Thursday, 31 December 2015

Standing outside the interview process?

This is a really pertinent piece of work. It helps clearly explain the differences between Husserlian and Heideggerian phenomenology. I had pretty much grasped them, it seems. It also seems that I had by chance made the right decision about the process of bracketing, or rather not. I find it difficult to understand how a researcher can 'bracket' out prior experiences and knowledge if undertaking phenomenological research, and so the Heideggerian process of co-creation of the interview between the interviewer and the participant seems to naturally make more sense to me. I'm rather surprised to find myself writing this, with my positivist background in science!

One interesting thought from this paper is that they suggest that confusion and not clearly nailing your phenomenological colours to the mast is relatively common, at least in nursing research. I have to admit that I find this rather surprising - even a cursory glance at the literature clearly indicates that these two concepts of phenomenology are different and so need to be approached in different ways. Anyway - on to the paper. I think it's one I'll come back to time and again.

Lowes, L. & Prowse, M. (2001). Standing outside the interview process? The illusion of objectivity in phenomenological data collection. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 38, 471-480.

1. Introduction

Phenomenological interviewing as data collection is defied by a philosophical position. However, these are rarely stated within articles - perhaps due to word count restrictions. The authors suggest that there is lack of methodological clarity if the philosophical position of the author is not clearly identified. This can, in turn, affect rigour and trustworthiness of the work.

2. Phenomenology as a philosophy and a research approach

There are different interpretations of phenomenology. The omission of a clear statement about the philosophical underpinnings of the phenomenological research method used results in confusion which can affect the overall quality and rigour of the research. Researchers claiming affiliation to either Husserl or Heidegger need to substantiate their claim in their methodological account.

3. Husserl's philosophy

Husserl believed that, in order to ensure the validity or objectivity of research, the researcher needed to examine any preconceptions or beliefs, acknowledge them, and then bracket them - 'reduction'. In order to come to an understanding of an experience that is uncontaminated by our preconceptions, we must try to remove as many layers of experience as we can. Husserl's phenomenology is known as 'transcendental' as he believed that the researcher must transcend their natural attitudes and stand outside the research process, to ensure the objectivity of the research.

4. The pursuit of objectivity through bracketing

The process of bracketing is questioned by philosophers and researchers. Merleau-Ponty (1964) suggests that complete reduction is impossible as the researcher's consciousness is engaged 'in the world' and so cannot be transcended. Crotty (1996) points out that bracketing does not just refer to the researcher but also the participant. Considering the difficulty that researchers have with bracketing, suggesting that participants should have the skills to do so, to consider the work rigorous, seems somewhat troublesome. Furthermore, it must be remembered that Husserlian phenomenology was based on efforts to ensure objectivity and therefore links to positivism, rather than the subjectivity sought through interpretivism (Harper & Hartman, 1997)

There is a question over how researchers do lay aside their biases in practice. There has been a move toward a more pragmatic view of bracketing, but this hardly holds close to the Husserlian ideal.

5. Heidegger's philosophy

Heidegger emphasises the importance of 'being in the world' - both the participant and the researcher are in the world and both view human experience through language, history and cultural perspectives. The hermeneutic phenomenology of Heidegger sees a shift from the aims of objectivity with Husserlian phenomenology. We cannot bracket our 'being in the world' but can only interpret experiences through our own beliefs, prior experiences and preconceptions. The defining characteristic of Heideggerian phenomenology is the incorporation of the researcher's preconceptions in the generation of data.

6. Heideggerian phenomenological interviews

The products of Heideggerian phenomenological interviews are a co-creation by interviewer and respondent. This means that the researcher's experiences, as well as those of the respondent, are captured within the data.

7. The influence of preconceptions on the interview process

Husserlian phenomenology requires the bracketing out of all of the researcher's preconceptions. This is difficult to achieve - researchers choose their studies because they are of importance to them in some way. In Heideggerian phenomenological research, the researcher's background, preconceptions and interest in the study topic influence their responses to participants, data generation and analysis (Rodgers & Cowles, 1993). Credibility therefore relies on the researcher demonstrating self-awareness throughout the research process. Heideggerian phenomenologists acknowledge and document their preconceptions and the possible effects on the interview structure and participants' responses. Reflective journals can be used to make this process visible. At each stage of the study position statements can be produced to explicate preconceptions. It must be considered that preconceptions are open to reinterpretation throughout the interview and analysis process - this should also be documented.

8. Interviewer as co-participant in the research

Interviewers and participants co-create data through interaction where each affects the responses of the other. This enhances the richness of data collection. However, we need to consider the issue of interviewer bias, particularly where there is a perception of power of the interviewer over the respondent, as could occur in education and healthcare. Explicit consideration of this issue will augment trustworthiness.

Nevertheless, it is important o ensure that questions do not guide the respondent to answer in a particular way which merely confirms the preconceptions of the researcher. The researcher must maintain some level of objectivity within the interview, to ensure that they maintain a critical distance and can see alternative viewpoints.

9. The literature review

Opinions differ as to when the phenomenological researcher should review the data. ethically, some research must be performed before the interview, to ensure that the respondent's time is not wasted with questions which do not uncover new thoughts or ideas. Some researchers suggest that in Husserlian phenomenology, a review of the literature should only be completed after interviews, to reduce the preconceptions that must be bracketed. within Heideggerian phenomenology, the researcher's preconceptions are a part of the research process, and so the idea of a literature review producing bias is irrelevant.

However, the researcher must be mindful of not trying to fit their study findings into a conscious or unconscious framework developed from previous studies. The consideration of theoretical constructs from the literature can be documented in a research journal.

10. Quality indicators

A defining quality indicator in Heideggerian research is a detailed explication of the interviewer's preconceptions and reference to these throughout the research process (Paley 1997). In contrast, a quality indicator in Husserlian phenomenology is an account of how the interviewer's preconceptions have been treated so as not to influence the research in any way.

11. Conclusions

Researchers cannot stand outside the interview process but must consider fully their preconceptions.

Further reading

Crotty (1996) Phenomenology and nursing research

Harper & Hartman (1997) research paradigms. In P. Smith (Ed.). Research mindedness for practice.

Merleau-Ponty (1964) Primacy of perception and other essays

Rodgers & Cowles (1993) The qualitative research audit trail: a complex collection of documentation.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Reflections on learning: widening capability and the student experience

This paper is obliquely linked to my interests but does have some useful information and links. It discusses some theories which may be of relevance in my analysis stages. The social context at the beginning is also useful to help me understand the greater picture. I was drawn in by the title, with 'widening capability' - I initially believed this was to do with widening participation. The link is certainly there, exploring methods of assessment which acknowledge the life experiences of those students from a non-traditional background, but it is more to do with developing skills through this acknowledgement.

Summary: Useful background, some further reading to explore.

Garratt, D. (2011). Reflections on learning:  widening capability and the student experience. Cambridge Journal of Education, 41(2), 211-225.

Social Context

There has been rapid and unprecedented expansion of HE in the UK (David, 2010) with an increase in students from non-traditional backgrounds entering HE. Garratt draws attention to the theme of increasing diversity and looks at the implications for learning and teaching, to produce a more socially just pedagogy.

Crozier et al. (2008) suggest that the discourse of WP only involves the 'desire to participate' rather than affecting change in the 'ability to participate' once the students have entered HE. Walker (2008) invokes the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (2007) who believe that within the UK, HE is not fully promoting equality.

Garratt's research question is: "How can HE programmes widen 'capability' by encouraging student reflection on learning and personal knowledge and further recognise the outcomes in order to develop a more inclusive pedagogy, integrating formal and informal learning?"

Methodology and data sources

Garratt identifies the participants, states that it is a qualitative account, with vignettes taken from student learning logs. The study is a post-hoc rationalisation (Hockings et al, 2010). Garratt goes over the ethics process and suggests that the study was done as it was for heuristic reasons. For my own info: heuristic: method not guaranteed to be optimal but sufficient for the immediate goals. Garratt used a hermeneutic approach, moving between theory and data, to find "warrantable understandings" (Ivanic et al., 2007) - illuminating and capable of inference, rather than seeking 'truth'.

Learning log - discussion of the student assessment

Theoretical framework

Sen (1992, 1999) discusses notions of equality in learning, closely linked with the concept of 'capabilities'. Capabilities are the opportunities given to individuals to enable them to realise their potential.

