Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Doing, reading and reflecting

In a previous post (Pilot methods) I had been reflecting on the various methods of data collection, how I saw them in relation to their relevance to my possible inquiry, and the ethical and logistical issues that they might present.
Since then I have done three things that have added or altered to my point of view:
  1. A pilot interview with a colleague,
  2. Reading researching children's experience by Greene and Hogan, and
  3. Reflecting on new insight and information.
1. The pilot interview
The interview took place in a neutral, convenient location with a professional colleague who had been informed about what the research was for and about and also  that it was a pilot interview.

I thought it might be interesting to take the questions that I created for my pilot survey and use them to structure of the interview. My reasoning was that it would allow me to compare and analyse the pro's and con's of both methods of data collection with regard to,
  • ease of collection,
  • type of data collected.
  • time spent answering questions, and
  • usefulness of answers
The interview took 45minutes, during which time I asked all nine questions.
The time spent on each question varied as I allowed time for the interviewee to say whatever she felt was relevant before moving on to the next question.
There was also time spent explaining aspects of the questions that the participant felt needed clarifying.
The last question was left as an open question to allow for any other thoughts or comments that the interviewee felt were relevant.

Contrary to my previous thoughts about structured/ semi-structured interviews I can now see, particularly if I am going to be talking to adolescents, that having a list of short, clear, yet fairly open questions is more likely to yield deeper, more individual answers about experiences and perceptions than either a) yes or no questions or b) multiple choice questions (where the choices are of my creation).
I also believe that by collecting my data in face-to-face interviews I will be more able to ensure there is no confusion about the question being asked or a lack of understanding about the use of particular words/ phrases/etc. This is something that I cannot do in a questionnaire, whether it is on paper or online.
A potential issue with using interviews will be the logistics of when? and where? and whether my potential participants will be prepared to a) travel to and b) give up time for the interview. This is something I will need to consider carefully as I progress on with my inquiry.

N.B. This is not the only interview I am aiming to pilot. I am hoping to complete a telephone interview so that I can see whether or not my assumptions and reflections about it, as a method of data collection, are founded.

2. The reading
researching children's experiences Approaches and Methods edited by Sheila Greene & Diane Hogan (2005)

I had been initially drawn to this book by the picture on the front and the first line of the back cover - How can researchers access children's subjective experience of their worlds?
In reading further (although I have yet to finish it) I have found it a brilliantly straightforward text that seems to really connect with how I ultimately wish my inquiry to appear/ appeal. I am seriously considering it as the subject of my third literature review!
The researcher who values children's perspectives and wishes to understand their lived experience will be motivated to find out more about how children understand and interpret, negotiate and feel about their daily lives
                                                                          (Green and Hill 2005, p.3)
A concern of mine, whilst working through Module 2, has been with such issues as empirical findings, reliable data, removing bias, interest to others. If my inquiry is to be of use then I must seek to eliminate as much subjectivity as possible, mustn't I? But how? Isn't the very thing I am interested in subjective? Does that mean that my inquiry has no place or, worse, is pointless?
These are the questions that have been filling up my journal over the last few weeks. The reason I mention them here is to give background as to why this book has given me hope.

In the preface the editors discuss the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child and argue that it is our obligation to give children the opportunity to be heard on matters that are important to them (p.xii).

In Chapter 1, Researching Children's Experience: Methods and Methodological Issues by Sheila Greene and Malcolm Hill, the authors talk about the problems in weighing up more objective, yet less human, statistical data with deeper, yet less empirical, qualitative data. Just my problem!
Their point of view is that, in researching children's experiences there will always be such problems but they maintain that 'it is intrinsic to the nature of the questions which we are asking' (p.6).

Another interesting,and relevant, statement was about how research articles about children don't often give much in the way of a rationale for the methods they use to collect data. Something that I will take on board for the future.

So, in conclusion, perhaps by accepting and acknowledging these limitations and issues in my research, and producing an indepth rationale for my choice of methodology, I will be able to satisfy my desire to 'listen and learn' from my students and produce an inquiry that is of interest to more than just me!

I'd love to hear any thoughts on these ideas and issues.


BAPP (Arts). (2012). Reader 6 Tools of Professional Inquiry. School of Media and Performing Arts Institute for Work Based Learning.

Greene, S., & Hogan, D. (Eds.). (2005). Researching children's experience: Approaches and methods. SAGE Publications Limited.



  1. Hi Sarah,

    It's great that you used the frame of your questionnaire to mold your interview in order to compare methods. I think questionnaires are really useful in gathering general information quickly but perhaps an interview as a follow up to the questionnaire can help us to clarify certain aspects and dig a little deeper.

    With regards to your inquiry I think it is going to be subjective to a certain point but there are ways in which you can also control your subjectivity. I mean for example, as you know your students well you must be careful to only record what they say, not what you think they really mean. You could go back at the end of an interview for example and ask to clarify with them all the things you have written down. (Just an idea!)

    I think as you are researching different methods now and piloting different methods you will be able to give a good rationale for the methods you use!

  2. Hi Claire,
    Thanks for your positive and helpful comment, you're always able to hit the nail right on the head!
    I've been thinking (pretty much non-stop) about the subjective/ objective argument and have drawn two conclusions - 1. I can't avoid it but I can limit it by maintaining ethical standards throughout my inquiry. 2. There are tools I can use to ensure that I am accurate in my representation of the perceptions and experiences of my participants, for example, providing transcripts of interviews to reduce misinterpretation or using several methods then using triangulation.

    Piloting different methods has been very useful so far so I'm definitely wanting to try out a few more things before writing my proposal...

    1. Sounds like you're well on your way with everything, and yes i think you're doing exactly the write thing about the objectivity/subjectivity issue. In fact I read somewhere that as a teacher-researcher we should focus less on trying not to be objective and more on controlling this, being aware of it and explaining it's advantages. (I will find the quote for you!)

      Ulanoff's "Teachers as Researchers: Developing an Inquiry Ethic" will be really useful for you I'm sure..that's if you haven't already read it!