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H809 – Reflecting on the research methods (A2.5)

February 19, 2011

Back to H809 – it is not always easy to split the time between two course and to switch from innovations to research. But I wanted it to finish this summer, therefore I should not complain.

This activity asks us to answer a couple of questions to reflect more deeply on the paper from Wegerif and Mercer (1997). I guess I may need to follow the recommendation to reread parts of the article as it is about a week ago since I read it. What was it about? 😕

Why is transcript data to be prefered to the video data?

I am actually a little bit confused, because my initial answer would have been that video data is the best as it displays most closely the original event. And indeed both authors state that ‘any  video/audio recording of events is the most concrete level of data available to language researcher after an event’, although they also report that recorded data is evidently itself abstract from the more concrete original event which the authors posit as degree zero on the scale of concrete to abstract.

Therefore I can only imagine why the transcript should be prefered above video data. First it is already written down and can thus be better analysed for e.g. key word in context analysis or count of key usage. Although a transcript is more abstract as a video, it does not take attention away from the spoken word. Besides that I am not really sure what further advantage transcripts should have, but I hope reading the contributions of my colleagues will enlighten me.

Quantitative research uses preconceived categories rather than letting findings ’emerge’ from the data. To what extend does qualitative research work with such categories? Do you think it would be possible to avoid the use of preconceived categories when analysing this data?

Looking back to what I learned in previous courses about qualitative research I know that they work with categories as well. They emerge when they go through the data (interviews, video/audio recording, etc) and they start building as well categories and subcategories which they use for further analysing. Otherwise a comparison would be not really possible if e.g. the evaluation of 50 interviews would be left to personal adjustments. That would not produce reliable and credible research data.

Is silence an evidence? Does silence implies a tacit agreement with group decisions? Normally I would argue that silence is no evidence, sure the participant might show his agreement with not arguing against, but it could be also the case that he or she is not willing to continue the discussion and simply want to get over with.

Sorry, I have not time to look at the papers in which fuller accounts of the study appear and to figure out if also the control group also achieved higher group scores in the post-intervention task.

Question 5 links to question 1 to the use of preconceived categories. The computer-based analysis is also based on categories or certain key words like the use of the word ‘because’ or ‘cos’. If the computer does not find this particular words, like in John’s statement: ‘No, it’s out, tha goes out look’, it will exclude this statement, although John is giving a reason. Computer-based analysis have the advantage that the search for key words is quickly done, but contrary to a human researcher who recognize that John is giving a reason as well, though not using the words because or cos is a computer not capable to cover the whole meaning of a conversation.

How might one deal with such a problem? Well, like I said, it would be necessary to recheck the results by a human researcher.

Questions over questions, I just discovered the next page continues to ask questions. I can sometimes really understand my students wish to be simply spoon-fed 😉

How convinced am I that computer-based analysis of collaborative learning offers a way of combining the strengths of quantitative and qualitative methods of discourse analysis while overcoming some of their weaknesses.

Already the question indicates that I should be not convinced. Personally, I think that the computer-based analysis lead away from the intended aims of qualitative research. In activity 2.4 I wrote down as the following strength of qualitative research that it ‘typically emphasise people’s words and actions rather than quantification and measurement’ and that it rely essentially on the interpretative analysis of transcribed speech and that it is designed to help researchers capture and understand social phenomena in their natural context. Computer-based analysis however tries to quantify and measure data, e.g. how many key words can be found in a transcript. Sure it does not rely solely on this data but depends on human analysis as well, but I think it is a step towards quantitative research away from the ideals of qualitative research.

What does the computer add to the analysis?

The author mentions that !KiwcTex the computer programme ‘makes it possible to explore rapidly the contextualised use of such linguistic features’ (Wegerif and Mercer, 1997), one benefit that I myself see. It is a mean to quickly produce quantitative data that can be presented similar to table 1 which show how often each group used the words because/cos or so an if, the number of questions asked and the total word count.

What is the status of computer-based text analysis 10 years on?

Wegerif and Mercer’s document is from 1997, thus we are asked if this method is still used today and to which extent it is still relevant in contemporary research. Searching within the OU library did not really yield much results until I figured out that the terminology seems to have changed to computer assisted text analysis. With this search words a couple more articles were found, indication that this research method is still in use today, but it did not tell me anything about its status. Google search produced a lot more results, both for computer-based as well as computer assisted analysis. But, it still did not tell me much about the status. Funnily, my research lead me to another H809 student when I used !KwicTex as search word. However, it seems that at least this software is not longer on the market, but I read e.g. about WordStats. Well, 20 minutes are over now and I hope that I can revert back to the ‘wisdom of the crowds’ (Surowiecki, 2004). Let’s give it a try with Delicious and Twitter and see if someone else had more success.

Delicious was not really a success, as nobody tagged a link with computer-based, and one link that I found using H809 brought me to an article dated 1995, which does not help me to answer the question 😦 No tweets so far on this subject, but I raised the question in a tweet. Answers will be posted here.

How does the paper compare with Reading 1?

In my opinion the basic questions were a lot more difficult to answer as in reading 1. Reading one was about researching if a technology – the virtual classroom – is a viable alternative to face-to-face courses, quite similar to reading 2 where the authors researched if computer-based analysis helps to combine the strength of qualitative and quantitative research, eliminating thus their weaknesses. Qualitative and quantitative research methods were used in both papers, but with different means. Well, what else? Although the readings show some basic similarities do they research quite different issues. Wegerif and Mercer research talk in collaborative learning and reading 1 research insofar a virtual learning environment substitute or supersede a traditional face-to-face learning environment.

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