QualMIP week 11: semester feedback


Part of the QualMIP series, introduced here. 

Technically, it’s week 12 but blog entry 11, since week 11 was a review of the semester plus a presentation of projects. Tonight… was feedback night.

Major takeaways

  1. Constant awareness of positionality and related concepts — bias, personal experience, etc.
  2. Rich awareness of everyday interactions. Formerly “boring” situations reveal a depth of interaction, and there are more tools with which to analyze what’s going on; there are always questions we can ask.
  3. Along the same veins, “having a larger toolbox” with which to experience the world (one of our original goals, so that’s fantastic.)
  4. The importance of self-care and sensitivity to one’s own state and emotions. “You are your own research instrument.” Along these lines, the policy of grace weeks was a MASSIVE hit, and… I will do this again.

Other takeaways, in absolutely no particular order

The value of team dynamics in learning qualitative research, which I’ll need to consider for future (presumably larger-group) iterations. It’s nice to have a team and learn about your differences in perception, and to get comfortable tossing ideas around with — but there’s also value in switching it up. Cesar, Paige, and Emily worked together super-well, and this contributed tremendously to the success of the project.

NINJAs. Instructor-student ratio is key. If I scale up much, I absolutely need course NINJAs (teaching assistants) and/or coinstructors.

More memo assignments. In perhaps the first instance of students asking me to give them more homework, the group requested more exercises focused on forcing them to try different memo formats during exercises. In a 2-credit independent study, I tried not to overload them, but this is top priority to add in for a full-scale class. Suggestions include having some group-facing memos (both small and large) in addition to individual ones, so they can see what it’s like to memo with and for different audiences as well as in different formats.

Interview nonverbals were a good skill to gain — you don’t really need to talk during an interview. (Quote from last night: “It’s kind of like therapy. They just listen so you can talk and figure it out yourself.”) Each individual has distinctive movement patterns. (I think of them like voices.)

More rounds of interviewing/observing skill practice. There was universal acclaim for more repeated practice for interviewing and observing, specifically. This fits nicely with the request for more memos. I think “more structure” will be the order of the day in the next (larger) round of the class.

Ambiguity, followed by framework introductions (worksheets, whiteboard grids, etc.) is a good pattern. Don’t give the frameworks at the beginning — let students try to figure it out — but at some point, it’s really nice to see how others have ordered topics. (I agree! It’s hard to do this without introducing reading assignments… or is it? I could make worksheets from the readings, and leave the citations at the bottom for students to optionally look at if they want, I guess.)

The introduction to various qualitative research paradigms was good (although I feel it was too theoretical). This might be something valuable to use reading assignments for (one of my restrictions in this independent study design was “no course readings,” and in a full-scale course I would relax that somewhat). Showing examples of work in each paradigm and having students do work across at least two (somehow) would be a plus, since everyone ended up in the interpretivist camp this time.

Project development lifecycle examples. Similarly, the close reading was useful so they could see parts of a project at a different stage than where their own projects were at. Finding some way to see (close readings of) different projects at different stages in development earlier on might help.

Instrument development was useful to see! This time around, it happened accidentally when Emily created one as part of her project (a massive table for sorting data about dance events). Do this more explictly next time.

Inter-rater reliability and validity could have used better discussions. (Yeah, I kinda pulled those out of the top of my head when it became clear we needed to discuss it during studio. More planning would have been good, I admit.) Also, we did not have a unit on member-checking, and should.

Using Olin as a convenient study location was a plus, largely for the exercise of “making the familiar strange,” and the ease with which we could (potentially) experiment with environmental disruptions (something we did not do this time). Using locations other than Olin on occasion was also a big plus, so… mix it up. (Me: “I’m sure I can find strange, safe, but uncomfortable situations to dump people into.”)

Protocol testing was a good exercise. However, we won’t have a convenient AHS capstone in need of protocol feedback in future iterations of the course, so teams will have to come up with protocols for that exercise and swap them (a good addition to the exercise, really). Make sure to specify those protocols be made on non-sensitive topics; this time the AHS capstone topic was about something that some people considered touchy, and about something others didn’t have experience with, which made it difficult to test as they scrambled to fabricate stories.

