After having investigated the options, I will now consider the researcher's method in function of the object of study. Considering the unclear perceptions of the social medium Twitter, a grounded approach was likely, as is exemplified in section 2.2 below.
This section contains the following chapters:
A summary of my research strategy
1. Initial ideas
2.2 Constructivist Grounded Theory
b) Methods of data gathering
“Grounded theory is a bit higgledy-piggledy. It is very much like the relationship between an artist and his painting: what the artist thinks, will influence what he paints; what he paints, will influence what he thinks; but at some point he needs to put down his brush or he could ruin what was a work of art.” John Biggam (2015, p. 85)
1. Initial ideas
The scope of this case study is investigating the perceived value of Twitter and CPD. At first I had the idea of using Twitter itself and Twitter Storifies to gather the research content and data. It quickly became apparent to me that the fluid and volatile nature of Twitter was going to make this idea hard to realise. Especially the volatility of the social medium was interfering with my intention of providing a structured and media-rich dissertation in a technology driven environment.
1.2 The blog
As I wrote in the introductory blogpost it was my intention to bridge the gap between blogging and doing qualitative research. Although blogging can be considered as writing (and I have added chunks of academic writing), I deliberately wanted to use technology as a means of presenting ‘research content’ in a media-rich container: structuring my research with hyperlinked content, reflecting on the research process and elaborating on my findings through the use of YouTube videos. In this way I used technology to easily make notes as a form of memoing and categorising. The entire reflexive process was synthesized with web 2.0 tools screencasting and Thinglink. In this way, this blog serves two purposes: the articulation of my findings in the research, and it gives evidence of the research process during my dissertation.
“Teachers’ tacit professional knowledge could be externalized when a teacher writes and compiles knowledge content on his/her personalized blog and gradually accumulates instructional knowledge.” (Hou et al. 2009, p.326)
A blog with integrated videologs provides me with the tool to “reflect on my experience” (Dewey, 1933). Dewey continues to define reflection as “active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or practice in light of reasons that support it and the further consequences to which it leads” (Dewey, 1933 in Weatherall, 2014 p.9). The video reflection allows me to make sense of my experiences end develop deeper learning (Moon, 2004). Using the media-rich blog raised my awareness of new information, my views, my feelings and perspectives (Weatherall, 2014).
2. Research strategy
2.1 Qualitative research
approach: the case-study
“In general, quantitative research answers the how questions, whereas the why questions are left to qualitative research.” (Biggam, 2015 p. 86)
“The case study typically observes the characteristics of an individual unit – a child, a class, a school or a community. The purpose of such observation is to probe deeply and to analyse intensely the multifarious phenomena that constitute the life cycle of the unit.” (Biggam, 2015 p.83)
The individual unit in my research are teachers secondary education that use Twitter in their professional practice. I chose to investigate a group of teachers that already have a minimum of five years of teaching experience. The starting teachers in Flanders have a lot of challenges to cope with, such as classroom management, preparation of lesson plans and finding their way in the school’s culture. It is likely that these challenging tasks of the starting teacher influence the possible adoption of professional development through media such as Twitter. Hence my choice to limit the case study to teachers with a minimum of five years of experience.
2.2 Constructivist Grounded Theory
In the section ‘Options’ I explained what Grounded Theory is and the concepts that are key to Constructivist Grounded Theory. I explain why the following key concepts are appropriate for my case study.
“Knowledge, truth, reality and theory are considered contingent and based on human perception and experience.” (Howell, 2013 p. 16 in Evans, 2013).
Teachers - like the students they teach - think, feel, are influenced by their biographies, social histories and working contexts, peer groups, teaching preferences, identities and phases of professional development. (Day & Sachs, 2004). The way they use Twitter in relation to their professional development is clearly related to all of these variables. The approach of investigating this area is inextricably linked to their perceived values. Therefore the constructivist grounded theory approach was an appropriate method to investigate their perceptions and experiences with Twitter.
The belief that concepts are co-constructed is key, in contrast to Classical Grounded Theory where concepts are discovered.
Considering the diversity in perceptions of the medium Twitter and their professional contexts, the co-construction based on the data is an important aspect of my research. The teachers co-constructed the data in my research by providing the initial wordclouds, by the data from the individual interviews and by actively participating in the focus group session.