The space between an individual's 'internal capabilities' (Nussbaum, 2000) and 'functionings' (realisation of measurable outcomes) is mediated by the external environment. Bourdieu's  concepts of 'habitus' and 'cultural capital' help demonstrate how students have varying levels of accessibility to particular forms of high status knowledge, based on prior learning experiences and dispositions (Crozier et al, 2010). Crozier et al (2010) suggest that there is a disjunction between the habitus of students from non-traditional backgrounds and the unfamiliar field of experience at university.

Garratt uses Critical Race Theory to analyse the vignettes, using rich data to explore the 'warrantable understandings' drawn from the work.

Widening capability in student experience

Students telling their own stories in accordance with freedoms they have reason to value, the learning task provided opportunity to widen 'capability' and allow students to participate more confidently in their learning.

Hockings et al (2010) "students value teaching that recognises their individual academic and social identities and that addresses their particular learning needs".

Bates (2007): productive pedagogies that seek to develop a capability approach and further the course of social justice in education often usefully possess the following characteristics:...... Intellectual quality - development of higher order thinking.....

Further reading:

Bates (2007) Developing capabilities and the management of trust. In Walker & Unterhalter (eds) Amartya Sen's capability approach and social justice in education.

Crozier, Reay, Clayton, Colliander, Grinstead (2008) Different strokes for different folks: diverse students in diverse institutions - experiences of higher education

Crozier, Reay, & Clayton (2010) The socio-cultural and learning experiences of working-class students in higher education. In David (below).

David M. (Ed.) (2010) Improving learning by widening participation in higher education

Hockings, Cooke & Bowl (2010) Learning and teaching in two universities within the context of increasing student diversity: Complexity, contradictions and challenges. In David's book above

Ivanic, Edwards, Satchwell and Smith (2007).  Possibilities for pedagogy in further education: harnessing the abundance of literacy.

Nussbaum (2000) Women and human development: the capabilities approach

Sen (1992) Inequality re-examined

Sen (1999) Development as freedom

Walker (2008) Widening participation, widening capability

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Doing Heideggerian hermeneutic research: A discussion paper

Smythe, E. A., Ironside, P. M., Sims, S. L., Swenson, M. M., & Spence, D. G. (2008). Doing Heideggerian hermeneutic research: A discussion paper. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 45, 1389-1397.

This was quite a difficult paper to read. In summary, it is one main researcher, in discussion with colleagues, going through the thought processes that lead them to hermeneutic analysis of their work. It goes into some depth on Heidegger's Dasein, etc. There are a few useful points which I could use in my assignment.

Within this sort of work, rigour is often renamed trustworthiness (needs a citation). The authors stress that they do not link to Husserl or his followers such as Colazzi and Giorgi. They choose to stay close to the experience itself (ontologic) rather than try to articulate a more generalised analysis of essence (ontic).

1. At the heart

"In the midst" of a specific situating that is constantly in flux". Specific knowing can only come in the moment. Gadamer spoke of the rom to "play" - some room to explore within a structure (e.g. wheels on a bike needing some 'pay' to allow for their free movement).

Phronensis: a key part of Heideggerian hermeneutics - the "wisdom in action" that knows in the moment and finds the way, day by day. Researchers in  phenomenology are  never outside their research - they are always in the midst, making choices and living with possibilities.

2. Our quest

There is an understanding that their research cannot produce objective, scientific concepts of truth. Heidegger (in Harman, 2007) refers to truth as 'unconcealment' yet what we seek will move in and out of concealment as we try to seek it. "Thinking is not a 'working out' but a 'letting come' (Dunne, 1993).

3. Translation to method

3.1 The phenomenological conversation
Within phenomenology, the method must, at times, make way for 'Dasein' - being in the moment. Each conversation is unique, even when an interview framework is used. "What matters most is openness to what 'is' - to the play of conversation" (p. 1392).

3.2. Working with the data
Heidegger suggests that our understanding is always already there and cannot nor should be divorced from our thinking. "We are called by a particular story, just as one 'stops' in front of a particular painting in an art gallery". One can never teach another how to think because meditative thinking, as described by Heidegger (1992) is an experience of being-lost-in-thought. The  minute one tries to 'describe' how one thinks, one moves from being-in-thought to a more ontic process that is different.

Van Manen (1990, p. 79) 2Grasping and formulating a thematic understanding is not a rule-bound process but a free act of 'seeing'  meaning". What we call themes are not necessarily the same thing said again and again but rather an understanding we have seen something that matters significantly, something that we wish to point the reader towards.

They suggest that themes aren't 'findings' removed from the data but to indicate what the researcher senses within the text and to indicate to the reader that this will be analysed further.

3.3. Offering
Reliability is not important but what provokes the researcher to wonder.

3.4. Inviting
Heideggerian phenomenology invites the reader to make their own journey.

4. The 'experience'

4.1. At the beginning, the research question is not important and is not fixed. "The focus of the research is held but the questions we bring to that focus will grow and change as our understanding builds."

4.2. Captured by a thought

4.3. Enjoying
Letting the ideas jump out.

4.4. Working
Listen for the ideas that jump out.

4.5. Listening and responding
Must have an openness to the thinking that emerges and respond to those insights with  more questions.

4.6. The unutterable circle of writing

4.7. Openness
writing as thinking rather than writing as reporting. Be open to the unexpected.

4.8. Always an impression
Findings of hermeneutic phenomenological research is the impression gained. It seeks to engage others in their own thinking experience.

4.9. Discerning trust
The researcher has a responsibility to listen in a way that seeks to understand the meaning of what is said, and to respond with thinking that provokes and engages. Resonance - the hallmark of trustworthiness.

4.10. 'Graced moments'
A hallmark of phenomenological research is the act of 'graced moments' (Heidegger) - a shared sense of belonging to the insight that seems to go beyond what was said, yet is felt and understood as being true.

4.11. Being self
Let thinking come, as it comes. 'Being there' in the midst of what is.

4.12. Conclusion
The paper sought to provide words for the unutterable process of phenomenological research. Phenomenological researchers listen to the participants' story of their lived experiences, trusting that new understandings come through the data. Writing hermeneutically is thinking.

Overall, this paper shines through with the joy that the researchers seem to feel as they engage with the process of research and particularly with the process of analysis of the text.

Further reading:

Dunne (1993) Back to the rough ground.

Harman (2007) Heidegger explained. From object to phenomenon.

Heidegger (1992) What calls for thinking?

Heidegger (1995) Being and time.

Van Manen (1990). Researching lived experience.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Deep swimming and murky waters: Phenomenological interviewing

This paper is a useful one to consider and review just prior to interviewing. It goes through the process and its difficulties, for an early stage researcher. The key point to keep in mind seems to be that you need to make sure you use questions appropriately to probe deeply enough to get answers to the research question.

King, D. (2014). Deep swimming and murky waters: Phenomenological interviewing - reflections from the field. Education Journal, 3(3), 170-178.

Abstract: A reflection on the merits and caveats of phenomenological interviewing as an educational research tool.

1. Introduction: Phenomenology - issues in educational research

1.1. Phenomenology - what it is.
"The difficulties of stating point-blank what phenomenology is are notorious" (Wimpenny & Gass, 2000). There are disagreements about differing approaches to phenomenology and even disagreement over whether it is an approach or a method (Wilkes 1991 - can't find online at the moment). There is a discussion of the primacy of subjective consciousness; awareness that this consciousness bestows meaning and that this meaning can be accounted for through reflexivity. Polit, Beck & Hungler (2001) suggest that the approach is of use when studying a phenomenon that is not well described.

1.2. Why it is valued in educational research
Human experience is revealed through rich descriptions from the people being studied. It preserves the integrity of the situation where it is used (Cohen, Mannion & Morrison, 2007). This leads to insight and awareness of participants' inner worlds. The phenomenological researcher uses their "intuition, imagination and universal structures to obtain a picture" (Cresswell, 1998) of the experience under study. The subjective judgement of the researcher is a key part of the phenomenological approach (Polit & Hungler, 1991).

1.3. Bracketing
The author discusses the role of bracketing as vital in Husserlian/transcendental phenomenology. He then discusses Heideggerian hermeneutic phenomenology where we cannot separate our own 'being in the world' (dasein?). Attempts to bridge the gap between Husserl's and Heidegger's views on bracketing have led to the suggestion that the researcher acknowledges the subjective views that describe individual realities. These views include those of the researcher. The author suggests self reflection as a tool to define the researcher's concerns and explain their world view. Open acknowledgement  of the researcher's viewpoint is made explicit to the reader. The philosophical viewpoint of the researcher should be made clear, to provide methodological transparency. Rigour and trustworthiness rest on the researcher clearly demonstrating their preconceptions and contribution to the interview process (Lowes & Prowse, 2001).