Keep the unicorn exercise (that we did with Insper).

The artifact analysis scavenger hunt was too much to pack into one day — split it over two class periods so we can take more time doing it.

Bounding projects was something everyone did, and a good skill to develop in general. Perhaps develop exercises specifically targeting this? (I’ve talked with faculty at other times about “project bounding” being a skill that Olin students need to develop more generally.)

Derrida. In a simultaneous I-am-proud-but-also-sort-of-scared moment, the idea that “everything is text” ended up being an impactful phrase… I think the students meant it as “everything is data” and “everything can be analyzed” or something similar, but I’ll need to be careful about introducing Derrida in the future, because… there is such a thing as just enough postmodernism to be dangerous (I’m at that stage myself, right now).

The machine trick/geneaology. Related to the above thought, the constant asking of “how did that get there? how did this come to be?” is a habit of mind that I am silently rejoicing over. Even the most intimidating, formal-looking things have some kind of backstory (and psst… the world is hackable.)

Apparently, my metaphors are popular (and help with conceptual understanding, I… think). I don’t even remember what they were, but I supposedly compare things to programming and dancing quite a bit, and there was laughter.

Mental health. One of the most surprising but gratifying comments was that QualMIP was a good influence on student mental health this semester — that it contributed to better self-care, ways to move on from cycles of overthinking, permission to be kind to oneself, awareness of one’s own state, and… well. Mental health. I’m glad for this — I’m glad this could be a space for that — and I’d like to find a way to keep making it a better space for that, because it’s SUPER important, especially at a place like Olin.

And finally, having a giant teddy bear in the office is fantastic.


Musings on movement and somatics in qualitative methodology


Adapted from an email conversation with Alice Sheppard.

We’ve been discussing the domain of qualitative research methodology, and you asked how movement figures as a part of sensory perception. The short answer is I don’t know, and we’re still playing with that. But I do have fragments of what might become a longer answer someday. using one’s own body/movements as clues — if you’re in an observational situation and realize your posture

One fragment is the idea of using one’s own body/movements as clues during an observation, essentially treating your body as a complex sensor. Qualitative researchers are often told that they are now their own research instrument — but sometimes I feel like discussions assume that this is mostly about the mind, the cognition you have and what has shaped it. I’m explicitly exploring integrating embodiment into this and actively prioritizing it. If you’re in an observational situation and realize your back slumps, or you’re fiddling with a pen, or your stomach is tensed, what does that mean about how you’re observing and the state you’re in and what viewpoint you might be taking and how you might want to respond? This is somatic awareness. It’s key to get students to realize they are not disembodied observing brains.

Another connected element is noting the movements of others as a way to flag significant moments, and echoing that movement back to them as prompts in later conversations/interviews (“when the box opened, your hand came up like this, and you looked away — what were you thinking at that point in time?”) Basically, validating and allowing kinesthetics/movement as data, and practicing ways to perceive, record, remember, and communicate that movement back to others. It might be fun to mix this into more dance/choreography practice. For instance, movement notation could be a tool for

For instance, movement notation could be a tool for fieldnotes. I can’t for the life of me read Labanotation (yet) and would need lots of training/practice for that to become a useful tool to my work… but the principles it breaks movements down into are helpful. There’s also the dancer’s/actor’s practice of observing and imitating fine details of movement, studio-based practices for dialog/iteration around movement… so much training and pedagogy in the fine and performing arts that would cross-apply. I don’t have the depth here to cross-apply it, but there are people who can, and I would love to help translate from the engineering/qualitative side.

Another is veering into more of a critical theory direction, looking at influences on power dynamics and performances with, within, and/or against systems and structures. I attend — and want to teach attention to — physical placement and constant motion of self during interviews/observations; height, gaze, placement, etc. of the observer and observed communicating dynamics of power, role, etc. Movement is an intervention and a tool to use in dialogue with participants, and we can think critically about it the same way we scrutinize question wording in survey design, look over lab protocols, and so on. This is almost akin to a clinical skill development, in my mind — and my mind jumps to the pedagogical practices of teaching future speech therapists how to work with a child’s articulation, teaching future physical therapists how to palpate muscle, teaching future counselors how to listen and respond…

Perhaps one way to categorize it would be looking at disciplinary pedagogies and seeing how some of them cross-apply to the ways of being that I want to examine within qualitative methodology, especially with an engineering student audience. I love methodology; I love exploring it, examining it, being on the boundaries of practice and philosophy.