“All of us are smarter than any of us, if we just don’t get in each other’s way.” (Hagan & Palmgren, 1998, p. 131)
The constructivist approach starts with specific questions on a substantive area whereas CGT has no preconceived questions prior to the study.
In my original research proposal I formulated a number of research questions, preconceived from my experience as a teacher, teacher-trainer and Twitter user. The preliminary research questions focus on the Networks of Practice (Twitter) that serve as a vehicle by which teachers continually develop themselves. The fact that specfic questions were formulated distinguish the constructive grounded theory from the classical grounded theory - where the process of emerging theory from data is established without preconceived questions.
The position of the literature review: the question is not if a literature review is appropriate (it is), but the question is when literature is used to act as a form of data, and when the literature should be conducted.
“While engagement with existing literature prior to the primary data collection is characteristic of most strategies, Glaser and Strauss originally argued explicitly against this.” (Dunne, 2011, p. 113) The fact that I encountered few theories on Twitter and CPD changed my view on the position of the literature review. Secondly, I did not intend to validate a particular theory with data from the participants. I intended to have an open focus and let categories emerge from the data of the participants. This made constructivist grounde theory appropriate for the purpose of my case study.
2.3 Data collection techniques
Considering the enormous amounts of teachers on Twitter and the neverending stream of tweets I was not in the position to collect data from my entire target population. As Biggam (2011) confirms, I needed to collect data from a selection of my population. There are a number of sampling techniques that can be used including random sampling, simple random sampling, stratified sampling, cluster sampling, systematic sampling, quota sampling, and convenience sampling.
How did I approach my sampling? I launched an open call for participants on Twitter (May, 2015). Since my intention was to investigate Flemish teachers in secondary with a minimum of five years of experience, I launched that call in Dutch. You’ll find the call for participants in this blogpost. The call was descriptive in specifying the target group and the purpose of my research. A Google translation of that post here.
The intention was to test the power of my Twitter network first before specifically addressing a number of relevant Twitter teachers amongst my followers. This open call was tweeted, retweeted and shared on Facebook (snowball referral). Tweets gathered in this Storify.
People also suggested teachers in their own networks beyond mine. This was Twitter power at its best. Thus, my sampling technique was a combination of simple random sampling (not everybody had the same chance of being selected), quota sampling (no more than fifteen teachers needed), and convenience sampling (the open nature of my Twitter network made sampling convenient for me).
As I already mentioned in the Scope section, this convenience sampling has had implications for the interpretation of my results. Although my sample may have had particular responses, I have reasonable confidence that my analysis indicates the emerging main category of inspiration, as described in the Findings section.
After half a day of online activity, I had my participants. The list of particpating teachers and their Twitter profiles:
To cover the participants in function of my purpose I checked the following:
- Are they “automated” tweeters? Like @janbommerez or @lollyhaskal who tweet automated through Bufferapp or Hootsuite. I wanted to avoid that type of users, and none of them used twitter for self-promotion by automatised tweeting.
- Is there a balance between male and female teachers (although education is a typical female matter in Flanders (15% male teachers in 2010)?
- Checked their Twitter profiles for being an active teacher on Twitter
- over 5 yrs of teaching experience
- secondary education
- regular tweeting: plus ten tweets per month
- last tweeting activity: no older than one month
- regular retweeting
- tweeting in own name, not in name of an organisation
- regularly favouriting tweets (which proves their activity on Twitter)
b) Methods of data gathering
An initial assignment was given to the participants to gather their first perceptions on the use of Twitter in their professional practice. Main purpose of this preparatory assignment was to gain first insight into their perceived values of the social medium and to feed the individual interviews.
Semi-structured individual interviews were conducted with most of the participants. This happened in real life, through Skype or through a telephone conversation. All interviews were recorded (in Dutch), transcribed into notes and bundled in a concept map. Since I have the tendency to visualise notions and concepts I preferred summarising the interviews in this way, instead of transcribing the entire interviews. I give evidence of my notes in this shared Google Drive folder . I intended to make this iterative process of data analysis as effective as possible. Transcribing the entire interviews and translating them into English did not seem very effective. I would have lost precious time in translating many sentences that are not relevant to this study.
Main guiding questions for the interviews were:
- How often do you use Twitter?
- How frequent do you post tweets?
- How often do you retweet?
- Do you use Direct Messages?