The researcher  is the primary instrument of research therefore we need to begin by examining, identifying and acknowledging values, experiences and expectations in relation to the research, and why we are interested in the topic. This can be done through a researcher as instrument statement.

2. Framing the research question.

Framing the initial research question is the first step in the research process (Wellington, 2011). At the bottom of page 172 - some (possibly) good information on how to come up with a research question, by working through the author's own thought processes.

3. Interviews as research instruments

The role of interviewing as a means of data collection is to gather knowledge as generated between humans, often through conversations. Interviews allow subjects to provide their personal views and interpretations of the world. Interviews are multi-sensory, with both verbal and non-verbal communication. There is co-construction of the interview between the interviewer and interviewee (Walford, 2001). "A tacit tension exists between the need for an interviewing framework and the essential naivety required for phenomenological interviewing" (p. 175). The author's suggestion here is that, especially for the beginning researcher, questions do need to be outlined prior to the interview. However, the researcher should have the courage and intuition to follow up areas of interest that relate specifically to the research question, even if they haven't been considered during the planning process.

3.2. Phenomenological interviewing and the interview framework
Seidman (1991) suggests that the researcher needs to have an interest in the stories of others. e need to remain open to emergent experiences. Interview schedules are developed to identify the experience and its meaning for the participants.

4. Sampling and conducting the interview

Use of purposive sampling - selecting appropriate information from sources to explain meanings. We need to make a conscious decision on the site of choice for interviewing as this can affect interviewee response.

5. Ethical considerations

We have a moral obligation to conduct research ethically and to take all necessary precautions to avoid harm. Must seek approval from the ethics committee. BERA require voluntary informed consent. A participant information sheet and consent form are provided. Clear and accurate records of the research procedures followed. Secure data storage.

6. IPA of interview transcripts

The author suggests approaching the data with two aims:
1. To try to understand the participants' world and describe 'what it is like';
2. To develop a more overtly interpretative analysis, positioning the initial description in a wider social, cultural and theoretical context  (Larkin, Watts & Clifton, 2006 - have already read this - go back to!) The novice is therefore using a proven framework.

6.1. Phenomenological reduction
There should be bracketing of the researcher's personal views and assumptions during analysis. It is an analysis of the experience 'as lived' rather than allowing personal/theoretical concepts to get in the way of the rigour with which the description was being analysed. Need to read the transcripts 'naively' several times to get a sense of the whole (consider the hermeneutic circle here - exploration of the part/the whole and back to the part?)

6.2. First order constructs
Hycner (1985) recommends that the researcher delineates units of general meaning through scrutiny of verbal and non-verbal responses, to distil the meaning of the participant, using rich data from the participants themselves.  "Construct" = an abstract or general idea extracted from specific instances by systematically arranging ideas or terms to create a mental framework. First order constructs are units of participant statements kept in their original verbatim form.

6.3. Second order constructs
This is where we interpret meaning from the verbatim text to illuminate the phenomenon in approachable terms (Van Manen, 1990). We look for convergence and divergence by interpreting the narrative and describing and arranging themes into categories - second order constructs.
Taber (1991) describes first order constructs s how the participant conceptualises the phenomenon of interest and second order constructs as how the researcher makes sense of the phenomenon through interpretation.

6.4. Clustering of themes
The second order constructs are grouped into themes. During this phase the researcher moves between the parts and the whole (hermeneutic circle), and clusters the themes into a meaningful relation - structural synthesis of the core elements of the described experience.

7. Discussion of findings

The direct story of the participant recounted that mentoring was a good, helpful experience. The researcher then positioned the participant's interpretation of 'goodness' and 'helpfulness' within a theoretical framework to gain a full picture of what the mentoring experience meant. The researcher clustered the themes under three key constructs defined in relation to the pupil's interpretation of her mentoring experience: mentor constructs, pupil constructs and impact constructs.

8. Conclusion - reflections on phenomenological interviewing

Trustworthiness of the data is an issue  the participants may feel they have to provide the 'true' answer. This would depend on any power relationship between interviewer and participant. The researcher found that he needed more detailed responses to answer the research question - see my comments at the beginning. This is something I must try to get right!

Further reading:

Cohen, Mannion & Morrison, 2007 Research methods in education (6th ed.).

Cresswell (1998) Qualitative enquiry and research design: choosing among five traditions.

Larkin Watts & Clifton 2006. Giving voice and making sense in IPA

Lowes & Prowse (2001). Standing outside the interview process? The illusion of objectivity in phenomenological data generation.

Polit, Beck & Hungler (2001). Essentials of nursing research: methods, appraisals and utilisation.

Polit & Hungler (1991) Nursing research: principles, methods (3rd ed.).

Taber (1991) Triangulating job attitudes.....

Seidman (1991) Interviewing as qualitative research

Van Manen (1990) Researching lived experience: human science for an action sensitive pedagogy

Walford (2001). Doing qualitative educational research: a personal guide to the research process.

Wellington, 2011. Educational research: contemporary issues and practical approaches.

Wilkes (1991). Phenomenology: A window to the nursing world. In G. Gray & R. Pratt, Towards a discipline of nursing (pp. 229-246). Melbourne, Australia: Churchill Livingstone.

Wimpenny & Gass (2000) Interviewing in phenomenology and grounded theory: Is there a difference?

Saturday, 26 December 2015

More policy background - New Labour and HE by D. Watson

Certainly whilst I was working in FE, the labour period was one of growth and developments. Since the coalition and Conservative governments FE, like most areas of spending, has had its funding cut significantly. This paper is an interesting discussion of New Labour's policies in HE, in relation to WP as a key theme running through Labour's government.

Watson, D. (2006). New Labour and higher education. Perspectives, 10(4), 92-96.

Participation and social justice
Watson starts by suggesting that WP is a troublesome issue in HE, with a wide range of research identifying just as wide a range of 'answers' to the issues. Within the Higher Education Act 2004, there was discussion of 'under-represented groups' for the first time. Watson suggests that political interference into who is worthy or not worthy of support is a concern. He cites that admission tutors (Wilde et al., 2006 - see below for link). He dismisses Schwarz's arguments (DfES 2004a and 2004b). There is discussion over WP - it shouldn't just be about raising aspirations but also "fair access to prestigious institutions" (p. 93). This is not as big a problem as getting disadvantages students *to* university.

Watson suggests the following interventions:
- WP is about improving the quality of the school-based experience for all students, especially those from under-represented groups;
- WP is about parental expectations;
- WP is about governments and employers recognising that L3 is the key for the development of a learning society;
- WP is about employers living up to their promises of supporting younger and older workers in their learning journeys.

There is a tension between the expansion of HE and participation - an increase in HE places risks further disadvantaging non-participants.

Watson expresses concern that HEIs may think this is SEP, and continue to recruit those who are easiest to recruit, then look for others to meet the numbers.

From the Secretary  of State's letter to HEFCE (2006): "The second priority is on WP for low income families - due to entrenched inequality, and equates to a waste of human capital" - from this quote it can be seen that the political focus is on capital.

HE and the public interest
What is the public interest in HE? It is not the same as that of the government or the state. He suggests we need to consider what is the university in a civil society, and how and for whom do HEIs work? Are students customers, clients or members? What is the effect of a university, as opposed to other methods of knowledge production? All of these affect public policy surrounding universities - with New Labour, Watson suggests that many policies are determined in spite of evidence rather than because of it. Plus ca change....

Facing the future
Watson suggest short term initiatives should be 'framed' within "an ambitious overall policy goal".

SO what?
Some useful background information here. Also, it has forced me to consider the gap that WP can cause. It's fine to bang on about widening participation, but how does that leave those who cannot/do  not want to go into HE? Second class citizens to the employer? Especially when considered in conjunction with the Wolf Report (previous post) where she bemoans the dearth of apprenticeships for young people. Not directly relevant to assignment one but interesting.

Further reading to do:

Wilde, Wright, Hayward, Johnson, Skerret, Nuffield review higher education focus groups: Preliminary report.

Friday, 25 December 2015

The Wolf Report

This post looks at the Wolf report into vocational education. It's a recent key report into VE, and I should probably have been more aware of its contents than I was. Its content and recommendations aren't probably of specific relevance to my current work, but it's important to have an understanding of the context of the politics surrounding FE. The report stresses the relevance and employers' understanding of long-standing vocational qualifications at level 3, such as the BTEC. Where Wolf feels that students are let down are many of the lower level VQs which do not lead on to further qualifications. However, as an  overview to remind me at a later date, I've put down the key points and spent some time on the context, as I'm lacking in knowledge of the background.