Want more inclusivity at your conference? Add childcare.


Providing conference childcare isn’t difficult or expensive, and it makes a huge difference for parents of young children who might want to come. If your community wants to (visibly!) support work-life balance and family obligations — which, by the way, still disproportionately impact women — I urge you to look into providing event childcare. I don’t have kids myself — but a lot of my friends do, and someday I might. I’ve seen too many talented colleagues silently drop out of the conference scene and fade out of the community because they needed to choose between logistics for the family they loved and logistics for the work they loved — and there are simple things we can do to make it easier for them to stay.

A good number of conferences have already started offering free or low-cost childcare on-site, and Above All Human is one of them. (Above All Human also used a Code of Conduct, another simple way to shift conference culture towards inclusivity and diversity.)

I talked with Scott Handsaker, one of the conference organizers, to ask how they set it up. It was easy. There was an existing daycare facility nearby, so trained staff, equipment, space, and insurance were all taken care of. All Scott had to do was negotiate the price, which ended up being $30 per child. Out of 1,000 people in attendance, roughly 10-15 used childcare, for a total price tag of $300-$450 per day.

The resulting slew of publicity was tremendous. Scott mentioned they were late in organizing childcare — too late to advertise it on the conference website — so they only had a little time to message via email and social media. Even so, childcare was the #1 thing people tweeted about leading up to the conference. (“This [twitter search] nowhere near captures the volume of tweets or the sentiment,” Scott wrote.) In fact, that’s how I found out about Above All Human in the first place — a former classmate raving about childcare on social media. This is the sort of exposure you want for your event, brand, and community. Financing conference childcare was snapped up by Slack as a low-cost, high-impact, high-visibility corporate sponsorship opportunity.

If your conference location doesn’t have childcare on-site, talk with nearby childcare providers or a local college with an education/teacher-training program. You’re looking for care providers with training in early childhood education or some similarly related field, medical knowledge (CPR/AED etc), and enough experience to take care of insurance and logistics, which often involves negotiating directly with the hotel or other conference location about space and setup.

Some conferences have written documentation on their childcare setup. GovHack wrote a behind the scenes look at childcare for their conference, and YOW stands as a good example of how to promote it.

Right now, determined conference committee members can pull something together for their own event by taking advantage of resources like these, as well as tapping into the informal network of conference organizers who’ve coordinated childcare in the past. However, that network can be hard to find — so as more and more events attempt to do this, we can share notes and work to make it easier. A great next step would be to compile more writeups about the childcare-at-conferences process and to list events that have had it and are willing to talk with other events who are interested. Eventually, we could create a series of templates and guides for how to email daycare providers, how to advertise, what insurance to secure, and so forth. If you know of existing resources or efforts, please let me know and I’ll add them to this post.

Edit: Reader-provided resources so far…

  • David Nelson Adamec noted that PyCon, a major programming language conference, provides childcare: https://us.pycon.org/2016/sponsors/. “I like that they call out “Company X is our childcare sponsor”, making it a cool thing to be and encouraging others to follow suit,” says David. He also noted that http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Childcare has more general tips for organizers.
  • Sara Melnick noted that SIGCSE, a major CS education conference (academic) provides a kids’ camp, almost like a parallel conference for children: http://sigcse2016.sigcse.org/attendees/kidscamp.html
  • Bonnie Tesch submitted MoMiCon, an academic gathering deliberately designed as a conference format experiment designed for mothers with young children. Some very cool design ideas here.
  • Anne Lucietto noted that childcare isn’t the only need — sometimes adult care is needed as well.
  • Peter Barszczewski noted that the same setup applies to hackathons.

High-level reading notes: “Promotion and Tenure: Community and Socialization in Academe”


High-level reading note summaries, in ongoing experiments to make intermediate products of my work more accessible/useful to others.

