and how this effects people’s understanding of themselves.

Critical discourse analysis (CDA): takes a wide angle perspective and is the most critical form of discourse analysis. Its foundations lie in critical linguistics, semiotics and sociolinguistics. CDA seeks to reveal hidden ideologies underlying particular discourses, and how discourses are used to exert power over individuals and groups. CDA is used when we want to focus on a social problem of some kind. It draws heavily on semiotics and how words and images create to convey meaning in particular ways. It tries to unpack layers of meaning. CDA has a political vision, e.g. it is used to explore how individuals or groups are marginalized or dominated by other groups in society. It uses broad texts and images and seeks to expose ideologies that underpin a particular discourse. CDA shed light on social inequalities and how these are produced through certain discourses, but it also illuminates ways to challenge these discourses.

Just a minimal amount of wider reading around discourse analysis reveals there to be a wealth of literature related to this research method. I suspect it is not a method to be taken up lightly. I would have liked further examples of research questions that have been addressed using each of the five types of discourse analysis. Of the five types, I am most drawn to critical discourse analysis and critical discursive psychology.