life is a rum go guv’nor, and that’s the truth

Count down to defense

I’ve scheduled my defense date for Nov 24 and the end of Oct to give my committee the final draft of my dissertation. I wrote a first draft and gave it to my chair before edits. Since then I’ve stepped back and asked myself did I write something good? I’ve talked with a statistician, my chair, and friend who does qualitative research, and today, the resident “guru” on qualitative research. Feedback from all has caused me to reconsider what I previously wrote and begin re-analyzing and doing major rewrites of my dissertation. It has been somewhat frustrating. Anyway, today the feedback and direction I received got me motivated again. In order to talk with Dr. Lancy I prepared a PPT that I thought I would use at my defense. It turned out to be a good level at which to talk with him about where things are at and to get feedback. Feedback he gave included:

Bring to the foreground that there were two main purposes for my dissertation:

  • Evaluate and refine TATSTAM – Study the process of how middle school math teachers reuse and adapt mathlets
  • Evaluate and improve TADRIOLA – Develop a practical tool that teachers can use to author instruction

Add quotes and prompts for me to tell stories. My stories should include the turning points of my study. Also those things which were unexpected.

Similarly he suggested adding an Outcomes chapter to my dissertation. He thought the Discussion chapter should more be a reflection on my research methods and implications for further research.

He said that my committee will likely know everything I have to say and be mostly interested in hearing stories about what happened. Those stories can help convince them that the research is real, that it is original, and important.

He said that in qualitative, the researcher is the instrument. In reporting my findings I need to convince the audience that I am a good instrument for gathering data: (a) I listened and observed with fidelity, (b) I made good decisions going into the research, (c) I opportunistically shifted the focus of the research to follow up on new aspects of the research that opened up and to firm up my understanding of themes that emerged, (d) I modified instruments as needed to achieve the goals of my research.

His interpretation of what my research is all about went something like this. The context of my study is an ecology that includes middle school math teachers, classrooms, and students. Teachers lie along a continuum of wanting completely pre-packaged self-contained instruction that they can just instantiate and being Michael Angelo’s of math instruction wanting only the parts from which they will masterfully create their own instruction. I have created TADRIOLA, a tool that can be scaled and used by teachers at any point along that continuum. My study was to let this new organism TADRIOLA loose into the ecology and to study the reaction of the ecology to the organism. In which parts of the ecology was it embraced or not?

I told him that I hadn’t yet done any member checking. He said that in fact I had, by virtue of the iterative design of my research. He thought that was one of the strengths of the research design that I used. By repeatedly going back to the same type of people with preliminary findings is a type of member checking. He said I might as well send a high level view of my findings to participants to formally complete member checking. He agreed with me that more than likely they will not respond.

He indicated that the flow of my dissertation defense should be roughly as follows:

  1. Quickly move through all of the intro leading up to the analysis in order to convince them that I’m organized and thorough.
  2. Digress and take time telling the story of the research. Share quotes and stories. Talk about the decisions that I made. This is where I convince them that I am a good researcher and a good research instrument.
  3. Wrap up with the outcomes and discussion.

I asked him about how to best include quotes in my findings. He said that what I shouldn’t do is include multiple quotes saying the same thing. I have the data and they can look at it if they want to. Present one quote saying one thing, then another perhaps contrasting comment, and then wrap up saying that approximately x% agreed with the comment.

When boiling down data to numbers, things like member checking, inter-rater reliability, and triangulation assume more importance when I am trying to make claims that strongly oppose existing theories. How attractive are competing alternative hypothesis? He said the strongest types of statements I want to say are that the majority of respondents said x and the rest were all over the map. The purpose of it is to convince them that I am a quality researcher.

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