Wolf, A. (2011). Review of vocational education - the Wolf Report. Retrieved from

Purpose: Consider how we can improve VE for 14 to 189 yos and thereby promote successful progression into the labour market and into HE and training routes.

The working definition of VE used: all qualifications, other than GCSEs, A levels, IGCSEs and IB, that incorporate clear vocational content and referencing.

Introduction: There are around 2.5 million 14-19yos, most in full- or part-time education. Education and training programmes should allow young people to progress. There is high youth unemployment. Most 14-19yos take some form of vocational qualification. Almost two thirds of young people don't take A levels - the conventional academic route. Wolf suggests that there is a failing of vocational provision, with no clear progression opportunities. Around 350,000 young people "are poorly served by current arrangements" (p. 21). This is not just a failure of education provision but of changes in labour markets. There is failure of vocational programmes due to constant reorganisations of 14-19 education by central government. She suggests we need a reduction in the centralised management of qualifications and greater involvement of employers, increased efficiency and more relevant qualifications.

The social and labour market context: There has been a reduction in the youth labour market. There are high returns on education and qualifications and high aspirations to HE. There are also high returns to work experience. Rapid economic change is having unpredictable effects on the labour market. All of these impact on 14-19 VQs.

1. Collapse of the youth labour markets: Apprenticeships are a valuable route into employment throughout the EU. The number of young people in employment is low. Those not in education and training face high levels of unemployment. England has very high youth unemployment, up to 25yos. People are pushed into education due to the lack of jobs. even before the 2009 recession, youth unemployment was rising and the number of NEETs increasing.

The nature of the labour market: There is a high level of 'over-qualification' for jobs, but shortages in very specific areas - as demonstrated by the returns for specific qualifications, especially quantitative ones. It is now harder for 16 -17 yos to find employment due to legislation making it more difficult (H&S). The employer perception of 16-17yos leaving education is one of 'low achievers'.

2. High returns to education and qualifications: Education and qualifications 'pay'. Low level VQs have very low returns - they have little or no labour market value (level 2 qualifications). Employers look for qualifications with which they are familiar, rather than trying to keep up with constant qualification reforms.

3. High returns to apprenticeship and employment: Employers value work experience - this explains the high returns associated with apprenticeships. "The best predictor of being employed in the future is being employed now" (p. 34).

4. Occupational change: There is rapid economic and occupational change and a decline in skilled manual jobs.

Implications of change (A): YPs entry into the English labour market:- YP are very likely to change both jobs and occupations in the first years of employment, There is considerable 2churn2 in and out of education and employment.

Implications of change (B): How education systems are adapting - facts and misconceptions:- Most developed countries now delay specialisation to later stages. England pushes for earlier and more complete specialisation in both academic and vocational tracks.

Implications of change (C): Challenges for VE:- VE needs to take into account the varying job histories YP can expect to experience. Needs to take into account aspirations for higher study.

The educational context:
Issues: Young people taking VQs which the labour market does not reward; and also established VQs valued by industry being denied accreditation and funding by the government. YP are being encouraged to take VQs which will reduce opportunities for progression. There are high drop out rates and 'churning'. The funding systems discourage further English/maths courses post-16. There is a marked decrease in returns to post-16 VQs. The causes of these issues are complex.

There has been rapid and repeated change in VE over the past 25 years, for example: new 'non-academic' qualifications such as the Diploma, designed by central government; increasing regulation of qualifications for 14-19yos; redesign of VQs to a specific vocational focus; changes in performance management by central government; apprenticeship reform; changes in funding formulae for 14-19yos; changes/redesign of maths and English, especially for those on VQs.

Key issues A: Key Stage 4: Until recently, VQs were only a small proportion of a 14-15yos timetable. In the 1990s, GNVQs were introduced, at first for post 16s only. Then came GCSE equivalencies for VQs such as BTEC Firsts. The QCA's programme of 'equivalencies' to ensure all qualifications at a particular level are treated as substantively equivalent (and with parity).

Key Issues B: Upper 2nd, age 16-19: No major changes, unlike KS4. Most study for AS and A levels - the 'sixth form' pathway. BTEC awards also attract substantial numbers and are well recognised by HE; these are teacher assessed and awarding body verified.

Part 4: Audit of current provision
In 2009 11.4% of UK applicants accepted for HE entry had BTEC ND and no A levels. A further 1.7% had BTEC national plus A levels. 37.1%  had A levels alone. In 1999 only 4.9 of acceptances had only BTEC nationals. 14-19 education should equip young people to follow different routes successfully and not operate as a tracking system.

1. There is a mismatch between labour market requirements and VE provision. The content of many current VQs is not valued by employers and the labour market. Level 2 courses allow limited progression and lead to churning.
2. The labour market recognises qualifications that are stable and familiar - academic qualifications have been relatively stable. YPs employment patterns imply a need for more general rather than highly specific VQs; however, YP are increasingly being offered only highly specific VQs.

The report discusses the mismatches in VQs and the labour market in detail as well as the role of apprenticeships. There are a large number of recommendations, which the 2015 review returns to.

Need to: Review the Government's response to the Wolf report and also any updates (2015) - for future work rather than of relevance now.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The toddler explanation of creativity

I was sitting with our little boy yesterday, whilst he drew a picture. At each stage he explained the following:
- what he was drawing;
- why he was drawing it;
- an explanation of the story behind what he'd drawn.

The drawing started off as a donkey. But gradually, layers of story were built upon the donkey drawing. The finished drawing no longer looked like a donkey, but it had a complex narrative woven into it.

What's this got to do with an EdD? Metaphor for understanding, for building an assignment or a thesis? Perhaps just an idea of how to tackle the module on creativity in education next year. I just wanted to capture the idea, the process, before I forgot. Thanks Thomas, and thanks Donkey.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Research on the transition from vocational education and training to higher education

Dunbar-Goddet, H. & Ertl, H. (2007). Research on the transition from vocational education and training to higher education. Degrees of Success Working Paper 1.

This paper discusses the method used in the previous paper I looked at. It has some useful information to consider, relating to questions. It also makes me realise that everything seems to have been done before. After all, this paper is 8 years old.

Context: The current debate on WP in HE in relation to VET needs to consider two issues:
1. The increase in participation in post-compulsory education;
2. Issues of parity of VQs and 'academic' qualifications (i.e. A levels).

Despite the expansion in the HE sector, the greatest levels of growth are seen in students from the traditional source, that is middle class backgrounds who have entered HE with traditional A level qualifications. A substantial increase in VQs in secondary education has not opened the doors to an equality of access to HE. There is tracking of VET students to less prestigious HEIs.

Government policy under New Labour was to improve the perceived academic value of VQs. The authors found a gap in the knowledge about transition from level three VQs to HE and whether increasing participation in VET has led to widened participation in HE.

Project overview: large scale data analysis and some more in depth interviews, both of students and tutors.

Research design: A variety of questions, including "To what extent are students in VQs prepared fro studies in HE?" "What mechanisms are in place to remedy any lack of preparation?"

Since the 1970s arrange of questionnaires have been used to measure how students approach study in HE (Richardson, 2000). See: Approaches to Studying Inventory, Learning and Studying Questionnaire. See also Ertl, Hayward et al., 2007: The student learning experience in higher education literature review report for the HEA

See also: Christie et al. (2006) From college to university: Looking backwards, looking forwards.

The research had not only a question on preparedness for HE but also on unpreparedness. I would also need to consider asking questions about parental education and whether or not they were first generation HE. Other questions could cover the main challenges they find in academic skills, and how they overcome them., and what their expectations were about academic study at HE and how they thought it would differ from FE. The links above can help me formulate my questions. See p. 28 of article for the questions they used.

They start off with gentle questions such as "Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, for example can you describe the qualifications you obtained before coming into higher education?", "What subject did you study?", "Before you came to university, how well did you think your qualification prepared you for further study?" "Now you've been at university for a while, how well do you now think your vocational qualification prepared you for study at university?"

I need to think around these questions, and then think about what questions I can ask that will help me to answer *my* specific research question. It will be important to make sure we both understand what we mean by academic skills as this is what I'm interested in, rather than general differences between college and HE.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The transition from vocational education and training to higher education: a successful pathway?

Hoelscher, M., Hayward, G., Ertl, H., & Dunbar-Goddet, H. (2008). The transition from vocational education and training to higher education: a successful pathway? Research Papers in education, 23(2), 139-151.

This is an interesting paper as it briefly mentions something my tutor discussed and which I didn't really pick up on: post-hoc rationalisation of decision-making.

