Sunday, 28 September 2014

Light at the end of the data collection tunnel (is an oncoming train)

Goodness, it's already nearly October. I meant to blog about my research woes earlier (as usual) but it was hard to muster up the motivation and energy.

I've just finished what I think should be my last class observation, since the kids are taking their end-of-year exams. I'm not expecting to have anything worth observing post-exams and before they break for the holidays. This period I think is more usefully spent gathering some data from the students before they forget everything that's happened this year. Right now, I'm undecided if I should run focus group or individual interviews, or some combination that includes a questionnaire before I speak to them face-to-face. It's a concern that they might not be ready or able to share their thoughts with me, for various reasons.

It seems quite amazing that I've already spent so many hours collecting data, particularly observing the lessons. I thought I was pretty prepared for the process, but nobody told me how demanding it could be physically. It seems that I am always trying to play catchup writing my fieldnotes after each observation. The audio recordings are a boon, because they help me flesh out my jottings, which despite my best efforts tend to be more impressionistic. It also takes a bit of effort to make sure everything is organised neatly and backed up regularly. No huge disasters so far, but I am still behind! I've got 3 periods worth of fieldnotes to write and 2 teacher interviews to summarise. The heaviest marking load of the semester (undergraduate essays) has also just come in, which is both a distraction and a burden. I'm not somebody with a great deal of stamina, so upping my productivity is always a struggle. (There are also family obligations that I cannot and don't want to neglect -- I won't allow my PhD to be that all-consuming.)

It doesn't help that I have a lingering paranoia that there'll be nothing of interest in my data, though obviously this cannot be true (and isn't -- there's definitely something there). Maybe it's more doubt that I missed something important in the data collection process, and haven't got what it takes to see the significance of what I've collected (I've run out of interesting things to include in my conceptual memos). The terror of qualitative data analysis just isn't dealt with sufficiently in the literature! I've been reading whatever I can get my hands on, but you don't know how comforting the apparent certainties of quantitative analysis are until you are confronted by the relative vagueness of qualitative analysis. I'm simultaneously comforted by the knowledge that there's no one right way to do things, and alarmed that there's no one right way to do things. Argh.

Then there's my confirmation document. I have an extremely broad outline set up, with things written for previous assignments that I want to include, but they can't be included as is, and there's also some data analysis that I need to include. Thinking about how I've fallen behind in my writing schedule is another source of anxiety. I don't write poorly (I think), and once I get started can often churn out a lot. But getting started is always hard. It might seem paradoxical, but I've always thought that my writing muscles are just weak, and that by writing via blogging more regularly I can build up my stamina and make getting started that more effortless with time. I also want to blog more regularly as part of my plan to establish myself as someone (I hesitate to say 'expert') that people can turn to for help and advice on assessment issues, but that's another story for another day.

Time to end this post before I ramble on any further. I'll be back.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Data collection. Finally! For real!

Haven't posted for awhile now. Since my last post, I've spent a lot of time waiting for ethics clearance from Lancaster, and then getting approval from MOE as well. By the time I got the green light, the school was in the middle of Term 2, making it very difficult for me to start data collection.

So I waited, using the time I had to work on my interview guide with L's guidance. His idea was that I should interview the teachers before I did my observation, so that I had a good idea of what they've done and plan to do. I was also supposed to start working on my confirmation document (due end 2014) but what with everything happening at home, I just didn't have the free time to write (nor the mood, to be honest). 

The new school semester has just started, and to date I've interviewed both teachers, and issued information sheets and consent forms to their classes. I've also collected various relevant documents. Going by their timetable and mine, it's likely that I won't be able to do any observation until I return from the UK in late July. 

I'm sure I'll have more than enough data by confirmation. The question is if I'll have enough time to transcribe, analyse and write? In addition to data collection and actual work (which I'm scaling back this coming semester). As excited as I am to really get my teeth into this project, part of me wonders what Murphy's Law has got up its sleeve for me.

Will be in Lancaster next week to meet L, attend the department 40th anniversary event and postgrad conference, and then Wales and London the week after for a short holiday. I probably haven't got the discipline to actually get anything done during these 2 weeks! Just hope things at home are uneventful while I'm away and I can buckle down when I get back. 

Friday, 31 January 2014

I'm officially in Year 3, and coursework is OVER

I see that I missed quite a few weeks there -- I'm so lazy! So the new semester has started, and with fewer hours of teaching than I'd anticipated. Without the additional pressure of assignment deadlines, I'm feeling quite free. Must remind self not to be lazy.

This is not forgetting that I have to set the wheels in motion for data collection. Unfortunately, the whole process with permission seeking (MOE) and then ethics clearance (Lancaster) is confusing and convoluted, and I'm probably not as thick-skinned in pushing things ahead as I ought to be. As I write this, I'm waiting for MOE to issue what they call in-principle approval so that I can apply for ethics approval from Lancaster. Only when ethics has been cleared can I get official approval from MOE. This really needs to be on a FAQ somewhere so that others don't end up running round in circles like me. I don't know what luck I have in getting everything settled by mid March.

My last 2 assignments were returned later than I'd expected, and while waiting I was working myself up to a state of paranoia. I had sleepless nights thinking that I might have failed the modules?! Of course I didn't. But even though I had half-expected it, the feedback was kind of demoralising. Of course, I'm a student and am still relatively unskilled at this stuff, but it seems that I haven't improved much since my first assignment. I don't know if the nature of the assignments is such that I find it difficult to produce better papers, or that I genuinely haven't come far, and so will really struggle when I write my thesis. I guess I'll find out.