- How do you access Twitter (mobile, tablet, PC or laptop)
- What are the main reasons you use Twitter for (perceived values)?
- Why and how do you use Twitter for professional development?
- Do you also use it for non-professional use?
- How do you feel using that social medium in your professional practice?
- What’s the difference with more “traditional” ways of professional development like a workshop?
- What are the downsides of using Twitter?
These questions originated from my own perspective as a Twitter user and are therefore supportive in nature. The questions aim at finding the perceived value of the medium, and linking the usage of Twitter and their own professional practice. During the interviews I relied on my capacity to ‘be present’ in the conversation and allow insights to emerge from the conversation. This was a fruitful process and often generated flow and ‘shining eyes’ with both interviewee and interviewer. Albeit, in the future I would pilot these questions beforehand and review them before actually interviewing.
Focus group session
“The belief that concepts are co-constructed is key, in contrast to Classical Grounded Theory where concepts are discovered.” (Charmaz, 2002, 2014; Dunne, 2011; Guest, 2011; Evans, 2013)
The co-constructive nature of constructivist grounded theory was the main driving force behind the focus group session. The main purpose of the group focus session was to deepen my insights gathered from the individual interviews, analyse twitter timelines of participants in function of different types of knowledge (TPACK), and analyse some Twitter timelines of participants. This focus group session was very valuable and strenghtens my belief in social-constructivism.
Focus group tend to become influenced by one or two of the participants. In a focus group it is easy to inadvertently manipulate what the researcher wants people to say. Thus making the output of the focus group possibly biased. Also, getting data from a focus group is not straightforward (Biggam, 2015 p. 112). In the future I will be more careful in planning the discussion, allowing all participants to contribute evenly, and making more effort tot minimize bias. The focus group session generated more information than I took up in the Findings section. Clearly, the creation of a Twitter taxonomy of teachers, and the actual effect of Twitter inspiration on teachers' practice needs more investigation and research (as I elaborate in the Implications section).
This screencast illustrates my intentions before the focus group session:
My reflections after the session:
Additional data: How ready and willing to change are you?
“The constant comparative method - which is another key aspect of grounded theory - is an example of how reflective and analytical thinking can further the research process.” (Dunne, 2011, p. 118) During the analysis of the individual interviews the concept of "openness to experience" emerged.
This link with an open mindset lead to further data gathering by means of a test on adaptability and change, developed by Sheffield Hallam Uni. Not all participants did the test but the results will fuel possible future research.
Overview of the participants and their contributions:
At the beginning of
my research I was still able to handle the data quite well with tools such as
Microsoft Word and GoogleDocs. For example the Word cloud entries in phase one
were easily listed in a GoogleDoc. While processing the individual
interviews it became obvious that I was in need for a better computer-assisted
way of analysing my data. I wanted to avoid overlooking possible categories and
it was hard to keep an overview. The use of a Computer-Assisted Qualitative Data
Analysis Software (CAQDAS) did not intend to replace the way I learned from my
data but is meant to increase the effectiveness of such learning (Hutchison et
al., 2010). Nvivo is a CAQDAS designed for qualitative research and allows
working with different multimedia information, which fitted my data analysis
based upon the visuals and concept maps.
Thus, Nvivo can facilitate aspects of the iterative process during a grounded theory approach and can help provide a transparent account of this, which ultimately enhances validity in my research. (Hutchison et al., 2010).
“Managing the iterative process of grounded theory presents researchers with a significant organisational challenge” (Hutchison et al., 2010, p. 286) exactly summarises my experience during the phirst phases of data analysis.
How did I use Nvivo to bring clarity in this iterative process?
- Every word cloud entry was tagged with a keyword (nodes).
- Every notion in the concept maps of the individual interviews was tagged (nodes).
- I mainly created memos through videologging. These videologs (smartphone and YT webcam) ubiquitously captured my reflections.
- The final node structure: [click on the thumbnails to see the unfolded node directories]
- Theoretical development: the identification of nodes lead to emerging categories that I visually represented through PowerPoint and on online tool called Thinglink. A number of versions resulted from this process. See the page Process of memoing. Creatively building schematic overviews was easier and more effective in PowerPoint than in Nvivo. The publishing of an image (screenshot) on Thinglink made integration with the Youtube videologs very effective.
Summary: Screencast of Nvivo during my research