Because of the fragmentation of research, access to HE is considered a troublesome area. There is a policy aim to increase access to higher education through the vocational education and training (VET) route but the authors state that there has been little research into how effective these policies have been nor on the types of HEIs that VET students typically access.

Descriptive analysis: where/how individuals with differing prior educational backgrounds participate in HE.

Rationale: New Labour's social policy was the indivisibility of economic efficiency and social justice. Tony Blair said that employees should be equipped with the skills to help them prosper in the workforce. Therefore, the State’s role is ensuring provision of adequate opportunities to develop human capital.
There is a belief that more diverse educational opportunities beyond age 16 would lead to increasing and widening participation in HE. This produces both individual and social returns on investment.
There has been a large increase in participation in full time education beyond 16 (Hayward, 2006), not least due to the increase in level 3 vocational qualifications. These are marketed as a means of progressing to HE, and so widening participation. However, research has shown that this link is not strong. Research by Pugsley (2004) suggests that some vocational qualifications provide minimal opportunity for progression. Therefore there is room to consider whether the increase in participation in VET has increased participation of those from a VET background in HE.

Data sources: The authors used large scale administrative datasets, which were supplemented by case studies at five HEIs.

TO LOOK UP: Dunbar-Goddet and Ertl (2007) outline the theoretical framework and research questions and ibid. (2008) a detailed description of the questionnaire data.

Large scale datasets: The authors define five different types of prior education pathways: general academic; vocational; general academic and vocational; foundation and access courses, and not level three/not known. Perhaps I should consider using this definition? The authors discuss the problem of defining vocational education in the UK – this is also something I need to discuss. They choose a pragmatic, rather than a conceptual, definition. For a more in depth study, a consideration of the characteristics of vocational qualifications would be needed.

Case study data: Two surveys were undertaken with the entire intake of students in three subject areas (business, nursing and computing) at 5 HEIs, for the 06-07 academic year. Interviews with 40 students provided insights into rationales for choosing both HEI and subject. The authors mention the fact of post hoc rationalisation of the students’ decisions will take place and mention Hall (2001).
Hall, however, refers to Thomas, Adams and Birchenough’s study from 1996 “Student withdrawal from higher education”, where they state: “data collected through post-hoc student surveys must be treated with caution as it may reflect socially acceptable rationalisations of what actually happened”.

Distribution of students over institutions and subjects: Both institution and subject choice are influenced by a range of factors such as personal interests, social or ethnic background, social capital, etc. They are also influenced by prior attainment, such as educational background.

Institutional choices: HE students in FE were not analysed. There was an unequal distribution of students from different educational backgrounds in different HEI types. Only 13.5% of VET students were at pre-’92 institutions. VET students went to HEIs with the lowest RAE results; therefore, the authors suggest, A levels are the major route into more prestigious HEIs. It is possible that the students are what the authors call “tracked” into these less prestigious JEIs or track themselves into these HEIs.
Interviews gave a deeper understanding of individuals’ choices of institutions. The most common reason for choice was location, across all educational pathways. The second reason was the perceived quality of institution and/or course. There was often a process of ‘self limitation’ – students tended to exclude many institutions located beyond perceived barriers of physical (proximity to home), academic (grade requirements) or social (friends) space.

Subjects studied: Some subjects are more vocationally oriented than others. There must be fair access for those with non-traditional backgrounds across all academic areas, otherwise there is a continuation of the academic/vocational divide.
The authors used ‘odds-ratio’ to analyse the data. The greatest differences were found in medicine/dentistry and veterinary science, which had a 25 times lower entry for VET students. VET students were over-represented in ‘engineering and technology’, ‘business and admin’, education, agriculture and computer sciences. It is possible that those with vocational qualifications are more attracted to applied subjects.
Different wage premia are connected with degrees in different subjects, but there is no clear pattern between prior qualifications.

Is there a difference for subjects within different types of institution? A level students are much more likely to study at pre-’92 institutions, even when accounting for their subjects.

One explicit goal of the current widening participation agenda is to open up pathways for students from VET backgrounds into HE. The paper looked at the notion of “fair access”, encouraging a more even distribution of students from disadvantaged backgrounds across HEIs and courses which offer the highest financial returns. Although the policy appears effective (VET students are participating in HE), there is little evidence of the PARITY OF ESTEEM, with most VET students at post-’92 HEIs with lower RAE and QAA results. Reasons for this are associated with tracking within a stratified HE system and also individual choice. Tracking suggests that significant institutional barriers remain, funnelling VET students into post-92 HEIs. Personal choice is also involved and is highly individualised. This includes evidence of self-limitation through physical, academic and social barriers. The authors suggest that the policies riving these changes are too weak to achieve the desired outcome.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Assignment 1 notes

Introduction - general blurb and structure

My background

Quantitative vs qualitative

Paradigms - postivists/interpretivist/CT Discuss and dismiss, drawing out where I stand and why I stand there.

Methodology - discussion of methodology. Considering phenomenology (discuss theory/history) and interpretive rather than descriptive (why?) will need to show how their own experiences have shaped the choice of research topic, the questions and their interpretations. How do I stand within a hermeneutic circle?

Consider the issues of validity

Method: semi-structured interviews of students; purposive sampling; taping;


On the right track!

I had a meeting with the module tutor today, about my proposed research for the Research Methods module To say I was nervous was an understatement! I sort of expected to be quizzed on my ontological and epistemological standpoint and be questioned on my choice (seemingly random) of methodology.

But no. Hurrah! I gave an overview of my background and interest and then of my research question. The tutor started off by saying it was a widely studied area, so my immediate concern was that there would be no further area to study. The tutor reeled off list after list of reports surrounding the area of vocational qualifications and their perception in relation to A levels. These I'll have to acquaint/reacquaint myself with:

- Higginson report on A levels in 1988
- Tomlinson report which was quashed by the Blair/Brown government in the run up to the 2010 election
He suggested that I tap into the long history on the topic of vocational qualifications and their role in equipping young people to become career-ready, for example Leitch's Review of Skills

He also suggested I read up on Michael Young: A Curriculum for the 21st Century? Towards a New Basis for Overcoming Academic/Vocational Divisions (can't currently access this online anywhere).

We also discussed (well, I listened...) Foucault's discursive practices relating to policy, with the suggestion that policies speak into existence the behaviours and understandings of us all. Policies inform practice and there is a sovereignty of academic qualifications over vocational qualifications; students come to believe in this 'truth' through socialisation.

With regard to the use of IPA, the tutor was happy for me to use this methodology. He stressed the importance of location of my self within the research, and suggested that I ensure disclosure of my background, in the introduction, to identify the lens through which I view and interpret the research. This will be discussed in relation to the theory of reflexivity My own thought is that I need to mention bracketing, if only to explain why I discount it. Furthermore, something I haven't mentioned previously, is that I am the first generation of the family to go to university. This is something worth mentioning. Currently, I remain the only member of my side of t he family to do so.

SO, where am I? In a happier place about my thoughts about how to go about this assignment and research project.

What do I need to do now?
- Reconsider my assignment plan to incorporate policies/discursive practices
- Consider adding info on the various reports highlighted
- Develop my location of self
- Get cracking on the ethics side of things! This is what may well hold me up.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Revisiting Eisner

Eisner was one of my Week 1 readings. As I gradually start to write the assignment, I find myself revisiting Sparkes etc., but have only just returned to Eisner.

See here for the original post.

My thoughts on this second reading are as follows. I've basically summarised each paragraph, in order t0 gather key points.

Eisner starts the paper by giving an overview of what is meant by objectivity - setting the coconuts up for him to later knock down. He discusses the hierarchy of objectivity over subjectivity - something he comes back to later, in relation to our culture and history. After discussing the struggle for objectivity, he sets his argument against it before defining objectivity in relation to ontology, and linking it to the correspondence theory of truth. Eisner brings in Rorty when he talks about there having to be a correspondence in perception, understanding and representation. Rorty is discussed by the use of his analogy of this representation being a mirror to nature.

Procedural objectivity is dismissed by Eisner, suggesting its inhumanity. He then summarises the argument against subjectivity, setting the argument up for attack in the following paragraph. How comes his argument - and how he will knock down the arguments for objectivity. He suggests that we cannot actually know that we know 'the truth'. Just because we can predict, doesn't mean that we know the truth.

It is important to realise that perception is always based on personal frameworks, so cannot be objective. Quote, p. 12: "What we come to see depends upon what we seek, and what we seek depends upon what we know how to say". This is something I'd like to discuss in the assignment.