This book was authored by William G. Tierney and Estela Mara Bensimon. Worth reading if you’re interested in faculty socialization and/or the promotion/tenure process and how it can be situated in history and critically assessed. The book draws from stories about the hiring, tenure, and promotion process as told by new faculty.

Tierney and Bensimon point to many inconsistencies and gaps in the faculty hiring/promotion experience. They’re not necessarily bad inconsistencies or gaps, but seeing that they’re there lets us make decisions about what to do with them. For instance, what should happen between hiring and campus arrival — is it an issue that this space is often scattered and chaotic?

The book also has a chapter devoted to gender, and another chapter devoted to race and ethnicity, as particular factors that impact faculty socialization into academe. If you’re looking at gender, race, and/or ethnicity, those chapters are full of good stories situated in the early-professor life.

It ends with a section on what colleges and universities can do, so the last chapter is worth revisiting or reading if you’re involved in the hiring/promotion process in your institution. For instance, it recommends adopting (what I’d call) a user-centered experience design perspective on the faculty hiring perspective. For instance, instead of only considering what the campus needs to learn about candidates when they visit, also consider how candidates experience your interview process — and how you would you like them to.


Another research progress-organization braindump


Yeah, you know that thing where I think out loud for the sake of my future self, and it probably makes no sense to anyone else…

One debate about my project — which I think we’re close to resolving — is the nature of “rigor” in the results section. What does it mean for results to be rigorous and/or valid in a postmodern qualitative context? Since postmodernism doesn’t specify a bounded ideology or methodology, the question really becomes what it means for my own results to be rigorous and/or valid, and I’m working (once again) to write that up.

I’ve spent a bunch of time and energy trying to define against what it isn’t — no, I don’t need to “prove” my ontologies “came from” my data via a specified process — but not enough time saying what it is, or where it came from. Okay, so these aren’t the “right” or the “only” frameworks that could have come about. But as with an a priori codeset, I have chosen them to use, somehow. They are useful, somehow. At least according to my interpretation and my own meaning-making.

I have never felt so… inept… at making my meaning-making visible to others. I thought I was good at teaching, at explaining. At the same time, it is nice to know that I can always, always hone that skill.

So: thing to do (again) — each of the next few paragraphs is a task, by the way (hello, future self!)

Research question rewrite. It’s time to write out my results (in brief) — again — and look at them to rewrite my research question — again. (Again. Again again again.)

Last two results chapters: revise for flow. For that matter, I want to take a tour through the last two results sections and massively improve their writing quality, and then look at the second results chapter and decide whether I need to expand the section that is currently just sitting there as an unexpanded table. Am I developing ideas in sufficient depth? Am I making things visible that I want people to see? Do I need to show those things to my audience in a number of different ways?

Articulate the four frameworks I’m using, and how they are related… in the literature review section, not the methods or the results (where they currently live). When doing this, explain why each framework is useful for looking at the data and my research question.

Separately from that, write a 2-3 pager on postmodernism, as I’ve used it in this project. What is it? What do I mean by it? Why am I utilizing it, and how did I come to do that? How does it compare to more common research approaches? (Components it will probably include: historical paradigmatic framing in qualitative research, brief history of postmodernism in general and some disclaimers on definition, the role of the reader, and discussions of concepts of self/world/other.

Shape up a discussion section at the end of each result. At the end of each results section, there’s already a tiny discussion of that particular result. I can draw that out into a more deliberate discussion that connects out to usages of the ontology in broader literature. Right now, I mostly discuss affordances and benefits, but don’t connect to broader lit in organized ways. This is where I can say: this way of thinking probably sounds familiar — and here is why. Here’s where you it’s mirrored and you’ve heard it before: curriculum design, faculty development, professional identity, collaboration/partnership.

Move “methods” stuff from the first results chapter… into the actual methods section. All right. But it feels good to know my methods section is helpful and does clarify things, even if it is still a bit jargony. (It’s particularly gratifying to hear that the examples I provided were, in fact, useful.) There’s an implicit to-do here, which is that sections of my first results chapter actually belong in the methods section, so that’s another thing to do — find the general case I explain in the first results section (page 4 of that chapter right now), excise it to the methods chapter, and refer back to it at the start of each results section (but situated in each individual result, at that point). Surgery.

