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.