The way we represent knowledge will also affect how it is perceived; whatever we do, we will conceal as well as reveal. Group perceptions of reality, through schemata, again  mean we cannot be objective. Procedural objectivity only suggests agreement rather than truth.

So, having destroyed the idea of objectivity, what does Eisner suggest?

Historically and culturally, we are programmed to see objectivity as a requirement and higher than subjectivity. He suggests we look for an alternative. Subjectivity is not 'anything goes' but is based on our personal frames of reference, from our own experiences that we make. If there is lack of a common framework, then communication will be impossible.

Eisner suggests that we should not be afraid of the plurality of worlds that his ideas suggest. Our understanding of truth changes as we make it. We can also consider alternative means fro perceiving truth, e.g. through fiction rather than 'science'.

He then starts to summarise his argument, that objectivity is unachievable. Science and the world have changed. We  must look to recognise the plurality of truth, and use reason to determine truth, not rely on correspondence.

My thoughts now:

I can use the quote and its surrounding information to support my view of subjectivity being appropriate and linked to the research paradigm I'm using. I can also bring in the frameworks area and link, perhaps to reflexivity.

I still can't find the original to Philips' work, but having re-read the blog post, it seems that there is a lot of agreement between Philips and Eisner. However, Philips is convinced that objectivity is achievable through peer review and effective procedures in research. The crux of the argument appears to be around the definition of objectivity, with Eisner linking it clearly to truth. Philips, on the other hand, talks about research being objective but not necessarily true. However, this is my interpretation of someone else's view of the paper, so I need to be careful.

It was useful to revisit this paper and to think about how I can apply the information to my research.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Note to self

I need to blog more regularly, as  I find myself going back to posts I've made and taking inspiration from them.

Blog, blog, BLOG!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

More IPA - still no idea why I'm keen

I've read a little more about the 'nitty gritty' of IPA, as well as some more background on its history and theory. Daunting, but still I haven't come across a reason why I shouldn't pursue this path. My main concern, I suppose, is that a lot of the literature relates to its use in psychology/health psychology rather than in education. If you search, there is a range of material out these using it in education, albeit relatively recent. I've not got a real idea on the quality of the material either.

Incidentally, while I'm making some notes about assignment 1 (and potential dissertation thoughts), I've come across some reference to Tinto's student retention/departure models, which merit further investigation. (Also, Austin's theory on student involvement - not looked into this at all at the moment). These could be of use, depending on what my research finds. I need to keep them in mind. However, I'm not sure, if I use IPA, whether I should be 'free' of theories until after I have done my first lot of analysis - I may potentially organise my questions to support the theories I'm considering aligning my thoughts to.

Anyway, enough navel-gazing. My most recent reading (usual caveats apply - I'll need to paraphrase before use):

Larkin, M., Watts, S., & Clifton, E. (2006). Giving voice and making sense in Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 102-120.


IPA involves the phenomenological requirement to understand and give voice to the concerns of participants. The interpretative requirement to contextualise and 'make sense' of the claims and concerns. The paper looks to explore the relationship between the phenomenological and interpretative aspects of IPA. It covers the epistemological range of IPAs interpretative focus and its relationship to the more descriptive features of phenomenological analysis. Drawing upon concepts from Heideggerian phenomenology the paper situates its conclusions within a contextualist position.

Introduction: IPA

There is a belief that IPA is 'simply descriptive'. However, it is only seen as this as it is a flexible, accessible and applicable tool. This is not to say that it is without vigour. To be done correctly the novice researcher must be aware that its inherent flexibility may make other,  more prescriptive, methods 'safer'. The authors believe that IPA is a powerful method when carried out correctly.

The idea that IPA is 'simple' may stem from Conrad's use of the words "insider's perspective" and is invariably used to describe others' work with IPA. To be able to gain an "insider's perspective" requires thought. Some IPA research, particularly in health psychology, has avoided interpretation of data and the formation of concepts. This oversimplification can make IPA seem superficial.

IPA research is ideographic - it focuses on the individual. That is not to say that findings from IPA studies cannot be applied more widely, but that this wider application is not very generalizable (??? - my own thoughts - need to clarify and then support!)

IPA studies, methodologically, produce an intensive and detailed analysis of a relatively small number of participants. A range of methods can be used to gather data, including semi-structured interviews. Findings are reported thematically. The process is flexible and similar to other qualitative methods.

There is a phenomenological emphasis on the lived experience of the participants. The IPA researcher must seek to understand the world of the participant and to describe it. However, our experience of the participant's world can only ever be partial - the account is constructed by both participant and researcher. Nevertheless, the researcher's aim is to reproduce a view as close as possible to that of the participant. The second stage (double hermeneutics) is to perform an interpretative analysis. Here, the researcher takes into account the wider social, cultural and theoretical context when revisiting the description. The interpretation "aims to provide a critical and conceptual commentary upon the participants' personal 'sense-making' activities'" (p. 104). The researchers can consider 'what it means for the participant to have made these claims and expressed themselves within this situation. within this, the researcher may draw upon existing theoretical constructs'. So here, I've answered my question about whether/when to draw on existing theory such as Tinto, Bourdieu (if they are relevant!).

The paper expands on the phenomenological and interpretative aspects of IPA. The background is drawn from Heidegger and hermeneutics. There follows a discussion on the role of IPA in qualitative psychology.

Husserl, Heidegger and phenomenology as the study of persons-in-context

I'm going to have to review other papers on Husserl vs Heidegger, as I don't really understand this. Husserl made human consciousness central to his analyses. He also believed in the role of bracketing.
Heidegger was concerned that a person is always a 'person-in-context': "We are a fundamental part of a meaningful world and the meaningful world is a fundamental part of us". We can only be understood as a function of our involvement within the world and the world can only be understood as a function of our interactions with it.

Heidegger rejects Cartesian dualism of separate subject and object. He develops the concept of 'Dasein' ('there being'/'being there') - by nature we are 'there', i.e. somewhere, always located within a specific context.

Ontological and epistemological bases for investigating the person-in-context

It is not possible to remove ourselves, our thoughts, our meaning systems, from the world 2to find out an objective truth". However, this is not to say that we  live within a relativistic kedgeree of thought. "What is real is not dependent upon us, but questions about the nature of their reality can only occur because we ask the question". "Things" cannot be revealed unless they are brought meaningfully into the context of human life. Any discoveries we make are just a function of the relationship between researcher and subject. The 'reality' which emerges from the work depends upon how it is constructed by the researcher.

To gain answers of value, we need to reflexively consider the most appropriate questions to ask. A key concept of IPA is using 'sensitivity and responsiveness' to provide useful outcomes. Sensitivity and responsiveness are key to the phenomenological context of this method/stance. This allows the participant to show themselves as themselves and reveal any subject matter on their own terms.

The paper discusses the "empathetic" treatment of the subject, but consider this against the paper on hermeneutic listening - an inappropriate word?

IPA and persons-in-context

IPA is interested in how a particular person experiences and understands the idea of interest. Our interest is in their perception of the subject rather than the subject itself. This is a really important idea to remember. This is what makes it such an interesting method/stance. We know that we can't get to the truth, so we seek a truth, as seen by the participant. We need to consider their truth in light of historical/social etc contexts - the interpretative part of IPA. "An account can be used to reveal something about a person, but only that person's current positioning in relation to the world of objects which have come to constitute the subject in their experience, culture and locale". The analyst must therefore focus on the person-in-context (a particular person in a particular context) and that person's relatedness to the 'phenomena at hand' is the topic we are interested in. "That is, we are interested in how they understand and make sense of their experiences in terms of their relatedness to, and their engagement with, those phenomena."

An account produced by a participant can be used thematically to reveal something real about the object we are studying. "In choosing IPA for a research project, we commit ourselves to exploring, describing, interpreting, and situating the means by which our participants make sense of their experiences" (p. 110). This is contextualism (Madill et al., 2000).

Giving voice: The 'phenomenological goal' demonstrated

Heideggerian phenomenology requires us to identify, describe and understand the 'objects of concern' in the participant's world and the 'experiential claims' made by the participant. These are the key feature of the first order, descriptive, coding in IPA. The authors give an example - Nigel. They study him in order to capture something "of what is important" to him in this context and with this topic at hand. The key element for Nigel is money - it permeates his words.

Making sense - the 'interpretative repertoire' revisited

IPA wants to go further than description; not least because it is hard to identify where description ends and interpretation begins. IPA goes beyond description as it focuses on sense-making activities and our 'involvement in the world'. Interpreting what it means for the participant to have such concerns, within their specific context.