Make sure vocabulary for methods principles of analysis are in the lit review. The methods section is missing one last point: at the end, I discuss several principles of my methodology — but I don’t draw back to where they came from. So I need to make sure those things are present in the postmodern section of my literature review.

Freewrite on “faculty as learners.” Another open question: I need to clarify how the “faculty as learners” language is still part of my writing, so I think I’ll do that as a freewrite at some point and see where it will end up going. Maybe… a big handwritten page, a 15-minute timer. That should do it.

Freewrite on “employ the ontology.” Another freewrite task: I use the phrase “employ the ontology” a bunch in the methods section, and don’t immediately show what that means. I know I demonstrate it at some point there or somewhere in the first or second results chapter, so I can find and grab that text and place them next to each other — or have them refer to each other, one or the other.

Put the cartoons back in. One task that will be gleeful and fun: I’m going to put my cartoons back into the results chapters. So: drawing, scanning, making sure they’re well-explained. (They should be. Right now they are text, and visuals will clear the text up.)

These sprints aren’t as clear as I want them to be. They are not prioritized, and there might still be too many. But this is a start.


Facebook page public personas cannot join groups (experiment results)


Sometimes, people with public-facing positions want to interact on Facebook in two ways: using a public persona with most people (for instance a priest interacting with his parishoners), and a private persona with close family and friends.

One solution is to create two separate Facebook accounts, but this requires… managing two separate Facebook accounts. Another solution is to use your private Facebook account to create a page for your public persona. You can then continue to interact with your close family and friends via the private persona, and interact with everything else via the public page.

But what happens when the public-facing part of your persona wants to interact in non-public ways on Facebook? For instance, what if a priest wants to join a temporary, private Facebook group for members of his parish going on a pilgrimage with him?

Jeff Moore and I investigated this, and the results of our experiments are as follows:

  1. The “private persona” — that is, one’s normal account — continues to be a normal account; it can join private/secret groups, post on the personal profiles of friends, and so forth.
  2. The “public persona” — that is, the page — can be followed (in lieu of being friended) and send/receive messages as if it were a separate account. Cool! This resolves the vast majority of use-cases.
  3. The “public persona” can create public events, and converse with others inside that event using the public persona. (screenshot below: Jeff’s public event for his diaconate ordination, hosted by his public persona, which is a Facebook page. Jeff is commenting under his public persona within the event, and the drop-down indicator for choosing between private/public personas is circled.)
    jeff-publicoption
  4. However, the “public persona” cannot join a group, regardless of whether it is open, closed, or secret, and regardless of whether the “private persona” is a member of that group. (screenshot below: Jeff’s UI for a Facebook group, with no option to choose between public and private personas; the space that used to be the drop-down indicator for choosing between private/public personas is circled — note that the image is a bit confusing because it includes the previous image within it… pay attention to the bottom right circle, because th other circle is a screen capture.)
    jeff-nopublicoption
  5. For what it’s worth, the “public persona” also cannot post on the personal pages of other accounts.

To summarize: Pages appear to be built for others to interact with, not built to interact with others. Public personas built as pages within personal/private accounts allow for private messaging as the private persona, but do not allow for group interaction, private or not. If you need to have specific group interactions, especially private group interactions, as your public persona, you need to use something other than Facebook.

This is the best we can tell based on limited experiments. Experiments were a joint effort between myself and Jeff; the writeup (and any errors in it) are mine alone. Corrections, addendums, etc. are absolutely welcome!


Notes from talking with Ruth


Processing thoughts from Wednesday’s conversation with Ruth, for my own remembrance later. Probably won’t make sense to others, and that’s fine.

Translational work is important, especially if I’m doing unconventional things. Sometimes it helps to do the orthodox first, to not spend so much energy pushing for newness. Abstract artists tend to have extensive realist art training — the “traditional” fundamentals — before they move into doing abstract art. In qualitative research, the parallel for me is between interpretative and postmodern work.

Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” caused riots on first hearing; ears needed to get used to it. I’m no Stravinsky, but I do believe I’m not doing the type of work I want to do… as well as I need to be doing it.

I want to demonstrate that I can research in ways that articulate and further understanding, as well as critique and deconstruct it. Additionally, I should reconstruct the understanding (at least partially, while talking about why reconstruction may be problematic) after deconstructing it… for this specific project, readers need to leave knowing “what have we learned from this?”

I’m struggling in this balance, and I’m trying to push most of my energy into continuing to walk forward, not ponder down philosophical rabbit holes. Part of the challenge is that some of the rabbit holes are the forward I’ve defined. Someday I’ll look back on this and it’ll be clearer. Close, ship, and go.

Someday I’ll look back on this and it’ll be clearer. Right now I’m still pulling language into things I’ve been doing for the past few years — which is ironic, because part of what I found in my data is the art and act of putting language onto things in retrospect.

 

I’m struggling in this ba


QualMIP week 10: topic tracking and project progress


Part of the QualMIP series, introduced here.

Another short post this week because of a time crunch and my inability to write longer coherent things today (thanks, ADHD! Sometimes you just gotta roll with it).

Today was an analysis day — project updates, studio time, collaborative analysis — not a lot of scaffolding, more tracking where people are in their work and how to move forward. This post will likely be most useful for my future self as a way of tracking which topics are good to build more scaffolding around. Here are some:

Subject protection - using pseudonyms, talking with participants about how their data will be used, etc.

Positionality (yet again) - How does your prior exposure to a topic shape the analysis you do with it — and the way you triangulate your analysis with others’ when you’re checking inter-rater reliability? Our group has a mix of people with extensive social dance experience to no social dance experience (with social dance as the chosen context of study this semester). This gives a great variety of perspectives and positionalities that become visible in projects — and need to explicitly be pointed out (what terminology should you assume familiarity with, etc?)

Relationship between methods, results, and discussion - what you did, what you learned, and what difference it makes (“so what?”)

Instrument design as a subjective act – a reminder once again that all surveys, all instruments, all scales, etc. are reflections of human decisions about meaning creation. This does not mean they are all created equal, but it does mean they can and should be tested and interrogated and developed themselves (for instance, the IQ scale has a long history of “what does it mean to be intelligent?” debates behind it).

Validity. One thing I wish I’d prepared — and perhaps will prepare for next week, we’ll see — is a discussion on validity. In the context of qualitative research, what does it mean for a study to be “rigorous” and “valid”? (I have a lot to say about assumptions in this domain…)

It’s pretty cool to see the projects shaping up — intermediate artifacts are popping out. Emily has a nice table shaping up, which spurred a discussion on externalizing one’s process and the iterative nature of instrument design. Cesar should be bringing at least one draft poster in next week so we can start the “so what?” discussion (the “discussion discussion”), and Paige will be going through her emergent analysis process and then working to articulate it. Just a few weeks left to go…


QualMIP week 9: alignment of project components


Part of the QualMIP series, introduced here.

You can tell the semester is ending soon, because my posts are getting terser… this week our studio focus was on three things: project design alignment, creation of a data inventory, and discussion of what “done” means for individual projects.

The week will be spent moving towards whatever “done” is for each person’s project — but having alignment and clarity as to what the project is is an important prerequisite to being able to do that. We spent the day workshopping alignment, with the (draft! handwritten! first version!) worksheet below as representative of how we scaffolded that discussion. (I’d love comments on the worksheet, by the way.)

Qualitative Research Design Alignment Worksheet


Current thesis articulation problems, aka “postmodernism is hard”


Sometimes, trying to clarify your problems can be a helpful step in starting to resolve them. I’m currently struggling with the following:

1. A succinct history of how postmodernist philosophy troubles old notions of self/world and self/other relations… in ways that matter to STEM folks (that second part is the problem), and…

2. Potential misconceptions that could steer readers into misinterpreting what I’m actually trying to do. I keep feeling like I’m being asked to use my data to “prove” the ontological framings I’m using are valid, that the ontologies are frameworks that “emerge from the data” and are therefore somehow “real,” but that’s the assumption I’m trying to write against.

