Today we had the second on-line ‘campus’ session for Module Three. The title for the session was ‘Organising and analysing data’
We began by challenging ourselves to think about – “What is data?”.
The problem we can have with data is recognising it. Data is NOT someone giving you the answer to your inquiry question. I think often that is what we expect. That the field data collection period is to go out and look for someone who can answer the inquiry question like an Easter egg hunt – going out in the feild and coming back with exactly what you wanted. Then coming home with the answers(eggs) and write them down - the end research done!!
Firstly, the data collected in the field does not give us the answer. (See the Module two overview post also – we are not looking for answers but looking to better understand our question. We are looking to be able to ask better more informed questions).
The data collected in the field is only part of the ‘answer’, your feelings and thoughts and impressions are also part of it, the literature you read is part of it. You mix these all together and see what you think of them all – that is the analysis. Then you write-up what you think having done the analysis, along with explaining what you did so we can see the journey you took to get to what you think. Analysis can be thought of as triangulation. A triangle linking and mixing together: your experiences and reflections, with what other people think (the literature) and what the people you saw in the field were doing (field data).
So if at some level you have been thinking of the data as – the ‘answer’, and you have not found the answer you might think you have not collected any data yet. In other words you might have quite a lot of data and not realised it is data because you are only looking for something that will be the direct answer to your inquiry. So we asked ourselves “What is data?”.
I am suggesting it is everything that happens between two points in time – when the module started in February to late March when you stop collecting data and start analysing. Everything that happens – not just the parts you planned or expected people to say.
For example you might be looking at Motivation in the students you teach and have plans to interview six of them… but you haven’t yet. This doesn’t mean you haven’t started the research yet because it is March (!) and the module started in February (!). It just means its not going the way you expected. But the very things that have delayed you or are making you hesitate are data. We talked about this – maybe it’s because you are so busy. So ‘being so busy’ is like a theme. You have got to this theme through your experiences and reflections more than through the field data activity but you can see if this theme happens in the field data too. For instance you could observe if the students who you want to learn more about motivating also see themselves as very busy (busy with relationships, busy thinking about after school events etc… not having time for your class).
So if data is everything that happens between February when the module started and end of March-ish then how do we organise it?
I suggested you use themes (as the example above showed). Notice what is jumping out at you as a theme. Are there some things that keep coming up (even if they are negative things)? Start to notice them and group them together. In the end you can take all the experiences and reflection you have, all the field data (interviews and observations etc…) and all the literature and almost colour code every time one your of themes appears in them. You would be organising the data into themes.
Now to analyse you look at all the bits under one theme and think about what they have in common how you see them relating to each other. Ask yourself what story do they tell to you.
So to summarise the steps
1. Come to turns with it: the research has started and it might not be doing or saying what you expected (great you what to learn something new and to do that you have to encounter something new – something unfamiliar)
2. Reflect on what is reoccurring – are you seeing themes yet. You can do this now as you collect data or look for themes once you stop collecting data.
3. If you have a theme start to see what its relationship is with all the data – field work, literature and your feelings/reflections.
4. Know you will STOP collecting data at a point in time and start looking at it and the relationships there are between all the ideas.
Comments and questions we talked about:
As we talked people said that a few things jumped out at them, they were:
You might be afraid you will not know what to do with data that is unexpected. But this is like saying you want to control what you will find and if so then why bother to do research – you could just tell us what you want to find.
The process of research that you worked out in Module Two will stop you from getting too lost. The research project itself is like a path if you follow it even when you are not sure what you are doing you’ll get somewhere.
The Professional Artefact, what is that???
We said replace the word artefact with the word ‘thing’. It is a professional ‘thing’ explaining or sharing your research. You can’t know what the ‘thing’ is yet because you haven’t done all the research so how can you know what ‘thing’ will explain it.
The research doesn’t have to be what you expected in Module Two as you planned it. The process is the more important thing.
Last thoughts – the data is not to tell you the ‘answer’. I hope after reading this post that makes sense.
Della and Pip are both writing blog posts on the on-line ‘campus’ session too. Please have a look at what they say.
What do you think? Does this make sense? Please comment below