Hermeneutics does not subscribe to a correspondence theory of truth. It assumes that any interpretation involving a hermeneutic circle in which the interpreter's perspective and understanding initially shape their interpretation, but that interpretation, as it reacts with the phenomena of interest, is open to revision and elaboration as the perspective and understanding of the interpreter, including their biases and blind spots, are revealed and evaluated.

P. 114: IPA has been developed to allow the researcher to produce a theoretical framework based upon, but capable of exceeding, the participant's own terminology and conceptualisations. The approach seeks to generate an 'insider's perspective' but no single theoretical assumption about how that perspective may be interpreted.

A range of analytical strategies can be used during interpretation. Anything used needs: carefully formulated research questions and subsequent analysis; a willingness to reflect on the process of data collection and analysis; a contextualised account.


IPA has developed as a set of core ideas (idiographic, phenomenological, interpretative analysis, with first person accounts as data, etc.). Some areas are flexible, e.g. epistemology procedure. It combines rich description of a phenomenological 'core' (aiming to capture something of the 'person-in-context'), with more speculative development of an interpretative account - the meaning of the claims and concerns.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Thinking about approaches to my research

I'm not quite sure why, but I seem to be thinking about using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) for my research for assignment 1. Not knowing why, I suspect, is not an appropriate reason I can provide to the module tutor to justify its choice.

I also have thoughts of Bourdieu whizzing around my brain, on a separate note. I'm going to investigate the ideas of cultural capital and habitus  and see if they coincide with my thoughts on assignment 1.

Anyway, back to IPA. The following paper I found to be quite useful in providing a quick overview of the approach. Nothing within it suggests that it's not an appropriate approach. I need to get hold of Smith's book on the subject and do some more reading. This paper discusses IPA in general and then its relevance to healthcare. It seems mostly used within psychology, but I cannot see why it can't be used within an educational setting.

Pringle, J., Drummond, J., McLafferty, E., & Hendry, C. (2011). Interpretative phenomenological analysis: A discussion and critique. Nurse Researcher, 18(3), 20-24.

This paper looks at the role of IPA within healthcare. Its roots are in psychology, so are there issues in using it  more generally?

Within IPA the role of the analyst is greater than within Husserl's phenomenology. The key difference between IPA and phenomenology is acknowledging the active role of the researcher in the analysis, making it, therefore, potentially less descriptive.

IPA is used for researching the individual and involves a two-stage interpretation. The researcher interprets the participant's attempts at sense-making - this is known as a 'double hermeneutic'.

There has been some confusion over phenomenological approaches to description and interpretation. IPA does not follow the critical interpretative framework of Koch. Smith et al. highlight the role of IPA as an in-depth analysis of individuals. This is one of the potential negatives of IPA - it is subjective and non-generalizable. However, we need to consider different definitions of validity. Useful insights of more a more general nature can evolve from IPA work. The depth of dialogue can contextualise the research to wider theory. There is a likelihood of "theoretical transferability" rather than empirical generalizability.

IPA uses smaller samples with the privilege on  the individual, allowing a deeper analysis. There's extensive use of direct quotes to anchor the findings.

IPA is bound within its theoretical roots, which provides both depth and purpose. The reader can assess transferability based on the richness and transparency of the data. However, we need to clarify and acknowledge the limitations that homogeneity of sample may cause, as this can limit transferability.

A wide range of data collection can be used with IPA but it is important to acknowledge and discuss any strengths and weaknesses of the chosen method. I would be most interested in using semi-structured interviews.

IPA is an adaptable account. Whilst there are guidelines, these are open to adaptation. It is not prescriptive. IPA stresses interpretation rather than description, capturing examples of both convergence and divergence rather than just on commonalities.

IPA is an evolving method, with changes occurring over time. It is suggested that now one should bracket previous interviews, to do justice to the individuality of each participant. I find this a little difficult, If we do not bracket our own frames of reference for IPA why should we need to bracket previous interviews? Need to look at the theory of this a bit more.

Researcher experience is part of the interpretative analysis. Maybe consider in relation to Kimball and Garrison's work on hermeneutics.

There is no set way of analysis but manual coding enables an intimacy with the data which may not be achieved if using software.

The authors go on to discuss validity, which has been covered by Smith et al. The interpretation is subjective but external audits allow credibility. There is no single truth but the approach should provide a legitimate account. Triangulation of methods can be used to provide validity.

The authors discuss the use of IPA within healthcare. It is grounded in psychology. Therefore I need to consider its applicability to other disciplines.

Weekend 1 aditional reading: Hermeneutic Listening

This paper related to the session we had on interviewing. This is an interesting concept. Rather than laying aside our prejudices when we talk to an 'other', we acknowledge those prejudices (positive and negative), and work towards a common understanding. We do not need to change others' minds but find areas of common ground.

The notes I scribbled on the text whilst in the session were:
- We bring prejudices with us when we listen to others.
- We need to consider what someone is saying. In an interview, this happens in the moment - we need to listen carefully in order to respond in an appropriate way.

Kimball, S. & Garrison, J. (1996). Hermeneutic listening: An approach to understanding in multicultural situations. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 15, 151-159.

The article starts with a quotation by Gadamer, who was key in the development of hermeneutics. The quotation concerns conversation being a means of understanding. Conversation encourages consideration of others' viewpoints and also highlights new ways of interpreting our own positions. This is helical - consideration of others leads to greater understanding of ourselves, which leads to improved consideration of others, etc.....

The authors home in on multicultural conversations - for multiculturalism to work, there must be respect for others' experiences (and their interpretation of the experiences), and to create new understanding.

The authors warn against both 'passive listening', which can lead to the listener being 'assimilated' by a dominant culture, and also against 'empathetic listening'. The authors prefer a concept of listening as 'the art of interpretation'. Hermeneutics can be used to interpret the 'text' of a conversation to achieve understanding between individuals.

Within hermeneutics, meaning is developed within a particular context, amongst particular participants - the role of hermeneutics is to produce new understanding in both conversants. It is important to understand what a person says rather than understanding the person.

From empathy to ontological hermeneutics

There is, as mentioned, a difference between empathetic listening and hermeneutics. Empathetic listeners acknowledge prejudices and their role in understanding, but claim to be able to put them to one side in order to understand another person as they 'really are'. However, this claim is, according to hermeneutic listeners, very limiting. There is the assumption that prejudice is "bad", but Gadamer shows us that this assumption is incorrect. There has only been this negative connotation to the word since the Enlightenment. Prejudices are just 'pre-judgements' which allow us to get through everyday life.

One must recognise that we are "conditioned by historical circumstances" - we are the product of our experiences, values etc. We cannot eliminate this; to think that we can do so is false. Our participation in different communities (family, school, state, nation, race, gender etc.) shapes how we interpret the world and our pace within it. This is what makes us 'us'.

So, hermeneutic conversation requires us not to rid ourselves of these prejudices but to examine them, and free ourselves of those which hinder our efforts to understand others. It is only when we encounter difference that we can recognise our own prejudices and question them. Then understanding can be developed.

We do not necessarily have to take on the other's views when we examine our prejudices, but change of some sort will occur. "By coming into contact with different beliefs, ...[etc.], we become aware of our own prejudices". If we can interrogate these prejudices in light of the newly perceived alternatives, then new understanding is opened up both with others and in ourselves.

In this way, the authors suggest that the hermeneutic process is compatible with multiculturalism. Empathetic listening is not, as it presupposes that differences between people act as barriers to understanding which must be overcome. Prejudices cannot just be set aside - to suggest as much is to reduce the need for reflection on our pre-judgements. Empathy seeks to 'reproduce' the speaker's original meaning. This way, new understandings cannot be reached. Hermeneutics produces new, multicultural understandings.


'Openness' is more than being open to what the other means so that the understanding can be reproduced. Instead, the listener is open to new meanings and understanding that are being developed through the conversation. Meanings are produced rather than repeated. Meaning relies on more than one person within a specific socio-historical context having a discussion and jointly assigning meaning.

With regard to multicultural conversations, this openness can be thought of as an "openness to alternative interpretation", including self and culture. We reinterpret our experiences differently after time has passed, and also after encountering new people and cultures. This leads us to new meaning. What is said, what is not said (i.e. omitted), the tone of voice, all reflect our prejudices. By listening to ourselves as we speak to others, we can achieve greater awareness of our identity and what frames it.

How does this differ from empathy? A person committed to hermeneutic listening/understanding acknowledges that each person in the conversation is conditioned by different historical circumstances even if they share the same race, culture, gender, etc. It is important to acknowledge these differences rather than to eradicate them and use our own culturally conditioned prejudices to imagine another person's experiences. By responding with a question providing an analogy to the experience, the comparison may not be exact but new meanings can be made through this exploration.