The last thing I’m wrestling with is something that’s less of an immediate crisis, but… at the same time, it’s very hard for me to unpack/articulate my process without using it, because it’s so much a part of my process, and so much a part of the paradigm I’m trying to convey (you’re not passive readers; this text is for you to engage with, and I’m deliberately trying to disrupt the ways you’re used to reading things). So, challenge #3 is to articulate…

3. The validity of writing something that deliberately asks the reader to experience/work with the text in a way other than being a passive reader that the writer takes by the hand and leads through a maze. I want to do this for at least some little intertexts because I think that sense of reader/writer positionality is important… and I feel like the responses I’m getting are akin to saying that T.S. Eliot is a lousy writer because he doesn’t just tell us what the Wasteland is “supposed” to be about. I need to frame this technique more, name it, justify it… I am struggling to do that.

My current articulation of what I’m actually trying to do is a sort of “Intro to Postmodernism for Engineers” stepthrough. I’m using different, related, and logically contradictory ontologies on the same qualitative data. The ontologies are basically different combinations of relationships between self/other and self/world, which are big questions that plenty of philosophers have tackled.

If you imagine each ontology as a pair of eyeglasses, I use each pair of eyeglasses to look at the data… and to look at each of the other pairs of eyeglasses. In the end, the dissertation is about the eyeglasses themselves. The data is from faculty talking about curriculum development, so here’s how the ontologies translate:

  1. The self, the world, and the other are all distinct and separate components! (We, the faculty, are the narrating selves… who are distinct from the curricular worlds we create for other people — namely, students — to experience and learn from.)
  2. Let’s trouble the boundary/relationship between world and other! (We, the faculty, are the narrating selves… who enter into and learn with and within a curricular world that’s inseparable from the others we interact with within that curricular space. Our colleagues and students have shaped the curriculum we’re “inheriting,” — even with a new course, there are histories and cultural notions of what it means to teach a certain thing — and we learn within a situated experience of teaching these courses with these colleagues and these students in the room.)
  3. Let’s trouble the boundary/relationship between self and world! (We, the faculty, are the narrating selves… and we and our curricular worlds co-construct one another. We have been (and continue to be) shaped by our learning experiences as students, teachers, and humans existing in the world, and our values and personalities and habits are reflected in the courses we design and what and how we teach them. Other people, such as colleagues and students, can’t encounter our curriculum without encountering us, and vice versa.) (Bonus: since I have multiple narrators telling stories of courses they co-taught, each narrator shows up as both a “self” in this ontology, and an “other” in ontology #2… in stories about the “same” class.)
  4. Let’s trouble the boundary/relationship between self and other! (We, the faculty, are the narrating selves… but wait, are we? In terms of who impacts curricular design decisions and how, it’s overly simplistic to define a group of faculty and say “yep, these are the people who made the curriculum, that’s it.” Sometimes we talk about ourselves as individuals; sometimes we speak as part of a group of colleagues, sometimes we include students and alumni and industry in the conversation… We constantly blur and move the boundary between “self” and “other” when deciding who to include as part of the “selves” who create curricular experiences.)

The end goal is to call into question our assumptions/usages of ontologies in general, not to prove that any ontology is “correct” or “better,” or that any of the ontologies can show us the “truth.” (Or even “all of them combined,” since there are an infinite number of possible viewpoints.) Instead, I’m trying to show that each ontology hides and reveals different things, and that these stories (and our realities as engineering educators) are complex and not always logically coherent. Lack of logical consistency isn’t a sign that there’s an error to be fixed; the world itself is complex and messy.

These things are all surprisingly hard for me to unpack and convey, and this almost certainly an issue with my weakness in articulating what I’m trying to do.

I’m hoping that talking with postmodernist researchers (especially qualitative ones!) and/or STS (science, technology, and society) folks who do or understand postmodernism — and how to articulate it to a STEM audience — might kick me out of my rut and get some useful insights on how to bridge these worlds, because right now I’m feeling like an incompetent engineer who isn’t thinking “rigorously,” as well as an incompetent philosopher/postmodernist/cultural studies/etc. because I’m not really any of those things; I’m an engineer trying to translate a few ideas to my own realm.