Fusion of horizons in multicultural conversations

"So far, we have described hermeneutic listening as a continuous, cyclical process by which we become more aware of ourselves as well as the unfamiliar other." This leads to the "mutual creation" of new understandings and meaning. Gadamer calls these points where new understandings are reached as a 2fusion of horizons" - opening up a new horizon of understanding through conversation with others of different beliefs, culture, values, etc. Horizons are ever-moving. Where we enter situations that test our prejudices, our horizons will be redefined.

2The act of understanding involves the fusion of horizons" - through looking at other people's lives we broaden our own horizons. Within hermeneutics, it is important to accept the possibility of tension between different sets of prejudices but we can draw this out to create common understanding, a "social construction" shared by all.

The object is to neither have empathy for not to subordinate the other but to redefine our mutual horizons, whilst still acknowledging difference. This builds a common ground to continue the mutual dialogue.

Why listen?

Why should we go through the process of questioning our prejudices and shifting our horizons? Sometimes, we cannot avoid it. However mostly it is a conscious decision for at least one of three reasons:
  1. education is to challenge familiarity with the novel/uncomfortable, to reach new understanding;
  2. We can only come to know ourselves through our encounters with others. Otherwise we are unaware of the prejudices which shape our views;
  3. when we wish to change ourselves, we need to interact with 'others'. Change in ourselves is a social process.
To sustain conversations with others can lead to new understanding which can be beneficial to our personal growth.

The writers finish by discussing that throughout the paper, their thoughts are underpinned by their own cultural prejudices.

My own thoughts?

Once again, this paper is about having an awareness of the lenses through which we see the world. In interpretivism, it is important not to try to put these lenses to one side. This is impossible. But what we must do is acknowledge that they exist.

Other thoughts: How does this link to Lyotard? The talk about Gadamer here suggests there is the reaching of a mutual understanding. However, if I remember correctly, Lyotardian paralogy goes further than that - moving towards a continuous expansion of knowledge and understanding.

Another thought (irrelevant but I wanted to capture it): when it spoke of change in ourselves being a social process, I was very struck by the way this links to Slimming World. when we wish to change, we need to interact with others. Nothing here to do with multiculturalism, but discussion amongst others to change an individual's mindset.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Assignment 1 thoughts...

OK, so this is just a collection of my thoughts on what I need to do. I have to remember that this assignment doesn't set me up for my thesis in 2-3 years time. I think that's what putting me off - if I don't get my topic right then I mess up the entire course. However that's rubbish and is just making me procrastinate.

SO, what topics do I need to think about and focus down on in relation to the research part of the assignment? My initial thought is to research into students' perceptions of the effectiveness of their vocational qualification in supporting their academic transition to HE.

Let's analyse this question...

Students' perceptions of the effectiveness of their vocational qualification in supporting their academic transition to HE

What does this question say?

Students: I may need to make this more detailed: First year HE students? Will they have been at university long enough to make a judgement? Maybe second year?

Perceptions: Using a word like this will suggest that it is a qualitative project, using qualitative techniques of some form to get an understanding of the students' views. Now, how this relates to the SI view of the interview as trying to reach consensus. Am I going in with preconceived ideas? Maybe think more about that later.

Effectiveness: Effective in what way? How can the effectiveness be measured - by me, by the student? Do the students have an understanding of what I mean? Need to clarify.

Vocational qualification: Do I ask about a specific qualification? e.g. BTEC? Will this request lead me to very specific courses where vocational qualifications are a more 'normal' route into HE? Does my asking this question suggest to the respondent that I consider their qualification to be an issue, that they are somehow at a disadvantage that needs exploring?

Supporting: how do I interpret a qualification 'supporting' academic transition? How might students interpret it? What are the qualifications supposed to provide the student with, to prepare them for HE? Is it just a vocational understanding of the subject itself, or is a vocational qualification such as the BTEC designed to provide the student with academic 'skills' which can be transferred to HE? Hmmm... a lot of questions in the use of this word.

Academic transition: May need to clarify this term both for myself and the students. Presumably (I'll need to think some more about this myself...) I mean generic skills, such as those we support students with in study skills. It would be important to stress this throughout any interviews, otherwise I'll get a lot of information which is academic subject-specific, which may lead to lack of cohesion and generalisability (however limited in qualitative research) amongst the results.

In HE: Well, at least this bit is relatively straightforward.

Right. With those thoughts in mind, how can I clarify my question?

First year students' perceptions of the effectiveness of their vocational FE qualification in developing academic study skills which support their transition from FE to HE.

I'll leave this to settle in my mind for a while and return to it at a slightly later date. In the mean time, at least, I've got something to direct my reading.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Interviewees are not automatons

Reading from:

Foddy, W. (1993). Interviews and questionnaires: Theory and practice in social research. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

This information is taken from chapter 2 of this book. The chapter is entitled: A theoretical framework.

This paper links to the session we undertook on questionnaires and interviews. In it, Foddy discusses the issues associated with both a quantitative method of survey and also qualitative. Foddy introduces symbolic interactionism (SI) as a way of social actors in a social situation negotiating a shared definition of the situation.

An overview

Foddy introduces the positivist approach which attempts to discover the 'real world' 'out there'. To do this they use a 'stimulus/response' model of questioning, with carefully controlled questions and also answers. They aim for standardised understanding and standardised responses, to provide validity.

Foddy discusses ten key assumptions associated with positivistic surveys, primarily that the researcher provides clear definitions and the respondent is able to provide appropriate standardised answers in the specific situation, and that answers from different respondents can be meaningfully compared.

Pawson (n.d.) suggests that questions and answers are simplified to a 'lowest common denominator' approach. This is a very behaviourist approach. Control is by the researcher, trying to formulate standardised questions and limiting the respondent to standardised answers.

In contrast, 'qualitative field researchers' are interested in how human beings 'experience' their world, for example through the use of non-directive, open questions. They are committed to understanding the respondent's 'meaning' so use near-to-naturalistic unstructured interviews. The researcher and respondent should come to a joint construction of meaning. The data are narrative. Questions have been asked about he 'validity' of qualitative researchers' data, and the fact that it is difficult to replicate studies.

Within quantitative research, they still cannot control for the respondent not understanding the question 'correctly'. This is equally true for qualitative research, with the respondent often looking to the interviewer to show evidence of arriving at a "shared understanding" of questions and answers.
[Note: may need to consider Lyotardian paralogy here, to go past this shared understanding - see my notes on Lather].

Symbolic Interactionist (SI) theory

SI was coined by Blumer (1967, 1969).
- Humans interpret and define each other's actions; they do not react in a stimulus/response way.
- Humans can be the objects of their own attention - the concept of 'self';
- Conscious social behaviour is intentional. We construct and rehearse different possible lines of action before choosing how to act in a given social situation;
- These are ongoing processes, occurring at every stage of a social interaction. Both parties take part in this. Each social actor takes their view of the other into account but also the other's view of themselves, when constructing and choosing possible lines of action.
- Human intelligence is, in part reflexive, for example when you 'take the role' of the other.

SIs claim that social actors in any social situation are constantly negotiating a shared definition of the situation.

Implications of SI theory for social research

Survey researchers and qualitative field researchers have paid little attention to respondents 'taking the role' of the researcher when framing answers. Similarly the reason for asking the question. SI theory suggests that respondents will constantly try to reach a mutually shared definition of the situation with the researcher. Respondents search for clues if the information they require are not forthcoming. Different respondents may attach to different 'clues' and so differently interpret a question - so there is little reason for comparing respondents' different answers.

There are at least four additional sources of response variability that the researcher should keep in mind when formulating questions. Different respondents can interpret the same question in many different ways and give many different answers to it.

My thoughts

In the questionnaire exercise in the first weekend, it was clear to see that including free text answers in such a questionnaire led to a wide range of interpretations of the question. The questionnaire wasn't designed particularly well, but even so the relatively straightforward questions were open to different interpretations. It's probable that the same respondent could answer differently at a different time. So, quantitative work is subject to this issue.

The SI viewpoint seems to be to accept/embrace this multitude of potential answers. The participant will take their cues from the researcher and respond to the researcher to try and reach concordance.

Relevance to me? Again, I think this highlights the importance of thinking about my own frames of reference and being aware of them throughout an interview process, from writing the questions to the questioning itself and then on to the analysis. Just to be aware that the respondent is not only responding to the question I ask but more particularly the question they think I asked, and looking to me to help them provide the answer they think I want. Difficult!